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Breeding Fish: Livebearers & Egg Scatterers

Almost all of the fish that we carry have been bred commercially on fish farms, and most of them have been bred in captivity for so long that they will breed fairly easily for hobbyists. Please realize that you do not “breed” your fish – you simply provide the conditions that they want, and they breed for you. We will discuss the different breeding strategies that our fish have, and give some examples of specific fish that will breed easily for you.


Livebearers are the easiest fish to breed, since they give birth to live babies. Livebearers include guppies, mollies, platies and swordtails, and as you can see from the selection we have in the store they come in almost every color and fin shape imaginable. Livebearers have babies on the average of once a month, and female livebearers, once they have been impregnated by a male, can deliver multiple litters. If you have floating plants or anything else at the water surface, you will probably just simply come to the tank one morning and find little baby “whatevers” hiding in the plants and in the corners. The babies will be around ¼” long, and are perfect miniatures of their parents.

If a female guppy, molly, platy or swordtail has babies in a tank with other fishes the babies will most likely be eaten by the other fish, or even by the parents. If you want to try and save babies from a pregnant female livebearer you really need to set her up in a tank all by herself. This can be as small a tank as a 5 or 10-gallon. “Breeding traps” are available, but they are really only good for a small fish like a guppy or platy; they will save most of the litter, but the babies need to have their own tank if you want them to grow to any size. Once you have the pregnant female in her own 5 or 10-gallon tank, cover the water surface with floating live plants like water sprite, hornwort or water lettuce; you can also use the plastic spawning grass or other bushy plastic plants. The babies will hide in the plants at the surface of the water, and once they are born you can remove the female. Baby livebearers can eat finely ground up prepared dry foods, and they need to be fed two or three times a day – very small amounts. Add some snails or cory cats to the baby tank to clean up uneaten food. It is best if you do 20% water changes every two or three days, as the babies need to have fresh water on a regular basis.

Easy egg scatterers

Most fish – tetras, danios, barbs – simply scatter their eggs, and do not give any care to the eggs or babies. In fact, they will eat their own eggs if the eggs are not given some form of protection. Egg scatterers are divided into those that scatter eggs that are adhesive and will stick to plants and the like, and fish whose eggs are not adhesive, and which simply fall to the bottom. Barbs and tetras have mostly adhesive eggs, while danios (such as zebras) are typical non-adhesive egg layers.
Regardless of what kind of eggs they have, the basic breeding setup can be a 10-gallon tank. Fill it with conditioned water, and a heater and simple filter. If you want to breed fish that have adhesive eggs, put some floating plants, or plastic “spawning grass” into the tank; for fish with non-adhesive eggs, simply fill the bottom of the tank fill marbles. It is best to have the breeding tank in a place where it will get some indirect natural light. Put the pair of fish (males are slimmer, females rounded out with eggs when they are ready to spawn) into the tank at night. Usually with the first light of the morning the fish will spawn. Check carefully, and you should see tiny whitish eggs either in the plants/spawning grass or in amongst the marbles on the bottom of the tank. Remove the parents.
Here is where these fish are a little trickier than cichlids, because the babies are very tiny, and the parents do not provide any form of care. The eggs will usually hatch in a day or so, and the babies at this point will not be swimming; they will just lie there, or they may “hop” around the tank a bit; and they will have the yolk sac attached to their belly. In another couple of days, the yolk sac should be absorbed, and the babies will start to swim around the tank, usually at the top or bottom. At this stage you need to begin to feed them, and they are so tiny that they need liquid food in the form of either prepared “fry food”, or “green water”, which is just water you have let sit in a sunny window until it turns green. After a few days on either of these liquid diets the babies will be large enough to take either live baby brine shrimp or finely ground dry flake foods. Water changes are very important, and you need to remove any uneaten food every day.