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Caresheet: Guppy | Poecilia reticulata

November 1, 2015
poecilia reticulata

Guppies are one of the most popular aquarium fish species and for many the first thing that comes to mind when they think of fishkeeping. They are colorful, fun to keep and their active behavior can brighten up any tank, whether single-species or community. Unfortunately, like many popular fish species, they are often the victim of improper care due to lack of knowledge on their requirements.

Keep reading for more information about fancy guppy care and setting up your own guppy aquarium!

Tank size 10 gal (38L)
Temperament Peaceful
Diet Insectivore
Temperature 64.5-84°F/18-29°C
pH 7.5-8.0

Name

(Fancy) guppy, Poecilia reticulata, millionfish

Guppy natural habitat

While guppies have been introduced throughout the world in attempts of mosquito control and by aquarists, they naturally occur in Venezuela, Brazil and various islands in the Caribbean sea. While they prefer streams and pools with thick vegetation, they can be found in almost any type of freshwater habitat and even occasionally in brackish waters.

Note: Like all aquarium fish and inverts, guppies should never be released in the wild. They tolerate a wide range of conditions and can actually survive in most waters, which means they can be very dangerous to native fish populations! If want to get rid of your guppies, please rehome them.

Guppy appearance

Their appearance is what made guppies so popular! While females and wild types are usually greyish brown color with the occasional blotch of color, males have been selectively bred to have a wide variety of colors, patterns and fin types. Their tail fins are often long and flowy.

Females can grow to twice the size of males and reach 2.5 inch/6 cm. When they are pregnant, a dark spot will appear behind their belly and they will become noticeably rounder.

Guppy requirements

For a small group of guppies, a large setup is not required.

  • A tank of at least 10 gallons/38L should be enough for a few fish, but because a larger group looks a lot better I would personally go for at least a 15 gallons/57L with 6 or more guppies. Because of their activity level, a rectangular aquarium that gives them plenty of swimming space is preferred.
  • If you live in an area where temperatures don’t drop below 64 °F/18 °C, you can choose to keep your guppies in an outdoor setup.
  • Like goldfish and bettas, guppies often seem to fall victim to the myth that bowls and vases are a proper home for them – they’re not. Please don’t keep your guppies in a bowl!
  • Because they usually naturally occur in waters with vegetation, guppies feel safest in an aquarium with both normal and floating plants. If you want to keep things realistic but simple, Cabomba is a relatively easy plant that naturally occurs in guppy habitat!
  • A pH of at least 7 and relatively hard water is recommended to keep your guppies healthy, as they don’t respond well to softer water. Interestingly, like some other livebearer species, they can also be kept in brackish and even full marine conditions. This makes them a great choice for anyone looking to set up a peaceful brackish aquarium. Because of their long, flowy tails they don’t appreciate very fast flowing water, but a regular filter that’s suitable for the tank size should be fine.
  • Be sure to only keep guppies in fully cycled aquariums; keep the water clean and ammonia and nitrite at zero at all times. Due to commercial breeding, guppies can be weak and vulnerable to stress and disease. Bad water values can quickly result in trouble!

Guppy tankmates

Although they may occasionally have a nip at fish with longer fins (including other guppies), these livebearers are generally peaceful and should therefore only be kept with other peaceful species. They do well with other livebearers like platies, small catfish species like corydoras, otocinclus and bristlenose plecos and peaceful schooling fish.

When choosing your guppies, it’s a good idea to think beforehand about whether you want to breed them. Because they breed so easily you’ll almost always end up with fry; do you want this? Do you have room for them or a place to rehome them if necessary? If the answers to these questions are yes, you can go for about 2 females to every male to avoid excessive harrassment. If the answers are no, you can stick to a setup with just males to prevent overcrowding!

Guppy diet

As revealed by their upturned mouth, guppies are mainly insectivores in the wild. They prey on small bugs that have fallen into the water as well as mosquito larvae, which has led to their introduction in many throughout the world in an attempt to (unsuccesfully) reduce mosquito populations. They also eat algae, especially if other foods are scarce.

Commercially bred guppy varieties will accept almost any food and can be fed regular tropical fish food or guppy food, which is usually a bit smaller and easier for them to eat. A varied diet is important, so be sure to regularly supplement with frozen foods like mosquito larvae! You can even make your own homemade guppy gel food, as described here.

Guppy behavior

As mentioned before, guppies are a peaceful species. They enjoy being kept in groups and will stick together, especially when they’re nervous or during feeding time. They are active swimmers and you’ll constantly see them moving around, with the males chasing the females around and trying to impress them by bending themselves into odd shapes and wiggling their fins. This breeding behavior can even occasionally be seen in a males only setup!

Guppies will quickly learn where their food comes from and often react strongly when someone approaches the aquarium. If you’ve ever been in an aquarium store with a crowded guppy setup, you’ve probably seen the whole group flocking in your direction when you approached them. They will even chase a finger or hand together if they mistake it for food!

All in all, guppies are very amusing fish to keep. If you’re an experienced fishkeeper, don’t let their reputation as ‘beginner fish’ scare you off. They’re fun to watch and keep and a nice new challenge for any fishkeeper, both beginners and experts. The video below is a great example of a guppy setup and their interaction with each other and other livebearers.



Breeding guppies

Guppies are considered to be one of the easiest – if not the easiest aquarium fish to breed. If you put males and females together, there will be fry. Although they run the risk of being eaten by their parents and other tankmates, in a densely planted tank with lots of floating plants the fry have a good chance of survival and you usually don’t have to interfere.

If you want to get into serious guppy breeding, be sure to buy your stock from a responsible (local) breeder or at a guppy show, not at a pet- or aquarium store where you don’t know their origins. These mass bred guppies will often have hidden defects and can be much weaker, so you don’t want them to pass this on to their offspring!


Unfortunately, my only personal experience with guppies was when I was around 10 years old and found a few in a local pond, took them home and kept them in a vase. They did not like this and soon started dying off. Hopefully this caresheet will prevent similar things from happening! Guppies are lots of fun to keep and deserve a proper filtered, heated aquarium setup.


If you have any more questions about keeping guppies or want to share your own experiences, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy guppy keeping!

Cover photo: Female guppy (Poecilia reticulata) by tartaruga33


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