If you're looking for some low-maintenance fish to add to your freshwater tank, consider some livebearers. Keep reading to learn more about them.
When it comes to stocking your tank – especially your first tank – it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available. There are literally thousands of different species of freshwater fish to choose from, though not all of them are readily available or recommended for the aquarium trade.
If you’re looking for an easy way to stock your tank that will minimize your maintenance but maximize your value, consider stocking your tank with livebearers. Keep reading to learn more about what livebearers are, which species are the most popular, and how to keep them happy.
What Are Livebearers?
As you can probably guess from the name, livebearers are simply fish that give birth to live, free-swimming young instead of eggs. The name livebearer is used by the aquarium community to refer to a number of different species, most of which belong to the family Poeciliidae. The fish belonging to this family are typically found in the southern United States all the way through Mexico and Central America into various parts of South America. Livebearers generally reach a maximum size around 2 to 3 inches, though the exact details vary from one species to another, and they are generally peaceful in terms of their temperament. Livebearers make excellent community fish and they can tolerate a range of temperatures between 64°F and 82°F as well as a pH between 5.5 and 8.0.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Livebearers?
Now that you know a little more about what livebearers are, you can probably already guess at some of the pros and cons for these fish but here is an overview:
Pros for Livebearers:
Most species are very peaceful by nature, great for community tanks
These fish breed readily and continuously with little effort on your part
Many species are adaptable to a range of temperatures and water chemistry
These fish are easy to care for and maintain in the home aquarium
Most species grow no larger than 2 to 3 inches in length
Cons for Livebearers:
Continuous breeding can lead to overcrowding if you aren’t careful
These fish require a varied diet of fresh, frozen, and commercial foods to breed well
Most livebearers do best in schools so you may need a large tank to accommodate them
These fish will eat their own young unless you separate them from the parents
The Top Ten Livebearers for Freshwater Tanks
There are many different species in the family Poeciliidae, but not all of them are recommended for the home aquarium. The family Goodeidae also contains some livebearing species, as do the families Anablepidae and Hemiramphidae. Here is a quick overview of the top ten livebearers for freshwater tanks:
Fancy Guppy – The quintessential livebearer, fancy guppies come in all colors and patterns. These fish are selectively bred to have large fanlike fins that are often spotted or striped in all colors of the rainbow. Guppies generally remain fairly small and they breed prolifically in the home aquarium.
Sailfin Molly – These livebearers are named for their large, sail-like fin. Sailfin mollies grow up to 3 inches in length and they are capable of surviving in slightly brackish environments. These fish come in all different colors and patterns, including a harlequin pattern.
Mickey Mouse Platy – These fish are also sometimes known as Moonfish or Southern Platyfish and they are easy to identify by the black mark at the base of the tail that looks like Mickey Mouse. These fish grow up to 2 ½ inches in length and they are very peaceful and easy to keep. Mickey Mouse Platies are omnivores and they come in a wide range of colors.
Marigold Wag Swordtail – This species has a bright yellow coloration with black fins, though it does come in other color variants. What makes swordtails unique is the fact that males of the species develop a long sword-like projection on the bottom of their tail.
Gold Dust Molly – Named for their bright gold color, the gold dust molly grows up to 5 inches in length which is a little larger than the average livebearer. Gold dust mollies are peaceful and adaptable, though they do prefer slightly hard, alkaline water – they can also live in brackish conditions.
Painted Swordtail – These swordtails are a somewhat new color morph, sporting a bright overall color splashed with black splotches. Painted swordtails grow up to 4 inches long and they do well in community tanks when kept with others of their own species.
Four-Eyed Fish – Though not one of the most common livebearers in terms of the aquarium industry, the four-eyed fish is definitely a unique addition to the home aquarium. There are three recognized species of four-eyed fish in the Anableps genus and, contrary to their name, they only have two eyes but they are positioned on top of the head.
Neon Swordtail – Similar to the marigold wag and painted swordtails, this species has an elongated body and males of the species develop a long sword-like tail. Neon swordtails are covered with brightly colored neon bands and they have an iridescent finish on their scales.
Wrestling Halfbeak – A species native to South-East Asia, the wrestling halfbeak is a surface-feeding species of livebearer. These fish grow up to 3 inches long and they tend to feed on small invertebrates and insect larvae that they collect from the surface of the water. These fish are named for their elongated lower jaw.
Tips for Keeping Livebearers in the Home Aquarium
One of the main benefits of keeping livebearers in the home aquarium is that most species are easy to maintain. These fish are generally able to tolerate a range of different temperatures and slight changes in water chemistry – these are also some of the reasons why livebearers are such a good choice for beginners. As is true for all fish, however, livebearers will do best in a tank where the temperature remains stable and the water chemistry is within the proper limits. You’ll also need to perform weekly water changes to keep the ammonia level in your tank low and to get rid of other waste products that could harm your fish.
Be sure to outfit your tank with a quality filtration system that will remove solid and dissolved wastes from the water column before they break down and have a negative impact on your water quality. A submersible heater is recommended as well to help keep your tank temperature within the appropriate range. When it comes to lighting, the type of lighting you choose depends on whether you have live plants in your tank or not. For planted tanks, you’ll need a stronger lighting system but for fish-only tanks, lighting primarily serves the purpose of illuminating the tank and showing off your fish. In terms of diet, livebearers need a varied diet of commercial flakes or pellets supplemented with live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods. Because these fish are always breeding, a healthy and varied diet is important to keep them in good breeding condition.
If you’re looking for some new fish to stock in your freshwater tank, livebearers are a great option to consider. Not only are there many options to choose from, but these fish tend to be very adaptable and easy to care for. Consider it a bonus if they breed in your tank, helping to keep it stocked with colorful fish without affecting your wallet!
A recent paper published by the Conservation Research Group and the IUCN shows that more than 30 threatened species endemic to India are still being regularly exported, despite their conservation status.
FRESHWATER AQUARIUM ARTICLES
STOCKING THE TANK
The fish you choose to stock your tank is not a decision that should be made lightly. The articles in this category will help you understand the basics of fish compatibility and will provide you with other information you need to make an informed decision when stocking your tank.