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How to Overcome the Challenges of Breeding Tropical Fish

There are many ways to interact with your tropical fish and get enjoyment out of your aquarium—watching them swim around, feeding them, teaching them tricks, etc. But one of the biggest ways to get long-term satisfaction out of your aquarium, and maybe even an income, is breeding tropical fish.

But every variety of fish has its own mating patterns, gestation periods, nutritional requirements, and other considerations to take into account when going about the work of producing offspring. Becoming a breeder is a big undertaking, and novices should be asking a lot of questions—what kind of environment do I need to create? How do I get my fish to copulate?  How can I protect the newborn fry?

Here’s a breakdown of some of the main challenges that breeders of tropical fish face, and how you can navigate them when pursuing breeding yourself.

Creating a Hospitable Environment0003

Before you start coaxing your livestock to do the deed, you need to build an environment for them which will make them comfortable enough to do so. In this sense, tropical fish aren’t that different from humans or any other animal; we tend to avoid having children until we feel secure about our ability to provide them a good head start in life.

In nature, fish have evolved over countless generations to develop an instinctual knowledge of the perfect place and time for breeding. Your goal in building an optimal breeding environment is replicating that ideal environment which the fish inhabits in nature.

This means you should research as many aspects of the species’ natural environment as you can—amount of driftwood and rocks/plants, substrate, temperature, pH, water hardness, light levels, etc.

Also consider how they lay their eggs—do they lay them on flat and broad spots like leaves and smooth rocks (as cichlids do), or do their eggs fall and settle at the bottom, requiring a substrate of marbles to protect them from predators? These considerations will help inform what sort of environment you put together for your particular species of tropical fish.

Of course, the fish have evolved to favor all of these conditions because they give them the best chance of good health and survival. With that in mind, putting together a good breeding environment must also include taking extra care to ensure that the water quality and other conditions are optimized for your tropical fish.

Newborn fish are more susceptible to variations in conditions like temperature, pH, and the presence of bacteria, and so some tropical fish will even eat their own eggs or fry if they feel the environment isn’t good enough for them to survive. So be sure keep up your proactive aquarium maintenance, use an adequate filter with filter media that has lots of surface area for water-cleansing bacteria, and consider temporarily removing the gravel from the bottom of the tank to remove rot and algae buildup.

Water changes, though, can be performed weekly, but sometimes it’s better not to disturb the water too much during breeding and egg-laying.

Keep in mind that with all of this planning to create a hospitable environment, it may be difficult to maintain balance with the needs of other fish that share the tank. Therefore, you might want to construct a separate spawning tank for your breeding activities.

Encouraging Tropical Fish to BreedBreeding Tropical Fish

Next you need to go through the sometimes tricky process of getting your tropical fish to successfully breed.

First, you of course need to sex your fish and determine if you have a compatible set of fish, whether the species you’re working with mate in pairs or groups. Tropical fish can be sexually dimorphic or isomorphic—the dimorphic species are easy to sex because the males usually have significantly more color and finnage, whereas isomorphic species are harder to distinguish other than by looking at the genital papilla that’s visible during spawning times.

When selecting parent fish, look for these traits:

  • Good colorings and markings
  • Maturity and good health (fish that are too young or unhealthy will produce unhealthy fry)
  • Compatibility (some species need to first be raised together for a long time)
  • Similar strains or color forms
  • Identical species

Matching fish with these characteristics will help produce healthy, attractive young.

Having chosen the fish, you then want to condition them by giving them some highly nutritious food. For many species of tropical fish this can take the form of well-balanced flakes, while for others this can be brine shrimp, flying insects, or larvae.

Finally, start trying to trigger breeding. With many species, especially tropical fish from the Amazon River, removing some of the water and then replacing it with that’s a couple of degrees cooler will simulate the rainy season, triggering their instincts to start breeding. Look up your particular species to learn what particular triggers or special circumstances they need.

Ensuring Survival of Young

Last but not least, you need to make sure that this whole ordeal wasn’t for nothing and that your eggs or your newly born fish fry don’t immediately perish. With such delicate creatures, you need to be pretty careful to ensure their survival.

Determine what spawning method your species uses and start there.

Egg-layers can often be removed once they’ve laid and fertilized their eggs, as these species often have their eggs swept downstream in nature, and if they’re kept around they may just eat the eggs. While some care for their young for a short while after they hatch, most don’t so you shouldn’t feel bad about separating them.

Live-bearers are typically the easiest tropical fish to raise. Place the pregnant female in a separate tank, remove her after she gives birth, and feed the fry baby food or powdered flakes for 4-6 weeks until they’re large enough to be moved into the regular aquarium.

Mouth-brooders are more difficult. African cichlids are one tropical fish that spawns this way. The mothers are usually much smaller than the males and will get bullied by them if not given hiding spaces which they can fit into but the males cannot. After spawning, the mothers will then carry their eggs and babies in their mouths for a period of up to two weeks. Move them to a separate tank during this time and help them feel at home. Once they release the babies from their mouths, it’s time to separate them again. Feed the mothers a lot to help them recover (as they’ve not been eating much due to the young in their mouths), and give the young Spirulina and plenty of water changes to help them quickly grow to a decent size so they can all be integrated into the aquarium (or sold if that’s your aim).

If you follow this guidance, you’ll hopefully come away with some healthy young which you can either keep or sell to make a bit of extra income. However, this is only a basic guide—to get the best results, you’ll want to research the specific conditions best for the species of tropical fish that you’re trying to raise. And to help with that, you may want to consult a professional.

Living Art Aquatics is the premier supplier, designer, and consultant for aquarists raising tropical fish in Crystal Lake, IL. If you want advice breeding your fish or are looking for some fish or equipment to help you get started, this is the one-stop-shop with all the gear and expertise you need.

So give us a call at (847) 737-5151, and we’ll help you bring some new life into your aquarium—this time literally.

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