Tips on Breeding Fish in Aquariums - with Types of Breeding
Fish breeding is a major part of many fish keepers experience in this hobby and can be very rewarding. Often breeding projects are undertaken to maintain stocks of certain species that are under threat of extinction, in some cases breeders may breed several generations of fish to strengthen strains within a species and produce wonderful colourations that otherwise would not be seen under natural breeding conditions. On the whole though it is often the case that many breeders pursue this part of the hobby either to help out with the running costs of their aquariums or purely for the enjoyment of successfully raising fry to adult fish and the knowledge that you are raising healthy fish either to keep or pass onto other keepers.
Often some new breeders expect to make a lot of money from fish breeding, unless you are breeding on a commercial scale this will not be the case, there can be small profits to be made but it is definitely not a get rich quick scheme, the initial investment does not have to be large if you look around for second hand tanks etc. to set up for raising the young fish or separating the sexes of the juveniles if required but there will be some cost involved so bear this in mind. Often the more experienced keepers will set up “fish houses”, these are rooms in the house or out houses that are insulated and used purely for housing a number of tanks and equipment, at one stage I had a fish house that contained 25 tanks, not only can this part of the hobby involve more expense but it does take up a lot of time in the day performing water changes etc. plus bear in mind that the fish house may need some form of heating so expect larger power bills because of this.
Another important part of getting into fish breeding is researching the species of fish that you wish to breed, you will need to find out how the fish breed to start with (this will be covered shortly), you will also need to know healthy specimens that you will need to purchase initially and also the most obvious research will always be how to sex the fish that you are going to attempt to breed, this may not always be possible with some species and purchasing a group of juveniles may be the only way that you can guarantee getting a breeding pair. It may all sound complicated to start with but once you get started everything will fall into place very quickly and as long as you have patience and care for detail then there is no reason why you cannot bring up successful broods of juvenile fish. Always remember that there are no set rules when it comes to breeding fish, conditions that may work for one breeder may not work for another and vice versa, finding out the natural water conditions for the fish and what triggers spawning is the main key when you first start out and altering these slightly to suit the needs is the best way, keeping the water quality high and with some species replicating the rainy seasons may be all that you need to do to trigger off spawning, certain levels such as pH and water temperature are key aspects but these can be varied to suit as well so don't think that you need to copy conditions exactly to be successful.
Now its time to have a look at the different way that fish actually produce their young, to keep things simple to start with there are basically two main groups of breeding patterns which are live bearers and egg layers. Most keepers will start out with the live bearing species as these fish tend to breed very quickly and on a regular cycle without being too demanding. Of course as with any breeding project there are pitfalls such as the parent fish attempting to eat their young but this can be controlled if plenty of hiding places are added to the breeding tank, the males are often kept with several females as the males do tend to harass females in a big way when they want to breed, just keeping one female with one male can cause the female to become stressed and suffer long term, keeping several females will spread out the harassment and allow each female to have rest periods. The most common live bearers are Guppies, Platies etc. and are relatively cheap to purchase being so common in the aquatic stores. The main advantage of breeding live bearing fish is that the fry are born fully developed and are self sufficient as soon as they are born, they will swim to a hiding place and feed on algae or other small foods in the tank without the parents help. You can purchase commercial fry food for these young but make sure that you get the live bearers fry feed as you can also purchase egg layers fry food as well. The fry are duplicates of their parents but it may take a few weeks before the full colouration is displayed on their bodies, they tend to grow very quickly and will even accept the same food as the parent fish if crushed to smaller pieces to allow for their smaller mouths.
Egg laying species of fish can get a little bit more complicated as most of these species of fish tend to be a little harder to get to breed, of course there are exceptions to this rule, the most obvious being the Convict cichlids that are nicknamed the “aquatic rabbits” of the aquariums due to their fast breeding habits. Other more delicate species such as Discus do require a lot of experience and often hard work to get them to breed successfully, patience is the key to have some form of success with egg laying species. To make matters even more complicated there are distinct group of species that are sorted due to their own ways of depositing the eggs and also caring for the young. Many egg laying species of fish do not make good parents and the breeders usually separate the parent fish once the eggs have been fertilised to prevent them from eating the eggs. This is usually the case with the egg scatterers, in the wild the eggs are scattered around and the water flow will take them out of the reach of the parent fish but in the confines of the aquarium the eggs have nowhere to escape. Not all egg scatterers eat their eggs. Corydoras belong to this group and they can make good parents, tetras do not show any parental care and will need to be removed once the eggs have been fertilised.
Other species of egg laying fish deposit their eggs carefully on chosen spawning sites, these sites are usually cleaned by the parent fish before the eggs are laid, these species of fish can get it wrong with the first few batches but will learn to become good parents, Angelfish, Rams and Discus fall into this category. Other egg depositors are also known as cave spawners or secretive spawners as they tend to deposit the eggs in enclosed areas away from prying eyes and other fish that may attempt to eat the eggs. Fish such as the Kribensis and the Convict cichlid are well known cave spawners, these conditions can be replicated by adding upturned plant pots or décor that the fish can swim into making them feel secure and using this décor as nests.
Other fish species such as the Malawi cichlids can be classed as mouthbrooders, these fish have evolved a unique way of protecting the eggs and fry by holding them in their mouth to prevent any predators from eating them. The females will hold the full batch of eggs in her mouth until they hatch and when the fry are ready she will release them for short periods initially taking them back into her mouth at the first sign of danger.
The Siamese fighting fish belongs to a small group of fish that are known as bubble nest builders. As the name suggests the male forms a nest at the top of the aquarium from air bubbles, this is used to house the eggs allowing the male to keep an eye on them and also offering them protection from predators, if any eggs fall from the nest then the male will pick them up and replace them. Take note though that not all of the Betta species are bubble nest builders so always do your research so that you can decide which species of fish meets your requirements and interests in the breeding projects.
There are certain tips and important rules that can be offered so the next section will offer advice on certain aspects, as stated above though, what works in one person tanks may not work in another, the tips are only guidelines.
Tips and facts concerning fish breeding
Breeding fish and fry require the highest water quality, regular water changes with conditioned water are a must, always test the water to make sure that the correct pH levels etc. are being provided and more importantly that there is never any trace of ammonia or nitrites in the aquarium.
Just because you have a male and female in the aquarium it does not mean that these fish will automatically mate, many fish prefer to select their own mates, this is definitely noticeable with the cichlid species, if the fish do not pair together then you may have to try the male with a different female. The best way to get a breeding pair is to purchase a small group of juveniles and allow them to mature together, during this time you should see at least one pair develop.
I have always had great results in growing on tanks and breeding tanks by using air powered sponge filters, the air flow can be controlled to produce minimal water flow if required, this is very handy especially if the male is fertilising the eggs, high water flow can spread the sperm away from the eggs.
Remember that fry only have very small mouths, they need small food that they can digest easily, it is far better to feed the fry small meals several times per day rather than one large meal. The stomachs are small and can only hold a small amount of food at a time. Any uneaten food should be removed from the tank to prevent it from spoiling the water. It is also worth remembering that the fry should not be raised in large tanks, if they are they will expel a lot of energy looking for food, it is better to keep the fry in small tanks so that the food is always close to them, as they grow into juveniles you can upgrade to larger tanks to suit.
When the fish lay their eggs you may notice white eggs amongst the batch, this can mean one of two things, they are either unfertilised or have contracted fungus, either way they are useless. Some parent fish will remove them as they occur but not always. To help restrict any fungal infections you can add a few drops of methylene blue to the breeding tank.
Sadly one aspect of fish keeping is the culling of young, deformed fry. Not every fry that hatches will be perfectly formed, some may have deformed fins or irregular body shapes, to maintain the quality and prevent these fish from future suffering it is necessary to cull them humanely. The kindest way to euthanase the fry is by adding clove oil to some water and placing the deformed fry in there, they will pass away very quickly.
Hopefully this article will have given you some insight into the aspect of fish breeding, think carefully before you attempt this part of the fish keeping hobby, always make sure that you can pass on any juvenile fish that you cannot keep long term, have a word with your local aquatic store. Many of these stores will give you credit on their goods in return for a supply of juvenile fish.