Tips on Setting Breeder Aquariums
One of the greatest sights to most fish keepers is the fish producing young in their aquarium. Seeing the eggs being laid and hatching out, fry being born with live bearer species, has to be the most rewarding moment for most people. The chances of fry surviving in a community set up is unfortunately very low as the same fry also prove to be tasty snacks for the adult residents in the aquarium.
This can be upsetting but there are solutions to this problem so that most of the fry will survive and this involves setting up a breeder aquarium. The breeder aquarium can also be used purely for raising the fry if you do not wish to move the parent fish, the set up is exactly the same.
Setting up a breeder aquarium:-
The main concept to any breeding aquarium is to keep things simple as there is a lot of tank maintenance involved, cluttering your breeding aquarium will make this more difficult and extra décor can become a host to detritus which in turn can lower the water quality. There are a lot of water changes involved in breeding fish so keeping the aquarium size to the smallest that you can use will make this job a lot easier as there is less water to be replaced each time. For smaller species of fish I normally opt for a 10 gallon tank, larger species may require up to 50 gallons, always research this before starting the breeding program. I prefer to use no substrate, this helps to keep the tank clean as syphoning out any uneaten food is so much simpler. Gravel can trap waste and you will be spending a lot of time getting out the gravel vacuum when there is no need. It is best to half fill the breeder aquarium with water from your main tank, this will ensure that the parameters in both tanks should be the same or a very slight difference, the tank can then be topped up with treated mains water.
For filtration I find it best to stick to air driven foam filters, there are a couple of reasons for this. The foam filters have a large surface area for beneficial bacteria and are very easy to clean. If you use the models that have two sponges they can be taken out of the aquarium one at a time and rinsed with old tank water on a weekly basis, taking them out and replacing them can be done in less than one minute. The water flow can be altered either by using an air pump with an adjustable regulator or clipping a flow regulator to the connecting air line. The main reason for using a sponge filter is that it is completely safe for the fry, there is absolutely no chance of them being sucked inside an intake pipe that you find with other filters, you will often find that the parent fish will also use the sponge filter to lay their eggs on, an added bonus for free!
When adding the heater (if required) to the tank make sure that a heater guard is fitted, this will prevent the fish or fry from burning themselves, this is also a good tip for the main aquarium as well.
Adding your fish to the breeder aquarium
Before your potential breeding pair of fish can be added to the tank you must ensure that the filters are capable of keeping the water quality high, this is critical for any fry in the tank, a drop in the water parameters can totally wipe out any fry you have in there. There are a couple of methods you can use, aquarium starter cultures are the first method most novices at breeding fish will use. The beneficial bacteria are added to the tank straight from a bottle and will colonise the filter sponges if the supplied instructions are adhered to. I prefer a simple method that costs you nothing. All I do is remove the two sponges from the the sponge filter and place them in the main tank, I allow them to float on the water surface for two weeks and they will quickly seed themselves with the same beneficial bacteria. After two weeks they are then replaced in the breeder aquarium and you are ready to go.
Once the parent fish have been added to the tank it is crucial that you perform regular water changes. Very often the parent fish will need conditioning with live or frozen foods for a couple of weeks to get them ready for breeding, this will add lots of proteins and fats to the water which can easily foul the breeding aquarium if they are not removed promptly. Any uneaten food must be syphoned out and the fish have finished feeding, this is an easy task if there are no fry present but great care must be taken once the young fish are free swimming in the tank. As breeding aquariums are relatively smaller than the main tank in your home, the percentage of water removed in a water change is also smaller so I perform the syphoning with a length of air line rather than using the syphon tube. The water removed from the tank is syphoned into a small white bucket so that any fry can be spotted easily and quickly replaced back into the tank. Some breeders will place the fry into breeding nets to keep them safe, this is common practice with live bearing fish who have a habit of eating their young. This practice is fine for short term measures but it is far better to set up yet another small tank to grow on the fry until they are large enough to be added back to the main aquarium or sold on to other keepers.
Any equipment that is used in the breeding aquarium must not be used in any other tank, this is a sure way of introducing diseases, remember that fish fry have very weak immune systems, these build up as they grow. Any form of disease in the breeding aquarium is a sure way of wiping out all of your stock.
You will have probably realised after reading this article that if you intend to breed fish it does require a number of tanks, only attempt to breed if you have the resources to do so!