General Guidelines For Breeding

Most aquarium fish are breed commercially for retail sale. Breeding your own fish is one of the most rewarding aspects of the hobby. Most of the fish available today were first breed by amateur hobbyist. The following is a very general guide for breeding. For a more detailed description of the way fish breed, continue past the general guidelines.

For an interesting article about Spawning with the Seasons, please click here.

Angelfish with fry


  • Use only healthy fish with the color and traits you wish to have in the fry.
  • Prior to attempting to breed condition your fish with good quality food, live if possible and keep the water at its highest quality. Have ready a supply of food for the fry usually Brine Shrimp nauplii.
  • Make sure your water is soft to very soft and slightly acid. Use deionized water like that made from the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Tap water conditioner or if your tap water is good use Tetras Black Water Extract.
  • Have your breeding tank up and running and ready to go.
  • Move your breeding pair to the breeding tank. If all is well your pair may spawn as early as the next morning, but usually a few days will pass. Spawning sometimes can be triggered by a partial water change. A successful mating will be confirmed by the arrival of eggs, usually tiny transparent spheres.
  • As most fish cannot pass up a free meal it is now time to remove the parents. The tank should also be darkened if possible. It is very important to remove any nonviable eggs as mold could destroy the entire clutch. Viable eggs remain transparent throughout their development. Incubation is usually very short between twenty and thirty hours.
  • Newly hatched fry will still have a yolk-sac and once that is absorbed feeding should start with newly hatched brine shrimp. Feed in small amounts and often. Dead food should not be allowed to remain on the bottom. When you see nice full bellies you know your OK.
  • Once the fry have grown and are easily in the free swimming stage it’s time to move them to a bigger tank. Keep up the water quality and good food and growth will be very rapid. You now have a bunch of new fish that you don’t know what to do with! Congratulations.

These were the most generalized tactics and do not apply to all species they are posted here to be used as a guideline. I will cover specific breeding techniques in the individual descriptions.


Methods of reproducing.

Egg Scatters

    Fish which breed in this way either spawn in pairs or in groups. Males and females release milt and eggs into the water at the same time. These are mixed together and the eggs are fertilized. The fertilized eggs float away in the current or sink to the bottom, where they lie with the substrate. There is no parental care given, so large amounts of eggs are produced. The Characins and Cyprinids are two of the species that lay their eggs this way.

Nest Builders

    Many fish species build nest in one form or another, whether it is a simple pit dug into the gravel or the elaborate bubble nest. No special breeding setup is needed, when ready to spawn the fish construct a nest by blowing bubbles, often using vegetation to anchor the nest. The male will keep the nest intact and keep a close eye on the eggs. The female should be removed after spawning. Care is needed to raise the fry and the tank should have a glass cover to help keep the nest moist and warm. The Gouramis, Anabantids and some catfish are the most common of this type of spawners.

Egg depositors

    In this case, the eggs are either laid on a flat surface, like a stone or plant leaf or even individually placed among fine leafed plants like Java moss. The parents usually form pairs and guard the eggs and fry from all danger. The Cichlids are the best known species for this. Some Catfish and Rainbowfish are also Egg depositors. The setup for these fish will vary with the species, but usually you have to provide a flat stone, broadleaf plant, cave or a broken flower pot. Sometimes you can remove the item that the eggs have been laid on to a separate hatching tank.


    The females usually lay their eggs on a flat surface where they are then fertilized by the male. After fertilization the female picks up the eggs and incubates them in her mouth. Even after hatching the fry will return to the safety of their mothers mouth if danger is near. Brood numbers are usually small, since by the time the fry are released they are well formed and loses are minimal. The best known Mouthbreeders are the African lake Cichlids.

Egg buriers

    The annual Killifish are known for this method of reproduction. As the pools where they live dry out, the fish spawn. Pressing their eggs into the substrate. The pools dry out completely and the adults die, but the eggs remain in the dried mud. When the rains return and the pool refills the eggs hatch and the cycle is repeated. Killifish eggs can stay viable for many years in the dried out mud.




    The livebearers do not lay eggs at all, they are fertilized internally and carried to term inside the mothers body. The broods are small and the fry are well developed when born. The Guppy swordtail and Platy are the best known members of this group.


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