Known as the easiest fish to breed, Livebearers are popular aquarium fish that give live birth to fully-formed young ones instead of laying eggs.

Livebearing aquarium fishes belong to several different fish families. However, they do have two things in common: breeding and upkeep.

Their low maintenance needs, adaptability, and peacefulness make them every fish keeper’s favorite — be it a novice or an expert.

If you are curious about these livebearing freshwater fish, read on to learn everything you need to know about the fish that give birth in an aquarium.

What Are Livebearer Fish: Different Types

As the name suggests, livebearer fish are those that do not lay eggs. Rather, female livebearers keep their eggs within themselves and only give birth to live fry when they can swim on their own. Even though only 1 percent of all fish are livebearers, they make up one of the largest portions of those found in the fishkeeping business.

There are several different types of livebearer tropical fish, some known while others are relatively obscure. The table below names some of the most popular livebearing aquarium fish.

Common Name Scientific Name
Guppy Poecilia reticulate
Endler’s Livebearer Poecilia wingei
Common Molly Poecilia sphenops
Sailfin Molly Poecilia latpinna
Southern Platy Xiphophorus maculatus
Swordtail Xiphophorus hellerii

From the large variety of livebearing tropical fish, guppies, mollies, platies, and swordtails are the “big four” that are most widely cultivated.

Since these groups are closely related to each other, there is a great degree of variation in the types of livebearers kept by aquaria enthusiasts. This variation is possible through either cross between species, such as mollies and guppies, or crosses between different geographical variants of the same species, such as those of guppies.

Therefore, it is possible to have an entire assortment of fish that give live birth in the aquarium, making livebearers all the more exciting.

Guppies, mollies, platies, and swordtails, respectively, are discussed in greater detail in the latter part of this article.

Where Are Livebearers Found: Natural Habitat

Since livebearing tropical fish belong to many different species, livebearers are naturally found in a variety of different habitats ranging from freshwater to seawater. In geographical terms, you will find livebearers near the tropics in coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, southeastern United States, and towards the north of South America.

Wild livebearing fish prefer medium to hard water, ranging from eight to 18 dH, with slightly alkaline conditions. They thrive in a wide range of different temperatures, but those between 70 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit are found to be the most favorable.

Because guppies love to devour mosquito larvae, this particular type of fish that give live birth has been introduced in many parts of Asia to help combat the rise of malaria-causing mosquitoes.

As a result, livebearers are not limited to any particular region. They are now also found in the freshwater bodies of many sub-tropical regions such as estuaries, rivers, and streams.

Even though the natural habitat of wild livebearing fish consists of medium-hard alkaline water, commercially bred livebearers are quite flexible. They also easily adapt to different water conditions. It’s why livebearers are often the first fish that aquarium hobbyists start populating their tanks with.

How to Care for Livebearers: Aquarium Setup

Setting up an aquarium for livebearers and caring for them is like a walk in the park. Their hardiness and adaptability mean there is little you need to worry about. This simplicity is the reason why all types of fishkeepers prefer livebearers, whether beginners or professionals.

While their small size and attractive colors add beauty and life to any aquarium they inhabit, livebearers’ serene disposition makes them excellent additions to existing tank communities.

With the right kind of care and attention, livebearers easily live up to 7 years and grow as big as 3 inches.

– Water Conditions

Livebearers naturally thrive in slightly alkaline, medium to hard water. However, livebearing aquarium fish that are commonly found in the market are not restrained by water conditions. In fact, they do just fine in tap water.

In terms of specific water conditions, it is best to replicate the natural environment in which wild fish give birth. We recommend that the pH of the water remains between 7 and 8, while the temperature is maintained between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even though livebearers adapt to a wide range of different temperatures, the most suitable temperature for livebearing freshwater fish lies between the mid-70s or low 80s. With temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, livebearers run the risk of contracting diseases. Therefore, a heater might prove to be an essential accessory in colder parts of the world.

Several types of livebearers live in brackish (slightly salty) coastal waters. Therefore, adding salt to the aquarium is recommended by many experts. To make the living environment similar to their natural habitat, you can add one tablespoon full of non-iodized aquarium salt for every five gallons of water in the tank.

Some experts recommend adding other minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, to give tank water the right level of “hardness” for livebearing aquarium fish.

– Size of Aquarium

The right size and form of aquarium vary from one type of livebearer to another. On average, you should have a minimum of 15 gallons of water in the tank regardless of the kind of livebearers you are keeping. Doing so follows the simple rule of having no more than an inch of adult fish per gallon.

However, the specific size of aquarium you need depends on the size of the livebearers you are keeping. You can go as low as three gallons of water in the tank if you are solely keeping guppies and as high as 30 gallons of water if your community of livebearers consists mainly of swordtails or sailfin mollies.

– Things to Add to the Aquarium

Adding filters to aquariums is always a good idea because it ensures a healthy environment for the fish. For livebearers, in particular, it is recommended that you secure the intake with a sponge prefilter as internal filters pose a risk of sucking these small fish that give birth in the aquarium.

In terms of decorations and cover, it’s ideal that you add a lot of plants to the aquarium as young fry and female fish actively seek refuge in places they can hide. This type of cover is important during mating season when livebearing female fish try to protect themselves from aggressive males.

In addition to providing cover, lots of plants also provide oxygen for the fish, keep the tank well aerated, and help combat algae growth.

– Suitable Tank Mates

Because of their peaceful disposition, livebearing freshwater fish make excellent community members. They are non-violent and do not exhibit aggressive behavior that might pose a danger to any of your existing fish. As long as the water conditions are preferable, you do not need to worry about making any additional arrangements for livebearers.

The best tank mates for fish that give live birth are other livebearing fish. So please keep at least two pairs of each species to prevent any possibility of aggression. There are many different types of fish that go well with livebearers.

The most compatible is rainbowfish which not only mirrors the tranquil and friendly nature of livebearers but also thrives in similar hard water conditions.

Other tank mate choices include:

However, take note that livebearers are no match for larger, more aggressive fish, so you should keep the size of tank mates in mind before making decisions about the tank community.

– Feeding Habits: Diet

Staying true to their easy-going nature, livebearers are not picky eaters. They are omnivores which means livebearing aquarium fish consume both meat-based and plant-based feed. Therefore, it is effortless to provide livebearers with food and feed them a variety of nutritious meals.

Livebearing aquarium fish eagerly consume flake food. Livebearers are also big fans of live food, which helps them in spawning and growing up to their full potential. Some live food options include brine shrimps and tubifex worms. You can also feed livebearers freeze-dried bloodworms.

Livebearers love to graze on algae, so you will often find them picking on algae growing on your aquarium plants. If the fish do not find enough algae, livebearers end up eating the aquarium plants instead.

One way to prevent livebearers from feeding on live aquarium plants is to provide vegetarian fish food such as vegetarian flakes daily. You can also encourage algae growth by increasing the supply of light on the tank’s surface.

It is worth noting that fish that give live birth in the aquarium boasts a small appetite. Hence, it is better to provide them with small servings of the feed frequently rather than giving them a larger dose at once.

As a rule of thumb, do not give livebearers anything they cannot consume within two minutes. Also, try to diversify their meals and switch between vegetarian and meaty feeds every day to ensure your livebearers remain happy and healthy.

Now that we have provided you with an overview of livebearers, let’s look at the four most popular types of livebearing fish in detail.

Top Four Livebearing Fish

– Guppies

Guppies are arguably the prettiest type of livebearing fish out there. Unsurprisingly, they are also the most common type of livebearer found in the aquarium trade today. Their readiness to eat almost anything and adaptability to a wide range of water conditions make them an excellent choice for those just beginning to explore their fish-keeping hobby.

Guppies are found naturally in the South American coastal regions. They have a particular fascination with mosquito larvae. This led them to be introduced in many sub-tropical and tropical regions of Asia to combat malaria and other diseases mosquitoes carry.

Like other livebearers, guppies prefer slightly alkaline water with warm temperature conditions. Even though guppies are omnivores, they gravitate towards live or frozen food more than the other livebearers. Apart from mosquito larvae, their favorite meals include daphnia and brine shrimp.

Guppies are also sometimes referred to by the name of “Million Fish,” which alludes to the promiscuous nature of female guppies. They tend to reproduce in large numbers and with multiple partners at once.

Their attractive designs and eye-catching coloration have led guppies to be recognized as fan-favorite first fish. In addition to this, they are also very friendly, making them all the more charming for aquarium hobbyists.

– Mollies

Hailing from the same fish family, mollies are close relatives of guppies. However, their physical traits make them easily distinguishable from other types of livebearers. One thing that makes them stand out is their size. While most livebearers grow up to two inches, female mollies can get twice that size!

This type of fish that gives live birth in the aquarium lives in salty coastal waters, particularly in the warmer regions of the Caribbean.

Like other livebearers, mollies are also omnivores. But unlike guppies, they tend to prefer plant-based feed over live meat. Mollies particularly like to consume algae and foods like Elodea and zucchini.

There are many different types of mollies, and their appearance differs from one type to another. But mostly, livebearing mollies boast patterned bodies in rich colors like black, gold, white, and orange.

– Platies

When it comes to being the easiest fish to keep, platies provide tough competition to guppies. Platies are fish that give live birth in the aquarium, and they are often recommended to beginner aquarium hobbyists as an excellent first fish to start fishkeeping. This is because platies are highly adaptable and easy to care for.

Platies are natives of Mexico and Central America. Like other livebearers, they are found in slightly alkaline water, but they do not prefer brackish environments as much as mollies do.

The most common type of platy kept in aquariums is arguably the hardiest of all livebearers and can adapt to a wide range of different temperatures. Like other livebearers, the optimum temperature for platies is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

In terms of feeding habits, platies are also omnivorous. They do not pose any specific dietary demands and will eat almost anything they are provided with, given that it fulfills their nutrition requirements.

Platies are beautiful livebearers. They come in a plethora of different colors, ranging from red to blue to black. Because platies breed like guppies, their offspring come in a large variety of colors and patterns.

– Swordtail

Closely related to platies, swordtails are livebearing freshwater fish naturally found in streams and ponds of Mexico and Central America. As livebearers love algae, swordtails are also sometimes found in drainage pipes and vents.

Like other livebearers, beginner aquarium hobbyists often pick swordtails because they are so easy to keep. Their specific water conditions remain the same as the rest of the livebearers. They quickly adapt to temperatures ranging from the high 60s to the low 80s and prefer slightly alkaline water conditions. Swordtails do have a specific preference for a lot of cover and vegetation in areas they inhabit.

Swordtails are non-picky eaters and happily consume almost anything you give them. They do not boast any liking to a specific type of food. Instead, they thrive on a diversified diet consisting of live and frozen foods, vegetables, and flakes.

Swordtails are the largest of the livebearing fish. Their maximum growth is anywhere between four to five inches. Therefore, if you plan on keep swordtails, it is recommended that you have a minimum of a 20-gallon tank.

Like platies, swordtails come in a wide variety of colors but the most commonly found swordtail boasts a solid orange body. Male swordtails are often more ornamental than females and are more expensive to buy too.

Livebearers Conclusion: Summary

  • Livebearers are fish that give live birth in the aquarium instead of laying eggs.
  • The most common types of livebearing aquarium fish are guppies, mollies, platies, and swordtails.
  • Livebearers are found near the tropics in coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, southeastern United States, and towards the north of South America.
  • Livebearers thrive in warm conditions but can adapt to a wide range of different temperatures.
  • Livebearers are omnivores.
  • Livebearers require a minimum of 15 gallons of water in the tank.
  • The most suitable tank mates for livebearers include Tetras, Danios, Barbs, and Rasboras.

Often the first fish aquarium hobbyists start with livebearing aquarium fish remain a source of joy for countless fishkeepers around the world. Livebearers are small, flexible, and beautiful – all the qualities that one looks for in pet fish.

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