Livebearer Healthcare, Part 1: Prevention
Livebearers present a paradox to the hobbyist. They are often referred to as hardy, good beginner fish. For retail platy and swordtail
hybrids (particularly gold platies and green
swordtails), this is true for the most part.
But residing right next door, that adjacent
tank on the store rack contains what are
arguably the touchiest of all freshwater fish:
mollies. These too are livebearers.
A similar disconnect exists among the
hundreds of species of wild-type livebearers.
The hobby should, once and for all, stop
these generalizations about livebearers. Let’s
talk instead about processes that best ensure
good livebearer health.
Dr. Ted Dengler Coletti
is in his 25th year as an
aquarist and enjoys writing
and lecturing on the hobby.
He resides with his patient
family and guitars in the
beautiful New Jersey
Skylands. A former Director
of the American Livebearer
Association, he is a founder
of the Northeast Livebearer
Association and the Aquarium
Hobby Historical Society.
Questions, suggestions, and
requests for autographed
copies of Alex Appello’s new
book Getting in Touch With
Your Inner Biker Dude can be
sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scout for a Shop
A good and trustworthy pet shop is your
best asset. These are stores that use reliable
wholesalers, have owners who acclimate
and treat their fish well, and provide sound
advice and patience for their customers.
Stores like these are well worth the extra
price you may pay for their fish. You should
never shop by price alone, as a healthy fish
is a good value in itself.
Hard-to-find livebearers will require you to
go beyond your local pet store. Wild-type and
higher-quality fancy livebearers are generally
found through aquarium societies (fish
clubs), livebearer organization trading posts,
and private breeders—those who advertise in
TFH classifieds, and on the Internet via their
own hatcheries or auction sites.
Local aquarium societies should be your
first choice. You will be able to pick out
and bring home newly bagged fish that are
probably already accustomed to your local tap
water. These fish would also have been cared
for by the experienced hand of a seasoned
aquarist. Otherwise, you will have to deal with
the added stress (and cost) of shipped fish.
Be Picky, Yet Patient
Your choice of livebearer for purchase
is a critical decision. The selection of
a sick or diseased fish usually leads to
disappointment, death, and the possible
infection of the tank’s other denizens. Retail
or petshop fish require the most caution, as
they have undergone the stress of shipping;
they might have been kept in crowded
conditions or with central filtration systems
that can transmit disease. Fortunately, it is
fairly easy to spot most problems up front.
Ask the pet store how long your chosen
livebearer has been in their tanks. I like to
wait a week before purchasing a new arrival
at the shop. Of course, a unique fancy
swordtail or fabulous new guppy may sell
out quickly, so sometimes it is worth the risk
to make the purchase. If the fish do not make
it, I tend not to blame the store here, and I do
not look for a refund due to my gamble.
However, when you see any of the
following attributes in a livebearer, it is best
to pass. Indeed, passing on the whole tank,
and any other tanks that are on the same
central filtration system, is not a bad idea
if it is a parasitic or fungal issue, or if many
fish are dead or dying.
Once I am satisfied with the shop acclimation
and disease screening, I look for fish that
are active. Even shy or reclusive livebearer
species should elicit an escape reaction with the
approach of a net. Netting more females than
males is also a good idea—male livebearers will
endlessly pursue females to mate, sometimes to
the point of death from exhaustion if the females
are not allowed a break from the chase.
The Journey Home
If you make your selection at a pet
store, make sure the attendant puts your
livebearer in a large bag with one-third
water and two-thirds air. The large amount