By Stephen Kwartler
This chapter is not intended to explain all aspects of the many ailments of tropical fish. The main area I want to cover will address the problems that many new hobbyist experience with their new guppies. These same symptoms can be associated with established aquariums that new fish are introduced to. First let me give some details of the long road guppies travel before being offered for sale in your local pet store.
Most guppies sold in pet stores are products of large commercial fish farms; many are located in the Far East like Singapore, Thailand, and Bangkok. There are also large fish farms in Israel as well as those in California and Florida. These farms are all about large guppy production and the concern for tail shape or other desired characteristics are rarely met. Most of these guppies are harvested in outdoor ponds or huge vats. As many as 50,000 guppies can be reared in a single pond during a single season. Often times there are outbreaks of disease and infections due to poor maintenance from overcrowding or from common parasites. The uses of broad spectrum medications are a common practice. When the guppies are collected there is little attention to their general health other than whether or not they “look okay for sale” During a screening process where the guppies are separated by size they may be medicated again. This method of medicating is done at every stage of separation, re-introduction to new quarters, and packaging prior to shipping. The percentage of the drugs being administered is dependent on the quality of the hired help. The type of drugs being used varies from farm to farm and usually is determined by cost vs. effectiveness Medications are either gram positive, gram negative or colored dyes. The possibility of females being able to reproduce is very low. Usually large amounts of male guppies are shipped with mixed females. It is suspected they are fed hormones to improve overall size and color. So you see that by the time a guppy reaches your pet store it has a much lowered immune system and may be suffering from excessive drug exposure.
Now you are probably wondering if it is even worth trying to keep imported mass produced guppies. I will offer a few guidelines the hobbyist should follow that may be the difference in being able to keep your new guppies long enough to reproduce instead of seeing them die one after the other within their first week in your aquarium. There are a few important items every hobbyist needs. One item every tropical fish keeper needs is a basic book on tropical fish or a good book on guppies. There is no need to go out and purchase the biggest book you can find either. A visit to the library will offer you some good books that can be used for research before you go and buy a book for keeps. Besides having a handy book around you will need three types of water test kits. One test is for water ph the other is for water Hardness. There are many types sold but there is no need to go overboard a kit that is expensive. There are several pH test kits but one of the easiest to use is the dip strip type. This type is also available for testing water hardness. You may be able to find one that does both pH and harness in one dip strip test. Guppies and most other live bearing tropical fish can be kept in pH between 6.8 – 7.8. The ideal is a pH around 7.2. The other test kit, probably the most important will be for testing to see if your tap water contains Chloramine. Chloramine is the harmful to aquarium fish and is the combination of chemical ammonia and chlorine. Chloramine is the chemical of choice by most water treatment facilities. It is a cheap inexpensive means to disinfect drinking water. Years ago when only chlorine was used in tap water it could be made safe for tropical fish if aged overnight. Since chloramine is a mixture of the two compounds, ammonia and chlorine, they remain bound as a chemical and do not dissipate with age aeration of filtration. There are several water conditioners for the average aquarist to use besides using an expensive resin canister to alter or remove this compound. Your pet dealer should be able to assist you with the right product for your area.
If you have taken my advice you are getting closer to being in position to care for your guppies. Of course you will need a good heater and a device for filtering your tank. We suggest purchasing a good adjustable submersible heater instead of the type that hangs on the side. Submersible heaters have little chance of cracking when water levels drop during a water change. Guppies do best in water that is between 78 to 82 degrees. Higher temperatures are best for breeders and newborns. Gravel and decorations are optional and are for esthetic reasons only. Of course a display tank has less appeal if left undecorated. With proper lighting a well planted aquarium offers a healthier environment for your guppies. If you decide on live plants try to be careful you do not introduce any parasites into your tank. Never use any soap products to clean your tank or accessories.
If your new guppies are obtained from a reputable breeder there is a good reason to feel they will be of excellent health. If you are purchasing your guppies from a local pet store there are a few things to keep in mind. If you are lucky enough to have several stores within your area visit them all. Try to be patient and avoid buying the first guppies you see. Go to each store and compare the overall care given to the fish they sell. If you see sick or fish in poor health in the tanks it is not wise to purchase your guppies there. Avoid the large department store chains that sell fish in a separate department. Assuming you have found a good pet store with healthy guppies it is time to make your selection. Look over the entire tank carefully. All the inhabitants should be swimming in similar fashion, they should not be swaying back and forth or rubbing against objects. A good tank of guppies should come forward as you approach the tank. As you look them over, their fins should be erect and free of soars. The overall appearance should be of a healthy guppy. For a 5 or 10 gallon tank it is best to start with no more than 6 to 10 fish. Select females that are well rounded and not flat bellied. There should be some darker color in the area above the anal fins on the females. This is the area where fertilization takes place and is called the “gravid spot”. When selecting males try selecting similar looking fish that are of a young age. Males with tails that are ripped or too large for their body should be avoided.
So the time has come to get your new guppies into their new home. You have probably spent close to a weeks worth of groceries so far. The pet store salesperson has probably given you instructions as to what to do when you get home. Did he say “float the bags for 10 to 15 minutes” before releasing them? This is the worst advice to listen to. Floating fish in the bag they were put in can cause a gas affixation that is like poison to your fish. The best method of acclimation is to empty your guppies into a small plastic container or bucket. Test the water from the bag to know what the ph is. Compare this to the water from the new tank. I do not believe in altering the pH as long as it is in the safe range. Allow then to settle down for several minutes. Carefully pour out about ¼ of their water. Add an equal amount of water from the new tank and observe them. Assuming all is well remove another ¼ of their water and add again. Do this every 20 minutes or so until the water in the container is totally all new water. If patience was used your guppies should not show any signs of stress or breathing problems. Now you can either scoop or net your guppies into a small cup with the same water. Make sure the cup is only half filled to avoid them from jumping out. Lower the cup with the guppies into the new tank. Allow your new guppies to adjust to their new surroundings. Do Not Feed Them The First Day. The following day you can feed them a small pinch of flake food that is crushed between your fingers. Be careful not to overfeed them. Overfeeding is the number one killer of tropical fish. It is important that you do not introduce new guppies or other fish once this tank is established.
I do not advocate the use of fish medications to cure the many ailments that are usually due to the poor conditions guppies are maintained in. By keeping your water temperature in the 78 to 82 degree range most bacteria cannot survive. You can not expect your guppies to be any healthier than the care you give them.
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