Super popular, Guppy fish are super cute, super flashy, and super fun to own.
And you’ll be glad to know, they’re also very easy to care for.
In this article, you’ll discover the exact steps you need to take in order to provide your beautiful fish with a happy and healthy environment.
I’m excited, so let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Into the Wild: What are Guppy Fish and Where do they Come From?
Guppies go by many different names, including rainbow fish, millionfish, and their Latin title, Poecilia reticulata.
Apart from being one of the most widely distributed tropical fish, they’re also commonly kept in freshwater aquariums.
So Where do They Come From?
You’ll most frequently find guppies in South America, particularly in countries such as Brazil, Barbados, and Guyana.
Nowadays, guppies show up in pretty much every freshwater body within their reach. You can easily find them in streams situated near coastal fringes in mainland South America.
More recently, they’ve also been introduced to most other countries around the world in an attempt to control mosquito breeding.
Which is actually a pretty big deal:
The fish are known to feed on mosquito larvae and are expected to halt the spreading of malaria in countries affected by the disease. Big feat for a small fish!
What are the Different Types of Guppy Fish?
Though small in size, guppies can display wide ranges of colors and patterns, as well as fin and tail shapes.
This is largely because guppies have been chosen for breeding by hobbyists for decades, and in effect, they’ve managed to produce many different variations throughout the years–too many for any human to reel off.
Here’s how it works:
When breeders mix and match individual characteristics by initiating sexual reproduction, they can end up creating hundreds and hundreds of different breeds.
Though guppy fish are sexually dimorphic (meaning that males and females express different characteristics) there are three main features that set individual breeds apart:
Guppies can come in every color you could possibly imagine, from metallic blue to bright orange.
You can usually see these color variations on their upper and lower bodies; the head and upper body are typically lighter in color than the tail.
Though gray is the most dominant color of guppy species, colors like gold, platinum, and even albino white are also fairly common.
While some guppies are solid in color, others have different patterns across their body.
Some of these include:
Tuxedo: Tuxedo-patterned guppies have different colors on the front and back sides of their body. But why the name tuxedo? The light colors of the upper body compared to darker lower body look just like the pattern of a tuxedo suit!
Cobra: This pattern has dark rosettes and spots, which is characteristic of a cobra.
Snakeskin: Similar to the cobra pattern, this morph also has rosettes, but instead of spots it has more of a chain-link pattern across the body.
Common tail patterns include:
Leopard: Fins are covered in a series of spots that resemble leopard skin.
Mosaic: Tail is patterned with spots that connect to form a mosaic-like design.
Lace: Fine, web-like shapes that most often occur on snakeskin guppies.
Tail Fin Shapes
You might think something as small and subtle as the shape of a tail fin wouldn’t differ much from guppy to guppy.
But you’d be wrong!
Selective breeding has given rise to a pretty impressive variety of tail fin shapes across guppy species.
These include large fan tails, square flag tails, double sword tails, and many, many more variations (like seriously, a lot!).
Though we’ve already discovered hundred of different species of guppy, it’s likely that tons more will come to exist in the future as hobbyists continue to breed individual fish together.
Part 1: Preparing and Setting Up Your Guppy Fish Tank
Guppies are among the easiest fish to keep, which is a big part of why they’re so popular. They’re hardy and tolerant of different water conditions.
But (and this is a big but):
They do still have their own nuanced needs, and it’s important to make absolutely sure that your aquarium matches these needs if you want to keep a happy guppy (which obviously you do!).
The Most Important Step: The Nitrogen Cycle
Before you do anything with your aquarium, you must perform the nitrogen cycle in order to ensure your Guppies a safe environment to live.
See our step-by-step guide here.
The Best Aquarium Size for Guppies
Being small fish, guppies don’t need enormous amounts of room. That said, we do still have some fundamental nuggets of wisdom on how many guppies you should keep together in an aquarium.
Here’s the golden rule:
Each guppy should have at least 1 gallon of space (though we also suggest that guppies are best kept in trios. Poor lil’ guys and gals get lonely on their own).
For one trio, experts recommend that 4 gallons works best, but if you have more than 3 guppies, simply allow one gallon per guppy.
So just to be clear:
3 guppies alone = 4 gallons
4 guppies = 4 gallons
5 guppies = 5 gallons
And so on and so forth. You do the “math”!
How Many Guppies Should I House in My Aquarium?
Each guppy tank should house trios of individual fish in a ratio of 1:2 males to females.
Now, just like us humans, guppies can also get a little hot and bothered if the gender balance of their group is out of whack.
So, to make sure everything stays kosher in guppy-land, you should try to make sure that your aquarium contains the right mix of males and females.
What is the Best Mix of Males and Females?
…didn’t you jus–yes.
We talked about it a second ago:
Guppies should be kept in trios – 2 females to each male.
Yeah, this is so important we’re sayin’ it twice.
Not only does this better the chances of reproduction, but female guppies are also less likely to become territorial than males- so you’re more likely to keep a peaceful aquarium.
Though this advice isn’t 100% essential, it’s wise to bear it in mind when housing large groups of guppies if you want to make sure that they live happily together.
What's the Best Substrate for Guppies?
Lots of aquatic hobbyists prefer sand when housing guppies.
Why, you might ask?
Simply because it’s- well… simple.
Sand has a super fine texture, so the risk that it’ll get stuck in your fish’s mouths or inside your filtration system is pretty minimal. It’s also very easy to replace and is unlikely to collect excess food or dirt.
Sand might be saving your future self from some big headaches.
But, if for some reason you’re not a sand-man or sand-woman, you can also use gravel, larger rocks and crushed coral, depending on your preferences.
Be mindful, though, that substrates like coral can alter water pH and may warrant the need for pH-neutralizers (like driftwood).
As a good rule of thumb:
You should have around one pound of substrate per gallon in your aquarium.
Filtration for Guppies
We recommend power filters for first-time tank owners, simply because they’re so much easier to use (though they aren’t essential).
Some guppy owners don’t use filtration systems at all. In my opinion, it’s best to use a filter in your tank to make 200% sure that your fish’s water is clean at all times.
As guppies don’t have a particularly large bioload, your filtration system doesn’t have to be incredibly powerful.
In case you’re unsure about your tank’s power, just remember this:
In a 10 gallon tank, your filter should be strong enough to circulate 50 gallons per hour.
Lighting for Guppies
You can choose to use lighting in your aquarium if that’s what you prefer, but you should know that guppies thrive best in aquariums that mimic their natural lighting conditions.
That is, full spectrum, natural day/night cycles.
So long as the room your aquarium in has a window, your fish will have adequate lighting.
If the room doesn’t have a window, you can easily replicate natural conditions with artificial lighting (12 hours of light every 24 hours.)
Pro Tip: Don’t place your aquarium in direct sunlight. You’ll risk causing annoying algae blooms.
Plants and Decorations for your Guppies
Those of you who get a big kick out of decorating the tank will be happy to hear this news:
It’s suitable to use many different kinds of plants and decorations when housing your guppies.
Here’s what you need to know:
As prey fish, both young and old guppies enjoy concealing themselves amongst plants and decorations.
Live plants such as java moss, ferns and watersprite are dense and fast-growing, and therefore make great hiding spots.
Artificial plants can work well, too, although sharp plants can cause injury (so you should generally avoid them).
Additionally, you can also choose to use PVC tubing and artificial caves.
Part 2: Creating Your Habitat: Ideal Water Parameters
Don’t be fooled by their tiny size! Guppies are surprisingly hardy fish.
But even so, there are a number of water parameters that you should control if you want to keep your little guys happy and healthy:
Guppy Tank Water Temperature
The temperature of your guppy’s tank should match that of its native, natural habitat: South American and Amazonian waters.
Ideal water temperatures sit between at a stable number between 72⁰F – 84⁰F.
Best Water Flow for Guppies
So long as your fish are able to get away from water current produced by filtration systems, they’ll enjoy playing in high-flow areas of your tank.
Just to clarify:
Current isn’t a problem- as long as it’s escapable and doesn’t permeate the entire tank.
If your water flow seems to be too high and is causing your fish distress, consider putting in some plants and decorations to absorb it.
pH: Water Acidity & Basicity/Alkalinity Levels for Guppies
Guppies are able to tolerate a STABLE pH between 5.5 – 8.5, but they like it best around 7.0 – 7.2.
Pro Tip: This doesn’t mean you can allow your water pH to bounce between these values. It means you should keep it at a stable level between these values.
It’s important to keep your fish’s water pH within this range to ensure that any ammonia in your water doesn’t become toxic.
Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrates
Although most aquatic animals excrete ammonia naturally, it’s actually a highly toxic waste product in its unionized form.
High pH levels cause ammonia to remain in this form, making it even more toxic than it is already. Above a pH of 8.5, ammonia toxicity can even be fatal to guppy fish- so this is an insanely important detail to get right.
Okay listen up, the following info is the difference between life or death for your guppies:
Nitrite is a product of ammonia.
Although nitrite isn’t as toxic as ammonia, its byproduct, nitrate, can accumulate over time and bring harm to your fish.
As well as this, large quantities of nitrite/nitrate can lead to algae blooms, which will increase your water toxicity and most likely lead to disease.
To combat this:
Regular water changes and dechlorination should be enough to keep your water quality up to standard, though it’s wise to conduct tests to ensure that toxicity is being minimized.
You can purchase ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate test kits from most retailers.
For more information on this, please see our guide on the Nitrogen Cycle.
Part 3: Guppy Behavior and Tank Mates
Although they may occasionally nip the extremities of fish with longer fins (cheeky, ey?), guppies are lovers- not fighters.
Guppies should, therefore, only be kept with other peaceful species such as platies, small catfish (like bristlenose plecos) and peaceful schooling fish.
Part 4: Feeding your Guppies
Guppy fish are omnivores and prefer a diet comprised of both meat and vegetables.
What Can You Feed Your Guppy?
You can feed guppies both processed foods, such as flakes and pellets, as well as live/frozen foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae.
In fact, we actually advise feeding them a mix of both (more on that in a minute).
They can also eat fresh vegetables like tomatoes, spinach and lettuce; though you should always ensure that you remove any leftovers of these vegetables from your fish’s aquarium before they begin to rot.
How Often Can You Feed Your Guppy?
I advise you feed your guppy two smaller meals per day instead of one large one.
Fry (small/baby guppies) have smaller stomachs and much faster metabolisms than adult fish. It’s best to feed fry several times throughout the day.
To avoid nutrition deficiency, it’s important to feed your guppy a mix of both live and processed food- not just one or the other.
Live foods are high in protein but lack other vital nutrients that processed foods contain, so be sure to provide an adequate supply of each.
How Long Can a Guppy Go Without Food?
Guppies can last around a week without food.
If you plan to go away for longer than a week, you should really employ somebody to feed your fish or invest in a high-quality automatic feeder.
You can also use lights to increase food supply during your absence as these encourage vegetation to grow.
Part 5: Breeding Guppies
Thankfully, guppies are incredibly easy fish to breed- even for beginners.
How to Choose the Best Guppies for Breeding
When deciding on which guppies to breed, you should first consider how you want their offspring to look.
This will depend on a number of factors, such as their color, pattern, and tail shape.
Breeding together two leopard guppies, for example, will maximize the chances that the offspring will be a leopard fry.
Breeding a leopard guppy with a tuxedo guppy, on the other hand, may produce offspring that displays mixed characteristics from each of its parents.
As well as physical appearance, it’s wise to choose two of your healthiest fish for breeding, since this will minimize the chances that the offspring will inherit faulty genes or diseases.
Signs of poor health include visible fungal infections, fin/tail rotting, and bladder inflammation.
Creating Your Breeding Environment
You can choose to breed guppies in their own separate tanks or in communal tanks. Both have their own pros and cons:
Separate Breeding Tank
Placing your mating guppies into a separate tank allows you far more control over them and their conditions.
The only downside to this setup is that it requires another tank and, in turn, a lot more space and money.
When breeding guppies in a communal tank, any two fish could breed to produce offspring.
This can be exciting as the coloration and characteristics of their offspring will be random, and you’ll find they often produce some really striking, extravagant shades.
On the other hand, it means that you have little control over which individual fish will mate.
The other major downside (this is where it gets kinda gnarly) is that tank mates are likely to feed on fry.
If you don’t mind how your newborn fish look, and feel confident that your fry will be safe, communal breeding can make the whole breeding process cheaper and less time consuming.
Creating the Water Conditions for Breeding
As guppies are hardy fish and are able to tolerate a range of conditions, there aren’t many specific water requirements when it comes to breeding.
Your water should, however, be between 73 – 83⁰F in order to initiate breeding.
The Spawning Process
When they’re ready to spawn, males will approach females from below and extend their gonopodium (a thin rod near the anus), initiating the mating process.
Females can store sperm inside them for up to 3 months, which is- ahem… damn impressive. It also means that they can have up to 3 births per single mating session.
The gestation period typically lasts for around 28 days but can range from 21 – 40.
Females can give birth to 20 – 200 fry per spawning, depending on her age and size.
Pregnant females develop large, round patches on their stomachs known as gravid spots.
Hatching and Feeding Guppy Fry
Whether in a communal or isolated tank, fry should have plenty of cover and places to hide for comfort- and to avoid being eaten by tank mates.
Java moss is a thick and dense plant and makes a great hiding space for guppy fry.
Immediately after being born, guppy fry will eat anything and everything they can.
Freshly hatched brine shrimp and powdered dry food make for great, nutritious food sources to sustain your newborn fry.
But do remember:
You should always be wary of overfeeding. Excess food can upset your tank’s water quality and kill younger fish.
As your fry grows, you should make an effort to conduct regular water changes in order to maintain water quality and encourage growth.
More FAQs on Guppy Fish
If you need clarifying, or haven’t had your questions answered so far, check out these quick answers to some FAQ’s.
How Big do Guppy Fish Grow?
Males, 1.5 – 3.5 cm; females, 3 – 6 cm.
How long do guppy fish live for?
Anywhere between 2 and 5 years.
How can you sex a guppy fish?
Male guppies have wide, long caudal fins that are typically bright in color whilst females have shorter, narrower caudal fins. Females, as stated earlier, also grow far larger than males.
Happy fish keeping! And if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to get you your answers.