Breeding Aquarium Fish, Basic Breeding Tips For Beginners

Art Aquarium 2015
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Everyone in the aquarium hobby should be able to enjoy the wonder of seeing a pair of fish they selected mate, produce fry, and then raise the fry to maturity. There is no better feeling of accomplishment to be had in the aquarium hobby. As a bonus, it gives you extra fish you have raised to share with others in the hobby as well.

Which Time of Year Is the Best Season for Breeding Fish? 

Most fish species are stimulated to breed in the springtime when the water warms up and the daylight lengthens. You can replicate this anytime in your home aquarium by doing water changes, increasing the temperature setting on the aquarium thermometer, and gradually increasing the length of time the lights are on.

By creating an environment as near to the natural environment that the pair of fish you have chosen comes from and providing both the male and the female abundant food high in protein, you will condition the fish to reproduce. Different species of fish lay their eggs in different manners, so there are several aquarium setups, plant types, breeding surfaces, and foods that are best to stimulate spawning for various fish species.

What Should You Look for When Selecting a Breeding Pair of Tropical Fish?

Select the pair that has the best color, size, and vigor overall. The best time to find specimens in your local aquarium store that are conditioned and ready to breed is in the late winter and early spring. On the tropical fish farms where the fish are raised in Florida, or possibly in southern Asia, the fish are enticed to breed in the spring, usually in indoor aquariums. Then the fry (baby fish) are placed into outdoor ponds to grow to the size for shipment to aquarium stores. They have sufficient live foods in the ponds for the baby fish to eat from the start, and then the fish are fed pelleted foods as they grow. By autumn, the fry will be mature and you may be lucky enough to find a great pair ready to breed right in your local fish store!

How Should You Care for the Fish When You Get Home?

Place the breeding pair into their own aquarium, with the appropriate spawning substrate or decor, depending on their method of egg-laying. Provide them with an abundance of high-protein food, feeding more often than you would normally feed your community aquarium fish, typically three times daily. You are preparing them for breeding, so they must have sufficient energy in their bodies for their own maintenance and growth as well as to produce eggs. Feed both the male and the female live brine shrimp if possible. If that is not available, frozen will do.

For some species, separating the males from the females, preferably using a glass partition so that they are in view of each other at all times, but cannot get to each other, increases the need to breed when given the chance. During this period of conditioning, raise the temperature to about 78-82 degrees F, depending on species, which is warmer than your community aquarium usually is kept.

All these things being done together will cause the female to become loaded with roe, or eggs. During this period of conditioning, it is also important to bring the pH, water hardness, and alkalinity to the levels prescribed for the breeding of that species, if this is an important factor for their reproducing.

What Is Meant by "pH Value"?

The pH value is the acidity/base balance of the water, which can be readily determined by test kits and strips offered for sale in Aquarium Stores. It is generally understood that a somewhat acid condition in the water of the aquarium is rather desirable for most fish species. However, some fish, such as African cichlids, may prefer a basic (higher pH) water. Check aquarium fish websites and fish breeding books for the exact water conditions preferred by the species of fish you are attempting to breed. The pH of the water can be adjusted to meet the needs of your fish species by adding pH adjusting products available from your local fish store.

If You Chose Egg Layers That Need Infusoria to Feed the Fry, How Can That Be Produced?

One of the hardest parts of breeding egg-laying fish is supplying the newly hatched fry with food small enough for them to eat so they survive and thrive. The majority of aquarists favor the use of infusoria as the first food for their fry. Infusoria refers to many small organisms in the water that tiny fry can feed upon, including bacteria, protozoa, algae, and tiny crustacea.

To grow infusoria, place a lettuce leaf in the spawning tank as soon as the adult fish spawn. The leaf will decompose and create sufficient infusoria for the first week or so, at which time the old leaf can be removed and another leaf can be added, and followed a week later by feeding any of the finely powdered prepared foods for sale in the aquarium store, or commercial paste food preparations such as Liquifry.

What Are Other Fry Foods That Can Be Used?

Later on, the fry may be fed the yolk of a hardboiled egg mixed with a little water into a paste and added to the tank near the fry (they may not be able to swim very far yet). As the fry grow, tubifex worms and flake fish food ground up between your fingers may be added to the diet. Remember, with fry the most important thing is to keep their bellies full at all times. This means feeding young fish at least 6 times per day. Fry can quickly reach the point of irreversible starvation if food intake is not enough.

If You Only Have Room for One Breeding Tank, What Size Is Best?

We find that the 10-gallon aquarium is both inexpensive, easy to store, easy to get supplies for and is enough room for you to breed almost any beginner fish species. As you get deeper into the hobby you may need taller tanks for depth or longer tanks for fish whose breeding habits require them to run at high speeds. A common 10-gallon aquarium, with an air pump, a sponge filter, a heater of sufficient wattage, and a good lighting system will both do the trick and not break the bank.

The bonus is that a 10-gallon aquarium is big enough to keep fish in, raise the fry, or, when the project is over, store easily in a closet with all its supplies tucked neatly inside as if it were its own box.

So, Where Do You Begin?

The easiest egg-laying fish to start with are egg scatterers like the zebra danio and rosy barb, and substrate spawners like convict cichlids and firemouth cichlids. Many other species lay their eggs in various ways, including mouthbrooders that carry the eggs and even babies in their mouths, but it is best to start with the basics until you are comfortable with the care of baby fish.

Article Sources
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  1. Aquarium Water Quality: pH. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

  2. Réalis-Doyelle, Emilie et al. Strong Effects Of Temperature On The Early Life Stages Of A Cold Stenothermal Fish Species, Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta L.)PLOS ONE, vol 11, no. 5, 2016, p. e0155487. Public Library Of Science (Plos), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155487