Guppy Fish: Full Care Guide (with Types, Tank Setup & Diet Tips)

Being active and vibrantly colored, guppy fish (Poecilia reticulata) are strong contenders for the title of most popular choice for beginning aquarists. Even experienced keepers love keeping this jubilant species!

They are technically capable of living in nano tanks, and pet store employees commonly advise new guppy owners that this species lives well in tanks as small as a gallon.

However, this is not good advice. Guppies are shoaling fish, meaning they need to be housed in reasonably-sized groups to thrive. And just like all other fish, they enjoy having space to freely swim.

Poecilia reticulata commonly known as guppy swimming in a planted aquarium

Don’t be fooled by the common misconceptions about this tropical fish! Guppies require just as much care as any other freshwater schooler.

At a Glance

Species name: Poecilia reticulata
Minimum tank size: 10-15 gal (38-57 l)
Water temperature: 62-82°F (17-28°C)
Avg. lifespan: 3-5 years
Adult size: 2-2.5 inches (5-6.4 cm)
Minimum school size: 6-8
pH: 7.5-8.5
Diet: omnivore
Behavior: peaceful and active

Origins

Wild guppies can be found in various rivers and streams in South America. Venezuela, Brazil, Barbados, Trinidad, and the Caribbean provide a home to these small fish. There are a few hundred species in South America alone, but that is not the only place they’re now found.

Used for mosquito control, many guppies have been released in freshwater systems throughout North and Central America.

They live well in various water conditions. And since insects make up a large portion of the guppy’s diet, they were probably quite happy with their newfound larvae-eating jobs!

Color and Appearance

Since there are multiple species of guppy with many different coloration patterns and types of fins, I am going to narrow the list down to five of the most popular varieties: fancy, tequila sunrise, lyretails, turquoise, and blonde guppies.

1. Fancy guppies

Poecilia reticulata also known as guppy fish swimming in a tank

Fancy guppies are the most common and readily available variety. They can be found anywhere that sells freshwater fish.

These fish are bred in several colors, but their long, flowing, and patterned tails can help you distinguish them from other species.

Fancy guppies are often multicolored, with the most prevalent colors being orange, yellow, red, blue, black, and a pale gray or white color. Their tails are often the most colorful traits and have patterned spots and stripes which often resemble those of a leopard.

2. Tequila sunrise guppies

Shoal of Poecilia reticulata also known as tequila sunrise guppies swimming in front of a decor in a fershwater aquarium

Tequila sunrise guppies come second in popularity. This type has an amazing yellow body color that gradually transitions into a deep orange or red in the tail fin.

Some Tequila sunrise guppies are yellow from head to tail, while others have a pale head and abdomen with the yellow coloration covering only the fish’s rear half. In this instance, the yellow usually begins in and around the dorsal fin and spreads toward the tail, then capped off by orange edges.

The tail of the tequila sunrise guppy is not as long and billowy as that of the fancy guppy, so they’re able to swim more efficiently.

3. Lyretail guppies

Lyretail guppy in a transparent tank

Lyretail guppies are so named because their tails have a unique two-pronged appearance. These fish have extended rays on the top and bottom of the tail that create a gap in the middle of the fin. Well-bred lyretails have prongs of equal length.

The body of this fish is typically a pale blue, gray, or white with orange patches and the occasional black spot. Lyretail guppies typically reach a maximum size of two inches (5 cm).

4. Turquoise guppies

Poecilia reticulata variation blue Moscow on a dark background

Turquoise guppies are aptly named for their blue-green body coloration. The long, sweeping tail fin is a beautiful royal blue.

Turquoise guppies typically have slightly longer dorsal fins than other varieties.

The tail fin of this type is also significantly larger than some other guppy species. Unfortunately, this makes them relatively poor swimmers. They may have a hard time swimming in strong currents.

5. Blonde guppies

Blonde guppies have a very pale, blonde coloration that appears on the head and underside of the fish.

Despite their name, this particular guppy also has a distinct red coloration. This red color can be found running down the back of the fish. The red color progressively covers more and more of the body toward the tail end of the fish.

Speaking of the tail, blonde guppies have a solid red tail with a rounded appearance. This guppy species can reach a length of about two inches (5 cm).

Behavior and Tank Mates

A shoal of blonde guppies in a planted aquarium

If you want a bright and active tank, guppies are one of the best species to fill that role. All guppy species are typically friendly towards their tank mates, though some can be nippy, particularly with long-finned fish.

They do well with many species of small fish and invertebrates.

Constantly moving and somewhat restless, guppies do not mix well with shy fish species. Instead, house them with fish that have bold and brave personalities and can withstand the higher pH levels that guppies need to thrive.

Some acceptable tank mates for guppies are:

And here are some species that should not be kept with guppies:

It may seem like some of the species in the “do not mix” list shouldn’t be there, as you may have seen people online posting pictures of bettas and guppies together.

But all of these fish are incompatible for a couple of reasons. Bettas, rasboras, barbs, and angelfish are all soft-water fish. They cannot tolerate the high alkalinity and hardness levels of the water that guppies need.

Bettas specifically should not be housed with guppies because, again, they require soft water, but also because male bettas can become confused by the colorful fins and assume the guppy is another male betta to fight.

In an ironic twist, however, guppies can also become hazardous to the betta as they are known to nip and tear the fighting fish’ delicate fins.

Tank Setup

Poecilia reticulata also known as fancy guppy swimming near to the bottom in a planted community aquarium

Let’s take a careful look at tank size. I’ve said above that 10 gallons (38 l) are the absolute minimum, but only under certain circumstances.

Guppies are prolific breeders. Because of this, the added offspring can quickly overwhelm your aquarium.

In a ten-gallon tank, it is best to only house a small group of same-sex fish. Most keepers tend to stick to a group of males since they are more wildly colored and have flashier fins. A nice bachelor group of five or six fish does well in a tank this size.

Now for mixed-sex groups, 15-20 gallons (57-76 l) is a good starting place. This will give both adults and newborns plenty of room.

With a tank this size, it may be tempting to immediately stock it with a hefty school of guppies. However, it is best to be patient! Start out with a small batch (5-8) and wait for the babies to start appearing. Your tank will quickly be filled to capacity with fantastic flashy fry!

Temperature & pH

One of my favorite characteristics of guppy fish is that they can live in both cold and tropical temperatures! As long as the temperatures never drop below 65℉ (18°C), you won’t need an aquarium heater!

They are also known to tolerate brackish conditions. In terms of pH, these guys like neutral to slightly hard water in the range of 7.5-8.5. If the tap water in your location is soft, you can raise it by adding crushed coral or cuttlebone.

Plants & Décor

Couple of guppies swimming among guppy grass plant in a freshwater aquarium

Guppies aren’t very picky about plant life, but they do appreciate some vegetation.

A nice guppy tank doesn’t need to be as heavily planted as, say, a betta tank, but it’s still best to provide your guppies with a moderate amount of live plants. Some examples to consider are Java fern, water wisteria, Java moss and guppy grass. Plus, diverse aquarium flora can improve the natural nitrogen cycle of the tank.

Guppies don’t have specific substrate requirements either. Of course, sand is best as it mimics their natural habitat, but gravel and rock can work just as well!

Lighting & Filtration

Last thing to mention: lighting and water flow. Because of their long and delicate fins, you’ll want to purchase a filter with low output.

Sponge filters work well for this, as well as HOB (Hang on Back) filters with adjustable outputs. No matter the filter you choose, make sure it is rated for your tank size.

Due to poor breeding practices, many commercial guppies are extremely sensitive to poor water quality. Keep the water pristine!

Just like substrate, lighting requirements aren’t so strict. Guppies do well in both low and high light conditions.

Feeding

Guppies eating flake food on the water surface in aquarium

Guppies are omnivorous but can also be considered insectivores as insects make up the vast majority of their diet.

Their upward-facing mouth is designed for hunting surface-dwelling insects. When food is scarce, or they just have a hankering for a salad, guppies also eat algae.

Frozen and live foods are the best way to keep your guppies healthy.

Brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, bloodworms, and especially white worms (mosquito larvae) are all excellent choices for feeding.

The main ingredient in Fluval’s Bug Bites is black soldier fly larvae, making this pelleted food perfect for insect-loving fish. The tropical version made for small fish is the perfect size for the small mouth of the guppy.

Guppies also need algae in their diet. You can supplement their health by feeding them algae wafers or growing algae in the tank.

Sexing

Male and female guppies in a transparent aquarium with a dark background
Male (black) and female guppies

Male and female guppies exhibit several differences, which can be easily recognized once the fish has reached sexual maturity.

The most obvious way to distinguish one sex from another is by noting the size and shape of the tail, anal, and dorsal fins.

Much like bettas, male guppies have substantially larger tail fins than females. Their dorsal and anal fins are also larger and more dramatic.

Females have short tails, small dorsal fins, and pointed, almost triangular pelvic fins.

Female guppies are also larger and less colorful than males. Since the male’s duty is to “woo” the female, he comes equipped with more impressive coloration and fins to win them over.

Female guppy in a decorated aquarium
Female

Breeding

When it comes to reproduction, guppies generally need no intervention. In a proper setup, they mate quite readily on their own. For this reason, if you don’t want your fish to breed, invest in a group of only males.

Guppies are livebearing fish, meaning that the mother gives birth to live offspring. These baby fish can free swim immediately after birth, unlike those of egg-laying species.

There’s a few things you need to do to purposely breed your guppies. First, you’re going to want to obtain either a separate tank for breeding (at least 5-10 gallons or 19-38 l) or invest in a breeder box.

Adult guppies are known to consume their fry, so if you want a successful rearing, you will need to quickly separate the fry from the adults as soon as they are born.

Sponge filters are the most favorable option for breeders. The extra oxygenation and water agitation aid in letting the fry grow up healthy and strong.

If you are opting for the separate tank option, always cycle it before you add your fish! The baby fish are extremely vulnerable, and unstable water parameters can kill them easily.

A good breeding group consists of one male for every two females. You can successfully breed with just one group at a time, but if you are looking for a large batch of babies, you can always add more (two males and four females and so on).

It is also important that the breeding tank remains at a stable 78°F (25°C) to induce breeding. The fry also need to be housed in the warmer water at birth and then be slowly adapted to cooler water as they mature.

The Mating Ritual

Male and female guppies mating in a planted tank
Female and male mating

The actual mating process happens very quickly. After chasing down a female, the male inseminates her by inserting his adapted anal fins, called a gonopodium, into the female’s cloaca and releasing his sperm.

They will mate this way several times. After fertilization, the female’s gestation period lasts about a month.

It is important to track the date of impregnation because you will need to separate your pregnant females from the rest of the group about a week before they are due.

Fry Care

A new born fry of guppy swimming in aquarium
New fry

Female guppies can produce 20-40 fry at a time. Once they are born, separate the female from her fry and put her back in with the main school.

The fry are self-sufficient at birth and do not rely on their parents, in fact, the parents can prove quite dangerous to them.

The baby guppies should be fed 2-3 times a day. They can eat any foods that can fit into their tiny mouths. Baby brine shrimp are usually the food of choice.

Guppy newborn baby staying on the bottom of an aquarium trying to hide
6-weeks old guppy

Flake food and crushed vegetable and algae wafer fish food should also be offered as a varied diet is important for healthy and stable growth.

At 6-8 weeks old, or whenever the fry are large enough to not fit into the mouths of the adults, they can be released back into the main community tank.

Disease

One ailment that is more often found in guppies than other species is a protozoan parasitic infection commonly referred to as guppy disease.

These protozoa come from the genus Tetrahymena. The organism attacks by sticking onto the outer surface of the fish and then burrowing itself into the muscle of the fish.

This illness can sometimes be mistaken for ich, as white spots and lesions appear on the body. Guppy disease is incurable and contagious.

Other diseases that can affect guppies, as well as any other freshwater fish, include ich, columnaris, dropsy, fin rot, gill flukes, and velvet.

Ich

Ich is a parasitic infection that occurs on the body, fins, and gills of the fish. The telltale white spots caused by this disease can easily be spotted and resemble grains of sugar clinging to the fish.

Ich is a curable type of illness. If your guppy has ich, you can treat it with commercially available ich medicine (Methylene Blue).

The condition is most often caused by stress and poor water quality. Keeping a clean tank that meets the needs of the fish is a good way to prevent exposure. Don’t slack on the water changes.

Quarantining all new fish is also important to prevent exposure.

Columnaris

Columnaris is a little more tricky. This disease is a bacterial infection that causes lesions and, if left untreated, death. It can either kill the fish quickly or slowly over time.

Columnaris thrives and spreads rapidly in warmer waters, so if your guppies have contracted it, don’t raise the water temperature.

The symptoms of this disease include lesions, pale patches, fungus-like growth on the gills and mouth, fin damage, and anorexia. Columnaris can be cured with antibiotics such as Furan 2, Terramycin, Maracyn 2, and Kanaplex.

Dropsy

Dropsy is incurable and is caused by the death of internal organs, which release fluids and cause a large swelling in the abdomen.

Pineconing, or raised scales, and bloating are always present in cases of dropsy. If your guppies have these symptoms, it is best to humanely euthanize them as soon as possible.

Dropsy is extremely uncomfortable for the affected fish and can sometimes take days to kill them. Fortunately, it is not contagious, so there is no need to separate affected fish from the others.

Fin rot

Fin rot occurs when the water quality is poor. Symptoms include fin loss and degradation. The edges of the rotting fins are typically black.

Fin rot can be cured by first improving the water quality with water changes.

If your ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are all at 0 and your fish is still struggling with fin rot, you can treat it with antibiotics. Kanaplex seems to work best.

Gill flukes

Gill flukes are small parasitic worms that attach themselves to the gills and skin of affected fish. They can sometimes be seen sticking out of the gill area.

Other symptoms include rapid breathing, scratching themselves on items in the tank, and mucous-like secretions.

The condition can be treated with anti-parasitic medicines. Gill flukes can also cause bacterial infections to the host, so it may also be necessary to treat with antibiotics as well.

Velvet or Gold dust

Velvet, also known as gold dust disease, is a parasitic infection. Guppies infected with velvet will have a substance covering their entire body that resembles “gold dust.”

This dust can be easily spotted by shining a flashlight or other bright light source onto the fish.

The symptoms of velvet are very similar to those of ich: flashing (scratching themselves on objects), rapid breathing, clamped fins, and weight loss.

Copper sulfate, aquarium salt, and raising the temperature of the water can treat this ailment.

Remember to be cautious if you’re using a community aquarium. Copper sulfate can have adverse effects on other aquarium members, such as freshwater snails or shrimp.

Closing Thoughts

This species has a wild variety of colorations and tail shapes. Blue, yellow, orange, red, white, and black – long fins, short fins, spotted fins, and solid fins – there is a guppy out there for you!

Their lively behavior and enchanting colors are the reason this fish is so beloved.

They’re easy to care for, and long hours can be spent watching them gracefully swim throughout the fish tank. The guppy is guaranteed to make your life a little brighter!

Questions, comments, or concerns? All are welcome and appreciated!

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