How to Breed Fish

How to Breed Fish Aquarium Beginner Guide

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The first thing you need to know about breeding your fish is that there is no perfect way to breed any single species of fish.

Sure, a lot of techniques are known to be successful, and a lot of aquatic breeding methods aresteadfast and true, but what one hobbyist finds to be a successful method, others may have no luck with.

Better methods are waiting to be discovered, and there is always room for improvement and new ideas when it comes to breeding fish.

  • Reasons to breed your fish
  • Finding the right equipment
  • Making use of plants
  • Looking at water conditions
  • Getting your fish in the mood

When you’re breeding your fish, take the time to observe everything:

  • What are the spawning pair (male and female that you want to mate) doing about the other fish around them?

  • Are there any changes in the pecking order?

  • Have feeding patterns changed since the courtship started? Are the fish eating more or have they stopped feeding normally?

Deciding to Breed Your Aquarium Fish

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breed fish

Aquarists, like everyone else, have goals for their hobby. One of your first goals as a fishkeeper is to maintain a healthy and successful aquarium. After you accomplish that, then what?

You may decide to try another type of system (such as brackish or marine) or investigate unfamiliar breeds. But when all is said and done as far as maintaining an aquarium is concerned, what does the future hold?

Breaking new barriers

Breeding aquarium fish successfully is kind of like getting into a sport’s Hall of Fame: There is no greater reward.

So many species can be bred easily that you should have no problem getting into this fascinating and enjoyable aspect of the aquarium hobby.

There are also many fish out there that havenever been bred, which leaves the door wide open for you to become a pioneer. Just imagine what it would be like if you were the first person on earth to successfully breed a species. It can happen.

Gaining new knowledge and enjoyment

The satisfaction of accomplishing something new (and perhaps snagging a little fame and money while you’re at it) is a good reason to start breeding fish.

You can gain an overwhelming amount of wisdom, knowledge, and pleasure by partaking in this scientific aspect of the hobby.

When you successfully breed a particular species, you also find out much more about that species than the average hobbyist learns in a lifetime.

Conserving the environment

Probably the most important reason to breed fish is to contribute to the conservation (keeping species alive for future generations to enjoy) of our Earth’s aquatic species.

At one time, freshwater fish were shipped from many countries around the globe so that the average hobbyist could enjoy them. Today, thanks to massive freshwater breeding programs, most of these species are captive-bred. If anything ever happens to them in the wild, aquarium hobbyists will be there to pick up the ball.

Already, many home aquarists and organizations such as the American Cichlid Association have saved many fish species from extinction by breeding them when their numbers reached alarmingly low rates in their native environments.

Choosing Your Equipment

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Before you set up a spawning tank, decide whether you want to breed a few fish in your main aquarium (in which case you don’t need a breeding room)

A large-scale breeding operation requires space. Easy-to-breed fish multiply very rapidly. You may end up living on the back porch permanently to make room for your new arrivals.

To breed fish in a serious way — to develop new colors, sizes, and/or fin shapes — you need quite a bit of room. An extra bedroom or office offers the perfect solution. But if your house is the size of a small cabin, you may want to look into the possibility of a heated storage shed.

Make sure you have plenty of room before you start, or you may end up hastily trying to bamboozle your local dealer into buying some fry off you.

The aquarium

A 10- or 20-gallon aquarium is a good starting size for a breeding tank for small species such as guppies and platys. You don’t want to use a tank that is too large, because you might lose track of your spawners and their fry.

In order to keep up with everything your fish are doing, you have to spy on them frequently.

A smaller tank allows you to remain in control of the action at all times, and is much easier to work with and clean. As with any aquarium, thoroughly rinse it with clear water before you use it.

Putting a hood

When your fish are ready to breed, they get a little excited. Excited fish tend to jump very high. High-jumping fish can end up as permanent decoration stuck on your room light or as an afternoon treat for the cat.

A tight-fitting hood keeps your fish in the water where they belong, protects eggs and young fry from many unseen disasters, and keeps heat loss at a minimum.

A good hood also prevents dirt and household chemicals (such as your daughter’s hair spray) from entering the water.


Plenty of places to hide, such as within and under rocks and plants, give your spawning pairs the opportunity to get used to being around each other before they start spawning.

It’s a fact of life; some couples just don’t get along very well. If your breeding tank has no hiding places, the male of many species may have to kill or maim his mate out of territoriality or frustration before any spawning has an opportunity to take place.


Hobbyists disagree as to whether to use a gravel substrate in the breeding tank. We generally recommend using no substrate for several reasons:

  • A tank with gravel or sand is much more difficult to keep clean
  • The newborn fry of livebearers (fish that bear live young) often sink down to the substrate after birth. We have seen many fry trapped by gravel too large for them to navigate around.

Many hobbyists argue that a spawning tank is not natural without substrate, but we have seen most species of fish bred without it. If you feel the need to use substrate for species that prefer to spawn on it (like some killifish), a thin layer of fine sand is a good choice.

Spawning grates

Once in a while, you run into a species that likes to eat its own young or eggs. To prevent this, lay a spawning grate (available at many pet shops) on the floor of the tank so that the young fry or eggs fall to the bottom through the holes.

This allows you time to remove the parents before they can have their offspring for dinner. You can find woven lattice plastic mats that work well at most hobby or craft stores, and you can cut them to any shape you need.

Just place the lattice sheet on top of small stones, and you have a made-toorder spawning grate for very little expense. Another option is to buy a breeding trap, which allows newborn live fry to fall safely between a slot underneath the mother.

Turning up the heat

Use a good quality heater in the breeding tank to keep the water from chilling. This is especially important if your breeding room is not insulated as well as the rest of your home.

Besides, many fish require a small increase in temperature to prepare them for breeding. Although it’s possible to control the water temperature with the heating system in your home, it doesn’t work well because all home temperatures o not match species requirements, so this isn’t a practical method. It’s better to have a heater you can adjust as needed on each individual tank.


Filters are important in breeding tanks, because they supply needed oxygen and produce the water movement that entices many species to mate.

A sponge filter is ideal for almost any breeding tank. This unit has a very simple design and is easy to use. A sponge filter provides simple biological filtration without the risks of mechanical filters (such as youngsters being sucked up in the intake tubes).

A sponge filter creates current, but doesn’t cause the excess turbulence often produced by larger power and undergravel filters.

If your spawning fish are stuck together permanently due to excessive water waves, you may want to cut down on the current with a valve or a smaller filter. Heavy turbulence from an extra air supply (bubble disks or airstones) can damage delicate eggs or young fry.

Plants for fish breeding

Plants have a wide variety of uses in a spawing tank:

  • Plastic and live plants provide privacy and offer security
  • Several species of fish use live plants in the construction of their nests
  • Plastic and live plants serve as spawning sites for many species of fish
  • Live plants remove carbon dioxide from the water and replace it  with oxygen.
  • Live plants cut down on algae present in the water by competing for the same resources they require to survive.
  • Live plants are a natural food source
  • A planted tank can make your fish think they’re in a natural environment, which helps inspire and speed up their spawning plans.

Thoroughly clean any plants with room-temperature water that you choose for your spawning tank before adding them to the tank. Plants often carry snails and small nematodes (worms) that can potentially harm eggs and fry.

To be on the safe side, you can set up a separate tank to grow plants that can be used especially for spawning.

Getting the Water Right

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The water in your spawning tank must suit the species of fish you’re trying to breed.

pH and dH control

You must keep the pH and dH (degrees of hardness) level of your water under control in a breeding situation. Changes in pH are very damaging to your fish, and the ill effects double in intensity during the breeding ritual.

Eggs and young fry are especially susceptible to the smallest of fluctuations in pH level. A good pH test kit will allow you to monitor your water.

Water temperature

One important thing to keep an eye on, especially if you have egglayers (fish that don’t bare live young, but lay eggs that hatch), is the temperature of the water.

Eggs can be severely damaged in temperatures above 85 degrees F. You may end up with poached eggs. Higher temperatures also cause eggs to
develop too quickly, which can lead to weak, deformed, or weird-looking fry. Research each species (Freshwater Fish) that you want to breed carefully before starting out so that you know what their water requirements are.


Young fry and eggs are much more susceptible than adults to problems resulting from too many nitrogen compounds (waste) in the water. Poor water conditions can destroy eggs or damage the growth cycle of newborns.

Carefully change at least one quarter of the water each day in a spawning or growout tank and make sure you have some type of filtration.

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