How To Provide The Best Guppy Fish Care: Our Expert Guide

By Matt Thomas
Last updated on
guppy fish care
Image source: “Fins [day 140]” by gerlos licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I love keeping guppies!

I’ve had so many different varieties over the years but their striking colors and gorgeous patterns always get me coming back for more.

But while they have a well-deserved reputation as a beginner fish, there are some expert tips I’d like to share with you for the best guppy fish care.

So keep reading if you want to learn:

  • Just how hardy guppy fish really are.
  • What to consider if keeping males and females (hint: guppies like to breed!).
  • The right water conditions, plants and substrates for your guppies.
  • How to give your guppies the right diet.
  • And lot’s more!….

Guppy Fish Care: Key Facts And Recommendations

Species Name:Poecilia reticulata
Care Level:Easy
Average Size:1 to 1.4 inches (males). 1.6 up to 2.5 inches (females) [1]
Average Lifespan:2 to 5 years
Temperament:Peaceful
Diet:Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size:5-gallons (absolute min. for non-breeding tank). 10-gallons recommended
Water Conditions:Well-filtered. Neutral pH. 8 to 12 dGH. Around 77⁰F temperature

Fancy guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are one of the most popular aquarium fish in the world.

Also known as the common guppy, rainbow fish, or millionfish, they are widely distributed in the wild too. 

You’ll mainly find them in South American countries including Brazil, Guyana, and the Caribbean islands. Trinidad and Tobago is home to several populations [2].

Just How Hardy Are Guppy Fish?

Guppies have a reputation for being very hardy fish and are popular with beginners.

It’s true that they are easier to care for than many other species, but they are often not as hardy as you may think.

Unlike their wild cousins, guppies in the aquarium trade tend to be bred selectively for color, size, or pattern. Often this means guppies can be very inbred, making their genes weaker. This can be a problem at breeding farms where guppies are bred in large tanks or ponds.

High levels of inbreeding can affect body size, fertility, and susceptibility to disease [3], [4].

I’d always recommend you buy your guppies from a reliable breeder to avoid this. Local breeders or specialist online stores can be a good choice rather than larger chain stores.

Types Of Guppy Fish

guppy fish

Guppies come in a huge range of colors, patterns, and tail shapes. In fact, there are over 300 different varieties [5].

They range in color from albino and solid black to almost every color you could think of. From metallic green to bright red. Even multicolored!

Some of the most popular patterns are:

  • Snakeskin: Males have a net-like pattern on the body and tail fin that resembles the skin of a snake [6].
  • Tuxedo: A different color on their front half to their back half, as if wearing a tuxedo suit! [7].
  • Cobra: Similar to snakeskin this pattern has dark spots on the body and tail fin, a bit like a cobra snake.

Tail shapes can range from fan-shaped to rounded, spear-shaped, lyretail, triangular, flag-shaped…. In fact, there are too many to list!

What Tank Size Do I Need For My Guppy Fish?

Guppies are small fish that don’t produce a vast amount of waste. So in theory they don’t need a lot of room.

In reality, though, there are two key factors that will influence your tank size. And it’s these reasons why I’d recommend a 10-gallon tank as a starter.

1) Are You Planning To Breed Your Guppies?

If the answer is ‘no’ then take it from me, just keep males!

Guppies are one of the most prolific breeders you can imagine. They reach sexual maturity at around 8 to 10 weeks, and full size in 6 months [8], [9]. Females can give birth to 200 fry at a time!

If you want to avoid this you can keep a trio of males in a 5-gallon tank as a minimum. That said, I prefer to keep a larger group of at least 10 males in a bigger tank. Which leads us on to the next factor…

2) Group Size And Male To Female Ratio

Guppies are social fish and often group together.

Whilst you can keep a trio in a smaller tank, it’s better if you can start with a larger group. Especially if you are keeping an all-guppy tank with no other fish.

In a small tank, you’ll want to give them a little more space. So start with 3 or 4 fish in a 5-gallon tank. But after this, the general rule is each guppy should have 1 gallon of space. So you can have up to 10 guppies in a 10-gallon tank.

If you want males and females, keep them in the ratio of 1 male for every 2 females.

Males spend almost all their time chasing females to breed [10], which can make your females more aggressive too [11]. So keeping this ratio gives the females time to recover!

Top Tip

Guppies are jumpers, as it helps them move between habitats in the wild [12].

So make sure you cover your tank with a lid!

Getting The Water Conditions Right For Your Guppy Fish

Whilst captive-bred aquarium guppies may not be as hardy as they once were, they can still tolerate a range of water conditions.

I’m going to take you through the preferred conditions for your guppy. There is a bit of leeway in most of these, but the main thing is to keep them as stable as possible.

That said, let’s start with the key parameters where there is no leeway!

Key Water Parameters: Ammonia, Nitrite, And Nitrates

These are pretty much the top 3 water parameters that must be kept at the right levels.

Ammonia is highly toxic to fish and if left unchecked can kill your guppies very quickly. Similarly, nitrite (formed when nitrifying bacteria break down ammonia) can also become toxic in a short space of time.

Nitrates, which are a byproduct of nitrite, can also become harmful at slightly higher levels if they are allowed to build up.

Make sure you test your water at least weekly and keep ammonia and nitrite at 0ppm. Nitrates should be no higher than 40ppm for guppies.

Regular water changes will help keep these levels in check.

pH, Water Hardness And Salinity

Guppies can tolerate pH levels between around 5.5 to 8.5, but their preferred level is around neutral (pH7).

Whilst guppies do prefer a hard water aquarium, they are found in a range of freshwater habitats in the wild. This includes soft water streams and areas of brackish water [13], [14]. In fact, studies on wild guppies have shown they are capable of withstanding salinity levels of up to 150% that of normal seawater! [15], [16].

The best water hardness level in your aquarium is in fact around 8 to 12 dGH (General hardness).

The key to pH and water hardness is to maintain stable levels for both.

Best Temperature For Guppy Fish

The waters of South America and Amazonia, the guppy’s natural habitat, can range from 68 to 83⁰F [17]. It’s also been shown that a range of 72.5 to 78⁰F is best for females when breeding [18].

Overall, it’s best to keep the temperature in your tank at an average 77⁰F for your guppies.

Captive-bred guppies are not as resilient as their wild cousins. So temperatures below 72⁰F can cause your guppies to become slow and lethargic. On the other hand, raising the temperature above 82⁰F will shorten their lifespan.

When using a heater, place a thermometer at the opposite end of the tank. That way you can check the water is heated consistently throughout.

The Right Filter For Your Guppy Tank

Some guppy owners don’t use filters. That might be ok if you have very small numbers of fish and you are doing larger water changes once or twice a week. But in reality, it’s much easier and more efficient to use a filter.

Add to this the guppy’s potentially weaker immune system, and I recommend it’s always best to over filter rather than under filter your water.

A hang-on-back (HOB) filter is a good choice for most setups. For a 10-gallon tank, you’ll want a filter that can cycle the water at around 50 gallons per hour.

But one word of caution if your guppies are breeding. Always ensure the filter intakes are covered with filter sponge. Baby fry are so small when born they can easily be sucked up into the filter and killed.

If you have a tank over 10-gallons you should also consider adding a sponge filter for extra filtration. The added filtration will help keep the water crystal clear, and sponge filters mean fry won’t get sucked up inside!

How Often Should I Do A Water Change?

Even if you are using a filter, you’ll still need to carry out water changes to keep your water parameters in check.

Performing around a 25% water change every 1 to 2 weeks will keep your water clean and safe for your guppies.

Plants, Substrates, And Lighting

You can use a range of plants and substrates for your guppies. A lot can depend on whether you want a general show tank or you are using your tank specifically for breeding.

Plants For Your Guppy Tank

Guppies do best in a dense, well-planted environment that gives them plenty of places to hide.

This is particularly important when breeding.

Guppies are livebearers, giving birth to live young in large numbers at a time. But guppies show no parental care towards their new young. In fact, they will immediately eat new fry! So if you want to keep your new babies, you need to protect them from the adult guppies.

Plants are a good natural way to do this. 

Clumps of java moss, water wisteria, or guppy grass grow nice and thick and will give your new fry places to hide.

Live plants also bring many added benefits. 

They help beneficial bacteria colonize your tank. They remove carbon dioxide from the water while adding oxygen. They also help remove nitrates from the water [19].

The Best Substrate For your Guppy Tank

Whilst you can use gravel, or even crushed coral as a substrate, I would always recommend sand in a guppy tank.

Sand is fine enough that it won’t cause your guppies any issues if swallowed. It’s a good anchor for plants, and it’s easy to replace if some gets sucked up during cleaning.

Guppy breeders often don’t use any substrate in the bottom of their tanks, as it makes cleaning and removal of excess food much easier.

Top Tip

Using crushed coral as a substrate can alter the pH of your tank’s water. So keep an eye on the pH and use a neutralizer if needed.

Lighting Your Guppy Tank

Guppies need a natural day and night cycle for their biological clock.

The best light is actually natural daylight. In fact, when breeding, guppies tend to be more sexually active at dawn [20].

So if your room gets good natural light, you may not need any artificial lighting. Just make sure you don’t place your tank in direct sunlight as this can raise the temperature to dangerous levels.

LEDs are the best artificial light to use. They come in a wide range of colors, are fully controllable and, unlike fluorescent lights, won’t alter the temperature of your tank.

Guppy Temperament And Compatibility

white and red guppy fish

Guppies are peaceful fish that will get along with most other species. So you should be more concerned about choosing fish that won’t harm your guppies.

Avoid fin nippers or aggressive fish like barbs, cichlids, sharks, or even some tetras.

So What Fish Make Good Tankmates?

There are plenty of smaller, peaceful community species that will make great tankmates for your guppies.

Mollies, platies, and some gouramis are good examples. They will inhabit the middle of the tank alongside your guppies without bothering them.

You could also go with bottom dwellers. Cory or bristlenose catfish are good choices. Ghost or cherry shrimp are also good tankmates if you want to try some invertebrates.

Just remember whatever species you choose, the water conditions need to suit them too. You also need to have enough room. 

If you have a 10-gallon aquarium with around 10 guppies it will be difficult to achieve a community tank. You could add a few shrimp or cory catfish but that would be the limit.

Can I Keep A Betta With Guppies?

I wanted to call out this question specifically, as I get asked it a lot when it comes to guppies.

So can you keep a betta fish with them?

In my opinion, the bottom line is if you have fancy guppies – no.

Fancy guppies are just too similar to bettas with their large colorful tails and fins. Keep them together and you risk your betta attacking your guppies.

On the other hand, feeder guppies, which are much less flamboyant can make perfectly suitable tankmates for your betta.

Guppy Diet And Feeding

Guppy fish are omnivores and need a variety of foods to keep them healthy.

You should use quality guppy flakes as the basis of their diet.

When choosing a fish flake, take a look at the list of ingredients and check that it contains a high level of protein. Ingredients are usually listed by weight, so if brine shrimp is one of the first listed it’s likely to be a good quality flake. Flakes with brine shrimp incorporated are a very good choice and can lead to better growth and survival for your guppies [21].

Live or frozen foods like cyclops, daphnia, brine, or blood shrimp will also supplement protein levels. Adults guppies should have a diet that’s around 40% protein [22], but that can be increased to about 52% if you are feeding young fry [23].

It’s important that you also include vegetables in your guppy’s diet too. You can give them fresh vegetables like lettuce or peas. Crushed spirulina algae wafers are another good food for your guppy and can help growth and coloration [24].

How Often Should I Feed My Guppy Fish?

It’s best to feed your guppies twice a day in two smaller feeds rather than one big one.

Only feed them what they can eat within one minute, and remove any excess food from the surface of the water afterward.

If you are raising fry you can increase this to four or five times a day as they have faster metabolisms. But make sure you use food that is small enough for them. 

Repashy Gel or Community Plus are foods I’ve used before because they are so versatile. You can use bigger chunks for adult guppies but crush down nice and small for the fry.

While feeding, make a note of how your tank water is looking. If it’s cloudy it could be an indicator you are overfeeding. Try feeding them one less time a day for a few days to see if it helps.

Another sign of overfeeding is if your guppies have a trail of feces behind them. If you see this happening reduce the amount you are giving them.

Breeding Guppy Fish

Like I said earlier, guppies are prolific breeders. If you’ve got males and females in a tank chances are you going to get a huge amount of baby fry!

When they are ready to spawn, the male will use its gonopodium (a modified anal fin-shaped like a thin rod) to mate with the female. Males can even recognize which females they have already mated with and instead choose new ones! [25].

Females will also tend to mate with multiple males as it can shorten gestation times and lead to larger broods [26].

Once spawning has taken place, the female gestation period usually lasts for 28 days but can be between 25 and 35 days [27].

All this means that you can get somewhere between 20 and 200 new fry every month!

Caring For Your New Fry

To stop the parents and any other community fish in your tank from eating your new guppy fry you can protect them in a few different ways.

  • Add dense vegetation to the tank to give the fry more hiding places.
  • Create a separate tank or breeder box to rear the fry in for a few weeks until they are large enough to put back with the adults.
  • Use a breeding trap in your tank. This is a separator you can place in your tank with a slotted wall. Once the female has given birth to the fry they can swim through but the adults cannot. 

Start your new fry on baby brine shrimp and crushed flakes for the first few weeks, remembering to feed them in small batches four or five times a day.

What If My Guppies Get Sick?

When it comes to sickness in guppy fish, prevention is always better than cure.

Keep a clean, well-filtered tank and do your water changes regularly and you should be able to keep very happy and healthy guppies.

One of the ways of preventing illness is to be very careful when you bring new guppies, or other fish, into your tank.

New fish can carry hidden parasites or other diseases so I’d always recommend quarantining new fish for 3 to 4 weeks before adding to your main tank. But if you only have a small tank where you aren’t breeding or adding new fish this need not apply.

And always be careful to look for signs of healthy versus sick fish when buying your new guppies.

Signs Of A Healthy Guppy Fish

  • Plump appearance but not bloated.
  • Fins spread out with no sign of fin nipping or fin rot.
  • Healthy vibrant color.
  • Swimming constantly and energetically.
  • Good appetite and eats well.

If you are buying new guppies in a store I’d always ask to see them fed in front of you. A good appetite is often a sign of a healthy guppy.

Recognizing A Sick Guppy

  • Hides from others in the tank.
  • May swim erratically, upside down or constantly at the bottom of the tank.
  • Bloated stomach.
  • Becomes slow and lethargic.
  • Skinny in appearance (which can often be a sign of an internal parasite).
  • Obvious spots, tears or marks on the body, fins or tail.

Common Guppy Diseases And Treatments

Guppies can be susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections just like any other tropical fish.

But there are two diseases that are particularly common in guppies.

Ich

This is a very common disease amongst guppies [28] and is often caused by poor water conditions.

You can recognize ich by small salt-like spots on the skin. Another sign is your guppies may rub against objects in the tank due to the discomfort.

Treat ich with commercially available medication, such as Ich-X or API White Spot Cure. 

You can supplement this by increasing the temperature in your tank for a short period. Around 80 to 81⁰F for two weeks. In fact, studies have shown guppies can actively seek out high temperatures when infected with some types of parasite to try to remove them [29].

But bear in mind, raising the temperature will only speed up the lifecycle of the parasite so that it falls off your fish quicker. It will still be present in your tank, so you will need to medicate too.

Fin Rot

You can often recognize fin or tail rot by white patchiness to start with. Fins will then start to show signs of tearing.

Again, you can use commercially available medication to treat but this is really one where prevention is much better than cure.

So make sure you don’t house your guppies with any fin nippers. Maintain your tank at the right temperature, and keep your water parameters in check.

The Bottom Line

Guppies are common but beautiful fish.

Be extra careful when introducing new fish to your tank, and keep your aquarium clean and your water parameters in check. I’d always recommend you get new guppies from a reputable store or breeder.

And always consider whether you want an all-male guppy tank, or if you are prepared for plenty of new baby guppies every month!

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AUTHOR
Matt Thomas
Matt has been keeping fish since junior high when he used to look after his parent's tank. He loves guppies, cichlids, and his crowntail betta named Bobby.