Top 10 Livebearer Fish to Try Breeding in Your Next Aquarium
Breeding fish is one of our favorite parts of the aquarium hobby because of the immense satisfaction you get from caring for your pets and seeing them produce the next generation of offspring. Most fish lay eggs, which have a much higher likelihood of getting eaten since the eggs have no natural defenses. In contrast, livebearers (or species that give birth to live young) have a reputation for being easier to breed because the newborns are capable of swimming away and hiding from would-be predators. Learn about these top 10 livebearers — both common and rare — that are fun to breed at home and even sell for profit.
To begin our list, let’s talk about the most popular species you can find at your local pet store, starting with the fancy guppy. This 2-inch (5 cm), South American livebearer has been line bred into dozens of colors, pattern, and fin type variations. In general, males are known for their amazingly colorful and flowy tail, while females are larger and drabber in appearance. Because of their ease of breeding and flashy appeal, guppies are often the first breeding project for new aquarists. Given how quickly they multiply, get a 10- or 20-gallon aquarium with a gentle sponge filter and dense foliage to accommodate all their babies. Like many livebearers, they prefer alkaline pH above 7.0 and higher GH. If your water is naturally soft, make sure to use Wonder Shell or Seachem Equilibrium to add extra minerals that will keep your guppies healthy.
2. Endler’s Livebearer
Because of heavy inbreeding to produce specialty varieties, some guppy strains are not the hardiest. Their little cousin from Venezuela, the Endler’s livebearer, also comes in many colorful variations and tends to be quite robust, especially the wild types that haven’t been hybridized with guppies. The 1-inch-long (2.5 cm) males are slender and brightly colored, while the females are almost twice as big and silvery tan in hue. They can tolerate a wide range of pH from 6.5–8.5, harder water, and tropical temperatures from 75–82°F (24–28°C). Like most livebearers, we recommend getting one male for every two to three females, which will allow the girls to get a little break from being constantly courted by the boys. Feed them small fish foods like nano pellets and daphnia and provide lots of thick cover as hiding spots. Soon your aquarium will be filled with tiny babies looking for their first meal.
We have a special place in our hearts for this livebearer from Mexico and Central America. The two most common species in the aquarium trade — Xiphophorus maculatus (southern platyfish) and X. variatus (variable or variatus platy) — have been crossbred with each other and swordtail species to create a plethora of color varieties. You may see them at pet stores with descriptive names like Mickey Mouse, red wag, bumblebee, and green lantern platies. Most grow to 2–3 inches (5–7 cm) in length, although the dwarf types stay closer to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. They do well in pH of 6.5–8.5, higher GH, and typical tropical temperatures between 72–78°F (22–26°C). However, variatus platies can go even cooler and live in unheated aquariums or outdoor mini ponds during the warmer summer season. If you find yourself overrun with a booming population, try selling your excess platies to a local fish store to supplement your fishkeeping hobby expenses.
If you’re looking for a livebearer at the pet store that is bigger than a platy but smaller than a swordtail, then the 4- to 5-inch (10–13 cm) molly is the way to go. Some of the most prevalent species in the hobby include Poecilia sphenops (short-fin molly) and P. latipinna (sailfin molly), but most pet store mollies are hybrids that display a spectacular range of colors and patterns — such as dalmatian, gold dust, platinum, and lyretail. Like many livebearers, sexually mature males have a pointy, stick-like anal fin called a gonopodium, whereas females and juveniles have a fan-shaped or triangular anal fin.
Mollies actually come from freshwater, brackish, and saltwater habitats spanning all the way from Southern United States to Columbia, so they require hard, alkaline water and can be prone to shimmying or “livebearer disease” if they do not have enough minerals in their water. Another interesting fact is that they have flat mouths that are perfect for tearing off hair and string algae, so many aquarists use them (and platies) as algae eaters for their planted tanks.
Swordtails are one of the larger livebearers frequently found in pet stores, with a length ranging from 4–6 inches (10–16 cm), and they get their common name from the long “sword” on the adult male’s tail. Most swordtails found in the aquarium trade are Xiphophorus hellerii (green swordtail) that were crossbred with platies to produce many interesting varieties — like koi, high fin, lyretail, pineapple, and Kohaku swordtails. Therefore, be careful about keeping swordtails and platies together in the same tank if you don’t want them to breed together.
They originate from Mexico and Central America and enjoy pH above 7.0, higher GH, and tropical temperatures between 70–80°F (21–27°C). Similar to most livebearers, they are not picky eaters and will happily consume flakes, freeze-dried foods, Repashy gel food, frozen foods, and live foods. The key is to always feed your aquarium fish a wide variety of foods to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients and vitamins needed to live a healthy life.
6. Trout Goodeid
This Mexican livebearer is called the trout goodeid or goldbreast splitfin because of its trout-like black speckling and bright yellow chest. As one of the larger goodeid species, it grows to 3–4 inches (7.5–10 cm) and has an outgoing personality that does well in a planted community aquarium with similar-sized tankmates. Goodeids are known for preferring cooler temperatures that run from 65–75°F (18–24°C) and would do well in an unheated aquarium with hard, alkaline water. Similar to mollies, trout goodeids are excellent algae eaters and appreciate higher vegetable content in their diet.
Unlike the previous livebearers on this list, males have an anal fin called an andropodium that has a small notch, such that anal fin looks like a mitten with a little thumb. Also, the females only give birth to about 5–15 fry at a time because each baby has a trophotaenia (similar to an umbilical cord) that allows it to feed directly from the mother rather than from a yolk sac. These giant newborns enter the world at around 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) in size and can immediately feed on live baby brine shrimp and most fish foods.
7. Least Killifish
Despite its common name of “least killifish,” Heterandria formosa is actually not a killifish but rather a midget livebearer from the same family Poeciliidae as guppies, platies, and mollies. This petite, 1-inch (2–3 cm) species is actually the smallest native fish in the United States and can be found in slow-moving freshwater and brackish water habitats ranging from east Texas to North Carolina. The wild type has a silvery-tan back with a dark horizontal stripe and dark spots on the fins, but there is a rarer gold form that has a translucent golden-yellow or peachy color with no dark stripe.
As usual, they prefer pH levels above 7.0, harder water with minerals, and temperatures between 68–79°F (20–26°C). The female has the unusual ability to carry multiple fetuses that were conceived at different times. Since these fetuses develop in different stages, the mother gives birth to her babies intermittently over the course of many days, instead of all at once like a typical livebearer. This amazing superpower allows them to produce relatively large newborns that are ignored by the adults and can immediately eat live baby brine shrimp and crushed flakes.
8. Humpbacked Limia
This strange-looking fish from Haiti gets its common name from the prominent hump on the male’s upper back. It is also known as the “black-barred limia” because of the male’s distinct, vertical striping on the body and dorsal fin. While they aren’t the most colorful livebearer, their abdomens are bright yellow and their scales have an iridescent shine to them. In the wild, this 2-inch (5 cm) fish likes to hang out in large groups with plenty of plants to provide hiding spaces for the juveniles. Sometimes you may see the males lightly spar with each other to compete for the females’ attention, but otherwise, they are pretty peaceful and would fit in a community setting. Given their active lifestyle, consider putting them in a 20- to 30-gallon fish tank with alkaline pH, higher GH, and typical tropical temperatures around 75–80° (24–27°F). They are quite hardy and like to eat a wide range of fish foods and blanched vegetables. Try them out if you’re looking for a rarer livebearer with similar diet, personality, and easy care requirements as platies.
9. Wrestling Halfbeak
Another oddball livebearer is the wrestling halfbeak — also known as the silver, platinum, or golden halfbeak, depending on its color variation. As a top-dwelling fish, it likes to hover near the water surface, gulping down floating foods with its pointy mouth and extended lower jaw that looks like half of a bird’s beak. Males are known to "wrestle" with each other by locking mouths and competing for territory. To minimize aggression and provide comfortable shelter, add floating plants like water sprite and water lettuce, and consider increasing the tank size for every male that you add. (You can tell which ones are the boys because they also have an andropodium, or notched anal fin, like the trout goodeid.) Also, keep a tight-lighting lid to prevent them from jumping out of the aquarium. Wrestling halfbeaks come from slow-moving fresh and brackish water and thus prefer high pH, moderate to high GH, and 75–82°F (24–28°C).
10. Malaysian Trumpet Snail
You may be surprised to see this particular invertebrate at the end of this list, especially since pest snails are notorious for leaving their eggs all over the aquarium. However, the Malaysian trumpet snails (MTS) also has the remarkable ability to bear live young. While the species has two distinct sexes, they still have a rapid rate of reproduction because the female can create clones even without the presence of a male. The eggs are incubated within the mother’s brood pouch, and then once they’ve hatched, she releases tiny newborns that look like miniature versions of the adults.
MTS are easy to identify because they have 1-inch (2.5 cm), brown spiral shells that come to a pointy end. They tend to burrow underground most of the time and are good at turning over the substrate to help mix in fish poop for plants to use as fertilizer. Their extremely hardy nature allows them to survive in toxic conditions (including brackish water) that would kill most other freshwater snails.
Livebearers have a unique and interesting way of breeding that brings lots of joy and entertainment in the aquarium hobby. While we do not ship fish, you can check out our list of preferred online retailers to see what fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic animals they have in stock.