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[FAQ] Aquaria: Good (and Bad) First Fish; Breeding

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                       FAQ: Good (and Bad) Beginner Fish
contributed by Dean Hougen

   This article considers fish choices for the beginning aquarist,
   covering good choices for the complete novice (``Good First Fish''),
   good choices for the near novice who wishes to expand his or her
   options for new fish (``Good Second Fish''), and poor choices for
   beginning aquarists (``Bad First Fish'').

   The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as
   such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria.
   Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors.
   Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at
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     * Good First Fish:
       cyprinids, Corydorus catfish and rainbowfish.
     * Good Second Fish:
       loaches, dwarf pl*cos, tetras, cichlids, anabantids and
     * Bad First Fish:
       goldfish, piranhas, knife fishes, hatchet and pencil fishes,
       elephant noses and baby whales, Chinese algae eaters, bala sharks,
       iridescent sharks, glass cats, pl*cos, long-whiskered catfish,
       red-tailed catfish, spiny eels, painted glassfish, dyed fish,
       brackish fish and saltwater fish.

   Since even a small amount of material can be difficult for a newcomer
   in any field to digest and retain, the novice aquarist may wish to
   read only the ``Good First Fish'' section to begin with. Then, while
   consulting a good beginner's book (the most essential item for any
   novice aquarist to own), she or he should choose a small number of
   possibilities for the fish with which to start her or his new tank.
   If someone familiar with the local fish stores is available, it is
   wise to get a recommendation for where to shop for fish. Otherwise the
   beginner should try looking for shops that specialize in fish, either
   exclusively or as a major part of their business. This is no
   guarantee, of course, but it does improve the odds of finding a good
   If, upon reaching the store, none of the selected fish can be found,
   the novice should refrain from purchasing any fish that he or she is
   unfamiliar with, even if recommended by the store's employees. (Some
   stores have very knowledgeable staffs but many, alas, do not. It will
   take some time before the new fishkeeper can discern a good store from
   a bad one, or good advice from poor.) At this point, another store
   could be sought out or further reading done to determine alternate
   choices for first fish.
   Assuming that desirable choices for first fish can be found, the
   beginner should carefully inspect the specimens for sunken bellies,
   sunken eyes, clamped fins, labored breathing (often with gill covers
   quite extended), and any sort of external blemishes that might
   indicate parasites or disease. If the fish appear healthy, the novice
   should ask to purchase a very small number of fish, depending on the
   size of the tank and the fish. A twenty gallon tank is a good size for
   a beginner; it is large enough that the water conditions will be
   fairly stable, yet small enough that the beginner is not intimidated.
   For this size tank a single fish of one to two inches in length, or
   three or four smaller fish, is the most the novice should start with.
   (If more fish are put into the tank initially, poisonous ammonia will
   build up and kill the fish. If the tank population is built up
   gradually, however, this will not be a problem. To understand this
   gradual introduction of fish, known as `cycling the tank', the novice
   should read about the nitrogen cycle in his or her aquarium book, or
   the NITROGEN CYCLE section of the BEGINNER FAQ.)
Good First Fish

   If we define a good beginner's fish as one that is easy to feed and
   care for, hardy, able to live in a variety of water conditions, and
   attractive, then there are a number of widely available fish which fit
   the bill nicely. Many of these are regularly sold as beginner's fish.
   But watch out! Many of the fish sold as beginner's fish really are not
   well suited to that role.
   Many of the smaller schooling fish make ideal first fish. These
   include White Cloud Mountain Minnows, the several commonly available
   species of Danios and Rasboras, and most available species of Barbs.
   For those with a slightly larger tank, Rainbowfish make a great
   schooling fish. Corydoras Catfish are ever popular schooling catfish.
   While many beginners are tempted to get just one or two of each of
   several different schooling fish, this should be resisted. Schooling
   fish do better if there are several of their own species present for
   them to interact with. A minimum of six of each of the midwater
   schooling fish is recommended, while four is the bare minimum for
   Corys. In the long run, a school of a dozen fish showing their natural
   behavior will be more pleasing than a mixed group of fishes unhappily
   forced to share the same tank. (``Mom, why is that one fish hiding
   behind the heater and that other one just hanging in the corner?'')
   Of course, as mentioned in the introduction, the population needs to
   be built up slowly, two or three fish at a time. The aquarist might,
   for instance, build up a school of eight Rasboras of a certain
   species, then turn to building up a school of six of a species of Cory
  Some Cyprinids
   White Clouds, Danios, Rasboras, and Barbs are all Asian fish related
   to the Carp and the Minnow. All of these fish belong to the family
   Cyprinidae. White Clouds, Danios, Rasboras, and Barbs are small,
   active, hardy, and colorful.
   ``White Cloud Mountain Minnows'' - Tanichthys albonubes
          Found in mountain streams in China, White Clouds can be kept in
          unheated tanks (down to 55F). Some people advise against
          putting these fish in tropical tanks but I have found that they
          do fine in heated aquaria as well, as long as the temperature
          is not kept above the mid 70s. They can be fed any small food
          and they spawn often but fry will not be seen unless the
          parents are removed to another tank. White Clouds are brown
          with a red tail and a silvery white line down the side that
          shines in the light. They get to be 1 1/2" long.
          Several species of Danios are often found in pet stores,
          including the Giant Danio - Danio aequipinnatus, the Zebra
          Danio - Brachydanio rerio, the Leopard Danio - Brachydanio
          frankei, and the Pearl Danio - Brachydanio albolineatus. These
          fish are fast swimmers and are always in motion. Different
          patterns of blue markings allows one to tell these fish apart.
          Most Danios stay under 2 1/2" long, although Giant Danios can
          get up to 4".
          The most popular Rasbora is the Harlequin Rasbora - Rasbora
          heteromorpha. A very similar looking species, Rasbora espei, is
          also available, as is the Clown Rasbora - Rasbora kalochroma
          and the Scissor-Tail Rasbora - Rasbora trilineata. Orange,
          brown, and red are usual colors for Rasboras, and their
          stop-and-start swimming makes them interesting to watch as a
          school. Scissor-Tails can get up to 6" long and Clown Rasboras
          up to 4" while Harlequins stay under 2" long.
          By far the most commonly seen and commonly cursed Barb is the
          Tiger Barb - Capoeta tetrazona. It nips the fins of other fish
          if not kept in a large school of its own species and because it
          is over-bred it is susceptible to diseases. Several aquarium
          morphs are also available (such as the greenish ``Mossy Barb''
          and an albino variety) but these are even more sickly and often
          Don't give up on the Barbs too fast though, as many are well
          suited as first fish, especially for those with moderate sized
          tanks. Capoeta titteya, the Cherry Barb, is a terrific little
          barb - up to 2" long and with a wonderful orange-red color.
          Mid-sized barbs (up to about 4 1/2" long) include Clown Barbs -
          Barbodes everetti, Rosy Barbs - Puntius conchonius, and Black
          Ruby Barbs - Puntius nigrofasciatus. The artificial morphs
          (long-finned, albino, etc.) of the Rosy Barb should be avoided
          though, as these tend to be sickly. Checker Barbs - Capoeta
          oligolepis and Spanner or T-Barbs - Barbodes lateristriga are
          large, peaceful barbs (Spanner Barbs up to 7" long). Unless you
          have a very large aquarium avoid Tinfoil Barbs - Barbodes
          schwanefeldi. They grow to be over a foot long!
          Note that many barbs don't school as ``nicely'' as do Danios or
          Rasboras, but most should be kept in schools nonetheless. Also
          note that many authors may put all of the above mentioned
          species in the genus Barbus.
  Corydoras Catfish
   Cory Cats are members of the family Callichthyidae, a family of
   armored catfish from South America. Corys are small (generally 2 1/2"
   long or less), schooling fish that are always searching the bottom of
   the tank for food. There are at least 140 species of catfish in the
   genus Corydoras. Some of these are quite delicate and die quickly even
   in the hands of experts. The fragile ones, however, are rarely seen in
   pet stores and are high priced when they can be found. The Corys you
   will see for reasonable prices are hardy and can even survive in a
   tank with low oxygen as they can swallow air from the surface and
   absorb it through their intestines. Some Corys you may encounter are
   the Bronze Cory - C. aeneus, the Spotted Cory - C. ambiacus, the
   Leopard Cory - C. julii, the Skunk Cory - C. arcuatus, the Bandit Cory
   - C. metae, and the Panda Cory - C. panda.
   Corys generally feed at the bottom of the tank and special sinking
   foods should be fed. These include sinking pellets like Tabi-Min and
   frozen blood- worms. Care should be taken to insure that all frozen
   foods are eaten quickly as they decay rapidly and can foul the tank.
   Don't overfeed!
   Rainbows are extremely colorful fishes native to Australia, New
   Guinea, and Madagascar. Like the Cyprinids described above, Rainbows
   are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of six or more.
   Larger, somewhat more expensive, and harder to find than many of the
   schooling fishes already discussed, Rainbows are easily cared for,
   active, and make good first fish for those who want to try something a
   little less common. Look in your dealer's tanks for the Australian
   Rainbow - Melanotaenia splendida, Boeseman's Rainbowfish - M.
   boesemani, Turquoise Rainbows - M. lacustris, and the Celebes Rainbow
   - Telmatherina ladigesi.
Good Second Fish

   The previous section talked about good fish for the complete novice
   aquarist. This section will discuss good fish for beginning aquarists
   who have had some experience or who are willing to do more careful
   research and shopping before buying their fish.
   Many of the fish recommended here are every bit as hardy, adaptable,
   and easy to care for as those in the first section. However, in the
   first section I was able to recommend whole groups of fish or at least
   say to watch out for only a species or two in each group as bad
   choices. Here, however, the groups will be quite mixed with many good
   choices and many poor ones. Also, some of the fish in this section are
   hardy only if some special needs are cared for. If you wish to
   successfully keep fish from these groups you need to be sure you know
   which species you are getting and what their needs are.
   Why bother? If you are a complete novice, perhaps you shouldn't. The
   great choices from the ``First Fish'' list should allow you to get
   your feet wet (as it were) with minimum risk. However, as you gain
   experience you may decide to give some of these fish a try. Many are
   quite beautiful and/or have interesting behaviors and some aquarists
   become so taken with them that they join specialist clubs just to
   learn about and trade one group or another of these fish.
   Loaches are long-bodied Asian fishes distantly related to the
   Cyprinids (Barbs, Danios, etc.) described above. Like Cory Cats,
   loaches have a down-turned mouth equipped with barbels - an adaptation
   for living and feeding at the bottom of ponds and streams. They will
   scavenge the tank bottom eating the food missed by other fishes, but
   you should take care to see that they get enough to eat. Special
   sinking foods are a must.
   Some loaches are sensitive to poor nitrogen cycle management, which is
   why they are included here, rather than in the Good First Fish
   section. Once the tank is established and the beginner seems to have
   gotten the hang of maintaining a tank, however, loaches make great
   additions to most community fish populations.
   The most commonly seen loaches are the Kuhli Loaches -
   Acanthophthalmus species. These are long, ribbon-like fishes which
   grow to be 4" long. Brown with yellow stripes and bands, Kuhli Loaches
   are shy and spend a lot of time buried in the gravel.
   Another popular group of loaches are the members of the genus Botia.
   Clown Loaches - B. macracantha, Yo-Yo Loaches - B. lohachata, Skunk
   Loaches - B. horae, Blue Loaches - B. modesta, and Striated Loaches -
   B. striata are all seen in the hobby. Some of these (notably Clown and
   Blue Loaches) can get big, but they grow extremely slowly and can live
   in a small aquarium for several years. Loaches will often be happier
   if kept with a few of their own species.
   Weather Loaches - Misgurnus fossilis and Spotted Weather Loaches -
   Cobitis taenia should be avoided. They are cold water species and have
   the unfortunate habit of jumping out of aquaria, especially at the
   approach of a storm.
  Dwarf Plecos
   ``Pleco'' (a shortening of the now-unused genus name Plecostomus) is
   the common term used for suckermouth catfish of the family
   Loricariidae. As mentioned below in the Bad First Fish section, common
   Plecos (Hypostomus species) are often sold to beginners as algae
   cleaners. Unfortunately, these fish get too large for the relatively
   small tanks of most beginners.
   Some species of suckermouth catfish, however, do stay small enough for
   most beginners to keep. The Clown Plecos of the genus Peckoltia have
   alternating transverse bands of darker and lighter brown, tan, or
   yellow and generally stay under 4" long. The Bristlenose or Bushynose
   Plecos of the genus Ancistrus possess, as their common names imply,
   numerous projections from the area between their eyes and mouth.
   Within each species the bristles are larger on the male, especially
   near breeding. In fact, Bristlenose Plecos are among the few
   Loricariids to be successfully spawned in the home aquarium.
   Otocinclus Cats, often just called Otos, are the smallest Loricariids
   and will clean algae from live plants without hurting any but the most
   delicate of them. Otos sometimes die shortly after purchase for no
   apparent reason, but if they make it past this critical time they make
   very good community tank residents.
   While the various suckermouth catfish will indeed help to keep the
   aquarium free from many common algae types, the beginner should not
   make the mistake of thinking of these fish as simply algae eaters or
   scavengers. They should be given foods intended just for them, such as
   zucchini which can be blanched or weighted down to sink it to the
   Pleco's level. Some fish food manufacturers have recently realized
   that there is a market for specialized Pleco foods and now sell
   products such as sinking algae wafers which fit this bill nicely.
   These foods should be fed in the evening when the light reaching the
   tank is low, as most Plecos are more active at this time and most
   other fish which might compete for the food are less active. Pieces of
   (uncoated) driftwood in the tank are also important for many Pleco
   species, which rasp at the wood and ingest the scrapings. By the same
   token, Plecos should *not* be kept in wooden tanks, or even acrylic
   ones for that matter, as they may chew into the tank material damaging
   it and/or themselves (by ingesting toxins or undigestible matter).
   Pleco species can be quarrelsome amongst themselves and may be picked
   on by other fish due to their generally slow-moving nature. Provide a
   hiding cave for each Pleco and give them territories proportional to
   their size (e.g. 10 gallons for a 3" fish.)
   Like many of the fish in the first section, Tetras are schooling fish
   and should be kept in groups of six or more of the same species.
   Tetras are native to Central and South America and Africa. In some
   regions of South America the water is quite soft (very little rock is
   dissolved in it) and acidic. (Another way of saying ``acidic'' is to
   say that it has a low pH - one below 7, which is considered
   ``neutral''. A strong acid has a very low pH. Liquids above pH 7 are
   said to be ``basic''.)
   Unless you know that your tank water is also soft and acidic, the
   Tetras that need that water should be avoided. Before you buy a Tetra
   that you are not sure about, look it up in your book. If it says that
   it needs a pH below 6.5 you should probably avoid it. While many
   beginning aquarists are tempted to simply adjust the pH of their water
   by buying little containers of chemicals in the pet store, do not give
   in to this temptation! Water chemistry is very complex and you can
   easily kill all your fish by trying it.
   On the other hand, if your tap water is naturally soft and achieves a
   consistent acidic pH, there is no reason that you can't try your hand
   at some of these fish.
   Two very popular Tetras which need soft, acidic water are the Neon
   Tetra - Paracheirodon innesi and the Cardinal Tetra - Cheirodon
   axelrodi. These are quite attractive red and blue fish. The red line
   on the Cardinal runs from the head on back, while in the Neon it
   starts only in the belly region. But their attractiveness is their
   only advantage. Besides its water requirements the Neon has the added
   drawback that almost all of them are bred in the Far East in huge
   numbers with no regard to quality. Further, the raising ponds for the
   young fish are filled with medicines. The medicines keep diseases in
   check but as soon as the fish are shipped they begin to get sick. They
   die in huge numbers in the stores and in buyer's home tanks. Probably
   less than 1 in 10 Neons lives for more than one month after being
   removed from the pond it was raised in. Further, those two or three
   tiny neons for a dollar at the local store can easily introduce a
   disease that kills all the fish in your tank.
   Cardinals will have a greater chance of not dying immediately after
   purchase but even they will probably not live long in your home tank.
   They are wild caught in Brazil as adults so they may have lived most
   of their naturally short life span before you buy them.
   Other Tetras which need acidic water include the Blue Neon Tetra -
   Hyphessobrycon simulans, the Flag Tetra - H. heterorhabdus, H. metae,
   the Loreto Tetra - H. loretoensis, the Black Phantom Tetra -
   Megalamphodus megalopterus, and the Red Phantom Tetra - M. sweglesi.
   So what about those aquarists without acid water? There are plenty of
   hardy Tetras out there for beginners without special water. These
   include the distinctive Black or Black Skirt Tetra - Gymnocorymbus
   ternetzi, the brightly colored Glow Light Tetra - Hemigrammus
   erythrozonus, the radiant orange Jewel Tetra - Hyphessobrycon
   callistus, the Flame Tetra - H. flammeus, and the red-tailed Pristella
   - Pristella maxillaris, all of which grow to less than two inches
   long. Slightly larger Tetras include the Penguin Tetra - Thayeria
   obliqua and the closely related Hockey-stick Tetra - Th. boehlkei,
   both of which are easily recognized by the black lines originating in
   the lower half of their caudal (tail) fins and running forward, the
   shiny Diamond Tetra - Moenkhausia pittieri, and the beautiful,
   trident-tailed Emperor Tetra - N. palmeri. Finally, the only African
   Tetra frequently seen, the Congo Tetra - Phenacogrammus interruptus is
   a gorgeous fish which grows up to four inches long.
   Cichlids, members of the family Cichlidae, come from Central and South
   America and Africa, with a few species found in Madagascar, the Middle
   East and into Asia. Cichlids are quite unlike any of the fish
   discussed so far. They are related to and resemble the Perch and
   Sunfish of US waters. For aquarists, cichlids pose four major
   problems: (1) Some need special water conditions, (2) some have
   specialized diets, (3) some get quite large (the largest up to 3'
   long), and (4) all are territorial.
   Again, why bother? Because for those willing to take the challenge,
   the rewards can be great. If any fish can be said to be intelligent,
   Cichlids can. They display this in their everyday activities as well
   as in their specialized mating, breeding, and fry-raising activities.
   The fish mentioned in the previous sections all lay eggs and then
   ignore or even eat them! Cichlids, on the other hand, care for their
   eggs and young. It is said that one of the most rewarding sights an
   aquarist can see is parental Cichlids herding their fry around the
   tank and protecting them from all dangers. And, even if your Cichlids
   never breed, they will be more responsive to you than perhaps any
   other fish. Cichlids can be much more ``pet-like'' than you might
   think a fish could be.
   If you do decide to take the Cichlid challenge, choosing your Cichlids
   can be difficult. Some can be added to your community tank and will do
   fine with the schooling fish talked about above. These include
   Curviceps - Aequidens (really Laetacara) curviceps, Dorsigers -
   Aequidens (again, really Laetacara) dorsiger, and the less frequently
   seen Nannacara anomala, all from South America, and Thomas' Dwarf
   Cichlid - Anomalochromis thomasi from western Africa. Unlike the
   monster Cichlids, these fish stay small (3 1/2'' is a good sized
   adult) and are relatively peaceful. Two or three may be placed in a 10
   gallon tank and they should still all find places to live if there are
   rocks and other decorations in the tank.
   Other Dwarf Cichlids you may see are the Ram - Papiliochromis (some
   books use Microgeophagus or Apistogramma) ramirezi, Apistos -
   Apistogramma species, and the Checkerboard Cichlid - Dicrossus
   filamentosus (referred to as Crenicara filamentosa in the books).
   These fish vary in their difficulty for keeping as aquarium fish, but
   all of them should be avoided by beginners.
   Keyhole Cichlids - Aequidens (really Cleithracara) maronii, Festivums
   - Cichlasoma (really Mesonauta) festivus, and Angelfish - Pterophyllum
   scalare can be good fish for the relative novice, but only if healthy
   specimens can be found and this is often not easy. For this reason,
   small Keyholes and Festivums should not be purchased. Adults of these
   two species are generally better choices; still, one should look the
   fish over carefully and not buy them until they have been in the store
   tanks for at least a week. Similarly, for the very popular Angelfish,
   one needs to be very careful when buying them. Before you buy, ask the
   salesperson to tell you where the store gets its Angels. If the
   salesperson doesn't know, won't tell you, or says that they come from
   ``the wholesaler'' (and who knows where before that?) don't buy them.
   If you are told that they come from a local breeder then you have at
   least a chance of getting healthy fish. Also, Angels should be kept in
   tanks both taller and longer than a 10 gallon aquarium. Keyholes,
   Festivums, and Angels are all shy fish and should be provided with
   cover -- preferably a planted tank.
   Discus, like Angels, need tanks higher and longer than 10 gallon
   tanks. Their specialized needs do not stop there, however, and
   beginners should shy away from these difficult and demanding fish.
   At the other end of the difficultly scale, a very good choice,
   especially for those with a 20 gallon or larger aquarium, is the
   ``Jurupari'' - Satanoperca leucosticta (formerly referred to in the
   hobby as Geophagus jurupari). It does get large (up to a foot), but it
   grows very slowly and may still be less than six inches long when
   several years old. It is a very peaceful Cichlid which will help to
   clean your tank by sifting through the gravel for uneaten food. A
   similar fish, Geophagus surinamensis, is also a good choice.
   Kribs or ``Kribensis'' - Pelvicachromis pulcher are a widely seen West
   African Cichlid that will do well with the larger schooling fish and
   should be kept in a twenty gallon or larger tank. Male Kribs grow to
   be 4" long and females stay a bit smaller.
   Most of the remaining cichlids which are commonly available are too
   aggressive and/or grow too large for the beginning aquarist to
   effectively deal with. This includes the very popular Oscar -
   Astronotus ocellatus which grows rapidly to over a foot, is
   opportunistically piscivorous, and is a very messy species. If the
   aquarist is truly interested in keeping more cichlids than those
   recommended above, she or he should be prepared to set up special,
   separate (and probably larger) tanks for these fish and to read more
   extensively on cichlids before buying them.
   Anabantids are another group of fishes that are quite different from
   those already discussed. Distantly related to Cichlids and Perch,
   Anabantids are found in Africa and Asia. Members of the families
   Anabantidae, Belontiidae, Helostomatidae, and Osphronemidae,
   Anabantids are also referred to as the ``labyrinth fishes''. This is
   due to a special breathing organ referred to as the labyrinth organ
   which is essentially a maze of tunnels near the fish's gills.
   Labyrinth fish gulp air at the surface of the water and absorb it
   through the labyrinth organ, allowing them to live in water with too
   little oxygen to support fish which only breath through their gills.
   Some Anabantids can survive out of water for several hours breathing
   only through their labyrinths, as long as they stay moist. Anabas
   testudineus, known as the Climbing Perch, is said to be able to climb
   trees and to live out of water for up to two days.
   As well as giving aquarists some additional choices for community-tank
   fish, Anabantids offer some unique options to fish keepers as well as
   presenting a few problems. Because some Anabantids are able to
   withstand cooler temperatures, and because of their ability to survive
   in water with very low oxygen, these fishes can be kept in tanks or
   bowls without heaters or filtration. On the other hand, some
   Anabantids (particularly males of some species) are very territorial
   and some grow quite large.
   Breeding Anabantids can be quite rewarding. Some species build nests
   out of bubbles into which they place their eggs while others, like
   some Cichlids, are mouthbrooders.
   The most commonly seen Anabantid is probably the Betta or Siamese
   Fighting Fish (which is generally said to be Betta splendens but is
   probably a crossbreed). Artificial color varieties with red, blue,
   green, purple, and many other colors in various combinations are
   widely available. Males are bred to have very large fins and both
   sexes are seen with double tails. Siamese Fighting Fish generally make
   poor choices for the community tank for two reasons. First, as their
   name would imply, they are very territorial. The aggression is
   greatest between two males, but can be directed towards any fish that
   looks to the Betta too much like another Betta. Second, their long
   fins make easy targets for many fish such as Barbs. Siamese Fighting
   Fish can be kept alone in bowls (the larger the better) or tanks
   without filtration as long as frequent partial water changes are done.
   They do need warm temperatures, however, and are sensitive to
   temperature changes, so a constant heat supply is needed if the room
   is less than about 75F. Also, due to poor breeding, many Siamese
   Fighting Fish are not very healthy. A 3" male would be a large adult;
   females stay smaller.
   A better choice for keeping alone in a bowl or small tank is the
   Paradise Fish - Macropodus opercularis. These are much hardier fish
   than the Fighters and can withstand temperatures down to 60F. They may
   jump, however, so the tank should be covered to be safe. Also, like
   Siamese Fighting Fish, male Paradise Fish can be extremely territorial
   towards one another. Paradise Fish may get up to 4" long.
   Another very commonly seen Anabantid is the Blue or Three-Spot Gourami
   - Trichogaster trichopterus. Gold, Silver, and Cosby Gouramies are
   also widely available and are simply artificial color varieties of the
   Blue Gourami. Blue Gouramies can get up to 6" long. They are not as
   aggressive as Fighters or Paradise Fish, but more than one in a small
   tank may lead to constant (if not overly deadly) chasing. They will do
   well in a tank with larger schooling fishes. Similar, though slightly
   smaller species include the Banded or Giant Gourami - Colisa fasciata
   (which is only a giant compared to the similarly colored Dwarf Gourami
   described below), the Thick-lipped Gourami - Colisa labiosa and the
   somewhat less aggressive Pearl Gourami - Trichogaster leeri and
   Moonlight Gourami - T. microlepis. The Kissing Gourami - Helostoma
   temmincki grows larger (up to 12") but makes a good fish for beginners
   with larger tanks. It is peaceful, though males will contest with one
   another by pressing their lips together and pushing - the so-called
   ``kissing'' from which the common name derives. Most Kissing Gouramies
   seen will be of the Pink variety.
   Small Gouramies, only growing to 2" or so in length, are also
   available. These include the Dwarf Gourami - Colisa lalia, the Honey
   Gourami - C. chuna, and the Sunset Dwarf Gourami (probably a cross
   between C. lalia and C. chuna). In theory, these would all be good
   fish for the community aquarium. In practice, these fish are often the
   victims of poor breeding practices in the Far East (like so many
   others described before) and many are even treated with hormones
   before they are shipped to make them appear brighter in the store
   tanks. A good rule of thumb is, ``If it looks too good to be true, it
   probably is.''
   Although harder to find, Anabantids which have had less human
   interference with their reproduction are generally better choices.
   Look for the Mouthbrooding Betta - Betta pugnax, the Licorice Gourami
   - Parosphromenus deissneri, the Spike-Tailed Paradise Fish -
   Pseudosphromenus cupanus, the Croaking Gourami - Trichopsis vittatus,
   and the Dwarf Croaking Gourami - T. pumilus, which range in size from
   1" to 4". Do not buy Chocolate Gouramies - Sphaerichthys
   osphromenoides which are quite delicate, or the true Giant Gouramies -
   Osphronemus spp. which grow quickly to well over two feet long.
   The family Poeciliidae contains Guppies, Mollies, Platies, and many
   other fishes. While these fish are often thought of as beginners' fish
   they have been intentionally left off the list until now in order to
   make a point. The reasons these fish are often sold to beginners are
   that they are cheap, brightly colored, and have a general reputation
   among non-aquarists as easy fish. Notably absent from this list is any
   real suitability for keeping by beginners. For one thing, many
   livebearers need high level of salt in their water to be healthy -
   making them incompatible with many other aquarium fish. Many common
   livebearers also are overbred, resulting in fish not nearly as healthy
   as those kept by aquarists of previous generations (or by the authors
   of most books). Some are not even able to reproduce without human
   intervention. Finally, due to their low market price, they are
   generally not well cared for and may carry diseases.
   Poeciliids, as they are also called, come from the Americas, primarily
   Central America. They are called ``livebearers'' (as opposed to
   ``egg-layers'', as all the previously discussed fish have been)
   because the eggs are fertilized within the female and the fry do not
   appear until the eggs have hatched. There are also livebearers from
   other families in which the details of reproduction vary.
   The well-known Guppy can be found in a number of colors and with as
   many as 12 different artificial tail varieties. Also available is the
   closest thing that you may find to the wild Guppy - Poecilia
   reticulata: ``feeder Guppies'' which are not bred for color. The fancy
   strains tend to be fragile while common Guppies often carry diseases.
   Guppies should be kept in water with at least one teaspoon of salt per
   five gallons of water.
   Common Mollies are the Black Molly (which was derived from the Marled
   Molly - Poecilia sphenops) and the Sail-Fin Molly - Poecilia velifera
   (of which there are also several color varieties available). Black
   Mollies need at least one teaspoon of salt per five gallons of water
   to keep them healthy and prevent the outbreak of ``ich''
   (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, a parasite commonly seen in aquaria)
   while Sail-Fin Mollies need at least three times this amount.
   Sail-Fins grow to 6" while Black Mollies stay less than 3".
   Closely related, Swordtails - Xiphophorus helleri and Platies -
   Xiphophorus maculatus are also popular fish. A number of color and
   finnage varieties are available of each with some of the Platies also
   referred to as ``Moons''. These fish need at least a teaspoon of salt
   per 5 gallons of water to be healthy. Some varieties are susceptible
   to various maladies (Tuxedo Swords often get tumors, for instance) and
   as with so many other fish the naturally colored fish are probably
   your best bets. ``Green Swords'' (which are really multi-colored) are
   naturally colored X. helleri, but unfortunately wild morphs of Platies
   are not often seen. The Variegated Platy - Xiphophorus variatus is
   sometimes seen, however, and fills this role nicely.
Bad First Fish

   We have already discussed several poor choice for beginners' fish
   alongside their more desirable cousins. Here are more fishes that are
   seen in the stores that beginners should be warned about. Many of
   these fish make good fish for advanced hobbyists while others never
   make good aquarium fish. Some are even suitable for a well-informed
   beginner; you just need to know what you are getting yourself into
   before you buy the fishes on impulse and drop them into your community
   Goldfish are one of the most common fish sold to beginners, but are
   particularly poorly suited to this role. The common Goldfish sold as
   feeders are generally full of diseases and parasites which may kill
   them and other fish they are housed with. Fancy varieties, which have
   been selectively bred for centuries to achieve their unnatural
   appearances, are subject to a host of problems associated with their
   All Goldfish are cold water fish which do not do well in the lower
   oxygen levels found in tropical aquaria, and therefore should not be
   housed with tropical species.
   Piranhas are among the most abused of all aquarium fish. They are
   often purchased in order to watch their legendary feeding habits. As
   mentioned above, feeder fish often bring diseases and parasites with
   them and these can infect Piranhas. A regular diet of feeder fish can
   also be quite expensive.
   Piranhas are schooling fish and are generally shy and stressed when
   kept as single specimens. Unfortunately, they also get big (many
   species well over a foot long), so most beginning aquarists don't have
   room to house more than a single Piranha. If enough tank space is
   available to keep several Piranhas together, they must be kept well
   fed or they will turn on each other, killing and cannibalizing one
   fish after another.
  Knife Fishes
   There are several families of fish from South America, Africa, and
   Asia, referred to as Knife Fishes. Many species of Knives get large,
   some over 3' long although some of the less attractive species stay as
   small as 8". All of them are nocturnal predators, a fact that many a
   beginner could have used before all of his or her small fish
   ``mysteriously'' disappeared a few at a time.
  Hatchet and Pencil Fishes
   Somewhat related to Tetras, Hatchets (family Gasteropelecidae) and
   Pencils (genus Nannostomus) are Characins from South America. Many of
   them need soft and acid water and all of them are delicate. Hatchets
   have the added disadvantage that they tend to launch themselves out of
   the aquarium to an untimely death.
  Elephant Nose and Baby Whale
   More fragile fish include Elephant Noses - Gnathonemus petersi and
   Baby Whales - Petrocephalus bovei. African fishes from the family
   Mormyridae, these are night feeders and are hard to provide for in the
  Chinese Algae Eater
   Chinese Algae Eaters - Gyrinocheilus aymonieri are often introduced
   into the aquarium to do what their common (sales) name implies - eat
   algae. They are usually seen at a small size and many die within a
   short time of purchase. If they live, however, they get big (up to a
   foot long) and tend to prefer to rasp at the sides of slow moving fish
   (making them susceptible to infections) to eating algae.
  Bala Shark
   Not a shark at all but a Cyprinid (related to the Carp), Bala Sharks -
   Balantiocheilus melanopterus quickly outgrow most home aquaria. They
   get to be over one foot long.
  Iridescent Shark
   Unrelated to the Bala Shark or to true sharks, the Iridescent Shark -
   Pangasius sutchi is a catfish. It grows to over 3' and tends to injure
   its nose against the aquarium glass.
  Glass Catfish
   Another catfish to avoid is the Glass Catfish - Kryptopterus
   bicirrhis. While it stays small enough to be an aquarium fish (up to
   6"), it is very delicate and should not be purchased by beginners.
   The suckermouth catfish of the genus Hypostomus are often sold in the
   stores as algae cleaners. Most of these species get in excess of 12".
   Some of the slender suckermouth catfish, such as the Whiptail -
   Dasyloricaria filamentosa and the Farlowella - Farlowella gracilis,
   are quite delicate species.
  Long-Whiskered Catfish
   Catfish don't have long whiskers for looks. They are there to help
   them hunt for their food - other fish! In addition to eating all fish
   of less than half their size in the tank, many of the piscivorous
   (fish-eating) Cats will outgrow most tanks. One common species of
   long-whiskered catfish, the Pictus Cat - Pimelodus pictus grows to 10"
   while the Channel Cat (a pink form is often seen) grows over 2 feet
   long. Shovelnose Cats are usually only seen at six inches or greater,
   so the beginner does have some warning with these. Still, one might
   not expect them to get 2 or 3' long.
  Red-Tailed Catfish
   Red-Tailed Catfish - Phractocephalus hemiliopterus are particularly
   large-growing predatory catfish. A dark body with a horizontal white
   stripe and red tail gives them an attractive appearance at a small
   size that has unfortunately made them a popular aquarium fish with
   those who fail to appreciate the enormity of adults. Adults may grow
   to well over 4' in length and have mouths that more than match their
   lengths. As such, they are more than many public aquaria can house,
   not to mention private aquarists.
  Spiny Eels
   Spiny Eels (family Mastacembelidae) are aggressive fish, some of which
   grow quite large (over 3'). Some do stay small (less than 4" for one
   species), but all are likely to have internal parasites.
  Painted Glassfish
   Painted Glassfish are Glassfish - Chanda ranga which have been
   ``painted'' with chemical dyes. This procedure adds a temporary bit of
   unnatural color (which disappears with time) and stresses the fish,
   causing them to be prone to diseases and parasites. This fish needs at
   least 1 teaspoon of salt per gallon of aquarium water.
  Dyed Fish
   While Painted Glassfish were for a long time the only fish commonly
   seen that had been ``colorized'' by unscrupulous marketers, the last
   few years have seen several other fishes subjected to this abuse. One
   of these is the White Skirt Tetra (an albino version of the Black
   Skirt Tetra - Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) which are sold as Blueberry
   Tetras, Strawberry Tetras, Rainbow Tetras, etc. depending on the dyes
   used to color the individuals. Similarly, Blueberry and Strawberry
   Loaches have also been seen. If you are unsure if a fish has been
   dyed, ask.
  Brackish Water Fish
   I have already mentioned some fish, such as Mollies and Glassfish,
   which come from brackish waters - I simply have not called it that
   before. Brackish water is intermediate between the fresh water of most
   rivers and lakes and the salt water of the Oceans. Brackish water is
   found in gulfs, deltas, and lagoons, as well as a some lakes and
   rivers. Because brackish water fish need so much salt in their water
   they are not compatible with most aquarium fish. Further, brackish
   water fish generally need more room per fish to stay healthy than
   freshwater fish. Some commonly seen brackish water fish include Monos
   - Monodactylus species, Archers - Toxotes species, Scats - Scatophagus
   species, and many species of Puffers (family Tetraodontidae).
  Salt Water Fish
   If brackish water fish are to be avoided by beginners, then beginners
   should stay well away from salt water fish. Their bright colors are
   attractive, but they are generally much more difficult for beginners
   to keep alive than are fresh water fish.

   There are thousands of species of aquarium-suitable fish from a host
   of families that are not covered above; this article is far from
   comprehensive. Killifish (fish of the family Cyprinodontidae) for
   example, are widely kept by many advanced hobbyists, but not often by
   beginners. This is not because they are all unsuitable as beginner's
   fish. In fact, some of them would make very good first or second fish.
   They are simply not widely available in pet stores.
   For choices of good beginners' fish beyond those listed here, and for
   expanding once one has moved beyond the beginner level, local aquarium
   clubs and friends who are aquarists can be very good sources of
   information. So can many of the available fishkeeping books and
   magazines. At every level of experience, the aquarist will find that
   good information is well worth the time and/or money it takes to get
                              FAQ: Fish Breeding
Contributed by Elaine Thompson

   Disclaimer: This document is intended to familiarize the reader with
   different methods that fish use to breed and introduce terminology.
   Anyone who wants to breed a given species of fish should check
   specific internet resources or books to find out about the particular
   species that they want to raise.

   The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as
   such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria.
   Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors.
   Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at
   no charge, and the disclaimers and the copyright notice are included.

     * Breeding Strategies
     * Breeding and Agression
     * Breeding Tanks
     * Breeding Requirements
     * Raising Fry
Breeding Strategies

  ``How do fish make babies...and can I watch?''
   Fish breed in many ways, and yes you can watch. In fact, watching fish
   breed is one of the great fascinations in the hobby because there are
   so many interesting breeding strageties among fish.
   There are two main strategies that fish use: egglaying and
   Livebearing fish do what the name suggests. The female gives birth to
   fully formed, free-swimming young. The female fish is internally
   fertilized by the male fish, and carries the fry for about a month
   before delivering them. Upon delivery, the babies swim off, hide, and
   begin searching for food.
   Livebearers include the popular mollies, platies, swordtails, and
   guppies. Other livebearers are halfbeaks, anableps, and fish in the
   Goodeid family. They are easy to sex, as the female is larger, and the
   male has a rod-like anal fin called a gonopodium that he uses to
   internally fertilize the female. After fertilization, the female can
   produce multiple batches of babies without a male present.
   Egglaying is also what the name suggests: the fish lay eggs instead of
   giving birth to little fish. As the fish grow, they hatch into fry
   with an attached yolk sac, and then mature into fish. The process
   usually takes around a week to 10 days, although it can vary widely.
  Egglayers have many methods of laying their eggs
   Egg scatters usually scatter eggs around weeds, or onto gravel. The
   male chases the female during spawning, and the eggs are fertilized as
   they fall. Spawning runs can be spectacular to watch since the fish
   race around the tank and ignore anything else, including food.
   Examples of egg scatterers are tetras, barbs, rasboras, and danios.
   Substrate spawners are a little choosier about where they put the
   eggs. They lay eggs that attatch to some sort of substrate. Plants,
   rocks, wood, and even the aquarium glass may be chosen as a spawning
   site. Both fish participate in the egg laying, with the male
   fertilizing the eggs as the female lays them. Examples of substrate
   spawners are many catfish, some cichlids, and killifish.
   Bubblenest builders lay their eggs in a nest of bubbles blown by the
   male fish. The bubbles are held together with saliva and look like
   foam. They tend to attract infusoria that the babies can eat, and keep
   the eggs at the surface of the water, where they are well-oxygenated.
   The eggs are laid a few at a time, and carefully placed in the nest
   where they hatch. Examples of bubblenest builders are bettas and
   Mouthbrooders actually keep their eggs in their mouths until the eggs
   hatch. The eggs are again laid a few at a time, and once the male
   fertilizes them, the parent doing the mouthbrooding gathers them up in
   his/her mouth. That parent eats sparingly, if at all, until the baby
   fish are released. Examples of mouthbrooders are male arrowanas and
   female cichlids.
   Marine fish also lay eggs. Some are substrate spawners, but many lay
   pelagic eggs that float in the plankton. There the eggs hatch into a
   larval stage, and the larvae float freely and eat tiny plankton until
   they grow into fish. See the Moe reference for a more complete
Breeding and Agression

  ``Help! Why have my angelfish (or kribs or African cichlids) started killing
  everything in my tank?''
  ``Why did my female platy just turn around and eat her babies?''
  ``I think my tetras spawned. Where are the eggs?''
   Parental care in the fish world varies widely. Parents can be anywhere
   on a continuum from eating all their eggs or fry, to both parents
   fiercely guarding their eggs and fry.
   Many fish parents show some common behaviors, so I will discuss them
   Most fish consider any and all fish eggs and young to be a tasty
   treat. Therefore most fish will not hesitate to snack on any they
   find, including their own. This means that egg scatters and many
   substrate spawners really cannot be bred in a community tank, as the
   eggs will quickly be eaten by the parents and other fish. Marine fish
   and invertebrates also eat eggs. Livebearers are especially notorious
   for eating their young.
   A few fish ignore their eggs or fry, and so can be bred in a species
   tank. White cloud minnows can breed this way, and many killifish will
   at least ignore the eggs. Baby killies are fair game, though. Guppies
   will also often ignore babies.
   Other fish have one parent that guards the eggs and fry. Most
   bubblenest builders and mouthbrooders operate this way, as do some
   substrate spawners. The responsible male or female stays with the eggs
   and young, until they are free swimming. With bubblenest builders, the
   male tends the nest, blows bubbles as they pop, and keeps any falling
   eggs or fry in it. He will also defend the nest against other fish.
   Mouthbrooders simply hide their eggs in their mouths, and some
   substrate spawning catfish will hide the eggs underneath them. Certain
   substrate spawning cichlids also have one parent care for the eggs and
   A more common setup among cichlids is to have both fish guard and care
   for the young. This setup can be really fascinating to watch. The
   parents will take turns fanning or blowing fresh water onto the eggs,
   and removing any fungused eggs. They will also fiercely defend the
   spawning site, which can often cause injury or even death to other
   tankmates. Once the eggs have hatched, the parents will also guard the
   fry. Some fish will even move the fry to a different place each day.
   Once the babies are free swimming, some fish continue to guard them,
   while others end their parental duties. Many African cichlids guard
   their babies until they spawn again. Discus even feed their babies off
   of their slimecoats.
   A more extreme version of guarding is practiced by some Tanganyikan
   cichlids. There, older siblings will stay around the nest and help the
   parents defend subsequent spawns. The babies are allowed to stay until
   breeding age, when they are driven off.
Breeding Tanks

  ``My fish just laid eggs. How do I keep the eggs or babies from being
   The most common way to keep eggs from being eaten is to use a separate
   breeding tank. There the parents can spawn or give birth to their
   young, and be removed once they are done. Egg scatterers can be placed
   over a piece of netting, a grate, or a bed of marbles to protect the
   eggs as the fish spawn. Bubblenest breeders and mouthbrooders can be
   left in the tank until they stop caring for the young. Livebearers can
   be allowed to give birth in a dense thicket of plants or plastic
   spawning grass, so the babies can hide until the mother is done giving
   birth and is removed.
   A breeding tank also is good because it can be kept clean. Eggs and
   fry need very clean water to hatch and grow. There are also no adults
   around to compete with the babies for food. Many breeders use a bare
   tank with only a sponge filter as filtration. Debris and extra food
   are easily seen and siphoned off daily. Frequent water changes can be
   done on the tank, as there are no other fish around to stress.
   Another solution is to allow fish to breed on yarn mops, a plant, or a
   piece of slate or glass in the community tank. The eggs can then be
   moved to the breeding tank to grow. This works well for angelfish,
   catfish, and Australian rainbowfish. Killifish eggs can be collected
   from peat or yarn mops and set in a separate container or dried to
   incubate. Livebearers can be bred in a commercial breeding trap or
   breeding net within a community tank. The trap separates the babies
   from the mothers and then gives the babies a safe place to grow.
   Some cichlids protect their babies well enough to just be left in a
   community setup, although this can stress the other fish in the tank.
   In fact, there are species of cichlids that will turn on each other if
   there are no other fish in the breeding tank for them to threaten.
Breeding Requirements

  ``I have fish in a breeding setup, but they just won't breed.''
  ``Why do my fishes' eggs keep fungusing and the fry dying?''
   Many fish will not breed successfully without specific requirements.
   These include:
   A mix of male and female fish.
          I know this sounds obvious, but some fish are not easy to sex.
          In species that are difficult to sex, is best to start out with
          at least six young fish so that you are certain of getting both
          males and females. Starting with many fish also gives
          monogamous fish a chance to pick compatible mates. Sometimes if
          a single male and female are introduced, they will not breed.
          Other fish, like livebearers, killifish, and polygamous
          cichlids need more females that males so that females are not
          harassed by amorous males.
   Extremely clean water.
          Most fish will not breed if there is any ammonia or nitrite
          present, and large amounts of nitrate are toxic to baby fish.
          Some fish, especially tetras, must be bred in a breeding tank
          that is bare and sterile so that their eggs do not fungus. For
          more information about clean water, see the beginner FAQ.
   A varied diet.
          Fish that are producing eggs need better food that fish that
          are just living in a community. Breeders call the process of
          specially feeding parents conditioning. Conditioning foods
          include live foods, fresh frozen foods, or spirulina based
          foods. Find out the specific requirements of the fish you
          intend to breed. If you need information about live foods, see
          the live food FAQ.
   The correct environment.
          Fish that breed on substrates need proper substrates to breed
          on, like peat, rocks, shells, or plants. Some fish are shy and
          require a lot of cover, caves, or dim light. There are also
          fish that require a particular water chemistry to breed.
          Examples are discus, which require very soft, acid water or
          African cichlids which require very hard, alkaline water.
   External cues.
          Many tropical fish breed in the rainy season. When it rains,
          streams flood, the water hardness drops, and there is thunder
          and lightning. Adventuresome breeders with rainy season fish
          may try large water changes with distilled water, watering cans
          to simulate rain, strong currents, and even flashing lights and
          loud noises. Temperature changes may also stimulate spawning,
          as may changes in the light/dark cycle.
Raising Fry

  ``My fish bred, but I cannot raise the fry to adulthood.''
   Rearing fish can take some work. Baby fish require clean water, and
   some require special foods.
   Baby livebearers are usually the easiest to raise. Some will take
   finely crushed flake foods from the start, and only require frequent
   water changes to keep up with their growth. They also need algae or
   Baby egglayers are often more difficult to raise. Most are too small
   to eat adult fish foods, and so require special foods. Live baby brine
   shrimp are the food of choice for most baby fish, although some
   require even smaller infusoria. Sifted daphnia also work. Baby algae
   eating catfish require algae or blanched vegetables. There are also
   commercial fry foods that work or, in desperate situations, cooked egg
   yolk. Be careful, though, because non-living foods pollute the tank
   water terribly -- especially egg yolk.
   Actually, keeping the tank water clean is probably the biggest
   challenge in raising fish. The growing fish require lots of food, and
   they are not very good at finding it which means even more must be
   added to the tank. As in any fishtank, adding lots of food must be
   balanced with keeping the water quality extremely high. In fact, fry
   require cleaner water than adult fish. Frequent water changes are a
   must, as is efficient biological filtration. Baby tanks often require
   daily water changes of up to half the tank. Sponge filters are the
   preferred method of filtration because they are great biological
   filters but cannot suck up baby fish.
   Marine fish larvae have the strictest requirements of all. They must
   be fed extremely small plankton or rotifers in a tank with
   near-perfect water. For more discussion of marine fish rearing, see
   Finally, as the baby fish grow, they must be transferred to larger
   quarters. Clearly the 10 gallon tank that housed 100 fry cannot house
   those 100 fish for long. Betta breeders have even more work on their
   hands, since the little male bettas will fight and have to be put into
   separate jars or a partitioned tank.
  ``I have a ton of baby fish. What do I do with them?''
  ``Can I make any money breeding fish?''
   Finding homes for baby fish can be almost as much of a challenge as
   breeding them. Young fish can be given away, auctioned at aquarium
   society auctions, traded for other species, or sold. Pet stores will
   sometimes take African cichlids, guppies, and bettas, but many only
   give store credit rather than cash.
   As for turning breeding into a commercial venture, remember the laws
   of supply and demand. For most common community fish, pet stores can
   order whatever they want whenever they want it from importers, fish
   farms, and wholesalers. The hobbyist, on the other hand, has
   occasional batches of fish that the store may not need or want at that
   time. The only thing on your side when you walk into a store with a
   batch of unrequested fish is that locally bred fish are often
   healthier and less stressed that fish that have been shipped and must
   be acclimated to local water conditions.
   If you insist on breeding saleable fish, try rare catfish, rare
   rainbows, African cichlids, show quality fancy guppies, or marine
   fish. Those are all difficult for stores to obtain. To make money
   selling more common fish like angels, barbs, tetras, cory cats or
   livebearers (other than guppies), you need many breeding tanks and
   breeding pairs of fish to assure a constant supply. You must also have
   fish of consistent quality.
   Personally, I would recommend that you breed fish for the sheer
   pleasure of it, rather than turning your fun hobby into a business
   venture. There is nothing like seeing a pair of ciclids court,
   disappear into a cave, and emerge in a few days with a swarm of

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