Three Wildly Offbeat Types of GuppiesMike Hellweg
Almost everyone has heard of the guppy. They have been a large part of the aquarium hobby for more than a century. I remember friends in grade school back in the 1970s keeping them in fish bowls, and one who wasn’t allowed to have an aquarium but somehow still managed to fill every surface in his bedroom with gallon pickle jars, each with a few plant sprigs and a pair of guppies or their fry.
While some of these young hobbyists moved on to other species as they advanced in the hobby, others continue to keep guppies to this day. A tour of a modern guppy breeder’s fishroom can be an amazing experience, with each color variety having its own rack, or even series of racks of tanks. Good-quality show guppy lines can produce fish that bring $50 a pair or more. A lot of these folks take their guppies very seriously!
While the guppy (Poecilia reticulata
) has been known and exhaustively studied for over 150 years, it is just in the last few decades that other types of guppies have been discovered, often right under the noses of folks who have been studying them thinking they were something else. There are a dozen or more known small poeciliids found across the northern part of South America, and it is likely that more species will be found as folks begin to actively look for them.
Unfortunately, most of the areas where they may be found are very remote and difficult to access, or they are in places where political instability makes collecting difficult to impossible. I should also note that while most scientists accept the new species, at least a few refuse to acknowledge these descriptions. I’m a hobbyist, not a scientist, so I’ll leave that debate to them.
In this article we’ll take a look at three species that have become very popular in the past few years: the swamp guppy (P. picta
), the Campoma or Endler’s guppy (P. wingei
), and the Oropouche or hidden guppy (P. obscura
). All three are available through fellow local hobbyists, at local and regional aquarium club auctions, via the American Livebearer Association, and through internet auctions, and at least one species is regularly available in local independent pet shops.
Aquarium Setup and Guppy Care
The care requirements of these species are basically the same, as all three are from small streams or rivers in northern South America. Most of these streams are clear, fresh water flowing over rock or cobbles covered with aufwuchs (the natural micro-flora and -fauna that make up the biofilm on underwater structure) or algae. There is overhanging plant growth on the sides of the streams providing some cover, but there is very little to no plant life growing in the streams themselves.
The water is generally warm, in the mid to upper 70s F (mid 20s C), and water parameters are neutral to slightly basic and mildly hard and alkaline for optimal guppy care. In other words, most hobbyists will find that these fish will do well in local tap water with no additional modification other than removing chlorine or chloramines.
All of the wild-type guppies are opportunistic feeders that will graze on aufwuchs and algae all day but are not above eating a small insect, a crustacean, or even a smaller fish if they get a chance. I feed my colonies live baby brine shrimp
every day. Both the adults and fry will eat that greedily. I also feed spirulina-based flake food several times a week and add a few spirulina-based pellets that they can pick on throughout the day.
My favorite tank for these offbeat guppies is a 20-gallon (76-liter) long, which provides plenty of area for a small colony to grow. I usually use a sponge filter or Mattenfilter for these tanks, though any other filter would likely do as well—just be sure to cover the intake with a coarse sponge to keep small fry from being sucked in.
All three species love sunlight, so adding a bright light over the open space in the front will give them plenty of places to get out in the open and explore. You may see some mild ritualistic combat among the males, but rarely is harm done. Males also almost constantly display for and chase females, sparring with one another as they do. This is normal behavior, and the best way to counter it is to provide several females for each male.
I add several cobbles and smaller stones on the bottom and pile some smaller stones in one corner until they nearly reach the surface. This provides some cover for the fry. In addition, I usually add some floating plants like hornwort or Najas
, even though they aren’t native to the fish’s wild habitat, and some tall-growing Vallisneria along the back and sides. This also provides some cover for newborn fry.
Interestingly, I’ve found that adult wild-type guppies will prey on their own fry when there are no small fish in the tank, but once they become accustomed to seeing fry and smaller fish, their predatory activity ceases and the colony will really take off.
One guppy care pointer is to thin the population occasionally. I do this by removing adults and leaving juveniles and fry to grow out. They are always in demand at local aquarium club events, and if you are a regular customer at a local shop, the owner might be willing to trade adult fish for supplies or other fish.
Breeding these fishes is pretty straightforward. It is very easy to just feed the adults well, add some cover, and let nature take its course as with their guppy cousins. In all three species, the males will perform a little dance in front of the females, and if a female is ready to mate, they will pair off. It is likely that while the male is doing this dance, he is releasing pheromones into the water, indicating to her that he is ready to mate.
These pheromones may also stimulate ovulation if the female is not already gravid. If the female is gravid, she will store the male’s sperm packets (spermatophores) in the ovarian lumen until she gives birth. At that time, if another male is not present, the wall of the ovarian lumen around the spermatophores will break down and release the sperm to fertilize a batch of eggs. If another male is present, the developing eggs will most likely be fertilized by the most recent copulation.
It is amazing to study this phenomenon and see how intricate the reproductive cycle of such a tiny fish can actually be. Generally, the fry are released on a lunar cycle in the wild, or on about a 28- to 30-day interval in our aquaria. P. obscura appears to be just a bit different than the other two species, but more on that later.
Now let’s look at the three species individually.
The swamp guppy is found on the island of Trinidad, as well as in the coastal areas of mainland northern South America from Venezuela to French Guiana. It has been known to science for over a century, but only in the past few years has it become commonly available to hobbyists. P. picta
is mainly found in flowing freshwater streams, but there are some populations found in estuaries and others found in small lakes. In the wild, dominant males often have a deep-red color on the body in addition to some black scribbling. These dominant males will herd a group of females and keep other males away.
Since their bright-red color might attract predators like birds, these alpha males and their females are often found under floating debris such as large leaves. The red coloration varies from population to population, and it seems to be most prevalent in populations found on Trinidad.
I recently received a wild-caught group of what appears to be P. picta
from Suriname. The alpha males have very little coloration and so far have shown no red at all. On the other end of the spectrum, hobbyist breeders have produced a well-fixed red pattern that shows in all males from the time they start to reach maturity.
The Campoma guppy is a beautiful species that has become wildly popular in the hobby. There are even clubs that are solely dedicated to producing new and even more amazing color and fin variants. It easily hybridizes with the guppy, and even more hybrid variants appear every year.
I should note here that while some hybrids are vilified in the hobby, poeciliid hybrids have been with the hobby since the very beginning and are widely accepted and even sought after. It is actually very difficult to find a “pure” species of molly
, swordtail, or platy these days. Most of the fish sold now are mixes of two, three, or even more species. While local club auctions often see bags of the more common “Endler’s” variants sold for just a few bucks, some new strains bring in huge sums, even more than some well-established guppy strains. P. wingei
was described about 15 years ago and is usually called Endler’s guppy or Endler’s livebearer, but I think this name should be reserved for a few coastal lacustrine populations that exhibit certain metallic colors, namely oranges and greens. This population has been in the hobby in limited form for several decades, doesn’t easily hybridize with guppies, and most of the resulting fry are sterile. In contrast, the Campoma guppy is much more widespread, easily hybridizes with guppies, and produces very fertile young.
It is a small species, with males barely reaching ¾ inch (2 cm) and females rarely topping 1¼ inches (3 cm). Hybrids with guppies often become larger than either parent species.
Several years ago one of my friends started calling his female Endler’s “mother ships,” as they were topping 2 inches (5 cm), bigger around than an index finger, and dropping more than 100 fry at a time! Wild-type Endler’s rarely drop more than a dozen fry, and the Campoma guppy is somewhere in between.
A few years ago, P. obscura
was recognized as a separate species of guppy from Trinidad. They are endemic to rivers on the eastern side of the island. While it is easy to tell them apart from guppies when you look at the DNA, telling them apart morphologically is a bit more challenging.
They tend to be smaller than other types of guppies from the same area, with a body that is a bit stockier than the guppies’. Also, males usually have one to three black spots, one of which is on the caudal peduncle. Again, they are much smaller than guppies, with males barely reaching ¾ inch (2 cm) and females barely topping an inch (2.5 cm).
In addition, at least with the La Seiva River population that I have worked with, while the males from the same broods are polymorphic and no two males look exactly alike, they also tend to have pastel coloration of blues, oranges, and pinks. Finally, the dorsal fin is rounded in shape and clear, while in guppies it is often replete with colors and fin ray extensions.
And one more thing differentiates them from guppies. The females carry a couple of small broods developing at different stages, often from different matings. So instead of dropping one large brood at a time, they drop smaller broods over a period of several days, sometimes with a day or two in between. Unlike the well-known least killifish
), which drops one or two fry a day, the female P. obscura
that I have worked with drop small groups of six to eight fry every 10 to 15 days. I’m not sure if that is something unique to the population of fish that I have or if it is common for this species.
Great for Keeping, Breeding & Sharing
While livebearer enthusiasts have been enjoying these offbeat types of guppies for years, it’s time that we start sharing the allure of these amazing tiny livebearers with the world. If you get a chance to keep one or more of them, be warned that they will grow on you! I know some hobbyists who have given up all other species and are now working intensely with just the Campoma guppy. They are just that interesting!
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