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Freshwater Livebearers Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Guppy Care Sheet

This care sheet covers a variety of freshwater livebearer species, including:   

  • Various platys
  • Various swordtails
  • Various mollies
  • Various guppies



Scientific name: Xiphophorus maculatus, Xiphophorus helleri, Poecilia latipinna, Poecilia sphenops, Poecilia reticulata, Poecilia wingei

Many freshwater livebearers are members of the Poeciliidae family and originate in North, Central or South America. They give birth to live young and can reproduce rapidly. These generally peaceful community fish come in a wide array of colors and patterns, enhancing the beauty of your aquarium. Most livebearers like to be out in the light, and the males appreciate bright lighting for mating displays. Freshwater livebearers are typically hardy and readily adapt to changes in the water, making them a recommended species for beginning aquarists.


Typical appearance and behavior 

  • Freshwater livebearers do best in groups of three or more of the same species
  • Most livebearer females are larger but less colorful than their male counterparts
  • The ratio of 2–3 females per male is ideal, with lots of plants and hiding spots to help reduce harassment and stress for the females
  • Freshwater livebearers are omnivores and need a variety of plant- and meat-based foods
  • In many freshwater livebearer species, males will perform a dance utilizing their bright colors to catch the attention of females
  • Some species of livebearers can give birth to 100+ fry



Care Difficuty Beginner to intermediate, depending on species
Average Life Span Depends on species
Average Adult Size 1 to 6+ inches long, depending on species
Diet Omnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 10+ gallons, depending on species
Water Temperature 72-82°F



Habitat Size

 Keep in an appropriate size aquarium, which can range from 10 gallons for a couple livebearers to a much larger aquarium for a school of livebearers.

Building your Habitat

  • Water health - Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health. Slow to moderate water circulation should be provided to mimic water currents and high oxygen levels found in a livebearer’s natural habitat.
  • Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing. An aquatic heater should be used to stabilize water temperature, ensuring it does not fluctuate more than 2 degrees in either direction in a 24-hour period. Many livebearers will benefit from the addition of freshwater salt to the aquarium; the specific gravity should be kept at 1.004. Always research your species-specific needs before adding freshwater aquarium salt. Do not allow specific gravity to fluctuate more than 0.001 in either direction in a 24-hour period
  • Decor - Provide plenty of space for swimming as well as plants, rocks or decor for hiding places
  • Some species of livebearers are good jumpers; a secure cover is recommended 



A well-balanced freshwater livebearer diet consists of:
  • Food may be flakes, pellets, freeze-dried or frozen
  • Offer a varied diet to ensure it is nutritionally complete
Things to remember when feeding your freshwater livebearer:
  • Depending on species and size, feed small amounts 1-3 times daily, no more than fish will eat in 1-2 minutes
  • Thaw frozen food before feeding


Livebearer care

  • Water care: Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your livebearer healthy
  • Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
  • Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week
  • Weekly to monthly: Change 10–25% of the total volume of water every 2–4 weeks, or as needed; change filter media monthly
  • Avoid overcrowded conditions; they are a major cause of stress and disease 


Where to buy freshwater livebearer fish

Livebearers are available for purchase at Petco online and in-store. If visiting your local location, please call ahead to check availability.




Tank mates 

  • May be compatible with community fish such as: 
    • Platys
    • Mollies
    • Swordtails
    • Gouramis
    • Angelfish
    • Barbs
    • Danios
    • Larger tetras
    • Rainbowfish
    • Rasbora 
    • Corydoras catfish
    • Hatchets
    • Killifish
  • Introduce new inhabitants to the aquarium gradually



Signs of a healthy fish

  • Clear eyes
  • Eats vigorously
  • Bright, even coloring
  • Free of parasites or disease

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian)

  • Loss of color or appetite
  • Spots or fungus on body or mouth
  • Erratic swimming
  • Frayed fins
  • Labored breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Cloudy eyes or pop-eye
  • Listlessness 
  • Elevated scales


Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueFin rot Symptoms or CausesFrayed or disintegrating fins; the base of the fins usually reddens. Suggested ActionImprove water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueIch Symptoms or CausesWhite spots appear on fins and body; fish rubs against hard objects or swims erratically; rapid respirations. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish immediately; add freshwater salt and use a commercial ich remedy as directed;. consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueFungus Symptoms or CausesWhite cottony growth and/or discoloration of the eyes. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; use a commercial antifungal remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueBacterial infections Symptoms or CausesCloudy eyes, open sores and/or reddening of the skin. Suggested ActionImprove water quality; add freshwater aquarium salt; use a commercial antibacterial remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueCottonmouth or columnaris Symptoms or CausesCottony white growths along the body and/or gills, frayed fins and gills turn brown and necrotic in late stages; caused by bacterial infection. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; improve water quality; lower aquarium temperature to 72°F to deter bacteria from growing; medicate as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.



  • What types of livebearing freshwater fish are there? There are numerous species of freshwater livebearing fish; some of the most popular include mollies, platys, swordtails and guppies.


Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center partnerabout Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as atypical mycobacterium and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of diseases.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing and/or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at for more information about aquatic life and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.