Pet of the week: The guppy

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What is this?

The guppy – or Poecilia reticulata – is a hugely popular breed among keepers of exotic fish.

What's the appeal?

Fish make great pets for people who want company but not too much hard work. Anyone can find space for a fishtank, and exotic fish are pretty low-maintenence, once you have set up the aquarium and got into the routine of feeding them and cleaning the tank. Guppies are gorgeous to look at, and there are dozens of different variations representing every colour of the spectrum, from Hot Pink to Turquoise Spotted.

Funny name for a fish

The species is named after Robert John Lechmere Guppy who "discovered" the little fellow in the waters of Trinidad back in 1866. Its natural habitat is the Caribbean, but it has been introduced around the world as a pet. Incidentally, the notorious convicted fraudster Darius Guppy is a descendant of Robert, so if nothing else, he has a fish named after him.

How do I get started?

Choosing the right tank is essential, and size matters. You must have enough space for features, not only to keep the fish occupied, but also because the tank should be treated as a piece of interior design. Keeping the tank tidy is essential, and as with all fish, it is important to check the ammonia levels, otherwise the fish will poison itself. This can be done by installing a pump, using chemical compounds, or by introducing friendly bacteria to the water. The tank must also be oxygenated.

What do they eat?

Fish will eat most things in small quantities (meat, worms, potato), but you should feed them with fish pellets occasionally to make sure they have a balanced diet. It is easy to overfeed fish, so if they begin to look bloated it is perfectly all right to miss a day's feed.

Are they sociable?

Yes, you can keep pairs of guppies –in fact, it is difficult to stop them breeding. A healthy pair will happily produce about 20 to 40 fry (young 'uns) every six weeks or so, therefore it is important to keep the sexes separated, unless you are specifically breeding, in which case you will have to "fish" the fry out. It is also recommended that you keep two females to one male, as that way the male's attention is not solely focused on the one female. Males can be over-enthusiastic in their approach to females, so plants and features are essential in the tank for her to hide and wait for the amorous impulses of the male to pass. So popular are guppies that some owners even show theirs at special events.

Where can I get one?

Reputable dealers, such as directtropicals.co.uk (01446 701072), are regulated by OATA (ornamentalfish.org), which oversees the well-being of ornamental fish.

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