A fish shortly after giving birth

My Fish Gave Birth! Now What?

If you have an aquarium, you might have to deal with newly hatched fish at some point. That’s right—you might be caught off guard when your fish become pregnant. Don’t panic; our fish experts and veterinarians are here to help you with your new and unexpected aquatic parenthood. There are a few scenarios in which you may find yourself unexpectedly playing host to quite a few new fishy residents; some fish will breed with your existing fish when introduced to your tank after purchase, while others may already be pregnant upon purchase. It can often be difficult to identify when a fish is pregnant, and depending on her breed your fish can give birth to anywhere from a dozen to a couple hundred fray at once.

Some aquarium fish carry the eggs inside of them. When the eggs are fertilized, they eventually hatch inside the mother, and the babies emerge in a live birth. Other types of fish lay hundreds of eggs in nests within the aquarium, in this case, the males fertilize these eggs, and then they hatch into live fish. You may not notice that any of this is happening until you see hundreds of tiny fish swimming around in your aquarium. By that point, is it too late to raise the little guys? Here’s how to handle pet fish care if you get surprised by the unexpected.

How to Identify a Pregnant Fish

Most types of aquarium fish lay eggs. If your fish is nesting, it may build a safe area for the eggs within the gravel. Some species build nests within bubbles at the surface of the water, in this case, you may notice jelly-like sacs floating throughout the tank. It’s not always easy to identify when a female fish is carrying eggs as the bugle that signifies her pregnancy can be hard to spot.

According to Animal-World, the most common fish species that give birth to live fish are mollies, guppies, platies, and swordtails. Frequently, the mating rituals of these species are mistaken as aggression. Within about 20 to 40 days after the mating ritual has concluded, the female will develop a bulge in the abdomen; a red or black spot may form toward the rear of the abdomen signifying her pregnancy. Guppies and mollies can deliver as many as 20 fry at once. Usually, your fish will have fewer babies her first pregnancy with the number of fry being delivered or hatched growing with each pregnancy.

If you have a seahorse, which is indeed a type of fish, you may be surprised to learn that male seahorses become pregnant. After performing a mating “dance,” the female lays her eggs in the male’s pouch the male will then carry the eggs to term. Another fun seahorse fact, seahorses are monogamous!

After Your Fish Gives Birth

Raising baby fish successfully takes a lot of hard work, which can be made a little more manageable by following some simple guidelines.

Make sure that you understand the needs of your fish species. This will help you set up your tank appropriately. For example, some fish prefer hard water to soft water, different species thrive at different temperature levels, and more. Check out our archives of fish care articles to brush up on the needs of your breed.

What If the Birth Caught You by Surprise?

You may not have an extra tank or the necessary equipment to set it up for baby fish. If you’re in a pinch, you can purchase dividers to separate adult fish from the fry. These may be referred to as breeders, breeding mesh, or box nets. These dividers are made of cloth mesh that isolates the fry from the adult fish but allows for adequate water flow, mitigating the need for a second tank. Breeders can also prevent the fry from the shock of being transferred to a new tank. They may thrive better in their own environment as long as they’re not able to become fish food.

How to Feed Baby Fish

Baby fish care and feeding varies for different species. If the fish hatch as larvae, they will get their nutrients from an attached yolk sac. As the fry grow, the yolk sac will disappear, and you’ll need to feed them several times a day. Young fish prefer to eat live food during the first few weeks of life. Aquarium and fish stores should be able to provide you with appropriate food for your fish. Depending on your species of fish, you may need to feed them microworms, brine shrimp, or plankton. You can also purchase infusoria, a microscopic single-celled organism for the species that need them at most pet stores. It is important to suction out any visible food that the fry don’t eat to keep the tank clean.

Keeping Your Head Above Water

Pet fish care involves preparing for anything that can happen. If you’re not ready to raise baby fish, you might want to check with a local aquarium, fish breeder or pet shop to find out if they can take them. If you are ready to be the owner of several new fish, you may want to start a new aquarium with the babies. Some species of fish attack the smaller ones when you incorporate them back in the parent tank. Fish also need a good deal of space to grow into healthy adults. You may want to consider your space, time and equipment requirements before putting female and male fish of the same species together again and starting the process from scratch. Want to learn more about breeding your fish? Our vets have compiled thousands of articles on the subject that will help transform you from a struggling beginner into a confident pro.