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Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Early Years With Swordtail Guppies

ca. 1984 Fish Room

My Early Years With Swordtail Guppies

© Alan S. Bias
Permission granted for nonprofit reproduction or duplication of photos and text with proper credit for learning purposes only.

Hello all,  I've been breeding guppies in some form or fashion since I was eight years old.  For those of you that might know me, that means this little fish has occupied my interests for  over 40 years.  I blame in part my father who had 1/2 a dozen tanks in front of me as an infant.   For the first 10-12 years I bred any strain I could get my hands on.  For the most part being those available in the Pet Shop trade mostly originating on Florida Farms.  From these delta and wild-type stocks I would create a myriad of roundtails, scarftails, ribbon tails and such.

ca. 1984 Fish Room
Around 1982 my involvement with the IGFA and breeding & showing guppies began.  I attended my first show with the late Elvin "Old Man" Cooney shortly after he retired from Florida and moved to Virginia.  Not only was he generous with his fish, but also stories of his youth.  He remained a close friend for many years.  After several years of dabbling around with various delta strains and 90 tanks, I became intrigued with the world of Swordtail Guppies after finding most deltas just too large, short lived and sluggish at maturity.

I formed a long lasting friendship with the late Don Sauers, a breeder who dedicated most of his years in the hobby to promoting and showing the Swordtail Guppy.  On my first visit to his home in Columbus, Ohio he pointed out the fish he wished to keep and handed me a net.  For the next several years, in conjunction with Fred Roll, we would show fish against each other one week, and swap stock the next. 

 ca. 1986 IFGA Double Sword

Swordtail Guppies have captivated me ever since with their variety, longevity and hardiness.  In the mid 1980's it became apparent to some of us the rigid restrictions imposed upon Swordtail breeders by the IFGA standards for clear caudal, dorsal & caudal shape, body:caudal ratios, and color were not only outdated, but severely limited potential.  Standards were, and still are for the most part, based on a 1960's / 1970's understanding of genetics and a desire to foster solid colored fish.  As such, it curtailed improvement in North American Swordtail color, pattern & shape.  In the end it limited our understanding of alleles & gene complexes. 

 ca. 1986 IFGA Top Sword
Few if any crosses with existing delta strains resulted in improvement to lines.  Most IFGA swords are traditionally Y-linked for both color and swords, with a neutral "X" for color and tailshape.  Any improvement in color / pattern from outcrosses to delta lines came with degradation in swords.  The only notable crosses were with IFGA Green Delta females, which we know are tail & color neutral.  While several delta breeders, including Mike Lastella, produced a "large" swordtail via this route, few if any had the iridescence possible in Vienna Emerald genotype.

ca. 1986 IFGA Gold "Blond" Lower Sword
In conversation with Don Sauers he indicated, "very few infusions of European Swordtail genetics had taken place."  Normally, this happened on the few occurrences when Vienna males were shown at IFGA annuals.  He stated "red dorsals" in his strains resulted from use of Vienna Emerald in the late 1970's or early 1980's.  This apparently crossed over and became X-linked, making it nearly impossible to match caudal / dorsal color.  Around this time I made my initial attempts at contact with breeders in the UK and Europe.  Keep in mind this was in the days before email and internet.  Correspondence was slow and results sometime disappointing. 

ca. 1985 Lower Swords w/Vienna infusion
In the mid 1980's I was able to procure and infuse Vienna genetics into my lines, and partially eliminate red dorsals. Most noticeably in lowers, which have always been my primary focus.  Further evidence of the Vienna influence is visible in the yellow coloration of the sword itself.  At the time my my fish room consisted of around 40 tanks of Swordtails.  After this initial experience with Vienna genetics I knew it would compose a major part of my future breedings.  One notable shipment around 1990 would come from from Dr. Walter Schuster in Austria.  I quickly passed these stocks to breeders, in addition to further incorporating the genetics.  From this time up until the mid 1990's my fish room was dedicated to understanding and improving these lines.   

By this time most breeders, including myself, were in a constant struggle with what was then known as "Wasting Disease" and found it nearly impossible to keep fish alive, much less accomplish any progress.  While suggested treatments were many, results were few.  One day fish would be healthy and thriving, the next hollow bellied and not eating.  Today we know this was caused by various worms and have effective treatments to combat them.  After 3-4 years of this endless cycle I would shut down my fish, room for nearly a decade, but always kept several tanks of guppies...
ca. 1985 Lower Swords w/Vienna infusion

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