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Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Passion for Topswords - Why So Little Interest in North America?

A Passion for Topswords - Why So Little Interest in North America?

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

2011 Grey Body Lace Snakeskin Topsword
Compared to 30 years ago the guppy world is in many ways about the same, while the world itself continues to get much smaller.  Some time back I read a 4.4.2011 update to an article written in 2002 by Alan Charlton:  “Fifteen Years of Snakeskin Topsword Guppies in the UK.  The fact that it had been updated w/additional text and improved photos did not surprise as much as it’s appearance on the web back in 2002.  The latter should not have come as much of a surprise either, in hindsight, as the breeder obviously had a keen interest in swordtail guppies during his active years breeding.

In email correspondence Alan Charlton indicated he has not actively participated in the hobby since the 1980’s.  Being a fancier of the Topsword I had read his article on several occasions.  I have always wanted to correspond with Alan and now seemed an opportune time.  Not only in regards to his writings, but as I maintain stocks likely descended from his original lines.  Though my Snakeskin Topswords descend from Austrian Breeder Michael Milde, via Steve Guyger, there is a good chance of common ancestry as Alan Charlton sent his fish to several Austrian Shows over the years.

Ca. 1980's Top Sword
The Topsword Guppy has never had a large following in North America, then or now.  I obtained my first stocks from fellow friend and breeder the late friend Don Sauers.  The year escapes me, but it was after an IFGA annual in either Cleveland or Indianapolis around 1985.  As was common practice, if driving,  I would visit his fishroom in Columbus on the return trip home.

In outward appearance this strain was not much too look at in the eyes of many.  At the time they were about the only readily available Topswords maintained by North American breeders.  The overall base body color was a blue/green bi-color, leaning towards blue, and a green peduncle.  On occasion individual males had bits of snakeskin pattern.  Dorsal color was X-linked for red and caudal color weakly Y-linked the same.  The X-link was much stronger and it took some effort to keep matching red color in both the dorsal and sword.  Otherwise, females were tail / color neutral to my memory.

Ca. 1980's Top Sword
 The sword itself was Y-linked.  Like most Topsword lines today they took quite some time to mature and fully tail out.  The breeder who delayed choosing breeders until an advanced age much benefited in overall sword length of resulting offspring.  Surprisingly, this line did not seem to have the overall longevity found in other Swordtails of the day.  Size was never large on this strain and  I infused females from other IFGA lines, it often resulted in Topsword males who exhibited the addition of a weak lower sword.  This occurred as a result of double swords in many IFGA lines being X-linked.  It then took an additional generation or two to remove this defect.

In direct contrast to my swordtails today, for various reasons gold (blond) versions of IFGA Swordtails at this time were often genetically weak.  Infusing the gene into this strain met with poor success.  Dorsal color was often very “patchy” with visible clear spots.  I have no recollection of ever showing such a specimen, yet I did manage to perpetuate it in my lines until they were dropped.  Prior to this I did include several trios in a shipment to Derek Lambert in the UK.  The last breeder I had knowledge of who maintained this line some years back was Steve Welli.

My next strain of Topswords came to be in a roundabout manner while in Montana.  Crossing and exploring genetics of non delta guppies has always taken up about 10-20 percent of my fishroom, while the remainder is devoted to maintaining and improving specific lower and double swordtail strains.  Being unable to easily locate a strain of Topswords to work with, I decided to create one of my own.

F1 Multi Top
One day while offloading some culls at the LFS I noticed male in a display tank the exhibited a blue/green wildtype base body color and red top sword with just a hint of extension.  Not that much different from many found in a tank of feeder guppies.  Seemed like a good match for my then evolving line of Vienna Lower females.  What I was counting on was their X-linked extension genetics and an X-link for dorsal color, which the sire lacked.  As you can see in the two photos from the resulting F1 I succeeded well in both caudal and dorsal extension, but not so well with color.   Overall they both were somewhat translucent and white.  One male showed some traces of red in the caudal.

F1 Multi Top

F2 Multi Top
Discarding the sibling females, I again took the F1 males back to pure Vienna lower females.  I saw no reason to utilize the sibling females who only possessed a single X for dorsal color from their dams.  In the F2 color was further enhanced by the Vienna Emerald influence as seen in the photo to the left.  This male developed into a very nice mixture of blue and green with an emerald peduncle.  

I showed several of these males individually in the single sword class and they did surprisingly well.  Especially when you consider the dorsal, while very aesthetically pleasing, is also very non IFGA conforming.  Not wanting to devote a lot of tanks to this strain it stagnated and eventually declined before being phased out after a couple years.

F1 Multi Top (rear) / F2 Multi Top (front)
So now that brings us to one of my current lines of Topswords.  The is a multi line once again started with a wild type Topsword male found in a group of feeders.  I bred this line for a couple generations using wild type females until being able to setup a proper fishroom and reacquire my old Vienna lines.

This male in the foreground is an F1 identical to the founding sire.  In front of him is a sib bred F2 son.  Not a lot of color, but an interesting lavender base body color with green peduncle spot and a Y-linked long flowing red dorsal.  For the F3 I Utilized both these males bred to a group of 6 gold (blond) Vienna Lower females. 

F3 Multi Top
F3 are comparable in size to my average Vienna male.  You will notice color is greatly enhanced from the Vienna influence while retaining the lavender base body color in the fore body.  As I write this article the tails on these males is about twice the length shown in this photo.

Discarding sibling females, I have bred a group of six F3 males to Y-linked gold body Snakeskin Topsword females and time will tell if  this evolving line shows an increase in extension.

F3 Multi Top

That brings us to the Austrian Lace Snakeskin Topswords to which I devote about 10-12 tanks.  Alan Charlton makes reference in his article along the lines of "the less desirable lavendar reappearing" every so often.  In many ways this strain is much the same in makeup as during Alan Charlton's time.  Though finnage & pattern is greatly improved.  In comparison to 30 years ago, I find no distinction in hardiness between grey and gold (blond) lines.  Be prepared to sit around and just stare at this strain for quite some time while they grow out.  Maturity comes very, very, slowly and a breeder who makes his selections later is often rewarded with not only the best finnage, but longevity.  I'm currently breeding a 20 month  female to grandsons.

Gold Bodied Topswords
Lavender Lace Snakeskin Topswords
As in all my strains I maintain an "A" line in pure gold and a "B" line of mixed grey/gold normally sired by grey males.  Like there Delta counterparts, the best Snakeskin Topsword females have short chunky bodies, are long lived and fertile.  Males are either green or purple (lavendar) base body color.  The latter is easily incorporated and maintained in all my swordtail strains.

EGI Lace Snakekin Topswords
At this time I'm still not sure if and how much of an influence Vienna Emerald Green (VEG) has beneath the Snakeskin phenotype.  Though find it plausible.  I am testing base body color influences currently.  Of particular interest are a "3rd phenotype" of green males who show very intense Emerald Green Irisdesncence (EGI).  

Grey Body Topsword Female
Having always selected for iridescence in my lines, I shy away from "flat colored" IFGA type fish.  In doing so iridescence is very visible in both males and females of my Vienna strains.   It is clearly evident with the aid of an incandescent light along the lateral line above the abdomen, and even into the peduncle region on the best individuals.  So far, these Topswords are no different.   Too shed some light on this particular Topsword phenotype I currently I have about 8 of green lace males expressing EGI with sibling females in a couple breeding groups.  All the females show green iridescence along the lateral line and not purple.  In out cross to Vienna type females it has expressed in the F1.

Gold (Blond) Lace Snakeskin Topswords


Oh, by the way things in the guppy world have a way of coming full circle.  Recently I was contacted by a non showing breeder in KY who wished to further acquire some swordtails.  He was down to a lone female from stocks I shipped him over 20 years ago, while still in Virginia, originating out of a line I created in the mid 1980’s from a shipment of Vienna Emeralds sent to me from Austrian breeder Walter Schuster.   Back in the early mid 1990’s when I shut down one of my fishroom incarnations the last person I shipped too was an individual I did not know at the time by the name of Steve Guyger.  After relocating to western Montana in 2002 he was one of the first breeders to contact me and send stock.  As he did again in 2010 when I relocated to the highlands of West Virginia.  Swap some stock with others…

Click on blog photos to enlarge

Click on blog photos to enlarge