Artificial insemination of livebearers

Artificial insemination of livebearers

Artificial insemination of livebearers might sound like science fiction – or just a very bad joke – but the truth is that artificial insemination is a great alternative or traditional mating for many livebearers, especially so called fancy livebearers. Artificial insemination (commonly abbreviated AI) can save the breeder a lot of time and is especially popular among breeders who strive to fix certain genetic traits in their strains. AI can be used to maximize female reproduction and increase the number of fertilized eggs. Artificial insemination is also currently being used to enhance production of livebearer hybrids.

Some highly flamboyant fancy livebearers actually have a very long or deformed gonopodia that makes it hard or impossible for them to mate with a female fish in the traditional way. This group includes quite a lot of lyretail and veiltail livebearers. It is also possible for female fancy livebearers to have narrow or even blocked ovarian openings, and it is very difficult for a male fish to impregnate such a female with some aid from the aquarist.  

Another bonus with artificial insemination is that it makes it easy to identify sterile males and males with low fertility. A third situation where AI can be helpful is when you have a male with great characteristics that you want to pass on to future generations, but he proves to be sexually coy and non-aggressive and prone to have a very low mating success in the aquarium.

What you need
If you want to artificially inseminate your live bearers, you have to be prepared to hand-collect semen from male livebearers and then insert the semen into the females. This naturally requires a list of equipment. For a very basic form of artificial insemination, you will need the following items:

  1. A suitable microscope
  2. Pasteur pipettes where the tips are no bigger than 0.5mm in diameters
  3. An anesthetic that is safe to use on livebearing fish.
  4. Soft cloth
  5. An isotonic saline solution suitable for holding the semen until you administer it to the female
  6. A blunt needle
  7. A recovery aquarium for the fish

When it comes to anesthetics, many aquarists use a solution consisting of 2 drops of clove oil per 5 cups (1.2 L) of tap water (which is the same as 1:7000 of 98% 2- phenoxyethanol).  

The recovery aquarium doesn’t have to be big; a simple bucket will do as long as you equip it with filtering and aeration. The fish should be kept in a dark, calm environment for recovery.

How to get the sperm

  1. Anaesthetize the male livebearer and wrap him in the soft cloth. The cloth should be vet.
  2. Place the male fish so that his belly is exposed.
  3. Move the gonopodium in a 180 degree arc back and forth 7-10 times.
  4. Use one finger to hold the gonopodium facing forward, while simultaneously using a moist thumb and index finger to rub the sides of the male fish. Start rubbing behind the head and continue along the sides until you reach the base of the fish's gonopodium. (Yes, you are giving your fish a hand-job.)
  5. If you have done everything correctly, the male fish will now release milt. (A white colored liquid.)
  6. Collect the milt using the pipette and place in a drop of the isotonic saline solution.

You can repeat this collection procedure 2-3 times, but once you have handled the male for 3 minutes he should be left to recover in the recovery aquarium.

How to inseminate the female

    • Anaesthetize the female and wrap her in soft, wet cloth, just like you did with the male.
    • Place her so that her genital opening is exposed. The genital opening is located right behind the anal opening.
    • Carefully inspect the genital opening and – if necessary – use the blunt needle to clear and widen it somewhat.
    • Draw the isotonic saline with the sperm 5mm (1/4 inch) into the tip of the Pasteur pipette.
    • Insert the tip into the genital opening of the female and inject the liquid. It is important not to inject any air.
    • Inject the female 3-5 times before you place her in the recovery aquarium. Do not handle the female for more than 3 minutes.

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