Can You Eat Guppies? (Why You May Not Want To)

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Male cobra-green guppy
Male guppies have skirt-like tails with striking color combinations. 5snake5, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Guppies are one of the most popular types of aquarium fish. This beloved freshwater creature has been raised and bred all over the world for generations. Today, there are dozens of varieties with the most striking color combinations. The males are particularly attractive due to their skirt-like tails that move gracefully in the water, making them seem like the aquatic counterparts of peacocks.

Strictly speaking, the guppy is scientifically known as Poecilia reticulata. Many other minutely sized fish may loosely be referred to as guppies, but this article will focus on this singular species. P. reticulata has its roots in tropical regions, where it can thrive comfortably in waters that stay fairly warm all year round. It is naturally preyed upon by many larger fish species, amphibians, and reptiles.

One might think that the thought of us humans eating such tiny fish is nothing short of bizarre. Nonetheless, it does begin to make sense when faced with an abundance of guppies. Many cultures around the globe are accustomed to consuming intensely-flavored dishes made with small fish. Technically speaking, guppies are wholly edible, bones and all, but this doesn’t mean that you should jump at your next chance to scoop one out of the aquarium and eat it whole!

Just How Small Are Guppies?

Different guppy varieties
Guppies range in size from 1.5 – 6 cm. The striking colors and patterns of male guppies make them highly sought-after in the aquarium industry. Melanochromis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Most guppy varieties range in size from 1.5 – 6 cm (0.6 – 2.3 inches). Females are usually smaller than males, but males are more sought-after in the aquarium industry due to their diverse colors and patterns. The types seen in pet stores tend to average at just 3 cm long, whereas those caught in the wild have the tendency to be smaller even in the absence of predators.

Generally, fish that are below 5 – 7 cm (2 – 3 inches) need not be gutted. If this step were necessary, it would invariably be extremely tedious due to the brittleness of small bones. The gut would be near-impossible to handle and cleanly strip off of the fish using just crude tools and your own hands. You’d need scientific precision to gut a guppy! Of course, one of the drawbacks of leaving guts in small fish is the danger of potential pathogens. If you must insist on eating tiny fish, make sure they have been fished out of clean water.

Types of Guppies and Pricing

Wild guppies caught in net
Wild guppies are native to South America and aren’t as colorful as the domesticated strains. Judgefloro, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to South America, wild-type guppies come in many strains. They retain the same overall body shape and organ features, though there is some variety in fin and tail shape. Domesticated strains, which are the products of generations of selective breeding, have even more diverse morphological features. These may look quite different from wild strains in that their colors are extremely accentuated.

Guppies can be grouped according to the patterns on their body (cobra, snakeskin, tuxedo) or their tails (lace, mosaic, leopard, grass). They can also be differentiated by tail shape (lyre, rounded, fan-shaped, triangular, flag-shaped, spade-shaped, sword-shaped). Pricing is usually based on lineage and rarity, with the most vividly-patterned show guppies selling for northwards of $60 each.

Most “fancy” guppies, which is another term for the flamboyant types in pet stores, tend to sell for $10 – $100. There are cheaper strains as well, selling for below 50 cents apiece. Consumption of these cheaper types, even just “for kicks”, would certainly still be questionable. It might be more worth it to look for minnows or other types of baitfish, such as those frequently used to prepare an Asian side dish called dilis.

There is a type of guppy that is farmed specifically for use as food for larger animals, particularly ornamental fish, domesticated amphibians, and reptiles. Called “feeder guppies”, these more closely resemble the wild-type strains. Some experts do warn against using these as a food source for prized pets, however, as they may carry diseases. Going for about $0.10 each, these seem cheap at first but will still rack up a hefty bill if purchased in large amounts.

Guppy Nutritional Profile

Group of guppies
Guppies are so small that they are simply not a viable food source. Timothy Jabez / No copyright

The nutritional profile of guppies largely depends on the food types that they have access to. Those fished in the wild from ecologically-balanced freshwater bodies are likely to have a decent percentage of lipids. Their choice food types include diatoms, insect larvae, small invertebrates, and plant fragments. As the most important aspect of fish-based nutrition is the fatty acid content, feeder guppies are usually fed with enriched feeds and artemia.

Considering the small size of guppies, however, consumption of just a few would likely result in negligible amounts of assimilated fatty acids. They simply are not a viable food source that you could use to sustainably feed yourself or your loved ones. You’d definitely have to eat a handful or more to nutritionally benefit from eating these tiny fish. But, take note that there could be significant drawbacks that would make you regret eating them in the first place!

Dangers of Eating Guppies

Vivid blue guppy
Consuming domesticated guppies is not advised as their ornamental value goes to waste. Carlos Eduardo Joos / CC BY 2.0

Consumption of domesticated guppies, especially those that have been purchased from pet stores and raised in an aquarium setup, would undoubtedly be ill-advised as it puts their ornamental value to waste. Breeding guppies for personal dietary consumption would definitely be an odd endeavor too, but each to his/her own! It makes sense if you’re breeding them for use as feeder fish for your own larger animals, as this ensures that you have control over the biosecurity of their holding tank.

Keep in mind that, as guppies are small fish and can hardly be gutted, you would be consuming them with all of their insides intact. This means that any pathogenic microbes contained by the guppies, if eaten raw, would end up in your system. Guppies are natural hosts to a wide range of parasites. Thoroughly cooking the fish beforehand should neutralize most microbes, but it won’t guarantee total safety. Failure to cook the fish properly could lead to a nasty string of digestive ailments.

Where to Find Guppies in the Wild

Wild guppies in swamp
Wild guppies can be found in just about every freshwater habitat in the Caribbean and northern regions of South America. Emilio17, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Guppies can hardly be called survival food. Nevertheless, they may be a more straightforward means to satiate one’s hunger in times of desperation. Just about every freshwater habitat in the forests and jungles of the Caribbean and the northern regions of South America is home to guppies. This prolific fish has also become naturalized in many other regions across the globe.

Look for guppies in pockets of slow-moving water or pools close to the banks of streams and ponds. They will likely be found with a cocktail of other small types of fish and fry. They can simply be scooped out with a bucket or small container, though this only works if they haven’t all been spooked into hiding beforehand. You can also get creative and make crude fish traps (with woven baskets or perforated objects) that can simply be raised out of the water.

Do Guppies Eat Each Other?

Baby guppy
Guppy fry are sometimes eaten by adults to replenish their own fat stores, especially if the fry are weak or malformed. Benoît Prieur / CC BY-SA 4.0

Guppies are peaceful fish that don’t normally eat one another under optimal growth conditions. When space is limited, a tank is overcrowded, or there is a lack of sheltered areas, chances of cannibalism do increase. This doesn’t necessarily change their nutritional profiles or allow them to grow larger. Instead, it is simply a desperate means of survival. Guppies also naturally eat their dead conspecifics, but this should not be encouraged in a tank setup. Remove any dead fish as soon as they are spotted to prevent contamination of tank water. Do not, under any circumstances, eat the dead fish.

The disappearance of guppy fry is a perfectly normal scenario, especially in the absence of hiding places. Adults may eat their young to replenish their own fat stores. This is highly applicable to females who allocate a large amount of energy to egg production and development.

Moreover, most of the fry that do get consumed are those with weaker dispositions or malformations that prevent them from being able to swim away from predators. This helps weed out the weak from the strong, ensuring that only the strongest individuals will survive to produce the next generation of offspring.

Natural Guppy Predators

Blue acara in fish tank
Guppies have many natural predators including amphibians, waterfowl, and carnivorous freshwater fish, such as the blue acara (pictured). Loïc Tremblay, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Humans are not included in the list of natural guppy predators as our consumption habits simply have no direct bearing on their wild populations. Their typical predators include carnivorous freshwater fish, amphibians, and waterfowl found in their native range. The blue acara (Aequidens pulcher), a beautiful Venezuelan cichlid, loves to feast on guppies.

In response to predation, wild-type male guppies have evolved to produce dull pigments to camouflage more effectively with their natural environment. Even females in high-stress environments tend to naturally select dull-colored males as their mates. Basically, they make themselves look as plain as they possibly can just to avoid being eaten!

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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