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© All rights reserved
Guenter Ellenberg


All translations into English by Matthias Naumann, Germany and Bill Kohler, Ohio-USA  

Girardinichthys viviparus


English name:
Black Sailfin Goodeid / Amarillo

Goodeidae JORDAN, in 1923.

Goodeinae JORDAN, in 1923.

Original description:
no information.

Derivation of the species name:
named after the latin word for livebearing.

Type locality:
Lago Texcoco, near / in Mexico City, Mexico.

Meristic properties:
Dorsal fin = 18 - 23 rays;
Anal fin = 20 - 26 rays.

Girardinichthys viviparus was the first species of the family of Goodeids to be described.

This species should be kept in aquariums of at least 50 liters. Keeping low water temperatures of 17 °C to 20 °C is very important. Temperatures of 22 °C and higher are seldom endured with the result that the fish will not be long lived. In addition there will be a decline in the coloration of the males and a reduced appetite in all the fish, plus the young do not develop optimally at high temperatures.

If kept too warm (permanently over 22 °C) Girardinichthys viviparus is prone to fish tuberculosis. With frequent water changes and cooler water temperatures one will be able to appreciate this Goodeid for a long time.

Except for cooler water, there are no other special water parameters although the preference will be for hard water with a pH value of at least 7.

The males seldom display and have very little aggression among themselves. Parallel positions and anti-parallel positions together with moderate shaking of fins are sometimes observed. The superior opponent soon drives the other fish away with an attack. The inferior fish flees and is not followed up after it hides. From time to time smaller attacks appear with these attacks being characterized by the attacker heading straight at the opponent. In such situations the opponent swims away quickly. Serious attacks were not be observed.

Girardinichthys viviparus is one of the most peaceful Goodeids and can be integrated into a community tank very well . The males, when in a good mood, are so attractively colored that even color-spoiled aquarists will consider this fish a nice wild form of livebearer. The short body form of the males with big dorsal and anal fins that are colored black, along with the black that now and again covers the whole body, makes this fish look very pretty. The females are longer and have a light olive color. When kept under ideal conditions, the females show single black patterns. Sometimes weak shimmering vertical bands can be made out on her body.

Being able to cope with a wide range of temperatures between 5 °C and 25 °C makes Girardinichthys viviparus a species that can be kept outside from the middle of April to the beginning of October in some parts of the world.

Feeding Girardinichthys viviparus is easy, i.e. flakes, frozen and live-food of any kind will be accepted. Part of the nourishment should be vegetable based so any alga that exists in the aquarium will be an additional source of food. However, vegetable based food does not seem to be as important for Girardinichthys viviparus as it is for other Goodeid species. The observation has been made that Girardinichthys viviparus does not harm even tender, slender plants.

The following observations and explanations about the mating behaviour of Girardinichthys viviparus come from Daniel KROLL, Germany:

For observation, two females, which had recently delivered, were put in an aquarium  (40x20x25 cms) and fed well. After three days two males of average size and one smaller male, as well as a pregnant female were added.

The tank was only diffusely illuminated, offered some plants as hiding places and had the same temperature and water conditions as the main tank the fish were taken from.

About two hours after being transferred, mating behaviour started. The males displayed dark fins, had many small pigment dots on the body and a much darker belly than before (here it has to be stated that the colouring of the male fish is very variable anyway and can vary from nearly colorless – with only the basic color of the body being visible- to ivory-black. The dark colouring is displayed under good conditions only. The darkness of colouring is not an indicator of dominance, because observations revealed that the most dominant male was less dark than the smallest, subordinate male).

No remarkable mating behaviour like what is known from Guppys and other viviparous fish could be observed over a period of two days. Rather “clumsy advances” of the males were noticed; that is in many cases the males approached a female without carrying out any preparatory courting and began immediately with a copulation attempt. It is conceivable that a more extensive mating behaviour was lacking, because the fish may have been impaired in the small tank, although no change appeared when only one pair was left in the aquarium.

In general, Girardinichthys viviparus is a quite calmly moving species which, in contrast to Ameca splendens, displays no violent mating behaviour on the side of the male and no shaking and bending by receptive females.

In the course of the observations it became clear that the smallest male only sought after the pregnant female. In the case of the other females it was only successful when the both stronger males competed with each other. Otherwise it was always chased away by his competitors.

The visual differences that can be observed in non-pregnant fish are a black edge at the belly, which looks shrunken, and a darker body. Very rarely highly pregnant females also show the previously mentioned dark fins and bellies. Whether these special distinguishing marks of the non-pregnant fish serve as a signal to the males, is uncertain.

It is known that receptive females of Xiphophorus helleri are courted more often. In that case a control by pheromones (chemical odoriferous substances) is supposed.

A generalized mating description for the Goodeids was suggested up by NELSON (1975) using Goodea atripinnis as the example. Therefore, the mating behavior can be divided into three stages:

    1. Orientation (adjustment on the female)
    2. Display (the exhibition of the male)
    3. Copulation (actually, mating).

A searching behavior by the males could not be observed. Probably, because a female is always present in such a small tank. If a female got in the field of vision of a male, it was slowly followed after an observation phase.

Head-on positioning was registered twice during the first four hours of the observation. Males and females both are confronted

284-Girardinichthys viviparus 06 Kroll
Head-on positioning
Illustration: Daniel KROLL


Lateral positioning:
The male swims some centimeters before the female and presents himself as illustrated to the side with the stretched unpaired fins before initiating a copulation attempt.

285-Girardinichthys viviparus 07 Kroll
Lateral positioning
Illustration: DANIEL KROLL


The Lateral positioning, that is the lateral presentation, however, can be further developed with the male swimming jerkily behind the female a short moment after its lateral presentation so as to appear once more and to present himself. Then he swims jerkily back without circling the female and then approaches for a another copulation attempt.

Without any further courting the approaching male prods under the belly of the female. Then it once briefly swims in the field of vision of the mate, presents itself and begins with a copulation attempt.

283-Girardinichthys viviparus 05 Kroll
Approach from the back
Illustration: DANIEL KROLL


A copulation attempt can be carried out from either side the male takes a mating position. It swims up to the female, so that the genitals come as close as possible. In order to adjust to the body of the female, an s-shaped twist is made. The dorsal fin presses against the body of the female, while the anal fin grips the abdomen and so forms a channel that supports the mating process. A shivering of the fish during the mating process was not be observed. During the copulation attempt the pair paused up to four minutes. On an average the mating position lasted two minutes. Parallel swimming was not be observed.


286-Girardinichthys viviparus 08 Kroll
Mating position from two sides
Illustration: DANIEL KROLL


The female finishes the mating process by suddenly swimming away. Beyond that, the females undertake no activities on their own, but behave passively. Indeed, one can understand pausing and admitting the mating also as an activity, because mating-indignant females swim away at an approach, after they have indicated their "refusal" by gentle, jerky shaking and moving their head sideways.

Such females are not pressed excessively by the males such as by a chase for instance, but are examined at later accidental meeting once again for mating readiness.
Surprisingly in the literature this behavior has been described very differently. According to Nelson (1975) and Hieronimus (1984), a shaking of the female indicates their willingness to mate.

The males of Girardinichthys viviparus that court females that have refused to mate often performed an s-shaped twist, a result of  bending down the andropodium. Whether this is analogous to the waving of the gonopodium in the case of Poecilids cannot be answered with certainty. However, this bending down of the andropodium and a twist of the body most often appears at instants which are marked by a frustration in connection with an unsuccessful mating attempt (Parzefall (1969) discusses the waving of the gonopodium using the example of Mollienesia species  and reports an increased appearance of this behavior when copulation attempts were cut off.

Courting and mating proceeds all together less hectically than is the case with Guppies and Swordtails.

A sequence of mating behavior such as known for other viviparous fish, could not be identified unambiguously, since often only interrupted sequences were observed or isolated behavioral elements appeared.

This ends the information provided by Daniel KROLL.


Breeding is not too difficult. Failures are possibly based on the water temperatures being too high in the aquarium. After delivering their young, the bellies of the females become extremely shrunken. The formerly well-filled abdominal cavity then resembles a skin fold. One could even think that there is no space left for the internal organs. After giving birth to their offspring, there are often changes observed in the body coloring of the females.

One can clearly perceive the exertion that is connected with birth. Often the females of Girardinichthy viviparus lay violently breathing on the bottom of the aquarium. However, if the female is well fed they will quickly recover.

About 20 fry, around 12 mm long, are delivered in each spawn by the very pregnant females. The birth of the young causes no problems. The fish seldom chase their young after birth. A few days after the spawn the fry will freely swim between the older fish in the aquarium without being bothered.

After the fifth week of age the secondary sex characteristics can be recognized. At an age of about 4 months the females may have offspring themselves.

Below is a list by DANIEL KROLL, Germany, which shows the growth increase and the development of a spawn of Girardinichthys viviparus from birth up to delivering their own young:


Time after birth

Measurments and special incidents

05.04. (litter)

(22) = 1.6 cm, (4) = 1.5 cm, (1) = 1.35 cm
2 dead fish out of a total of 27 fry.

1st Week

1.7 - 1.9 cm; average: 1.85 cm

2nd Week

1.9 - 2.1 cm; average: 2 cm

4th Week

1.9 - 2.2 cm; average: 2.1 cm

5th Week

Development of the secondary sex characteristics

6th Week

2.0 - 2.7 cms; average: 2.2 cms (males)., 2.4 cms (females).

12th Week

Males approx. 3 cm, females approx. 4 cm total length

16th Week

9 females give birth within one week. 


Having read the preceding information one should always consider that they depend on observations which must be based on a very small group of individuals and therefore do not necessarily represent the species' actual spectrum.

Within Poecilia Nederland a working group has come into being that concerns itself especially with the preservation of this species.

The original habitats of Girardinichthys viviparus have become smaller and smaller by human interventions and, according to the current state of knowledge, has been reduced to a rest refuge. BRIAN KABBES has visited the biotope of this species in the pond of the botanical garden in Mexico City. This artificial habitat contains an estimated number of about 100 to 150 fish; almost all are fry.

Girardinichthys could not be found in the extensive morass areas between Mexico City and Texcoco. Today the Texcoco lake (a former habitat) is mainly drained and strongly polluted by the introduction of sewage from Mexico City. The destruction of biotopes all around Mexico City is dramatic and gets worse rapidly.

Most likely Girardinichthys viviparus has become extinct in its natural environment except in the two still known habitats.


Girardinichthys viviparus 1-Krönke
Girardinichthys viviparus
Photo by: Dr. Frank Krönke



Girardinichthys viviparus 2-Krönke
Girardinichthys viviparus
Foto: Dr. Frank Krönke



280-Girardinichthys viviparus 02
Taken from: Aqualog publishing company
Title: all Livebearers and Halfbeaks,
Photo by: J. C. Merino.
Habitat: Mexico City, Mexico,
bred in captivity, couple, 4.5 and 6.5 cm.


281-Girardinichthys viviparus 03
Taken from: Aqualog publishing company
Title: all Livebearers and Halfbeaks,
Photo by: J. C. Merino.
Habitat: Mexico City, Mexico,
bred in captivity, male, 4.5 cm.


730-04 Bot.Garten_Mexiko_City
Girardinichthys viviparus
Habitat: Botanical garden of the University in Mexico-city



literatur of:

508-Kees de Jong


Girardinichthys viviparus (Bustamante, 1837)

D. Bork (1986): Der Amarillo-Kärpfling Girardinichthys viviparus - ein bisher wenig beachteter Lebendgebärender. Aquarien Terrarien (8): 268-269

D. Bork (1986): Girardinichthys viviparus, een tot nu toe weinig bekende levendbarende tandkarper. Poecilia Nieuws (5): 70-71

C. Cheswright (1994): Down Mexico way. Viviparous (26): 0-9

D. Gentzsch (1986): Einige Beobachtungen und Untersuchungen zum Amarilllo-Kärpfling Girardinichthys viviparus. Aquarien Terrarien (8): 269-270

D. Gentzsch (1987): Zum Wurfrhythmus bei Lebendgebärenden Zahnkarpfen. Aquarien Terrarien (11): 378-380

A. Günther (1866): Catalogue of the fishes in the British museum. London (vol. 6): 1-386

H. Hieronimus (2002): Ein neue Einflussgröße für die Balz von Lebendgebärenden: UV-Licht. DGLZ-Rundschau (3): 68-69

K. de Jong (2010): Een nieuw biotoop van Girardinichthys viviparus. Poecilia Nieuws (2): 16-17

B. Kabbes (1999): Vangreis van Brian en Simone Kabbes, Mexico 1998 Conclusies en bevindingen Familie Goodeidae. Poecilia Nieuws (2): 22-35

M. Kempkes (2007): Die aquaristisch bedeutsamen Goodeiden-Arten. Aquaristik Fachmagazin (197): 12-17

H.-J. Klüppel (1985): Girardinichthys viviparus - ein Fisch mit vielen Namen. DATZ (12): 574-575

D. Kroll (1996): Der Amarillokärpfling. DATZ (7): 426-428

D. Kroll (1996): Betr: "Der Amarillokärpfling". DATZ (12): 811-812

D. Kroll (1997): "Eine gruae Maus" - Girardinichthys viviparus. DGLZ-Rundschau (2): 27-33

D. Lambert (0): The livebearer trail part 2. Viviparous (17): 0-

D. Lambert (1990): Mexico - the livebearer trail part 2. Aquarist & Pondkeeper (April): 34-

D. Lambert (1996): The search for Skiffia francesae The Aquarian Expedition 1996. Tropical Fish Hobbyist (november): 118-133

J.K. Langhammer (1995): The husbandry of the black sailfin goodeid Girardinichthys viviparous. Viviparous (29): 0-

J.K. Langhammer (1997): Lost treasure of the Aztecs, Pt. IX: an update to the husbandry of the black sailfin Goodeid Girardinichthys viviparus. Livebearers (145): 15-18

P. Loiselle (1992): The Grim Reaper Desert Fishes Status Report. Livebearers (124): 7-10

E. López-López, J. E. Sedeño-Díaz & F. Perozzi (2006): Lipid peroxidation and Acetylcholinesterase activity as biomarkers in the Black Sailfin Goodeid, Girardinichthys viviparous (Bustamante) exposed to water from Lake Xochimilco

J. Lyons (2004): Goodeiden in de natuur, stand van zaken januari 2004 deel 1. Poecilia Nieuws (4): 21-23

E. Meinema (1990): Kleine hooglandkarpers. Het Aquarium (9): 209-212

E. Meinema (1992): Die aus die kalte kommen. Poecilia Nieuws (4): 17-20

R. Miranda et al (2008): First record of Girardinichthys viviparus in Lake Tecocomulco, Mexico. Journal of Fish Biology (73): 317-322

J. de Moree (1997): Girardinichthys viviparus. Poecilia Nieuws (6): 115-117

J. de Moree (2001): Instandhoudingsgroepje Zuid-West, het vierde jaar. Poecilia Nieuws (1): 1-3

A.C. Radda (1986): Cyprinodonte vissen in Mexico (slot). Poecilia Nieuws (4): 54-57

G. Randall (2009): Girardinichthys viviparus. Livebearer News (27): 30-33

C.T. Regan (1904): XXX. Descriptions of new or little known fishes from Mexico and British Honduras. Annals and Magazine of Natural History (13): 255-259

P. Schubert (1989): Goodeiden 2. Aquarien Terrarien (11): 377-379

J.E. Sedeño-Díaz & E. López-López (2009): Threatened fishes of the world: Girardinichthys viviparus (Bustamante 1837) (Cyprinodontiformes: Goodeidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes (84): 11-12

R. Serva (2001): Breeding the black sailfin Goodeid - Girardinichthys viviparus. Livebearers (166): 27-29

R. Serva & G. Tash (1997): In sort of the "wild" red swordtail (amongst other things). Viviparous (39): 0-

M. Siebelink (1986): Nakweek nieuwe soorten. Poecilia Nieuws (2): 23-24

J. Vente (1989): Een visje met een gebruiksaanwijzing. Het Aquarium (1): 11-12

S. Wellejus (1991): Girardinichthys viviparus, hij kwam kweekte en verdween. Poecilia Nieuws (3): 39-41

J. Wubbolt (1998): Girardinichthys viviparus - the black sailfin Goodeid. Livebearers (153): 17-18