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Mollies in Aquariums; Molly Disease, Shimmies
KEEPING MOLLY FISH IN AQUARIUMS & MOLLY DISEASE (Shimmies/ Livebearer Disease)
By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 35+ years experience
The Molly is from the same Genus as the guppy and Endlers livebearer; Poecilia and the family: Poeciliidae, the same as other livebearers.
One of the earliest described (& kept) Mollies was the sailfin molly, in 1821 as Mollienesia latipinna by the naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur.
The other is the common "short finned" Molly; Poecilia sphenops, which is one of the ancestors of the popular black mollies.
Mollies wild habitat consists of fresh, brackish, and coastal waters from the Carolinas to Texas, peninsular Florida, and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
Mollies prefer marshes, lowland streams, swamps, and estuaries.
Mollies do not have any one exact habitat in common, including salinity (despite some misconceptions here).
What they do have in common is water high in alkalinity, Calcium and General Hardness.
*Aquarium Chemistry; Alkalinity, KH
*Aquarium Chemistry; GH, Minerals
Mollies only thrive in water that is very high in GH and Calcium (a GH over 250 ppm GH), pH over 7.8, KH over 100+ (ppm), and some salt, about 1 teaspoon per 1 gallon or 3-4 liters (or 1.002 to as high as 1.006 specific gravity).
Mollies can easily survive in a specific gravity (salinity) of 1.012 which will not support parasites such as “ich” that may infest them at lower salinities.
What many hobbyists do not understand about mollies and their natural habitat is that although salt is very useful for disease prevention, it is the other ingredients in Marine Salt that really make a difference in Molly health, and that is Calcium, Magnesium and the many other major/trace elements along with electrolytes available there in.
What ALL Molly habitats have in common is hardness/high mineral water, NOT salt!
Understanding this will go a long ways in keeping healthy, happy mollies.
WITHOUT adequate calcium, magnesium and other essential elements in the water as well as a healthy Redox (which includes mineral Cations), you will most likely have trouble maintaining a healthy Molly population in your aquarium.
With the right parameters, Mollies can be one of the easier fish to breed and keep and be very enjoyable fishy pets.
Further Reference: Aquarium Redox
Maintaining correct Calcium and other necessary element levels will aid in healthy osmoregulation which will in turn result in healthier more disease resistant fish.
Further Reference: “How do Fish Drink; Proper Osmotic Function”
You can maintain Mollies in a community tank with many but only the most sensitive South American Fish.
Other livebearers that do not have as high of mineral requirements will also do well in an aquarium that is at least kept to minimum Molly requirements.
If you intend to keep Mollies in a community aquarium with other fish such as Platties, Gouramis, etc; here are the minimum requirements I would suggest:
- pH – 7.5 - 8.0
- KH -100 – 150+ ppm
- GH – 200 -300+ ppm (important!)
- Salt (marine or cichlid salt is best here) – 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons to 1 teaspoon per gallon
Here are a few products I would suggest for maintaining these levels:
- AAP Premium Wonder Shells;
These are great for maintenance of GH, Calcium, Magnesium, Positive mineral ions (cations essential for Redox Balance & long term fish health) and other essential elements and are also safe and in fact quite useful for general community tank essential element maintenance.
Wonder Shells are also available in a Medicated version from high end retailers
- Sea Chem Buffer (Marine OR Malawi);
This is useful for increasing KH and maintaining a safe AND BALANCED alkalinity/KH level (unlike Baking Soda!).
Please see this article for more about this subject:
“Aquarium Chemistry; Basics to Advanced”
- Aragonite, oolitic sand, oyster shell or crushed coral in a filter bag;
Of these aragonite or oolitic sand is the best, however all are poor at to reacting to rapid changes in water chemistry that can affect GH and KH which is why I recommend the first two more (although in a well maintained, non over crowded aquarium, rapid changes should be uncommon).
Oolitic sand is even more effective when used in a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter.
Product Reference: TMC Premium FSB Filters, Including Oolitic Media Option
Mollies are omnivores and will eat most foods offered, however a Molly must have quality vegetable matter in their diet for optimum health such as Spirulina. As well, with a Molly's short but energetic life, quality protein sources such as whole salmon fish meal, shrimp meal, and/or egg whites.
Two highly recommended foods that contain Spirulina would be AAP Spirulina 20 & AAPs Paradigm Omnivore Diet
This should be supplemented with live, frozen or Freeze Dried worms, Brine Shrimp or similar foods,
Where to purchase:
Spirulina 20 Premium Fish Food Flake
AAPs Paradigm Omnivore Diet
MOLLY DISEASE (Livebearer Disease/ Shimmies)
With this "disease", The Molly Fish stay in one place and wiggle, rock, wag and/or "shimmy" (hence the term "Shimmies").
Molly Disease is not technically a disease at all, rather a condition/syndrome brought on by poor water conditions; electrolytes in particular.
However secondary infections may accompany this condition or parasitic protozoan infections may also mimic or even be present along with Shimmies/Molly Disease.
Treatment is generally easy assuming the condition is not too progressed.
Improving water chemistry as as per the "Aquarium Chemistry" article referenced earlier in this article is the first step and a MUST READ for more complete information on this important subject!
Although salt is not essential to most Mollies despite claims to the contrary, the addition of 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons to 1 teaspoon per gallon of Aquarium Salt generally aids in Molly Disease initially (sometimes 2 teaspoons per gallon is needed, assuming other tank mates can tolerate this, of which Guppies should do fine with this level of salt).
Further Reference: The Use of Salt, Sodium Chloride in Aquariums
Addressing positive mineral ions and buffering is the next step, especially for long term and prevention.
AAP Wonder Shells are probably the simplest solution to the positive mineral ion issue (cations/electrolytes), but there are other methods as well.
The use of Buffers is the next step, although buffering is not as essential as the mineral cation issue for Molly Disease correcting this "Molly Disease (Shimmies).
SeaChem's Malawi Buffer can correct KH problems and even help with GH and short term positive mineral ion problems as well.
Finally, sometimes treatment is helpful or even necessary.
A simple start would be Copper Sulfate as found in Copper Safe.
Medicated Wonder Shells also contain some copper as well as other ingredients helpful for Velvet and other related diseases to Shimmies/Molly Disease.
These medicated mineral blocks are probably the best over all treatment for Molly disease (as well as the addition of salt and buffers), as the Medicated Wonder Shell corrects most mineral electrolyte issues PLUS treats many related disease issues to this condition.
Triple Sulfa may also be helpful in tank for healing of the fish epidermis that sometimes is damaged during certain cases of Molly disease.
One more treatment that may help is a Medicated Fish Bath.
This 30 minute procedure utilizing salt (I suggest 2 teaspoons per gallon or even slightly more for Molly Disease), along with Methylene blue, and possibly an antibiotic (I would suggest Triple Sulfa at double tank dose).
This bath should be done twice per day for 30 minutes, tank water should be used for the bath then disposed of after each bath. Generally 4-7 days is sufficient.
*Fish Baths; Aquarium Answers
*Aquarium Medications Part 3; Copper Sulfate
*Freshwater Velvet Disease; Aquarium Answers
Where to purchase:
*Mardel Freshwater Aquarium Copper Treatment
*Medicated Wonder Shell; Molly Disease Treatment
*API Triple Sulfa Fish Treatment
*Kordon Methylene Blue Fish Treatment
Mollies can be interesting and colorful fish for your freshwater aquariums.
Usually these are hardy fish except when the water conditions they require are not present, especially mineralization and to a lesser degree salt.
Mollies can do well in a community tank with other fish provided the right water parameters are present.
I do however caution adding Sailfin mollies to aquariums less than 20 gallons (75 liters). Smaller molly types such as black, balloon, gold-dust, etc., will do OK in 10 gallon aquariums. Keep in mind that a poorly maintained aquarium of ANY size cannot hold as large or as many fish.
Also note that mollies (as with all livebearers) can be prolific breeders and unless you are prepared for their offspring, it is best to have only male mollies (single females can still to store unused sperm from the male fish in her body for several months through a process called "superfetation").
Other Recommended Reference & Product Sites
*Molly Care; Fish Profile
* “Wet Web Media; The truth about mollies"
A Healthy Aquarium, Disease Prevention
This article includes water chemistry as discussed here, as well this article includes many other important aspects of fish keeping that affect fish health.
UV Sterilization; Importance of UV Sterilizer use for Disease Prevention
UV-C Replacement Bulbs Page 1
For TRUE High Output, Hot Cathode, Low Pressure UVC Germicidal Bulbs, for aquarium or pond
An excellent food source for Molly Fish
Aquarium Lighting, Complete Information
Aquarium Decorations such as:
*Plastic Aquarium Plants