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Last Updated: 12/1/10

Three of the four bitterlings in the blue water that they came in on 10/24/09.

Quick Information
Setup and Water Preferences
My Bitterlings
Links and Pictures and Videos

Quick Information

Common name: Bitterling
Scientific/Latin name: Rhodeus species
Maximum length: 3 to 4 inches
Colors: Gold, gray, natural
Temperature preference: 33 to 80 degrees F (60's and 70's preferred)
pH preference: 7 to 8
Hardness preference: Medium
Salinity preference: Low to medium
Compatibility: Good
Life span: 3 to 6 years
Ease of keeping: Moderate
Ease of breeding: Moderate to Hard


Bitterlings are interesting in that they breed using mussels. Rhodeus amarus (European bitterling from Continental Europe), Rhodeus sericeus (Amur bitterling from Siberia and parts of Continental Europe), and Rhodeus ocellatus (Rosy bitterling from East Asia) are three species of bitterlings. Bitterlings are 4-inch species from Europe and Asia. Bitterlings are naturally colored, and they have tall bodies with pointy snouts. During breeding season, males develop some rose color on their dorsal fins and body. Bitterlings are omnivorous. They reportedly will eat anchor worms off of fish but mostly eat small insects including mosquito larvae and worms. Bitterlings also eat plants and tend to hang out in heavily vegetated shallows.

I saw some "blue bitterlings" for sale at my local fish store on 12/8/02. I do not know which species they were for sure. I did not buy any because they were $13 each and were very plain fish.

Setup and Water Preferences

Bitterlings prefer a slightly basic pH and temperatures from 55 to 72 degrees F. They are said to be able to survive in ponds that go down to freezing provided that a hole is kept in the ice, and the fish do not actually freeze. At the same time, some ponders report that bitterlings do not survive overwintering in ponds that go down to freezing.


During breeding season (April to June normally), males develop rosy spots on their stomach and fins. At the same time, females develop long ovipositors that they use to insert eggs in to mussels.


Bitterlings are perhaps best know for the method of spawning. They lay eggs within the mantles of freshwater bivalves such as mussels and clams. Without bivalves in a pond, they cannot breed.

The females have long breeding tubes which they put into the mussel to lay eggs. The ovipositor is inserted in to the intake tube through which the mussels draws water. A few eggs then end up in the gills of the mussel. The males expel sperm near the intake of the mussel which then sucks it in to fertilize the eggs. After three or four weeks inside the mussel, the fry are expelled or swim out. If you have these fish, you need mussels (sometimes called clams) to breed them. Unfortunately, mussels are often a necessity for some parasites to complete their life cycles too. The larvae of mussels or clams also live off the gills and/or skin of fish. Unless the mussel density is high, and the fish density is low, the parasitic baby mussels should not pose much risk to the fish. In a pond with bitterlings in mussels, they each help the other.

My Bitterlings

I got four bitterlings in the mail from Live Aquaria on 10/24/09. I put them along with two small shubunkin goldfish in the 50 gallon indoor Rubbermaid tub pond for the winter. I plan to put them in my 1800 gallon pond in the spring. One bitterling seemed to have a white patch on its side that might have been fungus.

On 5/5/10, I tore down the 50 gallon indoor tub pond. I pulled out the bricks, hiding places, and filter and was able to net the shubunkin goldfish and three of the four bitterlings. I took their photos. One in the glass bowl was a male bitterling ready to breed since he had red striping which reminded me of a red shiner. I had to pull out all the bluebells before I could get the fourth bitterling, another male so I have two males and two females I think. I put those five fish out in the 1800 gallon pond where they zoomed off at top speed. The shubunkin things he/she is a bitterling and followed them around. The next morning, I saw the shubunkin by the clam's cage so maybe that means the bitterlings were nearby and will find their way inside.

On 5/24/10, I saw one bitterling in the morning. It is good he/she is alive but bad that he/she seemed to be alone. ;-(

The bitterling were not ever seen again and are presumed dead.

Links and Pictures and Videos






Photos and Video:

Three Bitterlings in a plastic litter bucket right after I opened up the order on 10/24/09. The water is blue from something that they added to it. A fourth bitterling was not in this photo.

I took these photos in a small glass bowl of four bitterlings (only three in the bowl; I got the other one later) on 5/5/10 before releasing them from the 50 gallon indoor pond to the 1800 gallon outdoor pond. At least one of the bitterlings had red and was pretty colorful. Unfortunately, the photos are not in focus.
Three bitterlings - side view
Three bitterlings - side view
Three bitterlings - top view

From 5/5/10 as well, here is a video of those three bitterlings:
Bitterlings - 1405 KB mpg movie

This used to go to the Live Aquaria page on bitterlings. They ended their affiliate program so the link no longer works.

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