I would like to clarify the myth that Garra Rufa (Doctor Fish) are hard to take care of. First of all, this is not true. Most spas have employees that sometimes do not know anything about fish care. However, they are given short seminars and they are able to raise the Garra Rufa and even make them thrive in spas.
The picture above is an example of a typical habitat of Garra Rufa when they live in a spa.
Sometimes, they do not generally stay there. They are only placed in that container when there is someone who is in need of this fun service that only Garra Rufa can provide.
Garra Rufa are hardy, meaning they are easy to raise and care for with a few minor considerations and knowledge about the basic fish keeping skills.
Garra Rufa Origin and Family
Garra Rufa originated in Turkey, and they prefer warmer waters. As with all tropical fish, they thrive well in tanks with heaters. However, this could also be optional depending on your location. They belong to the family Cyprinidae. which is the most diverse fish family with more than 1,200 living species and 3,000 overall.
Garra Rufa Tank
When deciding what size of tank is suitable for Garra Rufa, it is important that you should know about some basic rules.
The rule is that 1 inch of fish per gallon. This is not entirely true. A 15 inch fish would not be able to live in a 15 gallon tank. For Garra Rufa, they usually prefer to be in small groups with six or less inhabitants. The starting tank for them is around 10 gallons, provided you maintain it clean.
Garra Rufa Setup
As for setup, I strongly recommend keeping it in a set-up designed to resemble a flowing river with a substrate of variably sized rocks, gravel, and some large water-worn boulders.
This can be further furnished with driftwood branches arranged to form a network of nooks, crannies and shaded spots for this inquisitive fish to explore. At night it also tends to choose a particular cave or sheltered area in which to sleep. You can also pace hardy plants like Java ferns, or Anubis.
A river tank manifold could also be constructed to provide naturalistic unidirectional flow. Be sure to cover the aquarium well as Garra species are prone to jumping or even climbing the glass and can escape through the tiniest of gaps.
This behavior is usually most pronounced when the fish are first added to a new aquarium, and some have speculated it may be related to them investigating the confines of their environment.
They also like to swim directly into the stream of powerheads or filters, or any other source of flow entering the tank e.g., when changing water. The setup is optional for people who would like to see them in a more naturalistic background for breeding or care purposes. However, if you would like to maintain them for spa use then you could use a tank that is bare.
Garra Rufa Feeding and Diet
Garra Rufa are not picky eaters. they originate from a place where there is little food. You can feed them flakes and other variety diets. You could also purchase specialized Garra Rufa food to make everything easier, and more cleaner since they are specially formulated to suit the needs of Garra.
Sometimes Garra Rufa may also need vitamins to ensure that they are healthy. This is optional to those who want to breed Garra Rufa.
Breeding Garra Rufa
Only healthy Garra Rufa can be bred. If they are not conditioned well, chances are you will not succeed. This does not happen only in Garra Rufa but with all species of fish with the exception of livebearers.
When the fish come into spawning conditions, individual pairs are selected and moved to smaller, 80 liter (20 gallon), tanks also containing running water which is extracted directly from the source via a tube well and has a conductivity of 80 µS, pH close to neutral.
It enters the spawning chambers through a spray bar suspended above the surface and exits through a tube fitted into the base which appears to be covered with a gauze-like material to prevent eggs and fry being sucked out.
Eggs are deposited early in the morning and if fertile appear totally transparent with a diameter of ~1.5-1.8mm.
They hatch in 24-30 hours and the fry derive nourishment from their yolk sacs for another 72 hours or so after which they are fed an egg yolk suspension. In around a week they are large enough to accept Artemia nauplii and once they reach a size of 15mm or so, the same diet as the adults. I believe that highly-oxygenated, flowing water stimulates both feeding and growth in the young fish.
Caring and Maintenance for Garra Rufa can probably be done by everyone. However, breeding is another thing, and you will need experience.