In Mollies as Pets by Herbert R. Axelrod (1956)

By Wm. A Sternke

To my knowledge there were no black tropical fish for aquarium use up to about 1923. A man by the name of Jack Beater of Fort Meyers, Fla., was catching wild black-spotted M. latipinna in the draining ditches of southern Florida about 1924/25, and he was selling them for $10.00 to $25.00 a pair directly to customers. The demand was greater than the supply, but he did not try to raise them. I went over to see him, started to collect wild black-spotted specimens myself and began to breed them.

The collecting job was tough, as you might find one in a million, but in about a weeks time 1 had several of various sizes, from half grown specimens up to adults. In breeding these I found that some of their off-springs were born black, turned grey, black‑spotted or partially black, over a period of six months or so. Then I began the culling and selective breeding so that by 1927 1 had a pretty good strain of straight bred M. latipinna.

About that time I visited Bill Schaumberg of New Orleans, La. He must have been doing the same thing I did, as he had some fish similar to mine. Where he got his original stock I cannot say, but I noticed there was just a slight difference in the coloration of his stock.

This is Sternke's domesticated Black Yucatan Molly. Photo by M. F. Roberts.

At that time the Black Sailfins as they came to be known, were born black, turned grey within two weeks time and then became black in a period of 6 to 9 months. A certain percentage of course remained grey or spotted. By 1929 they were an established breed and the top seller in the U.S., people paying as high as $25.00 for a good pair.

In 1930, I imported the M. sphenops and the M. velifera from Yucatan, which to my knowledge was the first appearance of these species in this country. I paid $100.00 for 6 small specimens. I crossed the M. sphenops with the Black Sailfin, from which I produced the Perma-Black Mollie. In 1934, I also crossed the M. velifera with the Black Sailfin producing an outstanding Black Sailfin.

In 1932, I was buying wild M. latipinna stock from collectors. Among these I found an albina female, which by mating with an M. sphenops I produced the blond mollie. The majority of the Blond Mollies I produced at the time were sterile but by continuous inter-breeding their fertility increased and their coloration developed to a beautiful pink, which is the Blond Mollie of today.

Also in 1932, I imported a wild M. sphenops variety from the Canal Zone which I developed into the Liberty Mollie with the red, white and blue dorsal.

Through the years, although the Perma Black continued in great demand, constant inter-breeding was definitely weakening the breed. I eventually became dissatisfied with this fish and discontinued it's sale altogether, resolving at the same time to do whatever possible to improve the strain. The opportunity presented itself when Dr. Carl L. Hubbs, (at that time with the University of Michigan) made an expedition to Lake Peten and brought back, among other fish, the M. petenensis, which I kept and raised commercially in my ponds.

Noticing that the M. petenensis was a very sturdy fish and could take a lot of abuse even in the aquarium, I decided to hybridize that fish with the Perma Blacks and the M. sphenops from Yucatan. It took me 10 years to do it but I finally developed a new Black Mollie, sturdier, harder, longer lived, easier to raise and not requiring special foods. This is the Black Yucatan Mollie, a far cry from the wild black-spotted fish found in the ditches of south Florida over 30 years ago.

CybeRose note: At the time the above article was published, Mollies were assigned to the genus Mollienesia. The species have since been transferred to Poecilia, along with Guppies and Endler's Livebearer.

Fish Heredity