Platy Fish: The Complete Care Guide

If you are new to the aquarium hobby, Platy fish are the fish for you. They are peaceful, easy-to-care for, and ideal for community aquariums.

These mesmerizing fish have a bright coloration. There are many breeds and hybrids within this species which come in as many colors as the rainbow.

They have always been very popular in the aquarium hobby since their first introduction in 1907.

Keep reading if you want to know how to successfully care for your platy fish.

Category Rating
Care Level: Beginner
Temperament: Peaceful
Color Form: High color variability
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Size: 3 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Family: Poeciliidae
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallon
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater, dense vegetation
Compatibility: Other small size peaceful fish

Overview of Platy Fish

Swordtail Platy Fish

Platy fish belong to Xiphophorus genus and along with Mollies, Guppies and Swordfish are a member of the Poeciliidae family. Xiphophorus come from the Greek work ‘xiphos’ meaning sword and ‘pherein’ meaning carry.

Platy fish is a common name that refers to three species:

  • the Southern Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus)
  • the Variable Platy (Xiphophorus variatus)
  • the Swordtail Platy (Xiphophorus xiphidium)

Nowadays, these fish are very common in the aquarium hobby and have been interbred to mix colors and fins shape. The Southern Platy and the Variable Platy are the most common species and have been interbred so much that now it’s difficult to distinguish between the different species.

The Southern Platy, also known as the Common Platy, was introduced to the aquarium hobby in 1907, while the Variable Platy was introduced later in 1932. The Variable Platy, as the name suggests, was named after its great color diversity.

The Swordtail Platy still remains a rare specimen. This fish is also called the Spike Tail Platy, due to the shape of its fins.

All Platies are hardy fish but have a relatively short life span. They live about three years; possibly five years if really well cared for.

You will easily find the Southern and Variable Platy for sale. The Swordtail however, is very difficult to come by.

Typical Behavior

Platy fish are small peaceful fish. Even though they are not considered shoaling or schooling fish, they are much happier when kept in a small group.

They are very active and love breeding.

Platies spend most of their time swimming in small groups in the middle of the water column, among the plants and hiding between the floating leaves.

They are not usually aggressive, but you might find that the males overwhelm the females if you don’t keep the right ratios (more on this later). Platy fish can jump! Remember to always keep the tank covered as they can jump out the tank.

Platy Fish Types

White Platy Fish

Platy fish are small, laterally flattened fish, with small short fins and a tail shaped like a fan.

There have been many hybrids and variations cross-bred from the Southern and Variable Platy. Occasionally, the rarer Swordtail Platy has also been interbred to create more variations in colors and fin shapes.

The Southern and Variable Platy are both quite short and sturdy, lacking the extended “sword” typical of the Swordtail Platy.

Platies colors vary a lot. A few popular colors are red, yellow, white, blue and green. Often, the different colorations were due to their natural habitat.

There are small size differences between the different species. Female Southern Platy fish reach up to 2.5 inches while the Variable Platy reaches 3 inches. Males are always slightly smaller than the females.

Popular breeds from the original strains of the Southern Platy are the Half-Moon, the Coral, the Comet, the Salt and Pepper, the Moon, the Blue Mirror and the Bleeding-Heart Platy.

Popular varieties from the Variable Platy are Redtail, Yellowtail, Sunset, Rainbow, Hawaii and the Marigold Platy.

The names speak for themselves and reflect the color/appearance of that particular fish.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Xiphophorus variatus

Platy fish are small tropical fish from the rivers of Central America.

The three species of Platies inhabit different rivers of South America:

  • The Southern Platy inhabits the freshwaters of Mexico, Guatemala and northern Honduras
  • the Variable Platy fish is native to the southern waters of Mexico, from Rio Panuco to Rio Cazones
  • the Swordtail Platy is only found in the river system of Rio Soto La Marina in Mexico.

These species are found in canals, ditches, warm springs and marshes. These small bodies of water have almost no water current with warm waters, silt beds and a dense vegetation.

Tank Setup

Generally, Platies are hardy fish and can tolerate a wide range of water conditions (Swordtails however are sensitive to bad environments).

Try to have regular water changes with 25% changed every 2 weeks.

Your Platy fish will be more at ease in an aquarium that mimics their natural habitats with a heavily planted tank and gravel substrate.

Plants can be arranged differently depending on which species you keep. Whilst the Southern prefers a loosely arranged aquarium, the Variable favors a densely planted tank with open spaces for swimming.

Hornwort, Java Moss and duckweed are all good plants that you can use.

Water temperature slightly changes depending on the variety that you have. The Common and Swordtail prefer 70-70°F, while Variable prefers 72-75°F. Their colors will show better if you keep the temperature in the cooler range.

They all prefer weak currents with a water pH of 6.8-8 and water hardness of 10-28 dGH.

What Size Aquarium Do They need?

As small active fish, Platy fish need a tank size of at least 10 gallons.

Tank Mates

Guppy and Platy
Guppy and Platy

Platy fish make ideal tank mates as they are very peaceful. Don’t forget though that they can be very active. They enjoy swimming around in groups with males occasionally fighting amongst themselves.

Small peaceful fish are the perfect tank companions, especially with species that are loosely related such as Mollies, Guppies or Swordtails.

They also get along well with other similar size and temperament fish such as Corydoras, Tetras, Characins, Gouramis, small peaceful barbs and obviously other Platy Fish. They can be kept with shrimps and snails if you would like some non-fish companions.

Platies will struggle with large aggressive fish such as Cichlids and Arowanas. Tiger barbs, Bettas Vampire Tetra and Wolf Fish are all examples of fish to avoid when choosing tank companions.

Keeping Platy Fish Together

Platy fish are not considered shoaling fish, however they are happier when kept in a small group. Once they settle in your aquarium it won’t be long before your aquarium population increases.

Always keep more females than males. This prevents the females from becoming exhausted from being chased. We recommend keeping 2 or 3 females to every male.

What To Feed Them

Platy fish are not fussy eaters as long as you provide them with a diet which is high in vegetables.

In their natural habitat, they eat small crustaceans, worms, insects and plants. They are considered omnivorous fish, but prefer a herbivorous diet.

They will eat most food, live, commercially prepared and vegetable food. Choose a good quality flake food to form the core of their diet.

You can treat them once or twice a week by feeding them brine shrimp, tubifex and bloodworms. Proteins are good as long as there are always plenty of veggies. Boiled vegetables such as squash, spinach, cucumber and vegetable supplements such as spirulina are a good starting point.

Keep in mind that a diet which is rich in vitamins will produce the best coloration.

Try to feed your Platy small amounts of food several times per day.

Golden rule: try to feed them an amount that they can finish within 3 minutes.

Platy Fish Care

Xiphophorus maculatus

Platies are small hardy fish and are not prone to any disease in particular. However, they can fall victim to common tropical fish issues such as Ich and Fin Rot.

Fish diseases are not always easy to spot. You will probably notice a different behavior or some flukes on their skin and body. Depending on the stage you recognize them, the disease will be more or less difficult to treat.

The Ich disease is one of the most common diseases in the aquarium hobby. It is a parasite which causes white spots on the body, gills and fins. If not cured, this can cause severe infections and respiratory damage to the fish.

There are many treatments, from raising water temperatures to using medication.

Fin Rot is another common disease given by bacterial infection of the tails or fin. Antibiotics are usually the best options such as chloromycetin or tetracycline. You can add these while feeding your fish.

The best thing you can do is try to proactively prevent diseases by maintaining good water quality and a balanced healthy diet. Reducing the level of stress is essential for your fish and you can do this by giving them the best possible environment. Stressed fish are more likely to get sick.

A good way of preventing diseases is to properly clean and quarantine anything that you add to your aquarium, this includes: fish, plants, new substrate and any kind of decoration.

How To Breed Platy Fish

Platy fish are also known as livebearing fish. These fish are known to keep the eggs inside their bodies until they’re ready to give birth to free swimming fry.

These fish are prolific breeders. You will not have to do much (just keep two fish of opposite sex in the same tank) in order for them to breed.

It’s quite difficult to determine opposite sexes until they reach maturity at about 4 months. At this point sexual dimorphism is quite obvious. Sexual dimorphism is the difference in size and appearance between the sexes of the same species.

Females are generally larger and plainer when they’re fully grown. Male Platies take a while to achieve their full coloration, and as they grow the anal fins take on a rod shape, which is known as their gonopodium (reproductive organ.)

Platy fish are likely to eat their fry, therefore, we suggest using a breeding tank of about 10-20 gallons with filtration.

If you’re set on breeding in the community aquarium, make sure you provide enough hiding spaces with dense plants so that the fish can find shelter.

Generally, females can have up to 80 fry. They are usually pregnant for around 24-30 days before giving birth to live young. They are born ready to swim and you can feed them egg yolk, dry food and specific food for fry.

How to Spot a Pregnant Platy Fish

You can easily spot a pregnant female as the abdomen becomes quite large and if the skin is transparent enough you might also be able to notice a couple of black eyes. Occasionally she will also develop a gravid spot (a black mark on her abdomen).

Are Platy Fish Suitable For Your Aquarium? (Summary)

Platy fish are very colorful and peaceful fish. They are hardy and make the perfect addition to most aquariums.

They are perfect for anyone who is new to the hobby. They are very easy to care for- you just need to maintain good water conditions and feeding habits.

Keep a densely planted aquarium and you will have happy fish. They will not get along well with bullies and fin nipping fish. Keep them in a peaceful community and you will be mesmerized by their coloration.

How many Platies do you have? Do they show bright colors? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

2 Comments

  1. Good information given here. But now I have questions, I am a bit wary of how easily they breed, I hadn’t planned on “saving” fry ( from cannibalism) in a different smaller tank. And how would one feed fry egg yolk? Boiled yolk? Would it be easier to relocate a pregnant mom before she bears fry. Will the mother eat her own fry? I’m thinking I may take the males back to exchange for all females. Is this okay? Will they cross breed with other platies.
    Here’s my set up:I don’t have live plants in my 50 gallon tank. I have a large variety of silk and soft ( non pointy) artificial plants, rounded mounds of river rock with hiding spaces, cave like decorations and aquarium gravel on the bottom. Extra mild river like currents are provided for aeration. A bubble wand provides lots of tiny bubbles the length of the tank. Is my tank suitable for the 5 orange common and 2 larger whitish with yellow sheen platies?

    • Hi Patti, thanks for your message. Platies are likely to eat their own fry so the mother should be separated from from the breeding tank when shes given birth. It will be down to the store you bought them from as to whether they are happy to take the fish back in exchange for females. The setup sounds great for a community tank, if you want to achieve a breeding tank you’ll need less current. Many thanks, Robert

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