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Platy Fish Overview, Care, Tank Setup & Tank Mates

Platy fish are the ideal place to start for beginners new to fishkeeping. They’re low maintenance, passive, and thrive in groups of different species.

More importantly, they have vividly colored bodies with a varied range of appearances. Platies have many hybrids and breeds with their species, all of which sport unique colors that can add a lot of flair to your community aquarium.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll discuss how to care for platy fish without breaking the bank.

Species Overview

Level of CareVery easy
TemperamentExtremely peaceful
AppearanceVery varied appearance
Life ExpectancyCan live for over 5 years
SizeReach a size of 2.5 inches or more
DietOmnivorous species
Tank Size10 gallons minimum
Tank EnvironmentHeavily planted tank with freshwater
Tank MatesVery peaceful with similarly sized community fish

Platies belong to the Poeciliidae family, along with Guppies, Swordfish, and Mollies.

Platy Fish have become commonplace in fishkeeping today and undergo extensive hybrid breeding to create species with different fin shapes and colors.

There are three types of platy fish species commonly available, Variable Platy (Xiphophorus Variatus), Southern Platy (Xiphophorus Maculatus) and Green Swordtail Platy (Xiphophorus Hellerii).

The Variable Platy Fish and Southern Platies have been interbred to the point that it is difficult to tell individual specimens apart.

Southern Platy Fish first became commonplace in fishkeeping in the early 1900s, and the Variable Platies came a little later in 1932.

Swordtail Platy Fish are generally a lot rarer. They are also referred to as Spike Tail platies because of the unique shape of their fins. All of these are hardy fish but have a small life span. They have a maximum life span of about 3 to 5 years if properly taken care of.

You’ll quickly find Variable Platies and Southern Platies for sale in most pet stores, but the Swordtails are generally a lot more challenging to come by.


Platy Fish are small with a large flattened appearance with a thick body. They have small short fins and a tail that is shaped like a fan. Most of these have large eyes, and a pointed nose, almost like a cartoon.

They have been extensively cross-bred from the Variable and Southern platies. Breeders prefer Swordtail platies to create more variations in fin shapes and colors.

Irrespective of the species you pick, these are too curious a species that will make your aquarium look lively.

Southern and Variable platies have a sturdy and shorter appearance, lacking the ‘sword’ that is seen on Swordtail platies. Their colors vary a lot, and you’ll see almost all kinds of colors under the rainbow, including blue, white, yellow, green, and red. The color often corresponds to their natural habitat.

Platies also have varied patterns on their bodies, including:

  • Variegated patterns with dark splotches of various shapes and sizes
  • Comet pattern with two black patches throughout the body, the outer margins of the tail is colored in black
  • Wagtail with black fins and tail
  • Salt and peppered design with light or dark spots that are sprinkled generously over the body
  • Rainbow pattern with an attractive iridescent appearance that reflects all kinds of colors
  • Tuxedo with black on one half of the body and different color on the other side of the body
  • Mickey Mouse platy with three colors just before the tail end that bears an uncanny resemblance to Mickey Mouse.

As with other species, they also have albino variants.

They do have tiny variations in sizes between the different species. Female Variable platies reach a maximum length of about 3 inches while Southern platies barely make past 2.5 inches. Males are always smaller than females.

Sexual dimorphism becomes obvious when young ones have reached the age of about four months. Females will have a straight appearance and are generally larger when fully grown.

Males may take longer to achieve their varied, colorful appearance. Their anal fins look like rods and are known as their gonopodium.

Two southern platy fish


Like most freshwater fish found in slow-moving streams and canals, platies are small and only reach a maximum size of about 3 inches.


While platies are incredibly resistant to disease and can live in a range of water conditions, they have a relatively short life span of about five years if they are correctly cared for.

Behavior & Temperament

Platy fish are known for being passive and peaceful. While they are not schooling or shoaling species, they do get along well with small groups. They’re incredibly active in the tank and will quickly breed.

These are active swimmers who occupy the middle portion of the aquarium, among plants, and like to hide between floating leaves.

While they don’t get aggressive or violent, male platies can overwhelm the females very quickly. To prevent the females from getting overwhelmed, always keep a higher ratio of females to males. A percentage of 3 females to 1 male is ideal for preventing them from getting too stressed out.

It is also worth noting that they will actively try to jump out of their tank because they can be very active. To prevent nasty surprises like this, make sure the tank lid is always appropriately covered.

Ideal Tank Conditions

Platy fish originate from the rivers of Central America. The three most common species come from the fast-moving freshwaters of South America:

  • The Variable platies are native to the rivers of Mexico, from Rio Calzones to Rio Panuco
  • The Swordtail platies are only found in Mexico’s Rio Soto La Marina
  • The Southern Platies inhabit the river system of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico

Keep in mind that they are small active fish and require at least 10 gallons of water to move freely. The temperature of the water depends on the variety of fish you have.

Swordtail and Common platies like to be kept at 70° F, but Variable platies thrive at 72 to 75° F. If the temperature goes too high or dips too low, it will affect their color.

The water currents should be prolonged or have no movement at all. Keep the pH value between 6.8 to 8 at a water hardness of about 25 dB.

They are hardy fish and can live in shallow water with no water current, such as warm springs, marshes, ditches, and canals. Their natural habitat has plenty of greenery, silt beds, and warm waters.

Tank Setup

Platy fish are exceptionally durable fish and can thrive in all kinds of conditions.

That being said, it is recommended to change ¼ of the water every 14 days. Platies will enjoy their aquarium if you can mimic their natural habitat by providing the aquarium with a gravel substrate and dense vegetation.

There are a lot of plants you can choose from, including duckweed and Java Moss. The arrangement of the plants depends on the species; for example, Variable platies prefer densely planted aquariums while the Southern platies prefer a more loose setting.


Java Moss: These plants are a popular choice in freshwater aquariums and a definite favorite of platies because they provide lots of hiding places for them.

Amazon Sword: This beautiful plant can be grown in a range of conditions and is easy to maintain. It can produce huge very quickly, so keep this in mind before buying it. They can survive in low lighting and with low levels of nutrients.

Java Fern: Java fern is ideal for platies because of its long clustered green leaves. They thrive in most water conditions and only require low to moderate light. It serves as the perfect hiding spot for fish and also doubles as background decoration.

Anubias Nana: An easy-to-keep aquatic plant for freshwater tanks. It grows exceptionally slowly, so make sure to buy enough to fit your tank correctly.

Tank Mates for Platy Fish

Platy Fish are peaceful fish that don’t get aggressive at all. They co-exist with other fish and can be seen swimming around the tank in groups. You’ll often notice males showing some aggression to each other, but it never gets violent.

Other tank mates should be similarly sized species, especially if they come from the same species such as the Swordtails, Guppies, and Mollies. They also peacefully live with Tetras, Corydoras, Gouramis, and small barbs like flying barb.

You can also keep snails and shrimps without fear of them getting eaten.

Tank Mates that you should avoid include Arowanas, Tiger barbs, Vampire Bettas, and Cichlids because they are all large, aggressive fish that could confuse your platies as prey.

Pro Tip: Do not keep them with fish known for bullying others. Keep them in a peaceful community, and you’ll do well.


Young platy fish in aquarium
Juvenile Platy

Platy Fish aren’t picky eaters and will thrive in any environment as long as you provide them with a varied diet. They are omnivorous species and will eat small worms, insects, crustaceans, and plants.

They prefer a diet rich in vegetables. They will eat most food, including live food, frozen food, and of course, vegetables. Make sure to provide them with a good source of flake food rich in nutrients.

You can feed them tubifex, bloodworms, and brine shrimp every once or twice a week for protein. Complement this with vegetables such as cucumber, spinach, squash, or supplements such as spirulina.

It has been observed that diets rich in vitamins result in the best appearances. Try to feed your platies several times per day, but only introduce as much food as they can eat within 3 minutes. Do not overfeed them, and clean out the tank of residual food matter once they’re done eating.


Platy fish can easily fall victim to all kinds of ailments, some of which are preventable while others can be deadly. It is essential to know about common parasites, illnesses, and diseases as well as their cure.

It is highly recommended to take your platies to a licensed veterinarian when you’re unsure about the disease symptoms.

Ich: This highly contagious disease is caused by ectoparasite, which finds its way in dirty water. It can also attack fish when they’re incredibly stressed out. Ectoparasites can be introduced into the tank by other fish species, decorations, and plants.

Symptoms include difficulty breathing, a salt grain-like appearance, and constantly rubbing against the surface of the tank.

The best way to treat Ich disease is to increase the water temperature to about 80 F, change 70% of the water, and clean the substrate thoroughly. It results in the parasite falling off the platy fish. You can also add aquarium salt at one teaspoon per gallon.

Swim Bladder Disease: The swim bladder is an organ that affects how your fish swim in the water. This organ is filled with gas, and if it stops working, your platy will have trouble getting around. It is typically caused by poor water conditions, high levels of ammonia, and stress.

Symptoms include difficulty swimming, floating at an angle, and balance issues.

Treatment of the disease involves changing the water quality and finding out triggering factors such as stress.

Caution: If a virus causes inflammation of the swim bladder, it cannot be cured, and the fish will have to be removed from the water and disposed of properly.

Fin and Tail Rot: Both fungi and bacteria can cause fin and tail rot disease. It can be challenging to tell which of these are targeting your fish. The most common triggering factors are ammonia burns and low water conditions.

The fins and tails will start rotting, and look like it’s been shredded or chewed up. A milky color will appear on the body in advanced stages.

The best way to treat fish and tail rot is to quarantine your diseased platies in a separate tank. You have to identify if the disease is caused by a fungal infection or bacteria. In the case of a fungal infection, the treatment should involve fungal medication.

For bacteria, you should administer an antibiotic treatment. Both will be tough on them but are necessary for their survival.

Regularly change 50% of the water in the aquarium to keep the tank quarantined.

Breeding Guidelines

Platy Fish are livebearing fish, which means that females will keep their eggs inside their bodies until the fry are fully developed. They are active breeders and don’t need much prodding to engage in spawning.

All you need to do is to keep the males and females in the same tank for them to initiate breeding. The only tricky part is identifying males from females among young ones, but females are plain-looking and larger while males are smaller in appearance with a colorful body.

Platies are known for eating their fry, which means you should keep them in a separate tank with about 20 gallons of water and adequate filtration.

However, you can breed them successfully in their regular tank, make sure there are enough hiding spaces with dense plantations so that the fry can find a place to hind.

Females will carry up to 80 fries. They will carry their eggs for 30 days before giving birth to live fry. Platy fry knows how to swim from the get-go and needs nutrition involving egg yolk and dry food.

Popular breeds from the original strains of Variable platies are Yellowtail, Redtail, Sunset, Hawaii, and Marigold Platy.

Popular varieties derived from Southern Platy Fish are the Salt and Pepper, the Moon, the Half-Moon, the Blue Mirror, the Bleeding-Heart Platy, and the Coral. These names have been aptly selected based on their appearance and color variations.

Fry Care

As soon as the fry are born, they’re ready to eat. It will not eat regular food because it won’t fit in fry mouths. Find flakes designed for small fry.

Alternatively, you can also crush regular flakes into smaller bits. It would help if you kept fry on a varied diet to accelerate their growth so they can quickly mature into healthy adults.

Juveniles have a short digestive cycle and are always ready to eat every time. Make sure to feed fry frequently (at least five times a day). Do not overfeed them because it will cause digestive issues for your fry.

Other than flakes, you can also feed them egg yolk paste, baby shrine shrimp, vinegar eels, and micro-worms.

How to tell if a Platy Fish is Pregnant?

It is easy to identify pregnant platies because their abdomens become very large, and their skin may become transparent enough to make out individual ‘eyes’ as the fry develops in their bodies.

Occasionally, pregnant females will develop a black mark on their abdomens as an indication of their pregnancy.

Where to Buy?

Platies can be bought from pet stores, online stores, forums, and hobbyists.

You should have no difficulty finding Common platies and Southern platies. However, Swordtail platies are a bit harder to come by. They are so commonplace that you’ll quickly find an assortment of them for only about $5.


Platy fish are beautiful, active, and peaceful. They are incredibly resistant to all kinds of diseases and thrive in a range of water conditions. They are the right choice for anyone new to fish keeping as a hobby. You have to maintain the proper water conditions and feed them regularly.

Just make sure to keep the tank densely populated with lots of plants and your platies will be happy