Red Wagtail Platy: Fish Species Profile

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Red Platy

The red wagtail platy is a pleasant and peaceful freshwater fish that's both hardy and active. It's also small, pretty, and a great fish for hobbyists of any level; in fact, it's one of the most popular in the fishkeeping industry. You can find platies in several different colors which make for an eye-catching tank. The platy has two goals in life: eating and breeding. They will circle the tank eating anything, including algae, and their breeding can't be stopped. Like guppies, platies are livebearing fish.

Species Overview

Common Name: Red wagtail platy

Scientific Name: Xiphophorus maculatus

Adult Size: 2-3 inches

Life Expectancy: 4 years


Family Poeciliidae
Origin Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico
Social Peaceful
Tank Level Mid-dweller
Optimal Tank Size 10 gallon
Diet Omnivore, eats most foods
Breeding Livebearer
Care Easy
pH 7.0 to 8.0
Hardness 10 to 28 dGH
Temperature 64 to 78 F (18 to 26 C)

Origin and Distribution

Platies, including the red wagtail, come from Central and South America, in the region from Vera (Mexico) to Belize. Platies prefer small, warm bodies of water with silty bottoms and vegetation, such as ditches, canals, springs, and marshes. Interestingly, platies were first brought to Europe during the early 20th century and quickly became an aquarium favorite due to their easy-going nature, pretty colorings, and prolific breeding habits.

Colors and Markings

Different platy varieties are similar to each other in size and shape but come in many color combinations. Salt and pepper platies are, of course, black and white; tuxedo and "Mickey Mouse" platies have unique markings described by their names. Like many platies, red wagtails are trapezoidal and have an orange-red body with black fins.

Platies are usually brown and yellow with dark spots in the wild though coloration varies based on the specific body of water in which they originated. However, wild platies are usually less spectacular than their crossbred, captive cousins.


The red wagtail is a harmonious species and it does best with similar freshwater fish. Good options include molliesguppies, swordtails, and tetras. Male wagtails, while they can be sexually aggressive, are rarely aggressive toward other males; in general, they are compatible with a variety of tankmates. Be careful about adding more aggressive species, such as angelfish, to a tank containing platies, as platies can easily fall prey to larger, more assertive bullies.

Red Wagtail Platy Habitat and Care

All platies are especially popular with fishkeepers because they don't have any particular needs in the tank beyond clean, filtered water kept more or less at room temperature. Choose a tank that holds at least 5 gallons (but 10 gallons is better), and keep a ratio of at least two females to every male, so that the females are not constantly pursued to mate. Females also appreciate a few plants in which to hide out from persistent males.

The red wagtail platy is a good choice for new fishkeepers because they are easy to care for, but they do struggle in an early cycling tank. Wait until your aquarium's nitrogen cycle has been completed before adding red wagtail platies or risk the possibilities that your new fish will perish.

Red Wagtail Platy Diet and Feeding

Platies in the wild survive on not only protein but also algae, which provides them with plenty of fiber. Be sure your platies get plenty of fiber in their new aquarium home. In addition to the protein foods, they thrive on vegetables such as cucumbers, squash, and spinach. It's also a good idea to select flake foods that include vegetable supplements.

If they don't eat all foods provided in a few minutes, then you may be overfeeding. If you feed a flake food diet, supplement it with live food which offers much more nourishment. Try live or frozen brine shrimp as well as microworms, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, Daphnia, fruit flies, and chopped-up earthworms. Platies need to eat once or twice a day, and they are usually eager to eat but do not overfeed.

Gender Differences

Platies are almost always ready for breeding. As a result, females often have round, bulging bellies (a precursor to giving live birth to dozens of fry). In addition, males are the individuals that are often in pursuit of females.

Visually, it's quite easy to tell male red wagtail platies from females by examining their anal fins (the lower fin behind the belly). If the anal fin is fan-shaped, your fish is a female. If it is long, flat, and pointed, your fish is a male. Females are also usually bigger than males, though this is not always the case.

Breeding the Red Wagtail Platy

Breeding the red wagtail platy is more than easy—it's not a question of if but when. Females can warehouse sperm for up to six months; they are almost always pregnant with fertilized eggs and can give live birth to 10 to 40 fry every four to six weeks. Huge broods of up to 80 fry are even possible. If you’re not interested in always raising young platies, purchase only male fish.

Platy parents won't eat their fry, but it's still best to put pregnant females in a separate tank in order to keep the fry as a separate population from the adults. Red wagtail platy fry are very easy to raise, and at least a few from each brood are likely to survive in a planted community tank.

If you want to rear a greater percentage of a brood, use a separate, bare, 10-gallon grow-up tank with an air-powered sponge filter to prevent fry from being sucked in. Feed them liquifry initially and then finely crushed flakes after a few days. Fry grow very quickly when fed two to three times each day. Change water every day and remove any waste and dead fry. It's important to keep the tank clean and free of detritus as juveniles are susceptible to pollutants.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

Platies and other members of the Xiphophorus genus are easy to raise and wonderful additions to freshwater community tanks. Because they require minimal care and are usually quite hardy, they can make good fish for children.

If you are interested in similar species, read up on these fish profiles:

Check out additional fish species profiles for more information on other freshwater fish.

Article Sources
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  1. Aquarium Water Quality: Nitrogen Cycle. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.