Red Wagtail Platy

A great starter fish for beginning aquarists

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 live-bearing fish.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Red Wagtail Platy

Scientific Name: Xiphophorus maculatus

Adult Size: 2 inches (5 cm)

Life Expectancy: 4 years


Scientific Name Xiphophorus maculatus
Synonyn Platypoecilus maculatus
Common Name Red Wagtail Platy
Family Poeciliidae
Origin Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico
Tank Level Mid dweller
Minimum Tank Size 10 gallon
Diet Omnivore, eats most foods
Breeding Livebearer
Care Easy
pH 7.0 - 8.2
Hardness 10-25 dGH
Temperature 64-77 F (18-25 C)

Origin and Distribution

Platies, including the Red Wagtail, come from Central and South America, in the region from Vera Cruz (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 in 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 in shape; not surprisingly, they have an orange-red body and black fins.

Platies are usually brown and yellow with dark spots in the wild (though colors vary to some degree), 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.


Red Wagtails are a peaceful species and do best with similar freshwater fish. Good options include Mollies, Guppies, 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

Platies are especially popular with fish keepers because they don't have any particular needs in the tank beyond clean, filtered water kept at the correct temperature (64-75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more or less room temperature).

Choose a tank that holds at least five gallons, and keep at least two females for every male, so one isn't constantly sought after to mate. Females also appreciate a few plants to hide out from the persistent males.

The Red Wagtail Platy is a good choice for new fishkeepers because they're easy to care but, but they do struggle in a cycling tank. Wait until your aquarium's cycle is complete before adding Red Wagtail Platies or risk the possibilities that your fish will die.

Red Wagtail Platy Diet

Platies in the wild survive on algae and insects, which provide them with plenty of fiber. Be sure your Platies get plenty of fiber in their new aquarium home. In addition to the foods listed below, they thrive on vegetables such as cucumbers, squash, and spinach. It's also a good idea to select flake foods that include vegetable supplements.

Platies need to eat once or twice a day, and they are usually eager to eat, but don't overfeed them. If they don't eat all the food in a few minutes, you're giving them too much at once. You can use a flake food diet, but supplement it with live food which offers more nourishment. Try live or frozen brine shrimp as well as microworms, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, Daphnia, fruit flies and chopped up earthworms.

Breeding the Red Wagtail Platy

Breeding the Red Wagtail Platy is more than easy—in fact, it's really just a question of when because they are always willing and able. The females can warehouse sperm for up to six months; they are almost always pregnant and can give live birth to 10-40 fry every 4 to 6 weeks! Huge broods of up to 80 fry are even possible. If you’re not interested in breeding these Platies, purchase only male fish.

The parents won't eat the fry, but it's still best to put the pregnant female in a separate tank. Let her give birth there before bringing her back to the primary tank. 

Red Wagtail Platy fry are very easy to raise and at least a couple in each brood will likely survive in a planted community tank. If you want to save more, use a separate, bare, 10-gallon growing tank with an air-powered sponge filter so the fry won’t get sucked in. Feed them liquifry initially and then finely crushed flakes after a couple of days. They'll grow very quickly if you feed them 2 to 3 times each day. Change the water every day and remove any waste or dead fry—it's important to keep the tank clean and free of detritus as the juveniles are susceptible to pollutants.

Sexual Differences

It's quite easy to tell a male Red Wagtail Platy from a female by examining their anal fins (the rear fin protruding from their bellies). If the anal fin is fan-shaped, your fish is a female. If it's long, flat, and pointed, your fish is a male. Females are also usually bigger than males, though this is not a hard and fast rule.

Platies are always interested in breeding. As a result, females often have round, bulging bellies (a precursor to giving live birth to dozens of fry). In addition, males are often in pursuit of females; females may attempt to retreat from a too-persistent male.

More Pet Fish Breeds 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 starter fish for children. Consider adding one or more of these peaceful fish to your aquarium.