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The Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus, Xiphophorus variatus )
Order Cyprinodontiformes, Family Poecilidae
Common names Platy, Moonfish
Synonyms Platypoecilius species
Description The platy is an attractive, plump little fish, which has been bred to produce a wide range of beautiful colours to suit everyone’s taste. Although there is nowhere near as much variation in the fin shapes as has been bred into the guppy, nonetheless there are several platy variations – hi-fin platies, pintail platies, and many others. The platies available in the shops are usually from domestic stock, and as such are unlikely to be a pure species. Interbreeding different platy species has been commonly practiced in the quest for new varieties, although the largest component is likely to be either Xiphophorus maculatus or Xiphophorus variatus. Although possibly not fish for the purists, the domestic strains are attractive and robust in the aquarium, and ideal for a beginner, especially one who would like to try breeding fish (try stopping them..) Although the guppy has a greater range of varieties and shapes, the platy has the advantage that the females are as brightly coloured as the males. In common with guppies, mollies and swordtails, the fish are easy to sex. Not only are females plumper and larger, but the male’s anal fin is adapted into a long thin spike called a gonopodium. This specially adapted fin is used to fertilise the female.
Behaviour Platies are peaceful fish that will get along with a wide variety of tank mates – anything that will not bully or eat them. Most of the varieties have neat, compact finnage, and are therefore less attractive to fin-nippers than guppies. They are best kept as a small group, with a majority of females – the attentions of the ardently enthusiastic males can prove wearing to a female who is the sole source of attention. Continually active in their twin pursuits of eating and breeding, platies ensure that there is always something to look at in the aquarium.
Aquarium requirements Platies are small fish, with the females reaching a length of about two and a half inches, and males considerably less. They are therefore suitable for a reasonably small aquarium; an eighteen inch tank will house a group of platies comfortably. These tropical fish come from Central America, and prefer temperatures at the lower end of the tropical range; they can even be kept in unheated tanks in a warm house. The temperature should be between 64F and 77F. Harder, more alkaline water is preferred, with a pH anywhere between neutral and just over eight, and a hardness of up to 20dgh. Planted tanks will be appreciated; the aquarist will enjoy seeing the fish swimming in and out of the plants, and the females will appreciate being able to hide in the foliage, especially when they are giving birth. Platies are prone to nibbling at plants, so very feathery foliage may disintegrate rapidly. Most plants are unlikely to be damaged by their attentions, however.
Feeding Platies are omnivourous and enthusiastic feeders. A flake food diet will provide a good staple, but they will also enjoy pursuing live food around the tank and nibbling at vegetables such as blanched lettuce and cucumber.
Breeding Provided you have at least one male and one female, your platies are almost guaranteed to breed. They are livebearers; the male fertilises the eggs inside the female, who gives birth to between twenty and a hundred minute copies of their parents. Depending on temperature, the fry will grow inside the mother for twenty-four or more days, and she will mate again almost as soon as the fry are born. This is a stressful life for the fish, and they are not long-lived. Although they are prolific breeders, the fry are prone to the depredations of the tank inhabitants. Immediately they are born they fall to the bottom of the tank, where they are easily hoovered up by bottom feeding fish, then swim up into the waiting mouths of the top and mid-water feeders. To raise many of the fry, it is best to move the mother to her own tank early in the pregnancy. Since platies are nearly always pregnant, moving any healthy female to her own tank is likely to result in it being filled with a crop of youngsters within the month. Lots of plants will make both mother and babies feel secure. The breeding traps sold for livebearers are frightening for the fish, and do not provide a good environment for the new fry; a separate tank is by far the best, and if you do not have another tank a pre-matured sponge filter and heater will serve to make a temporary home in a bucket. The fish don’t mind that you can’t see them!
Diseases and disorders
Platies are robust and usually healthy fish, although not very long-lived (two or three years is normal). The females can easily be stressed by too high a proportion of males, or by not having cover to hide in when they are giving birth. Such stress may cause the female to abort, which can be fatal. Obviously fish are also stressed by being moved, so move the female to the rearing tank in good time, and not when you notice she has started to give birth.
Notes Most experienced fish keepers will remember with pleasure keeping at least a few platies, and many continue to find a place for them even when other fish have been replaced by more exotic specimens. Endearing and hardy, they are ideal for the beginner, and always provide an attractive and active aquarium display.
This article is by Kathy Jinkings and cannot be reproduced without her permission
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