How To Care For Platy Fish? Important Tips for Newbies

Platies are one of the best livebearers to take care of because they’re hardy, they stay small, they aren’t very messy, and they’re beautiful fish.

Platies are great beginner fish even for children and new hobbyists.  What’s not to like?  Even seasoned fishkeepers still like to take care of Platies. 

So let’s learn all about them and set up a Platy tank, shall we?

Types Of Platy Fish

There are three types of Platy Fish common in the aquarium hobby:

  • The Southern Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus) or the Common Platy
  • The Variatus Platy (Xiphohorus variatus)
  • The Swordtail Platy (Xiphohorus helerii).

Most Platies we see today are the result of interbreeding between these 3 species.

What colors do Platys come in?

Platies generally come in every color of the rainbow, although purple Platies are considered rare.

Here are some Platy varieties and their descriptions:

NameCommon Colors and PatternsDescription
Comet PlatyGold/yellow, red, orangeBlack border on the sides of its tail
Gold Twin-bar PlatyBrilliant yellow/gold and blackGolden translucent body with blackened tail sides
Tuxedo PlatyRed/orange with blue and blackThe red tuxedo version is the most popular
Red PlatyRedSolid red color
Wagtail Pattern PlatyYellow/orange and black, red and blackBlack caudal and dorsal fins
Pineapple PlatyYellow, orange, red“sunny” color
Hi Fin PlatyBlue, orange, red, yellowTall dorsal fin like a sail
Rainbow PlatySilve/blue, yellow/black/redBlack tail with dark to light color pattern
Tiger Ruby PlatyRed, White, BlackBold vertical “tiger” stripes
Variegated/Painted PlatyRed, blue, yellow, orange, Mickey MouseSplotches of black in its body
Pintail Platy Rarer than the hi fin, elongated tail fin
Half-black PlatySilver/pink and black, silver/purple and blackSilver-combination face with black half, very rare
Dalmatian PlatyWhite and blackDalmatian-like black spots on white body
Honeybee PlatyBlack and goldBlack face with a gold body

You have a lot of options!  Thinking of having these beautiful fish in your very own tank is indeed something to look forward to.

Tip: don’t buy your Platies yet until you get everything set up and ready to go.

Are Platy Fish Easy To Keep?

Newbies in the hobby might think that smaller fish are more sensitive and harder to keep.  But Platies are very forgiving when it comes to beginner mistakes.

A beautiful platy fish
Are Platy Fish Easy To Keep?

Platy fish are hardy and easy to care for.  With the right guidance and information, they go on to live for up to 3 years as long as you provide them with two crucial things: clean water and a good diet.

Stress is also a factor, especially for Platy fry.  But unless your adult Platies are sick or already battling an infection, they’re usually okay with people hanging around the tank and enjoying them. 

Let’s learn about their temperament further.

Are Platys Aggressive?

People will of course want to hang around because Platies are such a joy to watch.

Platies are energetic yet peaceful by nature.  They will get along well with other Platies as well as other tropical freshwater fish in a community tank. 

Platies are not known to hurt other fish unless:

  • there’s not enough territorial space for the fish
  • if there aren’t enough Platy females to disperse the males’ attention
  • or they’re not being fed enough.

This simply means they have to have the right sized tank, you have to put the right number of males and females in that tank, and then you have to feed them regularly.

Let’s start with setting up the tank.

What Size Tank Do Platies Need?

Let’s face it: Platies are fun to watch if there are many of them.  So why just keep one?

A decent-sized beginner tank for Platies would be 20 gallons.  This would house about 3 to 10 Platies.  But if you’re planning to let the Platies breed, go for a bigger-sized tank.

Platy fish in tank
What Size Tank Do Platies Need?

Platy fish grow to be about 3 inches in length each depending on the type you have (more on this later).  A 20-gallon tank would ensure that they have enough space to roam as well as hide when the Platy neighbors (especially the males) are getting nosy.

How Do You Set Up A New Aquarium?

If it’s your first time setting up an aquarium, then it’s exciting times for you.  Let’s just dive right into it (pun intended).

To set up a new freshwater aquarium for Platies, you will need:

  1. A level stand in a good spot to set up the aquarium in
  2. An aquarium kit which usually comes with:
    1. the tank
    1. a filter
    1. tank light
    1. a heater
    1. a tank cover or hood
    1. a fishnet
    1. a thermometer
  3. Substrate
  4. Cycled water
  5. Live or plastic plants and decors

If your kit doesn’t contain all the items listed here, then you have to buy them separately.

Where Should A Fish Tank Be Placed?

The best spot to put your aquarium in would be where you can enjoy the view of the fish and have some room to do regular maintenance on it as well.  No matter where you place it, make sure it’s not exposed to temperature-altering factors such as direct sunlight, vents, windows, or drafty areas.

The aquarium’s stand should be level.  If not, the tank has the potential of cracking because the water weight would be uneven. 

If you already have your aquarium kit, wipe down the tank inside and out with a damp paper towel to get rid of dust and debris that might’ve accumulated while it was in the box. 

How Do You Clean A Used Fish Tank?

Buying a used fish tank is a good and cost-effective way to start the hobby.  Just remember to make sure the tank doesn’t have any leaks or cracks.

To clean a used aquarium, scrub it with a brand new sponge damp with tap water.  Use a generous amount of salt for tough algae and water stains.  Use a razor blade to zone in on stubborn areas.  Hose the tank down to rinse, then wipe it with a clean rag to dry.

How to care for platy?
How Do You Clean A Used Fish Tank?

Salt is a mild abrasive that can cut through stains.  It’s easy to rinse out and doesn’t leave any residue as detergents would so it’s safe for your fish.

Don’t forget to clean the trim and the silicone corners, too.

Some people clean the aquarium glass further the same way they clean mirrors—with newsprint and a bit of vinegar.  If you want to add this step, don’t forget to rinse and wipe dry after.

Is Sand Or Gravel Better For A Fish Tank?

The general rule for substrates is the smaller your fish, the finer your substrate should be.  This is because rocks and large gravel make it harder for smaller fish like Platies to feed.   

When it comes to Platies, both sand and finer-grained gravel are suitable.

A lot of fish food types sink to the bottom of the tank, so Platies would find it difficult to get them if there were large rocks in the way.

Tip: If you’re looking for a cheap substrate alternative, try pool filter sand.  It’s natural-looking and easily available.

Pet stores usually have a large selection of fine gravel and sand for you to choose from.

Tip: pre-soak your substrate to avoid getting dust in the air when you pour the substrate into the tank.

Are Bare Bottom Tanks Better?

You may opt not to use substrate at all, but that would also mean a harder time dealing with algae.  Every healthy aquarium has algae in it, and even the best fish keeper gets a bloom from time to time.  No substrate would mean an unsightly aquarium floor filled with algae and fish poop.

As mentioned above, the substrate becomes a biological filter in your tank.  Having substrate would mean having more surface area where helpful bacteria grows on.  Having a lot of these bacteria means less waste to deal with and therefore fewer water changes.

Plus, having substrate makes your tank more attractive with all those colors and shapes to choose from.

Do Platys Need Live Plants?

A sales assistant might recommend different kinds of colorful and attractive items at the pet store including plastic plants.  Those are fine, but you should consider using live plants, too.

Some important benefits of live plants include:

  • absorbing nutrients in the water that would otherwise be used by algae to reproduce rapidly
  • oxygenating the water
  • lowers nitrate levels
  • providing a natural habitat and cover for the Platies especially for pregnant females, juveniles, and fry
  • lowering fish stress
  • housing microbes that serve as food for the Platies.

You can even mix in live plants with plastic ones and your Platies wouldn’t have any problems with it.

If you’re a beginner, don’t worry.  There are many kinds of easy-to-maintain live plants for your Platy tank.

What Plants Are Best For Platies?

Keeping live plants in a tropical freshwater aquarium isn’t hard.  They just need a little trim now and then and some light.

Some of these live plants are:

  • Hornwort or coontail
  • Giant duckweed
  • Java moss
  • Java fern
  • Anubias.

Hornwort can be kept as a floating plant or it can be anchored to the substrate.  It grows very quickly and needs only moderate lighting.

Duckweed is a consistent occupant of ponds everywhere in the world because it can tolerate a wide temperature range.  It can also thrive in low-light conditions.

Duckweed is the usual covering you see on various water surfaces and thus helps reduce the evaporation of tank water. 

Java moss is native to Southeast Asia and is a staple on many tropical aquariums.  Like the duckweed, Java moss can survive in any light condition.  A lot of fishkeepers tie Java moss to a rock or décor (such as driftwood or rocks) to give the tank a natural aquascape.  It doesn’t need to be anchored to the substrate.

Java fern is another popular freshwater tank plant that’s inexpensive and easy to maintain.  Its darker and longer leaves contrast beautifully with other plants.  It prefers low light.

Anubias, or more aptly Anubias nana, has broad leaves and loves low to moderate light.  In contrast with the other plants on this list, Anubias grows slowly.  Its leaves have a deep green color.

You can take one or a few of these plants and decorate the tank according to your style or theme.  Combinations of colors, sizes, and shapes of plants plus a few décors make for a beautiful and natural-looking aquarium. 

Your creativity is the limit!

Tip: Wash decorations before putting them in the tank.

Do Platys Need A Bubbler?

Did you notice that we don’t have an air stone or bubbler on our list?

Platies don’t really need an air stone if you have a good filtration system but a lot of fishkeepers add them in anyway.  Some use it as functional decor.

It’s no secret that Platies need lots of oxygen.  Even with a good filter, a bubbler can provide more surface agitation that allows for more oxygen in your water.  This will keep your Platies active and healthy.

More oxygen in the water buys you time if you have problems in the tank such as algae, ammonia, and temperature.  For your 20-gallon, a single air stone will do.

Where Should I Place My Air Stone?

Follow the instructions that come with the product to connect the air stone with the pump.

The best place to place an air stone would be on top of the substrate somewhere hidden from view.  You can put it behind decors or plants.  The pump should be placed above surface level outside of the tank.

Tip: soak a new air stone in water for about an hour before installation to remove any debris blocking its holes.

Another tip: add a check valve to the air pump line to avoid the dangerous phenomenon of back siphoning.

Back siphoning is possible when a power outage occurs and your air stone tube starts sucking in water instead of blowing air out.  The check valve makes sure that doesn’t happen as it only lets in air (and water) in a single direction.

Now that we got your tank’s aeration settled, install the filter and the thermometer as instructed in the manual.

A filter removes toxins caused by waste materials in the water such as fish poop, leftover food, and bits of dried plant leaves.  Without a filter, these substances will make your water dirty.

But don’t plug anything in yet!  We need to add our water first.

Can Platies Live In Tap Water?

Water from the tap needs to be cycled first before our Platies can live in it. 

Care for platy fish
Can Platies Live In Tap Water?

Tap water can be used to fill up the aquarium but it needs to be de-chlorinated and cycled first before your Platies can live in it.

Tap water contains elements that are toxic to fish.  Examples of these are chlorine, chloramine, heavy metals, rust, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. 

The first step in making tap water safe for aquariums is to remove the chlorine and chloramine in it. 

How Do You Dechlorinate Tap Water For Fish?

There are several ways of de-chlorinating tap water for your aquarium:

You can let the water sit in clean buckets for 1 to 5 days to let the chlorine evaporate from the water.  This is why some people refer to tank water as “stock water” or “aged water”.

You can also boil the water for 20 minutes before letting it sit for 1 to 2 days.  You not only remove chlorine but harmful bacteria, too, in one go.

Or, you can use a de-chlorinating agent (which might have come from your kit when you bought it).  You may find the bottle labeled as “water conditioner”.

Water conditioners remove chlorine, chloramine, and some bacteria from the tap water.  Some water conditioners need 15 minutes to work, some an hour.  It usually takes longer to work for standing water. 

When adding water conditioner, follow the recommended dose in the bottle.

But wait, you still can’t put fish in that water because it needs to be cycled first.

What Is Cycled Water In A Fish Tank?

Cycled water is water that’s fish-ready.  This is achieved by de-chlorinating the water and letting it grow helpful bacteria that will keep toxins like ammonia and nitrates away.

We’ve already removed the chlorine, now we only need to complete the nitrogen cycle.

Normally, it takes weeks to a couple of months to cycle an aquarium (not kidding!).  But nowadays, you can use a bacterial supplement to jumpstart your nitrogen cycle.  Using this, you’ll only need to wait a full day or two before you can put your Platies in.

And the best thing about it is, you can put the bacterial supplement in the water an hour after it’s de-chlorinated.

Tip: You can purchase an aquarium water refilling and siphoning product to assist you.  It’s a no-spill product that allows you to connect to the tap directly to fill your tank or use it for removing water for your regular water changes.  If you don’t have this product yet, place a saucer on top of the substrate and pour water slowly on it so as not to disturb your setup.

After filling the tank with water, let the filters, heater, and air stone run for a full day to make sure the agents we put in are working throughout the whole batch.

Tip: Our previous post “Do GloFish Really Play Dead?” can help you find tips in completing this nitrogen cycle more effectively.

After 24 to 48 hours, your filters should have built up that biological filtration already.

Get a water testing kit and to see if the biological filtration is running smoothly.  You will need to check if the parameters are correct for what Platies like.

How Do You Acclimate Fish To A New Tank?

One of the most common ways people acclimate new fish is to place the closed plastic bag on the top of their aquarium.  This will level out the temperature but will not really help the fish acclimate to the other factors in your tank.

A better way of acclimating new fish is to take a small container and half fill it with water from the store.  Put the fish in using a fine net and add small amounts of water from your own tank slowly over the course of 15 to 30 minutes.

This is done so that your Platies won’t suffer from shock.  Shock is hard to recover from and is the cause of a lot of fish deaths.

Once the half-hour is up and the water temperature is the same as in your tank, transfer the Platies using the fine net.

Your fish should be happily swimming in their new home.  Make sure you keep them happy by check their water chemistry every two weeks.

Water Parameters For Platies

Besides completely cycled water, Platies need to have certain conditions met. 

Water ParameterRange
Temperature74 to 82 deg F
Water hardness12-18 GdH
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrate0 ppm
Nitrite<40 ppm
pH level6 to 7.5

If you’ve hit all these sweet spots, then today’s the day you finally get your Platies.  You should know beforehand how many to get.

Platy Male To Female Ratio

Funny fact: a peaceful Platy tank is anchored on the females keeping the males occupied.  This is why you need more ladies than gents.

A good Platy ratio would be 2 to 3 females for every male.  This will help curb male aggression.

So if you’re getting 2 males, get about 5 to 6 females.

The salesperson will guide you on which to choose, but it helps if you know how to identify Platy genders.

How Can You Tell What Gender A Platy Is?

The only way you can tell a Platy male and female apart is if they’re already mature.  This is when they reach 4 months of age or older.

A male Platy will have a pointed anal fin called a gonopodium.  This is the fin located behind the fish’s belly.

A female Platy will have a fan-shaped or rounded anal fin.

You can also tell them apart by size and color.  Although not very obvious, females are slightly larger and rounder than males.  Males will also have more vibrant colors than females.

Have you found your Platies yet?  Make sure that you pick up some food for them while you’re at the pet store.

What Kind Of Food Do Platys Eat?

Platies are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plant-based food.

Care of Platy fish
What Kind Of Food Do Platys Eat?

A Platy’s diet should be nutritious and preservative-free as much as possible.  We recommend:

  • Live food and crustaceans (tubifex worms, blackworms, brine shrimp)
  • Frozen food (bloodworms)
  • Nutritional flakes and pellets
  • Some vegetables (spirulina tablets, small pieces of cucumber or zucchini)

Live food may be intimidating for newbies, so frozen food and flakes are okay.

But don’t stock up too much on one kind of food.  Variety is key for healthy Platies.

So now you’ve got your fish food and you have your Platies in a plastic bag.  But don’t dump them in the tank!  You need to acclimate them first.

How Often Should Platies Be Fed?

There is no fixed amount of food for all Platies. 

Feed your Platies twice a day with a small amount that they can consume within a minute.  If they polished that amount and want more, drop a tiny quantity.  Do this a couple of times more until they slow down.

Remove uneaten food in your tank as much as possible to avoid contaminating your water.

Can You Overfeed Platies?

Platies will always have an appetite.  They just don’t know when to stop.

Overfeeding your Platies causes digestion problems.  It also increases the amount of waste in your tank so that it messes up your water chemistry.

Signs that you’re overfeeding your fish include seeing stringy poop behind your fish, finding uneaten food in your tank, and spikes in ammonia and nitrates.

If this happens, do a 25% water change and stop giving your Platies too much food.

Other problems you might encounter while taking care of Platies are certain common diseases that are sometimes unavoidable but treatable.

Platy Diseases

Here is a list of some Platy diseases:

  • Ick
  • Swim bladder disease
  • Fin and tail rot
  • Parasites
  • Dropsy

We’ve discussed these diseases at length in our previous articles, so browse away to learn more.  Even if your fish isn’t sick, it won’t hurt to stock up on helpful knowledge you can use down the road.

Lastly, you may want to know what some other species that can be peaceful neighbors to your Platies.

What Kind Of Fish Can Live With Platy?

If you have a big enough tank, consider adding these other fish with your Platies:

  • Neon Tetras
  • Blue Rams
  • Dwarf Gouramis
  • Cory Catfish
  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Bristlenose Plecoes

But don’t stop there, you can add in some Amano shrimp and ghost shrimp as well.

So you’ve got your tank, you’ve got your Platies, and you’ve got your hobby.

What else have you got?  Happiness.

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