Swordtail Fish Care: Complete Guide for Beginners

Learn about the care of swordtail fish, one of the most beautiful and easy-to-care-for freshwater aquarium fish. Ideal for beginners and seasoned hobbyists alike, these vibrant creatures are perfect for introducing a splash of color and life into your home aquarium. 

red swordtail fish

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In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about swordtail fish care, from tank setup to diet and breeding.

Swordtail Fish Species Profile and Identification

Swordtail fish, scientifically known as Xiphophorus helleri, are a popular species of freshwater fish native to Central and North America. These vibrant, colorful fish are known for their elongated, sword-like tails, giving them their unique name.

  • Size and appearance: Adult swordtail fish typically reach a size of 4-6 inches (including the tail), with males sporting long, extended lower tails that resemble a sword. The females, on the other hand, have shorter, rounded tails without the sword-like extension. Their bodies can display a range of colors, including red, green, black, and combinations of these colors with various patterns.
  • Lifespan: With proper care and a well-maintained tank, swordtail fish can live up to 3-5 years.
  • Behavior: Swordtail fish are generally peaceful, social fish that enjoy the company of other swordtails or similar species in a community tank. Males can sometimes become territorial or aggressive towards other males; hence it is best to maintain a ratio of one male to several females.

To correctly identify swordtail fish pay attention to these characteristics:

  • Elongated sword-like tail (in males)
  • Wide range of colors and patterns
  • Social and relatively peaceful behavior
  • Size (4-6 inches)

swordtail fish infographic

Swordtail fish stand out in the aquatic world due to their striking appearance and beautiful colors. By understanding their species profile and identification characteristics, beginners can ensure that they are choosing the right fish to start their journey in the world of swordtail fish care.

Swordtail Fish Supplies

Before bringing home your swordtail fish, it’s essential to have the proper supplies stocked up. These supplies will provide a comfortable and healthy environment for your fish, making it easier to care for and enjoy them. Here are the essential swordtail fish supplies you will need:

  • Aquarium: Swordtail fish require an aquarium with a minimum size of 15-20 gallons (56-76 liters), but 30-40 gallons (115-150 liters) is recommended for a group. This offers room for them to swim and explore comfortably.
  • Aquarium Lid: A secure lid is crucial as swordtails are known jumpers and can escape the tank without one.
  • Filtration System: A high-quality filter is essential for maintaining a clean environment and stable water parameters. Choose a filter rated for at least the size of your aquarium.
  • Heater: Swordtails are tropical fish, which means they require warmer water temperatures. You’ll need an adjustable heater suitable for your tank size.
  • Aquarium Thermometer: Monitoring the water temperature is essential for your fish’s health. Acquire a reliable thermometer to ensure proper water temperatures are maintained.
  • Substrate: A soft, sandy substrate is ideal for your swordtail’s tank. This provides a more natural environment and prevents any potential injuries to the fish.
  • Plants and Decorations: Swordtails appreciate hiding spaces and areas to swim through. Include live or artificial plants, rocks, and other decorations in the tank.
  • Water Conditioner: Swordtail fish are sensitive to water quality, so using a good water conditioner is essential when setting up the tank and during water changes.
  • Fish Food: A high-quality, varied diet is necessary for healthy swordtail growth and development. Keep a mix of flakes, pellets, and occasional frozen or live food.

With these supplies, you’ll be ready to create a beautiful, healthy home for your swordtail fish. Remember, investing in quality supplies will ensure the longevity and well-being of your aquatic pets.

Swordtail Fish Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for your Swordtail fish is crucial for their well-being and overall health. Choosing the right size of the tank is essential, and for Swordtail fish, a minimum of 15 to 20 gallons is required.

Tank Size and Position

For every additional Swordtail, you add to the tank, increase the volume by 3 gallons. Keep in mind that ample swimming space and horizontal area are essential for these active swimmers.

Substrate Choice

These fish don’t have strict substrate preferences, but smooth or fine-grained substrates like sand or small pebbles are recommended. Moreover, maintaining a clean substrate is crucial for their well-being.


  • Create a moderate to densely planted tank with live or artificial plants that provide hiding spots.
  • Add driftwood and caves for them to explore.
  • Remember to consider the limited swimming space created by the decor.
  • Make sure the plants and decor won’t harm the fish with sharp or pointed surfaces.

Filtration and Aeration

A proper filtration system is required to maintain water quality and remove harmful debris, chemicals, and toxins. Opt for a quality hang-on-back or canister filter with an appropriate flow rate for the tank size.

Additionally, ensure proper aeration for your Swordtail fish. You can increase the aeration by using air stones or placing the filter output close to the water surface to create surface agitation.


Moderate lighting is ideal for your Swordtail fish and will also help with live plant growth. Avoid intense light or providing direct sunlight to prevent algae growth and overheating the water.

Considering these tank setup factors will result in a happy and healthy environment for your Swordtail fish. Don’t forget to keep the tank clean and maintain a consistent water temperature, pH, and other parameters to ensure their well-being and longevity.

Swordtail Fish Water Requirements

To ensure the good health and well-being of your swordtail fish, it’s essential to maintain the right water conditions in their tank. As tropical freshwater fish, swordtails thrive in warm, slightly alkaline water, with a pH level between 7.0 and 8.4.

The water temperature in the tank should be kept between 72-78°F (22-26°C). Consider investing in a reliable heater and thermometer for the tank to consistently monitor and maintain the ideal temperature for your swordtails.

When it comes to water hardness, swordtail fish are quite adaptable. They tend to fare well within a dGH range of 12-30. To maintain optimal water conditions in the tank, here are some tips:

  • Regularly check the pH levels, temperature, and water hardness and adjust them as necessary. You can use a water test kit for this purpose.
  • Conduct partial water changes of about 25% weekly to remove waste and maintain water quality.
  • Use appropriate water conditioners to remove harmful chemicals, such as chloramines and heavy metals, before adding water to the tank.

Keep in mind that sudden changes in water parameters can cause stress for your swordtail fish and lead to various health problems. Therefore, always adjust any changes in water conditions gradually to avoid shocking your fish. Maintaining a healthy and stable aquatic environment is crucial for the well-being and longevity of your swordtail fish.

Swordtail Fish Diet and Feeding

Swordtail fish are not picky eaters, which makes feeding them a relatively simple task. However, providing them with a balanced and varied diet is essential for their overall health and well-being. In this section, we’ll discuss how to properly feed your swordtail fish a nutritious diet.

swordtail fish feeding

Types of Food:

  • Live Foods: Swordtail fish enjoy live foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms. As a beginner, you can introduce live foods to their diet once or twice a week.
  • Frozen Foods: You can also feed them with frozen versions of the live foods mentioned above. Thaw frozen food before feeding it to your fish.
  • Flake Foods: Opt for high-quality flake food specifically designed for tropical fish. Feeding them flakes will help maintain their health and vibrancy.
  • Vegetables: Swordtails benefit from occasional vegetable treats. Offer them cooked peas or blanched spinach leaves once a week.

Feeding Frequency and Quantity:

Establish a feeding schedule for your swordtail fish. Feed them small portions twice a day, making sure not to overfeed. Generally, give them an amount they can consume within 2 to 3 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to poor water quality and health issues.

Pay attention to your fish during feeding time. If you notice any uneaten food after a few minutes, remove it from the tank to avoid water contamination. Adjust the food quantity accordingly in the next feeding session.

Providing the proper diet and feeding schedule is crucial for ensuring your swordtail fish stay healthy and happy in their aquarium environment. Stick to a routine and experiment with different types of food for a well-rounded diet.

Swordtail Fish Care Schedule

To ensure your swordtail fish thrives in its new environment, you should establish a consistent care schedule. Creating a routine allows you to monitor and maintain ideal tank conditions and monitor the overall health of your fish.

Daily tasks:

  • Check the water temperature – it should be between 72-78°F (22-26°C)
  • Observe your fish – make sure they appear healthy and active
  • Feed your swordtail fish 1-2 times a day, with a mix of flakes, pellets, and live or frozen foods

Weekly tasks:

  • Test water parameters for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels
  • Replace 10-20% of the tank water with fresh, dechlorinated water
  • Clean the aquarium glass using a sponge or a scraper
  • Check filter and equipment for proper function

Monthly tasks:

  • Clean the filters by rinsing them in removed tank water (never use tap water)
  • Inspect and clean the airstones, sponge filters, and heater, if needed
  • Trim and maintain live plants, removing any dead or decaying leaves
  • Vacuum the gravel to remove waste and debris

Semi-annual tasks:

  • Perform a more thorough inspection of all equipment, replacing or repairing any damaged parts
  • Inspect and replace light bulbs, if necessary

By following this care schedule, you can ensure your swordtail fish remain healthy and happy in their aquatic environment. Remember, routine maintenance is crucial to preventing health problems and keeping your fish’s tank clean and safe.

Swordtail Fish Health Problems

Like any other fish, swordtails are prone to a variety of health problems, which can be alleviated through proper care and a clean environment. In this section, we will discuss common health issues faced by swordtail fish and their prevention.

  • Fin Rot: Fin rot is a bacterial infection that may affect your swordtail fish. To prevent fin rot, maintain good water quality by cleaning the tank regularly and monitoring ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
  • Ich (White Spot Disease): Ich is a common parasitic infection characterized by white spots on the fish’s body. Prevent ich by maintaining stable water temperature and avoiding overcrowded tanks.
  • Swim Bladder Disease: This ailment causes the fish to have difficulty swimming or maintaining its balance. To prevent swim bladder issues, feed your swordtails a balanced diet and avoid overfeeding.
  • Parasites: Swordtails can be infested by parasites, such as flukes or anchor worms. Quarantine new fish before adding them to your tank to minimize the risk of introducing parasites.
  • Stress: Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system of your swordtail fish, making them susceptible to various diseases. Ensure your tank setup has enough hiding spots and avoid overcrowding to minimize stress.

To detect signs of illness early, observe your swordtail fish daily. Pay attention to their behavior, appetite, and appearance. If you notice any unusual changes, consult with a specialist or an experienced aquarist for advice and treatment options.

Providing a healthy environment and maintaining optimal water conditions are crucial in preventing most swordtail fish health problems. Regular tank maintenance, balanced diet, and proper care practices can significantly reduce the risk of illness and help your swordtails thrive in their aquatic home.

Swordtail Fish Tank Mates

Swordtail fish, being social and peaceful in nature, can easily coexist with numerous tank mates. However, it’s crucial to select compatible species that won’t pose any threat or stress to the well-being of your swordtail fish.

swordtail fish tank mates

When selecting tank mates for swordtail fish, consider the following:

  • Similar size: Opt for species that are similar in size, as larger fish might prey on the swordtail fish.
  • Peaceful temperament: Avoid aggressive or territorial species that could lead to conflicts and stress.
  • Water parameters: Ensure the water parameters required by other species align with those of the swordtail fish.

Some suitable tank mates for swordtail fish include:

  • Platies: These peaceful, live-bearing fish share similar tank and water requirements, making them an ideal choice.
  • Mollies: These sociable fish also have similar water parameter needs and can comfortably coexist with swordtail fish.

While the tank mates listed above make compatible companions, there are a few species you should avoid mixing with swordtail fish. These species can cause stress or intimidation to your swordtail fish resulting in poor health:

  • Cichlids: Many cichlid species are known for their territorial and aggressive nature, which could lead to conflicts among the tank occupants.
  • Oscars: These predatory fish might potentially prey on the swordtail fish due to their size difference.

Choosing the right tank mates is essential for maintaining a stress-free environment and ensuring the well-being of your swordtail fish. By selecting compatible species, your community aquarium will thrive with healthy, harmonious life.

Swordtail Fish Breeding

Breeding swordtail fish is not a difficult task, but it does require some specific considerations and preparations. You should know, that swordtail fish are livebearers, so they won’t lay eggs as many fish species. The female will carry the eggs in her belly until they are ready to hatch, then she will give birth to live fry.

Here are 6 tips to increase your chances of successful breeding in your home aquarium.

red female swordtail fish

  1. Prepare the tank: Ensure you have enough space to accommodate the expectant swordtail fish and their offspring. It is best to have a separate breeding tank, with a size of at least 10 to 20 gallons. Use dense plants or breeding mops as hiding spaces for the females and fry.
  2. Sexual maturity: Swordtail fish reach sexual maturity at around 3-5 months old. Males and females should be kept in a ratio of one male to at least two females to reduce harassment of the females.
  3. Healthy diet: A key factor for successful breeding is to provide your swordtails with a varied and balanced diet. Include high-quality flake food, vegetables, and live or frozen foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms to improve the fish’s overall health and encourage successful spawning.
  4. Signs of pregnancy: A female swordtail fish will appear more rounded when carrying eggs, and you may notice a dark gravid spot near the fish’s anal fin. Pregnant females require a nutritious diet and clean water for a successful pregnancy.
  5. The birth: Swordtail females give birth to live young, called fry, after a gestation period of about 4-6 weeks. Further, during this time, they can give birth to multiple batches with only one fertilization.
  6. Caring for the fry: Promptly remove the fry from the breeding tank and place them in a separate grow-out tank. Providing them with small, nutritious foods like baby brine shrimp and crushed flake food. Monitor the water conditions closely to ensure the fry have a healthy environment to grow.

By following these simple guidelines, you can successfully breed swordtail fish and enjoy watching your new additions grow and thrive in your home aquarium.


By following this comprehensive guide, even beginners can successfully raise and care for swordtail fish. Enjoy the rewarding experience of nurturing these beautiful and captivating creatures in your aquarium. Let us know how it goes by leaving a comment below!

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