Orange Swordtail 101: Everything You Want to Know

The Orange Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii) is a lively fish with vibrant orange color and black accents on its fins and tail. 

And as livebearers, they give birth to live babies rather than laying eggs, making them a unique and fascinating species to observe. 

In this guide, I’ll cover all the information you need to care for orange swordtails in your own aquarium. From their origins and natural habitat to their diet, water requirements, and compatible tank mates. 

Orange Swordtail Summary

Common NamesOrange swordtail
Scientific NameXiphophorus hellerii
OriginCentral America
HabitatStreams, ponds, and other freshwater bodies with slow-moving or still water
ColorOrange with black markings on the tail and fins
SizeUp to 3-4 inches in length
Lifespan3-5 years on average
pH Level7.0-8.0
Water Temperature70°F to 82°F (21°C to 28°C)
Water Hardness10-20 dGH
Water TypeFreshwater
Minimum Tank Size20 gallons
Community TankYes, can be kept with other peaceful fish of similar size
Care LevelEasy
CompatibilityGenerally peaceful, but may exhibit aggression toward other swordtails or similar-looking fish. Can interbreed with other species of Xiphophorus, including platies and mollies.

Orange Swordtail History

The Orange Swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri) is a popular freshwater fish that belongs to the family of Poeciliidae. 

This fish species is native to Central America and is found in a wide range of habitats, including rivers, streams, and ponds.

In 1848, Carl Heller, a German naturalist first discovered this fish.

In the early 1900s, the Orange Swordtail began to gain popularity among aquarium hobbyists, and over time, it has become one of the most popular live-bearing fish species in the hobby.

Orange Swordtail Origin & Habitat

The Orange Swordtail is a beautiful tropical fish that comes from the Atlantic slope of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. 

These guys live in freshwater habitats like streams, rivers, ponds, and marshes, where they inhabit dense vegetation and slow-moving or still water with just the right amount of sunlight.

These fish are adaptable to their environment, thriving in warm water temperatures that range from 70°F to 82°F (21°C to 28°C). 

They’re also able to handle slightly acidic to slightly alkaline water conditions, with a pH range of 7.0 to 8.0.

And thanks to their hardiness and adaptability, breeders have introduced the Orange Swordtails successfully to many different parts of the world, including the United States, Europe, and Asia. 

Orange Swordtail Behavior

Orange Swordtails are social and peaceful fish that thrive in community tanks with other non-aggressive species. 

These active swimmers prefer to live in groups of at least 3-4 individuals and enjoy having plenty of space to explore and hide.

However, male Orange Swordtails can display aggressive behavior toward one another, especially when there are too many males in the same tank. 

To minimize aggression, it’s recommended to keep a ratio of 1 male to 2-3 females.

You can also provide plenty of hiding places, plants, and open swimming areas to help reduce stress and minimize aggression between males.

I actually once had two male swordtails in the same aquarium who had a bit of a feud going on. 

They displayed aggressive behavior towards each other, nipping at each other’s fins and chasing each other around.

Then I got to work on my swordtail diplomacy skills, adding more hiding spots and plants to diffuse the situation.

 It was like adding more bedrooms to a house to keep the feuding brothers from each other. And wouldn’t you know it, the plan worked! 

They stopped the fin-nipping and started hanging out together, sometimes even swimming in unison like a synchronized swim team. It was like watching a fishy version of The Odd Couple, and I loved it!

What Are the Features of Orange Swordtail?

1. Appearance

Orange Swordtails have bright orange scales that practically glow in the dark, and a tail fin that’s like a mini sword – you know, for those times when a fish needs to do some serious dueling.

The males have the longest tail fins, which makes them stand out like the class clown at a school dance. 

Females have shorter, more rounded tails, but they’re no less stunning. 

And they both have a dark stripe down their body and black markings on their fins, which really make their colors pop.

2. Body Size

On average, Orange Swordtails grow to be about 2-3 inches long, which is about the same size as a jumbo shrimp. 

But don’t let their small size fool you – these fish are like the superheroes of the underwater world, with their sleek bodies and sword-like tails. 

And when they swim together in a group, it’s like watching a tiny army of warriors on a mission!

Orange Swordtail Lifespan

The lifespan of these Swordtails can vary depending on their environment and care, but on average they can live for 3-5 years in captivity. 

However, with proper care and a healthy environment, they can potentially live up to 7 years or more.

In fact, I once had an Orange Swordtail power couple who defied the odds and lived for over 8 years in my aquarium. It was like the fishy version of The Notebook – they were just meant to be.

And this was just due to some fish parenting skills, including keeping their home clean and cozy, feeding them a varied and delicious diet, and showering them with love and attention (I even gave them cute little fishy names).

Orange Swordtail Life Cycle

1. Egg Stage

During this stage, the female fish lay eggs that are adhesive and attach to surfaces in the aquarium, such as rocks, plants, or decorations. 

But the number of these eggs can vary greatly, with some females laying up to 100 or more at a time

Within 10-14 days, the eggs will hatch depending on the water temperature in the breeding tank.

2. Fry Stage

Now, the newly hatched fish, known as fry, are delicate little beings. 

At this stage, they’re like newborns just starting to develop, and require close attention and care to ensure their survival.

These cute babies can feed on small particles in the water, such as infusoria or other small organisms.

You need also to feed them small amounts of food several times a day to ensure they receive enough nutrients to grow and thrive.

Ad as the fry grow and become more active, they will begin to develop their characteristic coloration and patterns. 

3. Growth Stage

As Orange Swordtails grow, they will shed their skin and go through various growth spurts.

In general, they grow quite quickly and will reach maturity at around 4-6 months of age. 

At this point, males will start to develop more vibrant colors and longer tail fins to attract females, while females will develop a rounder belly as they carry eggs.

4. Reproduction Stage

The fish are now mature and ready to reproduce. This is an important stage in the life cycle of these fish, as it ensures the continuation of the species.

Males will display more vibrant colors and longer tail fins to attract females, while females will develop a rounder belly as they carry eggs. 

Once the male and female have mated, the female will lay adhesive eggs on surfaces in the aquarium, such as rocks or plants.

Females can carry and lay eggs multiple times throughout their lifetime, contributing to the ongoing life cycle of the species. 

Is Orange Swordtail Hardy?

Orange Swordtails are a hardy species of fish. They are able to adapt to a variety of aquarium conditions, making them a popular choice for beginner and experienced aquarium owners alike.

But that doesn’t mean that these guys are invincible. While they are hardy and adaptable, you still need to provide them with proper care and attention to ensure their health and well-being.

How to Care for Orange Swordtail?

a. Water Requirements

1. Water Quality

Although Orange Swordtails are robust fish, you still should maintain good water quality through regular water changes and proper filtration

As a general guideline, you should perform a 25-30% water change once a week. 

This will help to remove excess nutrients, waste, and other harmful substances that can build up in the aquarium over time.

When performing a water change, you should also treat the fresh water with a water conditioner to remove harmful chemicals such as chlorine and chloramine. 

But ensure to use the proper amount of water conditioner based on the size of the aquarium and the amount of freshwater you add.

Also, make sure to remove any uneaten food from the aquarium after feeding your Swordtails. These little fishies may have big appetites, but they’re not the best at cleaning up after themselves!

Uneaten food can quickly decompose and lead to poor water quality, which can cause health issues for your fish. So, don’t forget to do a quick check and scoop out any leftovers after mealtime.

To control the water quality, you can enlist the help of an underwater cleaning crew – an aquarium filter.

A high-quality aquarium filter will remove excess food, waste, and other icky substances from the water, keeping it clean and healthy for your fish. 

Plus, some aquarium filters even come with nifty features like adjustable flow rates and multiple filter media options, giving you even more control over the water quality. 

2. Water Temperature

These little fishies hail from warmer waters, so they need their aquarium water at a balmy temperature between 70°F to 82°F (21°C to 28°C).

To keep the water temperature just right, you can use a high-quality aquarium heater.

But ensure to choose an appropriate heater for the size of your aquarium. 

This is because an undersized heater won’t be able to maintain the temperature, and an oversized heater can overheat the water and harm your fish.

To use a water heater, simply place it in the aquarium and adjust the temperature using the control knob or digital display. 

You can also use a thermometer to monitor the temperature regularly and ensure it remains within the proper range.

3. pH Level

Orange Swordtail is adaptable to a range of pH levels but generally prefers slightly alkaline water with a pH range of 7.0 to 8.0

These fish are sensitive to changes in their environment, and a sudden shift in pH levels can cause stress and even lead to health issues.

For example, if the pH level is too low, your buddies might start feeling like grumpy old men who don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

A low pH level can weaken their immune system, leaving them vulnerable to all sorts of illnesses and infections

They might also become sluggish, lose their appetite, and look more pale and pasty than usual.

Conversely, if the pH level is too high, your fish might start acting like jittery, caffeine-addicted teenagers.

A high pH level can make them restless and anxious, which can make them more aggressive, lose their appetite, and display abnormal behavior.

To raise the low pH level, you can use aquarium products like baking soda or a pH-raising buffer to gradually bring the pH level back up to where it needs to be

But if the pH level is too high, you can use aquarium products like pH-lowering buffers or vinegar to gradually bring the pH level down to a healthy range. 

4. Water Hardness

Water hardness refers to the concentration of minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the water. 

These minerals can have an impact on the pH level because they can act as buffers, which help to stabilize the pH level in the aquarium.

In water with low mineral content (soft water), there are fewer buffers available to help stabilize the pH level. 

As a result, external factors can easily influence the pH level such as fish waste, uneaten food, or changes in water chemistry.

In water with high mineral content (hard water), there are more buffers available to help stabilize the pH level. 

So, it will help keep the pH level more stable.

However, it’s important to note that the relationship between water hardness and pH level is not always straightforward. 

In some cases, high levels of minerals can actually lead to a higher pH level, while in other cases, it can lead to a lower pH level.

Therefore, you should test the water regularly and make adjustments to ensure that the pH level and water hardness are within a healthy range for your Orange Swordtails.

In general, they prefer slightly hard water with a range of 10-20 dGH (degrees of general hardness). 

To test the water hardness in your aquarium, you can use a testing kit that measures dGH or parts per million (ppm). 

If the water is too hard or too soft, you can use aquarium products such as water softeners or mineral additives to adjust the water hardness to the appropriate level.

b. Tank Requirements

1. Tank Size

These guys are very active and social species so they need enough room to swim and interact with each other despite their small size.

As a general rule of thumb, you need to have a tank that’s at least 20 gallons for a small group of Orange Swordtails. 

I actually prefer to give my Swordtails a little extra wiggle room with a tank that’s 5 or 10 gallons larger than the standard size.

This gives me peace of mind knowing that my fish have plenty of space to swim around and explore their environment. 

It also helps to reduce any territorial behavior or aggression that can arise when fish are cramped in a small space.

In addition, a larger tank allows for a more stable environment, which is crucial for the overall health of your fish. 

It gives you more room to maintain consistent water conditions, such as temperature and pH levels, and to perform regular water changes without stressing out your fish.

2. Decorations

To keep your Orange Swordtails happy and healthy, it’s important to mimic their natural habitat in your aquarium. 

This means providing a similar environment to what they would experience in the wild.

And one way to do this is by adding plants and decorations that resemble their natural habitat.

When it comes to plants, they not only look beautiful, but they also help keep the water clean by removing yucky chemicals and adding oxygen. 

Plus, your fish will love swimming in and around them, and they can even use them as a spot to lay eggs.

Artificial decorations like rocks, driftwood, and caves are also great options. 

They give your fish some more structure to play around with and make the tank feel more like home. Some even come with levels and hiding spots for your fish to explore!

But be sure to pick decorations that won’t overcrowd your tank or hurt your fish. You don’t want to make things too cramped in there.

Also, keep an eye on the water quality and make sure your decorations aren’t causing any issues.

3. Lighting

Orange Swordtail doesn’t require any specific lighting requirements, but it’s still important to provide them with a consistent lighting schedule.

A good rule of thumb is to provide 8-10 hours of light each day, followed by a period of darkness to simulate a natural day-night cycle. 

This helps maintain their circadian rhythm, which is important for their overall health and well-being.

When selecting a light source, you should choose one that provides the appropriate intensity and spectrum for your aquarium. 

I actually prefer to use LED lights because they are energy-efficient, and long-lasting, so I can adjust them to different color temperatures and intensities.

But ensure to avoid placing the aquarium in direct sunlight, as this can cause fluctuations in water temperature and algae growth. 

Instead, place the aquarium in a location that receives indirect or diffused light.

Orange Swordtail Compatibility

Orange Swordtails are generally peaceful and social fish that can live in community tanks with other peaceful species. 

They prefer to be kept in groups of at least 3-4 individuals, so they can interact and swim together.

However, male Orange Swordtails can display aggressive behavior toward one another, particularly if there are too many males in the same tank. 

To minimize aggression, you should keep a ratio of 1 male to 2-3 females as this will provide a more harmonious social structure in your aquarium.

When selecting tank mates for your buddies, you should also choose species that are compatible with their temperament and water parameters. 

Here is a table listing good and bad tank mates for Orange Swordtails:

Good Tank MatesBad Tank Mates

Orange Swordtail Feeding & Diet

In the wild, Orange Swordtails are omnivorous and their diet consists of a variety of small aquatic insects, crustaceans, and plant matter

They will feed on algae and other vegetation growing on rocks and other submerged surfaces, as well as consume small insects and other invertebrates that they find in the water. 

In captivity, they need a varied and balanced diet that should include:

  • High-quality commercial fish flakes or pellets
  • Frozen or live brine shrimp, bloodworms, or daphnia
  • Fresh vegetables like spinach, peas, or cucumber
  • Spirulina flakes or pellets for herbivorous nutrition
  • Occasional treats like freeze-dried krill or tubifex worms

When it comes to feeding frequency, you should only feed them twice a day with only as much as they can consume in 2-3 minutes to avoid overfeeding them.

You should also fast them one day a week to aid digestion and prevent bloating.

Orange Swordtail Breeding

1. Breeding Tank Preparation

When setting up a breeding tank for Orange Swordtails, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are the most critical steps:

  • Make sure the tank is clean and free of any harmful bacteria or parasites that could harm the fish or their offspring
  • Provide plenty of hiding places for the female fish to retreat to when they are ready to give birth. This can include plants, caves, or even a breeding box
  • Keep the water temperature between 75-82°F (24-28°C) and the pH level between 7.0-8.0
  • Use a high-quality filtration system and perform regular water changes to keep the water clean

2. The Breeding Pair Introduction

When introducing a breeding pair of orange swordtails, there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure a successful pairing. 

First and foremost, make sure both fish are healthy and disease-free before introducing them to each other. 

When you introduce your breeding pair, it is a good idea to introduce the female to the tank first. 

This would your little girl a chance to establish herself in the aquarium and explore her surroundings before introducing the male. 

This will also help reduce stress for both fish and increase the likelihood of a successful pairing.

When it comes time to introduce the male, do so slowly and carefully. 

Release this bad boy into the aquarium and watch his behavior closely. If he appears aggressive toward the female, remove him from the tank and try again later. 

It may take some time for the two fish to get used to each other, so be patient and monitor their behavior closely.

3. Courtship

Courtship is the process through which the male and female fish interact with each other and ultimately lead to mating and reproduction.

During courtship, the male swordtail will display a variety of behaviors to attract the female. 

These behaviors can include chasing the female around the tank, flashing its fins and colors, and performing a dance-like behavior to entice the female. 

Then the female may respond by displaying receptive behaviors, such as curving its body or remaining still to indicate its interest in the male.

Once the male has successfully courted the female, the two fish will engage in a mating ritual. 

This can involve the male chasing the female around the tank while attempting to fertilize its eggs. 

Female swordtails are livebearers, which means that they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. 

So, the new mummy will carry the fertilized eggs in her body until they hatch and she gives birth to the fry.

4. Gestation Process

During gestation, the female swordtail will carry the fertilized eggs inside her body until they are fully developed and ready to be born as live fry.

The length of the gestation period can vary depending on several factors, including the temperature of the water, the health of the mother fish, and the size of the brood. 

On average, the gestation period for orange swordtails is around 28-30 days.

During gestation, you should provide the female with a stress-free environment and a balanced diet to ensure the health of both the mother and the developing fry.

As the gestation period nears its end, the female may begin to exhibit behaviors that indicate she is about to give birth. 

These behaviors can include hiding or seeking out secluded areas of the aquarium, becoming less active, and possibly even developing a bulge near its vent where the fry are located.

When the mummy gives birth, it will release between 20 to 100 or more fry in a single birth.

But still, the number of these babies can vary depending on several factors, including the size and age of the female, the health of the fish, and the conditions in the aquarium. 

Orange Swordtail Common Diseases

Orange Swordtail fish are generally hardy and easy to care for, but they can still be vulnerable to a variety of diseases. 

Here are some common diseases that can affect Orange Swordtail fish, along with their symptoms and treatments:

IchWhite spots on body and fins, scratching against objects in tankTreat with aquarium salt, increase water temperature, and use an ich medication as directed
Fin rotTorn, frayed or disintegrating fins and tailImprove water quality, remove affected tissue and apply medication as directed
Swim bladder diseaseFish is unable to swim properly, may float upside down or sink to the bottom of tankFeed a high-fiber diet, adjust water parameters and treat with medication as directed
DropsySwollen abdomen, raised scales, lethargyImprove water quality, treat with antibiotic medication as directed
VelvetGold or rust-colored dusting on body and fins, scratching against objects in tankIncrease water temperature, treat with copper sulfate medication as directed
ColumnarisWhite or grayish patches on skin and fins, loss of appetiteImprove water quality, use antibiotic medication as directed

To decide on the proper medication for your swordtails, you should consult with a veterinarian who can look at the fish and recommend the best treatment.


How Big Do Orange Swordtails Get?

Orange swordtails can grow to be about 3-4 inches in length.

How Can You Tell If an Orange Swordtail Fish Is Male or Female?

You can tell if an orange swordtail fish is a male or female by looking at their anal fin – males have a modified gonopodium, while females have a more rounded fin.

What Fish Can Breed with Swordtails?

Swordtails can interbreed with other species of Xiphophorus, including platies and mollies.

How Many Swordtails Should Be Kept Together?

You should keep at least 2-3 swordtails together, although larger groups can be kept in larger aquariums with ample space and resources.


As promised, we’ve covered all the essential information about orange swordtails, from their natural habitat and behaviors to their care requirements and tankmates. 

And just remember to provide them with a suitable environment, including plenty of hiding places and vegetation, a balanced diet, and compatible tank mates. 

With proper care, orange swordtails can thrive and bring years of enjoyment to your aquarium.

Do you still have questions about Orange Swordtail? If so, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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