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Xiphophorus hellerii HECKEL, 1848

Green Swordtail

SynonymsTop ↑

Xiphophorus guntheri Jordan & Evermann, 1896; Xiphophorus jalapae Meek, 1902; Xiphophorus brevis Regan, 1907; Xiphophorus strigatus Regan, 1907; Xiphophorus rachovii Regan, 1911


Xiphophorus: from the Ancient Greek ξίφος (ksíphos), meaning ‘a kind of double-edged sword’, and -φóρος (-phóros), meaning ‘bearing’, in allusion to the presence of a gonopodium in males of this genus.

hellerii: named in honour of Austrian botanist and naturalist Karl Bartholomaeus Heller (1824-1880), who explored Mexico between 1845-1848 and brought the type series of X. hellerii to Vienna.


Order: Cyprinodontiformes Family: Poeciliidae


Native to southeastern Mexico, central Guatemala, southern Belize, and northwestern Honduras. Its known range extends south from the Río Nautla (alternatively referred to as the Río Filobobos) in central Veracruz state, Mexico, to the Rio Usumacinta drainage in Guatemala, the Río Sarstún (aka Sarstoon) at the border between Guatemala and Belize, and the ríos Copán and Chamelecón in Honduras.

Within these boundaries it also occurs in various river systems in the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, and Tabasco.

Type locality is ‘Orizaba, Mexico’, which corresponds to the city of that name in Veracruz state.

It has been widely introduced to other river basins in Mexico and throughout the world, and is now present on all major continents except Antarctica. Countries or territories in which feral populations exist include Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Bahamas, United States, Hawaii, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Iran, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Madagascar, Réunion, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Caledonia, and Fiji.


Natural populations are found in various types of habitat from sea level to around 1500 m altitude, including fast-flowing, rocky streams, to springs, ditches, ponds, and rivers containing clear to turbid water. In most cases the water is less than 1.5 m deep and there is no aquatic vegetation.

In flowing water adults tend to congregate in areas with greater current, while juveniles and subadults display a preference for quiet marginal zones.

Introduced populations may occur in springs, streams, rivers, canals, ditches, pools, artificial reservoirs and other environments, and the species exhibits a degree of tolerance to polluted conditions. Where X. hellerii occurs in large numbers outside its natural range it is thought to exert a number of negative impacts on native species and ecosystems.

Maximum Standard Length

Males up to 14 cm (5.5 inches), females up to 16cm (6.2 inches) TL.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

An aquarium with surface dimensions of 120 ∗ 30 cm or equivalent should be the smallest considered.


Choice of décor is not especially critical though it tends to look best in a heavily-planted set-up with a dark substrate. Wild forms should also suit an aquarium arranged to resemble a flowing stream with water-worn rocks and small boulders.

The addition of some floating plants and driftwood roots or branches to diffuse the light entering the tank also seems to be appreciated and adds a more natural feel.

Filtration does not need to be particularly strong though it does seem to appreciate a degree of water movement.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 16 – 28 °C

pH: 7.0 – 8.0

Hardness: 179 – 447 ppm


Stomach analyses of wild specimens have shown it to be a generalised omnivore, feeding on a range of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, organic detritus, algae, and other plant material.

In the aquarium it is unfussy and will accept just about anything offered. Offer a balanced diet comprising good quality dried products along with small live and frozen foods such as Daphnia, Artemia and chironomid larvae (bloodworm).

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

In confined spaces groups of males tend to form dominance hierarchies and may invest a significant proportion of time maintaining their respective positions.

Sexual Dimorphism

Adult males tend to be smaller than females and possess a prominent gonopodium, plus the characteristic extension of the lower caudal-fin lobe. In some ornamental strains the upper caudal-fin lobe or other fins may also be extended, however, including in females.


Like other members of the viviparous family Poeciliidae, male Xiphophorus have a gonopodium, essentially a modified anal-fin, which is used for internal fertilisation of females.

The reproductive behaviour of Xiphophorus is well-studied, and females are known to exhibit preferences for numerous physical and behavioural traits such as sword length (long, short, or without), colour pattern, body size, vertical barring on the body, chemical cues and specific nuptial behaviours. In some cases females show preferences for male traits of other species. Male behaviour is designed to both attract mates and drive away rivals, while some individuals, known as ‘sneakers’,

Females are also capable of storing viable male sperm for months,

NotesTop ↑

This species is among the world’s most recognisable aquarium fishes and ubiquitous in the ornamental trade, although its name is often misspelled X. helleri (with only a single i, vs. correct spelling X. hellerii) in both scientific and hobbyist literature.

Selective breeding has led to the development of a bewildering array of ornamental forms which tend to display colours, and often fin morphology, that are not present in wild fish. Some of these forms are also the result of artificial hybridisation with other members of the genus, particularly X. maculatus and X. variatus. See the images attached to this profile for some (by no means exhaustive) examples.

Xiphophorus species are naturally distributed throughout the Atlantic slope of Mexico and adjacent portions of Central America, although a number of members have been introduced to and become established in other countries and territories. In English they are commonly referred to as ‘platyfishes’ and ‘swordtails’, and are considered important in several fields of scientific research, including behavioural, genetic, and biomedical (including the cause and genetics of cancers) studies.

The genus is split into three main phylogeographic clades: the platies, or platyfishes, which occur throughout eastern Mexico and Central America; the northern swordtails, endemic to the Río Pánuco and Río Tuxpan watersheds in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains of northeastern Mexico, and the southern swordtails of southern Mexico and northern Central America.

The relationships within these groups have also been studied in depth. X. hellerii is a member of the southern swordtail clade,


  1. Heckel, J. J., 1848 - Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Classe v. 1 (pts 1-5): 289-303
    Eine neue Gattung von Poecilien mit rochenartigem Anklammerungs-Organe.
  2. Basolo, A. L., 1990 - Animal Behaviour 40(2): 332-338
    Female preference for male sword length in the green swordtail,< i> Xiphophorus helleri(Pisces: Poeciliidae).
  3. Cui, R., M. Schumer, K. Kruesi, R. Walter, P. Andolfatto, and G. G. Rosenthal, 2013 - Evolution 67(8): 2166-2179
    Phylogenomics reveals extensive reticulate evolution in Xiphophorus fishes.
  4. Earley, R. L. and L. A. Dugatkin, 2006 - Behavioural Processes 73(3): 290-298
    Merging social hierarchies: Effects on dominance rank in male green swordtail fish (Xiphophorus helleri).
  5. Eskmaeili, H. R. , B. W. Coad and A. Gholamifard, N. Nazari, A. Teimory, 2010 - Zoosystematica Rossica 19(2): 361-386
    Annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Iran.
  6. Franck, D., B. Klamroth, A. Taebel-Hellwig, and M. Schartl, 1998 - Behavioural Processes 43(2): 115-123
    Home ranges and satellite tactics of male green swordtails (< i> Xiphophorus helleri) in nature.
  7. Jones, J. C., S. Fan, P. Franchini, M. Schartl, and A. Meyer, 2013 - Molecular Ecology 22(11): 2986-3001
    The evolutionary history of Xiphophorus fish and their sexually selected sword: a genome‐wide approach using restriction site‐associated DNA sequencing.
  8. Kallman, K. D. and Steven Kazianis, 2006 - Zebrafish 3(3): 271-285
    The genus Xiphophorus in Mexico and Central America.
  9. Kallman, K. D., R. B. Walter, D. C. Morizot, and S. Kazianis, 2004 - American Museum Novitates 3441: 1-34
    Two new species of Xiphophorus (Poeciliidae) from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, with a discussion of the distribution of the X. clemenciae clade.
  10. Kang, J. H., M. Schartl, R. B. Walter, and A. Meyer, 2013 - BMC Evolutionary Biology: 25
    Comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of all species of swordtails and platies (Pisces: Genus Xiphophorus) uncovers a hybrid origin of a swordtail fish, Xiphophorus monticolus, and demonstrates that the sexually selected sword originated in the ancestral lineage of the genus, but was lost again secondarily.
  11. Kazianis, S., 2006 - Zebrafish 3(1): 9-10
    Historical, Present, and Future Use of Xiphophorus Fishes for Research.
  12. Kottelat, M., 2013 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 27: 1-663
    The fishes of the inland waters of southeast Asia: a catalogue and core bibiography of the fishes known to occur in freshwaters, mangroves and estuaries.
  13. Larson, H. K., R. S. Williams and M. P. Hammer, 2013 - Zootaxa 3696(1): 1-293
    An annotated checklist of the fishes of the Northern Territory, Australia.
  14. Matamoros, W. A., J. F. Schaefer and B. R. Kreiser, 2009 - Zootaxa 2307: 1-38
    Annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of continental and insular Honduras.
  15. McLennan, D. A. and M. J. Ryan, 2008 - Animal Behaviour 75: 1731-1737
    Female swordtails, Xiphophorus continens, prefer the scent of heterospecific males.
  16. Meyer, A., W. Salzburger, and M. Schartl, 2006 - Molecular Ecology 15(3): 721-730
    Hybrid origin of a swordtail species (Teleostei: Xiphophorus clemenciae) driven by sexual selection.
  17. Miller, R. R., 2006 - Chicago (University of Chicago Press): xxvi + 1-490
    Freshwater fishes of México.
  18. Page, L. M. and B. M. Burr, 2011 - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 1-688
    Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico (Second Edition).
  19. Rauchenberger, M., K. D. Kallman, and D. C. Morizot, 1990 - American Museum Novitates 2975: 1-41
    Monophyly and geography of the Río Pánuco Basin swordtails (genus Xiphophorus) with descriptions of four new species.
  20. Rosen, D. E., 1960 - Bulletin of the Florida State Museum Biological Sciences 5(4): 57-242
    Middle-American poeciliid fishes of the genus Xiphophorus.
  21. Rosenthal, G. G, and F. J. García de León, 2006 - Zebrafish 3(1): 85-90
    Sexual Behavior, Genes, and Evolution in Xiphophorus.

2 Responses to “Xiphophorus hellerii – Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri, Xiphophorus guntheri)”

  • illustrator

    Comment on the “compatibility”: I don’t believe that Xiphophorus x Poecilia hybrids (swordtail x guppy) are possible and have never heard or seen any.

  • Hi illustrator, you are absolutely right and this profile will be given a full update very soon.

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