RAISING THE HIFIN SUNSET VARIATUS PLATY
-and a change of heart.
By: Meloney A. Hoyt, KAS
I have to admit, I was once a very prejudiced
fishkeeper. As little as a year ago
I would not have been caught dead with guppies,
swordtails, or platies! I preferred
the more '~sophisticated tropicals" like angelfish,
loaches, tetras, and corydoras.
Then I discovered two pair of Hifin Sunset
Variatus Platies, Xiphophorus variatus to
the more learned (pronounced zi'fo-fo"rus
vay' ree-ay" tus). These platies captured my
interest immediately! They are one of the
most beautiful fish I have ever owned, Let
alone raised. Do not take me wrong, I still
have my 35 gallon aquarium with the ever loved
tropicals, but I now also have four aquariums
dedicated to the gambusinos- or the
The platy originates in the cooler lowland
waters of Eastern Mexico, from such
rivers as Rio Panuco and Rio Cazones. X.
maculates and X. variates were first described
as Platypoecilus, from which the name
"Platy" was derived. They were also commonly
known as the "Moon Fish" because of the dark
moon-shaped crescent at the base of the tail
which was observed on many of the first imported
specimens. The platies, X. maculatus and X.
variantus, are among the most varied
species available to fishkeepers today. They
have a wide assortment of color patterns and
a variety of finnage. The fact that both
species of Platy can freely, and willingly,
breed among themselves, as well as with the
swordtaiI, has produced many new and interesting
hybrids. The platy has enabled genetic
researchers to perform elaborate studies on
the inheritance of characteristics because
of its prolific breeding habits. One drawback,
however, is that purebred species are
difficult to find because the platy does
interbreed so easily.
The Hifin Sunset Variatus Platy is only
one of the many platies seen today, but it is
my personal favorite. The variatus platy is
shaped much Iike the swordtail, but the males
have no sword. One other difference being
size; the female swordtail can obtain a
length of four and a half inches, and the
male swordtail up to three inches, yet the
female variatus platy grows to about
three inches and the male only two inches.
The male variatus platy that I purchased
is absolutely stunning! His head and midsection
are powder blue in color with several
black "freckles". The center of his body
also has five dark vertical bars. His caudal
peduncle and caudal fin are deep red in color.
His dorsal fin is a transparent yellow
which gains a reddish tint towards the posterior
edge, with the edge itself being
black. One of the most captivating features
of this specimen is the fact that his dorsal
fin is extremely large. When it lays against
his body it flows one half an inch past his
The female variatus platy is plain in
comparison to the male, but no less beautiful.
Her body is gold in color with greenish
highlights. Along the length of her body
are two dark stripes in a zig-zag pattern.
This zig-zag pattern is also seen in some of
the males I have raised. The female's caudal
fin is deep red in color. Her dorsal fin is
quite large and transparent yellow in color,
also with a back edge. The pelvic and anal
fins are colored the same as the dorsal.
I keep these platies, one male and two
females, in a ten gallon aquarium with several
guppies and a pair of pygmy gouramies.
The aquarium is set up with a power filter,
air stone, heater, gravel, and lots of bushy
plants. The temperature is maintained at 78!
F., the pH is 7.0 and the hardness is neutral.
Approximately one teaspoon of aquarium salt per
gallon of water was originally added to the
water, and upon doing water changes (between
25% and 50% each week) I do add around two
more teaspoons of salt to supplement what
When I acquired these fish they were
quite small and think however, they do have
voracious appetites. They are fed flake
foods in the morning and live black worms
in the evening. Occasionally they are given
mosquito larvae, frozen bits of strained
spinach, or hard boiled egg yolks in the
afternoon. After about a month they filled
out nicely, looking like completely different
fish. Originally I put both pair of the
platies in the ten gallon aquarium. Soon
thereafter one of the males clearly dominated
the two females and constantly picked on
the smaller male. I therefore moved
the smaller male to my 30 gallon community tank
with other platies, swords, and corridors
where he is now quite happy. (Note- the
smaller male is greener in color than the
larger blue male).
The male variatus platy can almost
constantly be observed courting the females,
often switching females every ten minutes
or so. He approaches the female from the
side, and in a back and forth motion, gently
caresses her "cheek" with his. He quite
often continues this caressing for a few
moments then quickly moves to the other
side. Occasionally he pauses long enough to
"dance" back and forth in front of the female,
proudly displaying his large, flowing
dorsal fin. This courtship can continue anywhere
from five minutes to an hour or so,
depending on how cooperative the female is.
When he feels she is ready, he drops to her
rear, moving his gonopodium forward and to
the side and quickly thrusts at the female,
thereby delivering his sperm packets and
fertilizing her eggs. As with the guppy and
the swordtail, the female platy can deliver
several "litters" of fry from the one fertilization,
but try telling the male this.
He is constantly paying his attentions to
the females. In order to relieve the females
a little, I now choose to keep the
ratio two females to one male.
After a month or so, both females began
to show signs of pregnancy, however, very
differently from each other. One female becomes
very rounded with a pronounced gravid
spot. More often than not I am able to save
her fry. I know when she is ready for the
breeder's trap by a couple of signs. First,
her girth becomes squared. Second, her vent
becomes less obvious and her "birth canal"
becomes exaggerated, or larger than normal.
Finally, she has a "litter" approximately
every 27 to 32 days. The other female, however,
is much less predictable! She does not
get much larger than normal and her gravid
spot is much less pronounced, but always
visible. On one occasion I watched her have
about a dozen fry, which I was able to net
and transfer to the breeder's trap. Then,
about two days later, she had another seven
fry. Also this female is more prone to chase
her fry and eat them immediately after the
birth of each individual fry.
I no longer worry too much about saving
the second female's fry, because over the
last six months I have acquired over 100
little variatus platies between the two females.
An interesting fact is that the vast majority
of these fry are males. The average "litter"
for the first female is 25, and all survive as
long as I remove her from the breeder's
trap immediately after she is done giving birth.
Otherwise, those fry who venture into
the upper half of the trap become breakfast
When it becomes obvious that this female
is ready to deliver, I place her in the
breeder's trap using a fine mesh net and
gentle motions so as not to harm her or the
fry. This is generally done in the evening
because she tends to deliver in the morning
hours and is usually done by 9:00 a.m. She
is then removed from the breeder's trap, as
well as the plastic separator, giving the
fry plenty of room to swim around. I prefer
to keep the female in the trap for small
periods of time because she does not like it!
Twelve hours maximum.
The fry are very small at birth, no
more than one quarter of an inch in length.
They appear squared and very light bronze in
color. Almost always their fins have a dark
edge. They are free swimming immediately
after birth and will eat finely powdered
flake food (Tetramin Baby Food for Livebearers),
very small mosquito larvae (when available),
and newly hatched brine shrimp (if you
have the know-how). After about 48 hours
the fry are strong enough to be moved to
a five gallon aquarium.
The five gallon aquarium has been set up
the same as the ten gallon with only a
few exceptions. A sponge filter is used
instead of a power filter and the interior
of the tank is bare except for floating water
sprite and java moss.
When the fry are three to four weeks of
age, I add live black worms to their diet.
There is also plenty of algae for the fry to
graze on, as platies do like vegetable matter
in their diet. Between two and three months
of age the males begin to show the
development of the gonopodium, the male sex
organ. The colors, however, do not begin to
show until at least four months of age, and
become fully developed in about a year.
Until four months of age the females and
males are light bronze in color. Only one
young male of the many I am raising, has
broken this rule. At six months of age he is
only one third the size of his father. He is
identical to his father in every way, from
coloring to fin size, with the exception
that he has an attractive red spot in the
center of his dorsal fin and has not yet
developed the body freckles. Some of the fry
do not show the hifin characteristic at all,
though they are few in number. The other
males do not yet possess the flowing dorsal
of their father, but they are catching up
slowly. This brings us to some interesting
information I found about the hifin
characteristics in fancy livebearers.
FIRST FOR THE FACTS:
1. Living cells are DIPLOID, that is all
chromosomes and genes (which designate
characteristics and traits, i.e.: brown
hair, blue eyes) are in pairs. One inherited
from Mom and one from Dad.
2. Genes are either dominant or recessive.
The dominant trait is usually the one that
3. When two genes are identical, the condition
is called HOMOZYGOUS. HOMO meaning same.
4. When two genes are different, the condition
is called HETEROZYGOUS. HETERO meaning
5. The hifin characteristic (gene) is dominant
over the gene for the normal dorsal fin.
6. "H" will denote a hifin gene, and "h" will
denote a normalJdorsal fin gene.
7. The genetic makeup of "HH" is lethal and
the fry dies in the womb and is absorbed by
the female. Therefore, all platies showing
the hifin characteristic will be heterozygous -
"Hh". A normal dorsal fin platy will be
"For a fertilized egg to have its
dual component of chromosomes (diploid) it
inherits half of its genes from its mother
and half from its father. Inheritance being
completely random, each fry has a
50/50 chance of getting either of the two
genes for a particular trait from each of
Therefore, this is how a fry would
inherit its traits if both parents are hifins
having a heterozygous condition with
one dominant "H" gene and one recessive
H h H h
HH Hh Hh hh
With normal random selection one quarter
of all fry will have a genetic composition
of "HH" and will die while still in the
womb. Therefore the ratio of hifins to
normal dorsal fins will be two to one.
If one parent was a hyphen and one was
a normal dorsal fin the selection may look
like this (it does not matter which of the
parents is hyphen):
(hifin) (normal fin)
H h h h
Hh Hh hh hh
With normal random selection one half of
the fry will be hifins and one half will
have normal dorsal fins.
In conclusion pair of platies with
normal dorsal fins are unable to produce
hifin young because they do not carry the
dominant hifin gene, even if their parents
were hifins. Also, there are no true breeding
hifin platies because the hifin has a
genetic make up of "Hh". Therefore there
will always be non-hifins in the litter.
Lastly, by breeding a hifin to a hifin you
get the same number of hifin fry, just fewer
fry with normal dorsal fins, than if you
were to breed a hifin to a normal dorsal fin.
Yes, that is a mouthful, but hopefully
it will answer some questions if you are
also breeding some of the fancier livebearers.
Some fry just do not show the characteristics,
such as the lyretail swords, lyretail
mollies, and of course, the hifin platies.
In closing I would like to say that if you
have never considered owning livebearers
you are missing out on a very colorful
and interesting spectrum of the aquarist's
hobby. Personally, I will never look at the
livebearers as "simple" and "easy" fish
again! They can definitely be a challenge
as well as a lot of fun!!
1 HIFIN GENETICS, ONCE AND FOR ALL, by Tony
Benages. A reprint from Tropical Topics.
1. A FISHKEEPER'S GUIDE TO LIVEBEARING
FISHES, by Peter W. Scott, 1987 Salamander
books, LTD, Tetra Press.
2. THE FISH YOU CARE FOR, by Felicia Ames
1971 Signet Books, The American Library, Inc.
3. HIFIN GENETICS, ONCE AND FOR ALL, by Tony
Benages. A reprint from Tropical Topics, a
publication of the Indianapolis Aquarium Society.
4. LIVEBEARERS, by Wilfred L. Whitern 1979
TFH Publications, Inc.
5. EXOTIC AQUARIUM FISHES - THE INNES BOOK,
by Dr. William T. Innes, 1966 Aquariums, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from The Kitsap
Aquarian, publication of the Kitsap Aquarium
Society, Inc., November 1990, pp. 23-26.