Xiphophorus hellerii
Xiphophorus hellerii
(Green Swordtail)
Translate this page with Google
Français Deutsch Español Português Russian Italiano Japanese

Copyright Info
Xiphophorus hellerii Heckel, 1848

Common name: Green Swordtail

Synonyms and Other Names: Xiphophorus helleri (original spelling ends with -ii; Nelson et al. 2004), red swordtail, swordtail.

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Distinguishing characteristics were given by Rosen (1960, 1979) and Page and Burr (1991). This species is included in keys of Rosen (1960, 1979), Brown (1971), Minckley (1973), Greenfield and Thomerson (1997), and Miller et al. (2005). Photographs or illustrations appeared in Rosen (1979), Mills and Vevers (1989), Axelrod et al. (1985), Petrovicky (1988), Dawes (1991), Sakurai et al. (1993), and Wischnath (1993).

Size: Females to 16 cm TL; males to 14 cm TL

Native Range: Middle America from Rio Nautla (= Rio Nantla), Veracruz, Mexico, to northwestern Honduras (Rosen 1960, 1979; Page and Burr 1991; Greenfield and Thomerson 1997; Miller et al. 2005).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: This species has been recorded from Rock Spring in Maricopa County, Arizona (Minckley 1973); several counties in California (Coots 1956; St. Amant and Hoover 1969; St. Amant 1970; Mearns 1975; Courtenay et al. 1984, 1986, 1991; Swift et al. 1993; Dill and Cordone 1997); Conejos and Sagauche counties in Colorado (Woodling 1985, Zuckerman and Behnke 1986; S. Platania, personal communication); several counties in Florida (Courtenay and Robins 1973; Courtenay et al. 1974; Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Dial and Wainright 1983; museum specimens); Hawaii (Brock 1960; Maciolek 1984; Devick 1991; Mundy 2005); several geothermal waters in Idaho (Courtenay 1985; Courtenay et al. 1987; Idaho Fish and Game 1996); St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana (K. Piller, pers. comm.); Madison County, Montana (Brown 1971; Courtenay 1985; Courtenay and Meffe 1989; Holton 1990); Indian Spring and Rogers Spring, Clark County, Nevada (La Rivers 1962; Deacon et al. 1964; Minckley 1973; Courtenay and Deacon 1982; Deacon and Williams 1984; Vinyard 2001); the Verdigris River near Catoosa, Oklahoma (Pigg et al. 1996); Bexar County, Texas (Howells 1992); and Teton County, Wyoming (Courtenay et al. 1987; Hubert 1994; Stone 1995; Tilmant 1999).  Also collected in several locations throughout Puerto Rico (Erdsman 1984; Lee et al 1980 et seq), and in the Tarzan River, Guam (S. Walsh, pers. communication).

Widely introduced in locations worldwide, including Africa and Australia (Welcomme 1988).

Ecology: Inhabits fast-flowing streams and rivers around vegetation, and also lives in warm springs, ponds, and ditches (Miller et al. 2005)

Means of Introduction: Most introductions probably due to aquarium releases. Its origin in the Westminster flood control channel in California was believed to be a goldfish farm (St. Amant and Hoover 1969). Florida records may also be fish farm escapes or aquarium releases.

Status: It is locally established, or possibly so, in Colorado (Zuckerman and Behnke 1986), Florida (Nico, personal communication), Hawaii (Devick 1991), Idaho (Courtenay and Meffe 1989), Montana (Courtenay and Meffe 1989), Nevada (Courtenay and Meffe 1989), Texas (Howells 1992), and Wyoming (Stone 1995). A breeding population existed in Arizona at Rock Spring, but it disappeared after a flood in 1965 (Minckley 1973). It has been reported from several sites in California (Dill and Cordone 1997) and a single locality in Oklahoma (Pigg et al. 1996).

Impact of Introduction: Largely unknown. The green swordtail has been implicated in the decline of the Utah sucker Catostomus ardens in a thermal spring in Wyoming (Courtenay et al. 1988). Green swordtails, and other introduced poeciliids, have been implicated in the decline of native damselflies on Oahu, Hawaii. Often the distributions of the damselflies and introduced fishes were found to be mutually exclusive, probably resulting from predation by the fish on the insects (Englund 1999).

Remarks: This species exhibits a wide natural range of body form and color patterns (Rosen 1960, 1979; Dawes 1991; Wischnath 1993). It has long been popular as an ornamental fish, and has been used in genetics research. Many ornamental swordtails are hybrids of X. hellerii with the either X. maculatus or X. variatus.

The green swordtail was recorded from Indian Spring, Clark County, Nevada, as early as 1975 (Courtenay and Deacon 1982). However, the Xiphophorus taken from Indian Spring during later collections were identified as hybrids of X. hellerii x X. maculatus (Courtenay and Deacon 1982; Deacon and Williams 1984; Page and Burr 1991). That conclusion apparently was based on the fact that the live fish were yellow to pale orange (Courtenay and Deacon 1982). In 1989, Rauchenberger (personal communication) examined the preserved voucher material (UF 91919) and determined that all specimens were X. hellerii. Nevertheless, some of the other above records actually may represent hybrids rather than pure X. hellerii. Myers (1940) mentioned an unconfirmed report of X. hellerii breeding in the Florida Everglades; however, no Xiphophorus spp. are known to have established there (Loftus, personal communication).

This species is shown through experimentation to be an alternative host to the glochidia of native unionid mussels Lampsilis cardium and Utterbackia imbecillis (Watters and O'Dee 1998).

Voucher specimens: Colorado (MSB, uncataloged); Florida (USNM 89437; UF 30867, 86323, 91920, 92139, 97844, 98928, 141304, 171132, 171171, 171349, 171711, 171716, 171717, 171720), Hawaii (ANSP 89277; BPBM 35798; UF 119873, 119877), Idaho (UMMZ 213370, 213372), Montana (UMMZ 188982, 188983), Nevada (TU 94348; UF 91919), Oklahoma (OSU 27459).

References: (click for full references)

Axelrod, H.R., W.E. Burgess, N. Pronek, and J.G. Walls. 1985. Dr. Axelrod's atlas of freshwater aquarium fishes. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Brock, V.E. 1960. The introduction of aquatic animals into Hawaiian waters. Internationale Revue der gesamten Hydrobiologie 45(4):463-480.

Brown, C.J.D. 1971. Fishes of Montana. Montana State University, Bozeman, MT.

Coots, M. 1956. The yellow perch, Perca flavescens (Mitchill), in the Klamath River. California Fish and Game 47(7):219-228.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr. 1985. Florida Atlantic University Quarterly Reports for 1985 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and J.E. Deacon. 1982. Status of introduced fishes in certain spring systems in southern Nevada. Great Basin Naturalist 42(3):361-366.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and D.A. Hensley. 1979. Survey of introduced non-native fishes. Phase I Report. Introduced exotic fishes in North America: status 1979. Report Submitted to National Fishery Research Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D.A. Hensley, J.N. Taylor, and J.A. McCann. 1984. Distribution of exotic fishes in the continental United States. 41-77 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Distribution, biology and management of exotic fishes. John Hopkins University Press Baltimore, MD.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D.A. Hensley, J.N. Taylor, and J.A. McCann. 1986. Distribution of exotic fishes in North America. 675-698 in C.H. Hocutt, and E.O. Wiley, eds. The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and G.K. Meffe. 1989. Small fishes in strange places: a review of introduced poeciliids. 319-331 in G.K. Meffe, and F.F. Snelson, Jr., eds. Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and C.R. Robins. 1973. Exotic aquatic organisms in Florida with emphasis on fishes: a review and recommendations. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 102:1–12.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., C.R. Robins, R.M. Bailey, and J.E. Deacon. 1988. Records of exotic fishes from Idaho and Wyoming. Great Basin Naturalist 47(4):523-526.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., H.F. Sahlman, W.W. Miley, II, and D.J. Herrema. 1974. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. Biological Conservation 6(4):292-302.

Dawes, J.A. 1991. Livebearing fishes. A guide to their aquarium care, biology and classification. Blandforn, London, England.

Deacon, J.E., and J.E. Williams. 1984. Annotated list of the fishes of Nevada. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 97(1):103-118.

Deacon, J.E., C. Hubbs, and B.J. Zahuranec. 1964. Some effects of introduced fishes on the native fish fauna of southern Nevada. Copeia 1964(2):384-388.

Devick, W.S. 1991. Patterns of introductions of aquatic organisms to Hawaiian freshwater habitats. Pages 189-213 in new directions in research, management and conservation of Hawaiian freshwater stream ecosystems. Proceedings of the 1990 symposium on freshwater stream biology and fisheries management, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Dial, R.S., and S.C. Wainright. 1983. New distributional records for non-native fishes in Florida. Florida Scientist 46(1):8-15.

Dill, W.A., and A. J. Cordone. 1997. History and status of introduced fishes in California, 1871-1996. California Department of Fish and Game, Fish Bulletin 178:1-414.

Englund, R.A. 1999. The impacts of introduced poeciliid fish and Odonata on the endemic Megalagrion (Odonata) damselflies of Oahu Island, Hawaii. Journal of Insect Conservation 3:225-243.

Erdsman, D.S. 1984.  Exotic fishes in Puerto Rico. 162-176 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Distribution, biology, and management of exotic fishes. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Greenfield, D.W., and J. E. Thomerson. 1997. Fishes of the continental waters of Belize. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL.

Holton, G.D. 1990. A field guide to Montana fishes. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Helena, MT.

Howells, R.G. 1992. Annotated list of introduced non-native fishes, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants in Texas waters. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Management Data Series 78, Austin, TX.

Hubert, W. 1994. Exotic fish. 158-174 in T.L. Parrish, and S.H. Anderson, eds. Exotic species manual. Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Laramie, WY.

Idaho Fish and Game. 1990. Fisheries Management Plan 1991-1995. Appendix I: A list of Idaho fishes and their distribution by drainage. Idaho Fish and Game.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game. 1996. Fisheries Management Plan 1996-2000. Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

La Rivers, I. 1962. Fishes and fisheries of Nevada. Nevada State Print Office, Carson City, NV.

Lee, D.S., C.R. Gilbert, C.H. Hocutt, R.E. Jenkins, D.E. McAllister, and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980 et seq. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, NC.

Maciolek, J.A. 1984. Exotic fishes in Hawaii and other islands of Oceania. 131-161 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., editors. Distribution, biology, and management of exotic fishes. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Mearns, A.J. 1975. Poeciliopsis gracilis (Hackel), a newly introduced poeciliid fish in California. California Fish and Game 61(4):251-253.

Miller, R.R., W.L. Minckley, and S.M. Norris. 2005. Freshwater fishes of Mexico. The University of Chicago Press.

Mills, D., and G. Vevers. 1989. The Tetra encyclopedia of freshwater tropical aquarium fishes. Tetra Press, Morris Plains, NJ.

Minckley, W.L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Fish and Game Department. Sims Printing Company, Inc., Phoenix, AZ.

Moyle, P.B. 1976. Inland fishes of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Myers, G.S. 1940. An American cyprinodont fish, Jordanella floridae, reported from Borneo, with notes on the possible widespread introduction of foreign aquarium fishes. Copeia 1940:267-268.

Nelson, J.S., E.J. Crossman, H. Espinosa-Perez, L.T. Findley, C.R. Gilbert, R.N. Lea and J.D. Williams. 2004. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada and Mexico, Sixth Edition. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 29. Bethesda, MD.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Petrovicky, I. 1988. Aquarium fish of the world. Hamlyn, London, England.

Pigg, J., R. Gibbs, and T. Beard. 1996. Observations on two exotic fish species in Oklahoma. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences 1996: 90.

Piller, K. - Southeastern Louisiana University.

Platania, S. - University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.

Rosen, D.E. 1960. Middle-American Poeciliid fishes of the genus Xiphophorus. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum Biological Sciences 5(4):57-242.

Rosen, D.E. 1979. Fishes from the uplands and intermontane basins of Guatemala: revisionary studies and comparative geography. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 162:267-376.

Sakurai, A., Y. Sakamoto, and F. Mori. 1993. Aquarium fish of the world: the comprehensive guide to 650 species. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.

St. Amant, J.A. 1970. Addition of Hart's rivulus, Rivulus harti (Boulenger), to the California fauna. California Fish and Game 56(2):138.

St. Amant, J.A., and F.G. Hoover. 1969. Addition of Misgurnus anguillicaudatus (Cantor) to the California fauna. California Fish and Game 57(2):330-331.

Stone, M.D. 1995. Fish stocking programs in Wyoming: a balanced perspective. 47-51 in H.L. Schramm, Jr., and R.G. Piper, eds. Uses and effects of cultured fishes in aquatic ecosystems. American Fisheries Society Symposium 15.

Swift, C.C., T.R. Haglund, M. Ruiz, and R.N. Fisher. 1993. The status and distribution of the freshwater fishes of southern California. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science 92(3):101-167.

Tilmant, J.T. 1999. Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System. National Park Service.

Vinyard, G.L. 2001. Fish species recorded from Nevada. Biological Resources Research Center, University of Nevada, Reno, NV.

Watters, T.G. and S.H. O'Dee. 1998. Metamorphosis of freshwater mussel glochidia (Bivalvia: Unionidae) on amphibians and exotic fishes. American Midland Naturalist.139: 49-57.

Welcomme, R.L. 1988. International introductions of inland aquatic species. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 294. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy.

Williams, J.D., D.P. Jennings, and D.C. Haney. 1992. Exotics in the Indian River Lagoon system. National Biological Survey, Gainesville, FL. Unpublished manuscript.

Wischnath, L. 1993. Atlas of livebearers of the world. TFH Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Woodling, J. 1985. Colorado's little fish: a guide to the minnows and other lesser known fishes in the state of Colorado. Colorado Division of Wildlife, Denver, CO.

Zuckerman, L. D., and R. J. Behnke. 1986. Introduced fishes in the San Luis Valley, Colorado. 435-452 in R. H. Stroud, ed. Fish culture in fisheries management. Proceedings of a symposium on the role of fish culture in fisheries management at Lake Ozark, MO, March 31-April 3, 1985. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 11/14/2012

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2017, Xiphophorus hellerii Heckel, 1848: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=869, Revision Date: 11/14/2012, Access Date: 10/23/2017

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logoU.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
URL: https://nas.er.usgs.gov
Page Contact Information: Pam Fuller - NAS Program (pfuller@usgs.gov)
Page Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2017


The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [10/23/2017].

Additional information for authors