Xiphophorus hellerii
Xiphophorus hellerii
(Green Swordtail)
Fishes
Exotic
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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
Alaska
Hawaii auto-generated map
Hawaii
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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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