Swordtail male acting weird

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Sprinkle

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So, I got a new swordtail, he's a male, I acclimated him and when I first acclimated him I put him the tank he was breathing fast.

Now, he just hides behind the plants or between them, breaths fast sometimes, and sometimes he just just swims up and down near the filter. He does sometimes go out.

To be honest, he is not what I expected, I thought he will start mating with my females but he didn't even touch them, he sometimes comes out to swim a little but then hides again, he doesn't have a nibble there and there (females don't do this neither).
Do you know what this is? Should I just give him some more time?
 

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Strange. How long have you had him? I’ve had fish that are bashful when first introduced to a new tank. But this only lasts 1-2 days
 
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Sdoerger said:
Strange. How long have you had him? I’ve had fish that are bashful when first introduced to a new tank. But this only lasts 1-2 days
I have him since yesterday evening. What is wrong with that fish?

Ammonia is 0
Nitrites are 0
Nitrates are 25
Temp is 25 C

So, does anyone what is wrong with him?
 

Oriongal

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How is he doing now?

In my experience, it's generally one of two things when a male swordtail isn't paying attention to the females, when new to the tank.

One is that he's ill, not feeling well. It seems like swordtails frequently arrive ill from the store, especially chain stores; I've frequently had them die during quarantine, sometimes without any obvious cause.

The other is that he's just uncomfortable in the new space. If he's on the small side or not terribly confident, he may have been picked on by other males where they were bred, shipped, or at the store. This will tend to make him wary in a new space, unsure whether another male might be lurking and suddenly show up to challenge him if he tries courting the ladies.

I see this pretty often with males I bring in for more selective breeding - I have an outdoor pool (250-300 gal) with mixed swords and guppies, and maintain indoor tanks for more selective pairings with the swordtails. There's usually 2-3 mature females that stay in the tank, while I rotate males in and out from the pool.

Since the pool also has some large mature males, younger/smaller ones are naturally lower in the pecking order; and are quickly chased off by the larger males if they try to mate with the females in the pool.

So, once indoors, sometimes it can take them a week or even two to finally realize that there aren't any other males around in the tank, and nobody's going to come drive them off if they try courting the females. Once they get to that point, they'll act like typical livebearer males from there out.
 
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Oriongal said:
How is he doing now?

In my experience, it's generally one of two things when a male swordtail isn't paying attention to the females, when new to the tank.

One is that he's ill, not feeling well. It seems like swordtails frequently arrive ill from the store, especially chain stores; I've frequently had them die during quarantine, sometimes without any obvious cause.

The other is that he's just uncomfortable in the new space. If he's on the small side or not terribly confident, he may have been picked on by other males where they were bred, shipped, or at the store. This will tend to make him wary in a new space, unsure whether another male might be lurking and suddenly show up to challenge him if he tries courting the ladies.

I see this pretty often with males I bring in for more selective breeding - I have an outdoor pool (250-300 gal) with mixed swords and guppies, and maintain indoor tanks for more selective pairings with the swordtails. There's usually 2-3 mature females that stay in the tank, while I rotate males in and out from the pool.

Since the pool also has some large mature males, younger/smaller ones are naturally lower in the pecking order; and are quickly chased off by the larger males if they try to mate with the females in the pool.

So, once indoors, sometimes it can take them a week or even two to finally realize that there aren't any other males around in the tank, and nobody's going to come drive them off if they try courting the females. Once they get to that point, they'll act like typical livebearer males from there out.
He's doing now much better. I saw him only once trying to mate with my female. He's just having a nibble on here there and there, that time or that time. I really don't know how to get them to mate.
 

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If he's nibbling at her, that's courtship and she's getting close to dropping her current batch of fry. Swordtails don't usually court relentlessly like guppies do, they tend to reserve their efforts for when they have the best chance of success (which will be in the late stages of pregnancy and just after she's delivered.)
 
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Oriongal said:
If he's nibbling at her, that's courtship and she's getting close to dropping her current batch of fry. Swordtails don't usually court relentlessly like guppies do, they tend to reserve their efforts for when they have the best chance of success (which will be in the late stages of pregnancy and just after she's delivered.)
I do see a dark spot, not black, she is fat and fat naturally. My other female had some nibbles on the other female in the first days I got the female. How do I get them to breed?
 

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Keep them together and give them time. All livebearer females will arrive already pregnant unless they were segregated early enough (and remained segregated at the store), or were not fully mature when you got them.

Swordtails are generally a little smarter than guppies, from what I've seen with mine.

Male guppies will waste their time (and sperm) trying to mate with swordtail females or even with another male, but I've never seen a male swordtail courting or trying to mate with a late-developing male (that still outwardly looks like a female to us), nor with a female guppy (even when some of them are nearly as large as a young female swordtail.)

Male guppies will hound females nearly to death with mating attempts, but male swordtails generally don't do that. As said, in my experience they tend to bide their time and put forth the most effort when it's most likely to be effective. If they're not mating with a particular female, in my experience it's either not the right time - or that female is going to end up turning into (or turning out to be) a male.

I've had more naturally-fat females turn into males than I can count. Have one in one of the indoor tanks right now that I suspect will turn into a male. She challenges the alpha female like a female, and she looks pregnant all the time; but she never looks skinnier, no fry that look like her have ever appeared in the tank, and the last 2 males I had in there didn't pay her much attention.

Be patient, you'll know soon enough if your female drops some fry in a week or two. I'd say signs so far are positive, I don't think I've seen males nibble at females who later turned into/out to be males.
 
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Oriongal said:
Keep them together and give them time. All livebearer females will arrive already pregnant unless they were segregated early enough (and remained segregated at the store), or were not fully mature when you got them.

Swordtails are generally a little smarter than guppies, from what I've seen with mine.

Male guppies will waste their time (and sperm) trying to mate with swordtail females or even with another male, but I've never seen a male swordtail courting or trying to mate with a late-developing male (that still outwardly looks like a female to us), nor with a female guppy (even when some of them are nearly as large as a young female swordtail.)

Male guppies will hound females nearly to death with mating attempts, but male swordtails generally don't do that. As said, in my experience they tend to bide their time and put forth the most effort when it's most likely to be effective. If they're not mating with a particular female, in my experience it's either not the right time - or that female is going to end up turning into (or turning out to be) a male.

I've had more naturally-fat females turn into males than I can count. Have one in one of the indoor tanks right now that I suspect will turn into a male. She challenges the alpha female like a female, and she looks pregnant all the time; but she never looks skinnier, no fry that look like her have ever appeared in the tank, and the last 2 males I had in there didn't pay her much attention.

Be patient, you'll know soon enough if your female drops some fry in a week or two. I'd say signs so far are positive, I don't think I've seen males nibble at females who later turned into/out to be males.
Hi, thanks for all the information. I got that female from a specialist and she is def a normal female. She is just fat naturally, just like other female before she died being stuck in a shell because she was fat.
What do you mean by 'I'd say signs so far are positive'?
I've seen them mating, I saw the male using his gonopodium and saw him doing the mating dance. The female seems to have a kind of orangey dot near her vent.
Also, forgot to mention that my swordtails are sometimes clamping their fins for no reason, perfect water parameters and
temp with 25 C.
 

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Sprinkle said:
What do you mean by 'I'd say signs so far are positive'?
Signs are positive that she's a normal female. Some males will still try mating with 'transitional' or late-developing males, but in my experience most males do seem to know the difference. They'll treat them like they're gender-neutral, neither male nor female, until they're almost fully transitioned; at which time they'll start treating them like a rival male.

Sprinkle said:
I got that female from a specialist and she is def a normal female.
From the actions of your male, I'd tend to agree that it's a normal female. But as you'll eventually find out for yourself - being a specialist still doesn't guarantee that any given female is in fact going to be/remain a female, unless you've seen her produce fry (or have seen fry that you could be sure were hers.)

Swordtail males follow one of two paths from birth. Some mature very early and tend to remain small - I have some mature males that aren't much larger than a good-sized guppy, even with 300 gallons to grow into. Other males grow body-wise but don't sexually mature until much later, sometimes even as much as a year after birth - and those will look like females until they transition. Triangular analfin, sometimes even a definite gravid spot.

I'll apologize in advance for the poor quality of the pics - they're crops from larger ones where I was focused on the tank vs. the fish. Didn't realize I was going to have a transitional female-to-male in this group until after it happened. (This is from a year or so ago; I've had others since, but none that I'd documented as well before-and-after.)

1.jpg
Top in this pic is the 'female' that later transitioned. Bottom right in this pic is a female near the same age as the top one (and who by this point was definitely pregnant.) Not a lot of difference in body-shape between them, and you can see the darker line of a gravid spot on that top fish.

2.jpg
This pic just to show that it did start out with a normal female analfin, triangular.


4.jpg
6.jpg

In the above two pics, it still looks like a pregnant female, complete with gravid spot. But you can see the analfin has begun transitioning into a gonopodium, though there is no sword on the tail yet.

8.jpg

And then here, you can see that he has a full gonopodium by this point, and has begun growing a sword also. But aside from that, even at this point it still looks a lot like a pregnant female, otherwise.

It was about this point that I had to move him, because it was about this point that the resident male started treating him more like a male.

I still have him, he's out in the pool - I'll see if I can get a screen-grab from the camera out there sometime and update this post. He's one of the biggest males I have, as these late-developers usually are.

Some say that actual females can also transition to males, but I personally haven't seen it (haven't seen any fry that I could be 100% certain came from a 'female' that later transitioned to male.) I'm sure you'll see it happen yourself at some point, especially if you keep/raise your own offspring; it's not that uncommon.

Sprinkle said:
Also, forgot to mention that my swordtails are sometimes clamping their fins for no reason, perfect water parameters and
temp with 25 C.
By perfect I'm assuming you mean 0, 0, and under 40ppm for ammonia, nitrite and nitrates respectively. Livebearers also prefer a higher pH (7-8.4) and relatively hard water.

That said, even healthy swordtails do sometimes keep their fins a little clamped, dorsal fin especially; because they also use them to signal one another. Your subordinate female(s) will at times drop their dorsal fin around the alpha female, to indicate submission; keeping it raised is part of a challenge for position.

Males also at times keep their dorsal fin down, when not actively courting a female or challenging another male. And females that are nearing birth or giving birth will often have their fins clamped, staying in a particular spot or even hiding.

Generally, the time to worry is if they aren't enthusiastic about being fed (other than a heavily pregnant female nearing/giving birth, during that time some of them also may not eat for a day, even two days.) I haven't met a swordtail yet that wasn't a chow-hound, wasn't always looking for food even if you just fed them.
 
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Oriongal said:
Signs are positive that she's a normal female. Some males will still try mating with 'transitional' or late-developing males, but in my experience most males do seem to know the difference. They'll treat them like they're gender-neutral, neither male nor female, until they're almost fully transitioned; at which time they'll start treating them like a rival male.


From the actions of your male, I'd tend to agree that it's a normal female. But as you'll eventually find out for yourself - being a specialist still doesn't guarantee that any given female is in fact going to be/remain a female, unless you've seen her produce fry (or have seen fry that you could be sure were hers.)

Swordtail males follow one of two paths from birth. Some mature very early and tend to remain small - I have some mature males that aren't much larger than a good-sized guppy, even with 300 gallons to grow into. Other males grow body-wise but don't sexually mature until much later, sometimes even as much as a year after birth - and those will look like females until they transition. Triangular analfin, sometimes even a definite gravid spot.

I'll apologize in advance for the poor quality of the pics - they're crops from larger ones where I was focused on the tank vs. the fish. Didn't realize I was going to have a transitional female-to-male in this group until after it happened. (This is from a year or so ago; I've had others since, but none that I'd documented as well before-and-after.)

1.jpg
Top in this pic is the 'female' that later transitioned. Bottom right in this pic is a female near the same age as the top one (and who by this point was definitely pregnant.) Not a lot of difference in body-shape between them, and you can see the darker line of a gravid spot on that top fish.

2.jpg
This pic just to show that it did start out with a normal female analfin, triangular.


4.jpg
6.jpg

In the above two pics, it still looks like a pregnant female, complete with gravid spot. But you can see the analfin has begun transitioning into a gonopodium, though there is no sword on the tail yet.

8.jpg

And then here, you can see that he has a full gonopodium by this point, and has begun growing a sword also. But aside from that, even at this point it still looks a lot like a pregnant female, otherwise.

It was about this point that I had to move him, because it was about this point that the resident male started treating him more like a male.

I still have him, he's out in the pool - I'll see if I can get a screen-grab from the camera out there sometime and update this post. He's one of the biggest males I have, as these late-developers usually are.

Some say that actual females can also transition to males, but I personally haven't seen it (haven't seen any fry that I could be 100% certain came from a 'female' that later transitioned to male.) I'm sure you'll see it happen yourself at some point, especially if you keep/raise your own offspring; it's not that uncommon.


By perfect I'm assuming you mean 0, 0, and under 40ppm for ammonia, nitrite and nitrates respectively. Livebearers also prefer a higher pH (7-8.4) and relatively hard water.

That said, even healthy swordtails do sometimes keep their fins a little clamped, dorsal fin especially; because they also use them to signal one another. Your subordinate female(s) will at times drop their dorsal fin around the alpha female, to indicate submission; keeping it raised is part of a challenge for position.

Males also at times keep their dorsal fin down, when not actively courting a female or challenging another male. And females that are nearing birth or giving birth will often have their fins clamped, staying in a particular spot or even hiding.

Generally, the time to worry is if they aren't enthusiastic about being fed (other than a heavily pregnant female nearing/giving birth, during that time some of them also may not eat for a day, even two days.) I haven't met a swordtail yet that wasn't a chow-hound, wasn't always looking for food even if you just fed them.
Wow, you have some pretty swords there.
Yep, by saying perfect, I have meant 0 nitrites, nitrates on 25, ammonia on 0. Although, I'm getting some weird ammonia spikes. My water is hard, which I'm happy about.

My swordtails are looking for food, so I'm assuming that is good?
They also are very enthisastic about food, when I'm near the tank, they will always come up and "dance", they also got trained my other fish to do the same.

The male will clamp his fins when near the alpha female and the subordinate female does the same. The alpha female will always chases away the subordinate female, the subordinate female does clamp her fins when near the alpha female, the alpha female will leave alone only the male, she lets his dance around her, nibble her, and try to mate with her and chase her from time to time.
 

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Sounds like you have healthy and happy swordtails. :)

A male who is sure there aren't other males around will usually drop his dorsal fin around the females. This article explains why - apparently females prefer males with smaller dorsal fins rather than larger. Swordtail fish balance courtship, threats
 
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Oriongal said:
Sounds like you have healthy and happy swordtails. :)

A male who is sure there aren't other males around will usually drop his dorsal fin around the females. This article explains why - apparently females prefer males with smaller dorsal fins rather than larger. Swordtail fish balance courtship, threats
I'm happy that I have healthy and happy swordtails :)
Although, they are in a 15 gal tank. I'm getting a 40 gal next week anyway.

My male has a high dorsal fin, but he drops it down?

Thanks for the link.
 

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Not wanting to hijack the other thread with discussion about 'the shimmies', I'll put this here because it also has some relevance to normal swordtail behavior. I thought I remembered having some clips from the pool that would illustrate it.

Below are two clips of a female koi swordtail with the shimmies. In this case it was due to disease; I'm fairly sure she had TB (she was removed to quarantine and subsequently died, wasted away though she was still eating.)


Where this relates to normal swordtail behavior is during pecking-order challenges, especially between females. Below are several clips of female challenges; you'll see that they also occasionally rock side-to-side in place as part of the challenge (sometimes they'll even get right next to each other and do it, sort of becomes a shoving match.)

In the first clip you'll also see a larger red wag female with her dorsal fin down while the two smaller red wag females are displaying to each other. This is actually a show of confidence on the part of the larger female - she's secure in her place and knows the challenge has nothing to do with her, so doesn't feel any need to display. Less confident alpha females feel the need to remind the subordinates constantly of who's boss, always nipping at them even when they're not challenging.


So, you can see the difference between 'the shimmies' (fins clamped, not interacting with another fish) and normal pecking-order challenges.

Challenges between males can also look like that. You'll even see fry doing it with each other too, it's actually kind of cute.

Oh, and in the process I also found a clip with the transitional male from the previous post. He turned into a handsome fellow with a yellow-gold sword.

Transition 2
 
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Oriongal said:
Not wanting to hijack the other thread with discussion about 'the shimmies', I'll put this here because it also has some relevance to normal swordtail behavior. I thought I remembered having some clips from the pool that would illustrate it.

Below are two clips of a female koi swordtail with the shimmies. In this case it was due to disease; I'm fairly sure she had TB (she was removed to quarantine and subsequently died, wasted away though she was still eating.)


Where this relates to normal swordtail behavior is during pecking-order challenges, especially between females. Below are several clips of female challenges; you'll see that they also occasionally rock side-to-side in place as part of the challenge (sometimes they'll even get right next to each other and do it, sort of becomes a shoving match.)

In the first clip you'll also see a larger red wag female with her dorsal fin down while the two smaller red wag females are displaying to each other. This is actually a show of confidence on the part of the larger female - she's secure in her place and knows the challenge has nothing to do with her, so doesn't feel any need to display. Less confident alpha females feel the need to remind the subordinates constantly of who's boss, always nipping at them even when they're not challenging.


So, you can see the difference between 'the shimmies' (fins clamped, not interacting with another fish) and normal pecking-order challenges.

Challenges between males can also look like that. You'll even see fry doing it with each other too, it's actually kind of cute.

Oh, and in the process I also found a clip with the transitional male from the previous post. He turned into a handsome fellow with a yellow-gold sword.

Transition 2
Amazing, thanks. I do have a female molly with 'the simmies', I'm sure she doesn't have TB as I do see her sometimes interacting with other fish, chasing them away like crazy lol.

I've had 4 batches of swordtail fry and I've seen them challenging each other, it is cute, but sometimes real brutal!

My subordinate female challenged the alpha (she lost the battle), my male was still nibbling the alpha during her battle with his tail clamped and his dorsal fin down.

This is one of their most brutal fights ever (sorry, I've uploaded it to my Instagram account):

Sprinkle on Instagram: “Swordtail fight!!”
 

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Yep, that's a serious challenge.

Males seem to like it when the gals fight, it's not unusual for them to jump in and try to mate in the middle of the fray.

Like the article said, males often lower their dorsal fins around females, because females prefer smaller dorsal fins in males. They raise them in challenge to other males, but your male knows by this point that he doesn't have any competition (so he has less need to display it.)

If he's eating normally, swimming around normally, and courting the female, he's feeling fine.

If your molly has the shimmies, you may want to read up on it a bit more (you can Google 'the shimmies' + molly, it's really a thing.) You may need to raise the temperature, pH or hardness to make things better for her.
 
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Oriongal said:
Yep, that's a serious challenge.

Males seem to like it when the gals fight, it's not unusual for them to jump in and try to mate in the middle of the fray.

Like the article said, males often lower their dorsal fins around females, because females prefer smaller dorsal fins in males. They raise them in challenge to other males, but your male knows by this point that he doesn't have any competition (so he has less need to display it.)

If he's eating normally, swimming around normally, and courting the female, he's feeling fine.

If your molly has the shimmies, you may want to read up on it a bit more (you can Google 'the shimmies' + molly, it's really a thing.) You may need to raise the temperature, pH or hardness to make things better for her.
That's funny how the male jumps in.
No matter how much I want swords, I'll never get a second male because of how much they can injure themselves, even causing the weaker male to die.
I love how he courts around the alpha female, how she swims away.

I'll do something with the shimmies. I know it's a real thing.
 
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