Aquarium update 2: the personalities of the platies

Four days on and all five platies are still alive. I spent about an hour yesterday trying to photograph them. It’s a HUGE pain in the rear. Both the iPhone and the Coolpix have 0.5-1.0 second delays while they autofocus, which is necessary because the fish are always moving through the depth of field, but it also means that I can only get a clean shot when (1) a fish decides to stay put for a whole second, which is rare, or (2) I just get lucky and one of the fish happens to pause when the camera fires. I did get a few keepers, but man, it took throwing out a lot of duds. The ones you see here are radically cropped and otherwise tweaked.

London and I gave them names today.


The green one is a wag – a platy with darker fins than body – so we named her Wagatha. She is so far the smartest. She is always the first to figure out when we’ve put food in the tank, for example, and the other fish tend to follow her lead. But she is much less gregarious than the others – they seek out her company, but not vice versa.


The orange ones are two males and two females, each with one larger and one smaller example. The big male is a bully – he chases off the smaller male, shamelessly courts the big gold female, and staunchly ignores the green female and the small orange female. We named him Chad in honor of his frat-boy antics.

The big orange female is very gravid – we’ll have fry soon, I reckon a week at most – and just wants to be left in peace. She tries to get off on her own, but she’s not as well camouflaged as the green female, and both males are constantly seeking her company, so it’s a challenge. Sometimes she gets five minutes’ peace hiding behind a root or plant. We named her Spot, because of the single black scale in front of her tail on either side.


The small male is kind of pathetic. He just wants to hang out with either of the two larger females, but neither of them will tolerate his company. And because they’re bigger, they can out-swim him or chase him off. His name is Miss Chanandler Bong.

You can see in this photo the gonopodium that lets us recognize the males – it’s the backwards-pointing tube behind the pelvic fins, where females have a broad anal fin. The gonopodium is in fact the anal fin, modified into a sperm-delivery device. I’ve been intrigued to see that the males still use their gonopodia when changing directions, flipping them out sideways to help make turns. It’s really cool that the gonopodium has acquired a new function delivering sperm, without completely losing its old function of helping the fish maneuver.


The small orange female has shown the least inclination for anything in particular. She seems to be content to school with the others, without trying to intrude on anyone or get away by herself. Sometimes she ends up alone when everyone else is off doing other things, and she seems fine with that. She’s the smallest of the lot and probably the youngest, so this may be juvenile behavior. We named her Pearl.


The mystery snail is Butterball. Not much to say about it – it roams, it eats. It was gone all day yesterday. Apparently it got lost inside the big artificial root decoration in the center of the tank, which is hollow. But it was back today.

Watching all of these behaviors is for me about 90% of the fun of keeping fish. And every time new fish go in the tank, the social order gets stirred and new behavior patterns emerge. We won’t add any more for a few weeks, to let the nitrogen cycle settle down, but I’m already curious about the new behaviors we’ll see.

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5 Responses to Aquarium update 2: the personalities of the platies

  1. Andy Farke says:

    Platies are awesome! Congrats on the revived tank setup…a good freshwater fishtank is a pretty indispensable furnishing IMO. We’ve had our tank for probably close to 6 years, and it has brought endless hours of entertainment and relaxation.

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    Pretty good photos, despite your disclaimer!

    On that — my immediate thought was that you should try photographing from further away, zoomed in, to get a deeper field of focus. You have the tripod that is man enough for the job, to avoid the long-distance-zoom shake, so it might work well. Or it might not.

    LLOL at “Miss Chanandler Bong”.

  3. Matt Wedel says:

    Thanks, guys. Andy, I’m a doofus. I should have waited until you did a partial water change, then asked if I could have the old water. That would have kick-started my tank’s nitrogen cycle. Your tank has been running well for a long time, and I haven’t kept a tank in about a decade. Any pointers? How often do you do partial water changes?

    Mike, that’s a good suggestion about the tripod and depth of field. Who knows, maybe tropical fish photography is my next frontier.

  4. Mike Taylor says:

    Not a bad idea. Given how many people found this tutorial helpful, it might be a big hit. (Side-quest: we need to do SV-POW! tutorials on getting orthogonal shots from ground-level, anaglyphable pairs, and more.)

  5. Andy Farke says:

    I do partial changes every 1-2 weeks (weekly when possible, usually about 20% of the water). This is also when I do an algae scrape on the sides of the glass, etc…there are times when I might go a little longer than intended, but in general I’ve gotten into the habit of the weekly schedule. It also helps that I am brewing regularly–I save 4-5 gallons of my outflow from my heat exchange coil and recycle it into the fishtank (it’s tapwater that would otherwise be going down the drain, and I can’t stand wasting water in SoCal).

    I once read that many fish photographers will slide a piece of large piece of glass into the aquarium, to constrain a fish into a lateral view. Not sure if this is still accepted practice now that camera lenses are a bit better…I would suspect it would stress the fish to some extent.

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