Round-bodied and laterally compressed, under normal conditions M. argenteus is a uniform silver colour, sometimes showing vague red colouration in the fins and around the throat. Commonly seen for sale as juveniles at around two inches long, they are peaceful shoalers. Fully grown females in captivity can reach a length of between five and six inches while males tend to be marginally smaller. In good condition, females tend to be fuller in the belly than males, while males develop marginally longer fins as they grow older. During courtship and breeding, males develop two large, very prominent black spots, one above the other, just behind the base of the pectoral fins, the red colouration of the fins deepens and contrasting black borders appear. Some male specimens may also display other dark marbling on the flanks. Females display little, if any, variation in colour during courtship and breeding.
A very peaceful shoaling species, M. argenteus can be skittish and timid if left without any kind of shelter, and if kept in isolation they tend to become reclusive. Kept in a shoal, given plenty of room to move and provided with cover behind which they can hide if they feel threatened, they do very well indeed. Contrary to popular myth they are not overly demanding with regard to water quality, though they do best in warm, clear, well-aerated, mobile and well-filtered water. They are peaceful enough to be trusted with much smaller fish than themselves, and robust enough to cope in the company of much larger fish.