Calcium mobilization from internal stores, such as scales, induced by 17beta-estradiol during sexual maturation in salmonids is well documented. This calcium mobilization from scales is proposed to be mediated by the estrogen receptor (ER). However, the ER subtypes involved and signaling mechanisms responsible for this effect remain to be fully characterized. In the present study, we have localized ERalpha, ERbetaa and ERbetab proteins in juvenile and adult sea bream (Sparus auratus) and Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) scales by immunohistochemistry with sea bream ER subtype specific antibodies. The three ERs were detected in isolated or small groups of round cells, in the basal layer of the scales of both juvenile and adult fish and the localization and signal intensity varied with the species and age of the animals. The ERs may be co-localized in cells of the scale posterior region that expressed tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP), a marker for osteoclasts. These results suggest that the calcium mobilizing action of 17beta-estradiol on fish scales is via its direct action on ERs localized in osteoclasts.