A fish out of water: gill and skin remodeling promotes osmo- and ionoregulation in the mangrove killifish Kryptolebias marmoratus

Physiol Biochem Zool. Nov-Dec 2010;83(6):932-49. doi: 10.1086/656307. Epub 2010 Oct 28.


The euryhaline, amphibious mangrove killifish Kryptolebias marmoratus is known to survive weeks out of water in moist environments. We tested the hypothesis that the skin is a site of osmo- and ionoregulation in K. marmoratus. We predicted that under terrestrial conditions, gill and skin remodeling would result in an enhanced role for skin and a diminished role for the gills in osmo- and ionoregulation. Fish were exposed to water-either freshwater (FW, 1‰) or hypersaline water (saltwater [SW], 45‰)-or air over a moist surface of FW or SW for 9 d and then recovered in water. When fish were emersed for 9 d, (22)Na and (3)H-H(2)O were exchanged across the cutaneous surface. Homeostasis of whole-body Cl(-) and water levels but not of Na(+) levels was maintained over 9 d in air. In air-exposed fish, there was a significant increase in the size of skin ionocytes (in SW), a decrease in the number of skin mucous cells (in SW), and an increase in the gill interlamellar cell mass relative to those of fish in water. Gill ionocytes were mostly embedded away from the external surface in air-exposed fish, but the number and size of ionocytes increased (in FW). Interestingly, skin ionocytes formed distinct clusters of 20-30 cells. The estimated number of ionocytes over the whole skin surface was comparable to that in the gills. Overall, the findings support the hypothesis that the skin is a site of osmo- and ionoregulation in K. marmoratus in aquatic and terrestrial environments. Reversible cellular and morphological changes to the skin and gills during air exposure probably enhanced the cutaneous contribution to ion and water balance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air
  • Animals
  • Body Water / physiology
  • Chlorides / metabolism
  • Cyprinodontiformes / anatomy & histology
  • Cyprinodontiformes / physiology*
  • Fresh Water
  • Gills / anatomy & histology
  • Gills / cytology
  • Gills / physiology*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Salinity
  • Skin / anatomy & histology
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Chlorides
  • Sodium