Multiple pigment cell types contribute to the black, blue, and orange ornaments of male guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 22;9(1):e85647. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085647. eCollection 2014.


The fitness of male guppies (Poecilia reticulata) highly depends on the size and number of their black, blue, and orange ornaments. Recently, progress has been made regarding the genetic mechanisms underlying male guppy pigment pattern formation, but we still know little about the pigment cell organization within these ornaments. Here, we investigate the pigment cell distribution within the black, blue, and orange trunk spots and selected fin color patterns of guppy males from three genetically divergent strains using transmission electron microscopy. We identified three types of pigment cells and found that at least two of these contribute to each color trait. Further, two pigment cell layers, one in the dermis and the other in the hypodermis, contribute to each trunk spot. The pigment cell organization within the black and orange trunk spots was similar between strains. The presence of iridophores in each of the investigated color traits is consistent with a key role for this pigment cell type in guppy color pattern formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Fins / cytology
  • Animal Fins / physiology
  • Animal Fins / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Chromatophores / cytology
  • Chromatophores / physiology*
  • Chromatophores / ultrastructure
  • Color*
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / physiology
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Melanophores / cytology
  • Melanophores / physiology
  • Melanophores / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Phenotype
  • Poecilia / classification
  • Poecilia / genetics
  • Poecilia / physiology*
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology*

Grant support

This work was supported by a Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Award of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and funds from the Max Planck Society to DW. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.