Variation in color of male guppies

BSC 1005: Color Variation in Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

What selection pressure causes the variation in color pattern of male guppies?


Introduction. Guppies ( Poecilia reticulata) exhibit a complex color pattern polymorphism, in which males display a variety of colors and color patterns (Endler 1980). Guppies are native to the mountain forest streams of northeastern Venezuela, Margarita, Trinidad and Tobago (Endler 1978). Male color patterns are so different in these natural populations that no two males are alike. The color patterns consist of a mosaic of spots or patches varying in color, size, position and reflectivity (Figure 1). The patterns range from bright and conspicuous to more subtle and cryptic (inconspicuous). These patterns are controlled by genes on both the X and Y chromosome, and are only expressed in males.


Figure 1. Variation in guppy male color pattern (left and right columns). Center column shows females.

An image of a collage of fishes with variation in guppy male color pattern (left and right columns). Center column shows females

Photo: Kimberly Hughes


The Task. Use the data in the following tables to search for characteristics in the habitat and other selective pressures that might promote differences in male color pattern.



Table 2.1. Information About the Pools Where the Venezuelan Guppies Were Found





  1 2 3 4



(at a bend in the stream)


(above a natural rock dam)


(at a bend in the stream)


(above a 6 ft. waterfall)


Pool location (see Figure 2.3)


50 m upstream from the river


100 m upstream from the river


150 m upstream from the river


200 m upstream from the river

Turbidity of water (NTU) Ranges between

27.50 and 36.25

Ranges between

8.75 and 27.50

Ranges between

3.00 and 8.75

Ranges between

3.00 and 8.75

Predatory fish in the pool (total)  








Cichlids 12 0 0 0
Rivulus 6 10 6 0
Acara 10 4 0 0
Guppies found in the pool (total)  








Bright males 5 50 76 108
Drab males 41 19 10 5
Bright females 0 0 0 0
Drab females 56 96 101 118


Note: Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a !uid. Nephelometric turbidity unit (NTU) range in value from 0 (completely clear) to 50 (no light passes through the !uid).


Guppy Behavior and Female Preference Data Sheet

Overview: Guppy Mating System

· Prior to mating, males display to females using a sigmoid display. Females observe males then can select a male to mate with using a glide motion.

· There is very little male-male aggression.


Table 3. Factors Affecting Female Mate Preference


Effect on Female Preference

Orange spots

In general, when given a choice between males with dull, small orange spots or bright, big orange spots, females preferred to mate with males with big, bright orange spots.

Male boldness towards predators

When predators are present, male guppies may move toward them to inspect them.

Females prefer males who move towards predators to inspect them (i.e. males who are more bold), because they may be more informed about the predators in their habitat.


When given a choice between males they have interacted with before, and novel (new) males they have never seen, females chose to mate with novel males.


Table 4. Fema le Preference for Bright Males

Pool Female Preference for Bright Males
1 2
2 4
3 7
4 9

(scale 1-10: 10 = very strong preference)

References: Breden & Stoner (1987); Houde & Endler (1990); Godin & Dugatkin (1996)


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