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Artigos - Poecilia ( Acanthophacelus ) wingei, uma verdadeira jóia das Caraíbas

Articles - Poecilia ( Acanthophacelus ) wingei, a true Caribbean gem

















Poecilia ( Acanthophacelus ) wingei, a true Caribbean gem

By Dr. Fred N. Poeser and Michael Kempkes - published at this website in July 2006

                                 Fred Poeser

Michael Kempkes

Ever since the American scientist and guppy specialist Dr John Endler found a new Guppy in Venezuela, in 1975, hobbyists all over the world were bewildered.

A little surf tour on the Internet ( Google: search for “ Endler’s Guppy ” ) will confirm this statement, a lot of people love this Guppy ! 

But after the first amazement, curiosity drops in: is this pretty little fish a separate species or is it “ just ” one of the many varieties of the Common Guppy ? 

If it were a species, that would be amazing. Since its official description, the Guppy, Poecilia reticulata Peters, 1859, has been examined and re-described many times ( most famously as Girardinus guppyi by Dr Günther in 1866, hence the name “ Guppy ” ), but nobody actually found proof to distinguish any of the forms as a new species.

If Endler’s Guppy was a new species, this would be the first time after little less than 150 years !

The popularity of Endler’s Guppy is easily understood. It is kept and breeds as easy as the Common Guppy, but it shines like a jewel in the aquarium. 

Like it’s more common relative it is many coloured, but all its colours are metallic. 

The widespread red variety is beautiful, with its “ characteristic ” black comma centrally on its body and its double sword. 

It is obvious that this little fish is not that long in our hobby tanks, but the size is getting larger and larger, males of at least three centimetres are not uncommon anymore. There is a chance, however, that these larger fish are not true breeds anymore, in a lot of known strains hybrids with the Common Guppy are suspected. Contrary to what is sometimes reported, these two forms interbreed very well, we have bred “ blond ” Endler’s Guppies from blond Common Guppies, and Michael also produced albino’s that way. 

The genetics of these basic colours is autosomale and recessive, as normal, and these hybrids have no significance whatsoever, unlike the hybrids in Mollies and Xipho’s.

The possibility that Endler’s Guppy might be a new species has interested several scientists for a long time. 

Many fieldtrip was made to Cumaná, the original collection site in Venezuela, were Dr Endler found these pretty fishes. But every attempt, time after time, resulted in the same score: this fish IS different, but how different and then again: different from what ? 

The Common Guppy is hugely variable, so another variety only meant extension of the known range of colours and beauty of the Guppy. 

How can another variety be a completely new species? After hearing that all other scientists had failed to describe Endler’s Guppy as a new species, Fred also gave it a try. 

Work at a university has its benefits and he could request for a number of collections of Guppies, just to get to know the extent of the natural variation of them. 

And, behold ! He coincidently stumbled unto a population that was very much like Endler’s Guppy, but not from Cumaná. 

More than just a little bit excited he emailed Dr Endler about his find, but the reply was a bit of a disappointment. Because it was not from Cumaná, the answer was, it could not be Endler’s Guppy. Fred didn’t want to leave it at that, but learned that one of his colleagues in Brazil was also working on the case at that time, so all Fred could do was sit tight and hope the Brazilian scientist would crack the case. 

Well, to cut a long story short, no new species from Brazil was described.

In the mean time, Michael visited the university and what he said was remarkable simple, but unheard of for a museum biologist like Fred. If the dead fish don’t give you clues, maybe the life fish would ! 

He suggested that there maybe behavioural indication for a definite difference between the Common Guppy and Endler’s Guppy. The idea was more than just appealing, it was brilliant. We immediately agreed to buy tickets for Venezuela and have a look for ourselves. It was the launch of a beautiful adventure !

On our way to Venezuela, in the airplane, the idea rose that we shouldn’t head for Cumaná at all; so many others have tried and as many have failed. 

And to be sure, these were not the least scientists that have tried. The first thing that we did, after landing on Isla de Margarita ( after inspect the island for beer… ) was to study the map carefully and we decided to check out the mainland that was actually next to island. 

There, as Internet rumours had it and were Fred found his little pot of gold ( although John Endler denied it being “ his ” Guppy ), they would look for Guppies in a small marshland that was drawn on the map.

Soon after our landing on the mainland ( after a memorable boot trip: we passed the small strip of sea in a small ferry with motor troubles and a stability that made clear that we could sink every instance ), lady Luck started to smile on us. Not only could we rent a car for about half the price the Lonely Planet made us belief, but it came with a driver too!

And, what’s more, this friendly driver, mister Luis Palacio, spend his whole life in the region and could take us to places we would never have found if we were to drive ourselves.

And, believe it or not, he also had an uncanny talent to bring us to just the right spots. 

For starters, he brought us to a nice, clear stream between two lagoons and we could see thousands of little fish, just waiting for us to scoop them up. 

It was no effort at all to dig for gold… to find the impossible… to win the lottery of lotteries… BINGO !

We’ve done it !

Endler’s Guppies, proving Mr Endler himself wrong !

Hundreds of kilometres from the legendary city of Cumaná, we found ( what would prove to be ) millions of Endler’s Guppies.

The poor Luis didn’t know what happened : two idiotic Europeans, dancing and shouting as if they won the Football World Cup ( Dutchman and a German, how was that possible ? ), just because they caught some tiny, nearly invisible little fishes. 

Little fish that were swimming there by the millions, so for Luis there was absolutely nothing special about them. 

In the region, broadly about 50 by 100 kilometres wide, we nearly couldn’t catch anything else but Endler’s Guppies : in every clear stream, all the muddy drainage canals, all ditches along the road, brackish lagoons, everywhere but in the freshly puddles of rainwater.

This article author’s found the species living on biotopes like this.

It took us a couple of days to find out the exact range for this little fish. When we were north of the mountain range, we found our fish, every trip over that range resulted in Common Guppies. The whole Campoma region was swarmed by this fish, just over the hills in the Orinoco drainage… only Common Guppies.

What was new for us was that this Guppy was as variegated as the Common Guppy. 

No, we lie: it is far more variable than the Common Guppy.

Not only have we found the beauties with the “ Endler comma ”, there were also the “ normal ” spotted Guppies, or completely green ones, or completely yellow ( which made them golden, because all colours were metallic, always ). 

The tail fin could be normal, but could have bottom swords, or top sword, or double swords. 

Dorsal fins had colours or were without, gonopodia could be black or not. There was no end to the variation, except that all colours were metallic ! 

Just exquisite. 

Even the female had this metallic sheen over their bodies.

After only three days, an important detail became apparent. 

The “ Endler comma ” was only found in the Campoma lagoon and it surroundings, the normal spotted variety was found in the region near the city of Carúpano.

Therefore, the populations bordering the area were the Common Guppy resided were very differently pigmented ( because of the comma ), whereas the populations far away from the Common Guppy resembled them the most : normal spots and patterns ( but metallic ).

Campoma region captured Poecilia wingei male.

This phenomenon is known in biology as character displacement : two populations of related species resemble each other in the area were they do not co-occur, but tend to be different in areas were they possibly do co-occur. 

This was our proof !

This mechanism only occurs between two species, therefore, the Campoma Guppy had to be a different species ! 

We cracked the riddle, we solved the code…

It took us some time since, but we finally officially described “ our ” Guppy ( together with Dr Isaäc Isbrücker from the University of Amsterdam ) as Poecilia wingei Poeser, Kempkes & Isbrücker, 2005.

Carúpano region captured Poecilia wingei male.

We named it after Dr Øjvind Winge, a Danish geneticist that, although a founding father of modern gene-technology, is strangely anonymous to most people.

Moreover, he has done pioneering work on Guppy genetics and inspired Michael and Fred enormously in their efforts to “understand the Guppy”. 

Together with the Common Guppy, the Campoma Guppy represents the subgenus Acanthophacelus Eigenmann, 1907.

After 146 years, the Guppy is not alone in taxonomy anymore.

As stated, we found our Guppy in all possible biotopes in the Campoma region. 

At one of these localities, Aguas des Moises, we found ourselves in a true little paradise. 

The Guppies swam in the clearest possible water, in a tranquil stream surrounded by shadow-rich trees. 

The stream was also the home of shoals of characids ( the aggressive kind as Michael found out when he wanted to observe the Guppies from close by ) and some groups of cichlids, notably Crenicichla and Cichlasoma

The zoo was completed by some freshwater crabs that wandered around the bottom, by the many birds that surrounded us, by the passing reptiles and we were even visited by a small Tarantula. 

The clear blue sky and the lovely Venezuelan climate all added to the feeling of Heaven that the two Guppy-loving investigators were experiencing.

Another environment and field work examples with the authors in action.

Luis has dropped us there in the morning and we would return to our pension late in the afternoon. 

A full day to have this little Garden of Eden all for ourselves. And all this for the sake of science. It’s a lousy job, but somebody got to do it…

And if this was not enough, it turned out to be another “ bull’s eye event ”.

Michael was right from the start, there were many behavioural differences to note, and especially the differences in territorial and courtship behaviours were most obvious. In contrast to P. reticulata, in which males are constantly trying to inseminate females ( whether these females like it or not ), P. wingei really spend time with their (… group of…) female(s). 

Males never strayed far from their harem and could spend minutes courting a single female without being distracted from her by, possible more receptive or more attractive, other females. On top of that, we never observed single males trying to “ steal away ” females that were already courted by a male. 

There was absolutely no competition between the males, which could of course account for the easy going courtship behaviour. 

The whole day, we haven’t seen a single attempt for a sneak copulation ( when a female wasn’t cooperating, the male simply stopped courting her and tried his luck with another female ). And as true as they were to their mates, as true they were to their territory. 

Several small groups of individuals occupied a small part of the river, from which they sometimes wandered of, but where they always returned to.

At the end of the day, we suddenly observed something odd. 

As said, the stream was also occupied by small groups of cichlids, making the Guppies stay in the relatively save shallow waters, while the predators were ( apparently waiting ) in the deeper waters. 

Amazingly, all of a sudden, a group of Campoma Guppy left the shallow waters and began to swim in the deeper waters, seemingly ignoring the cichlids. 

What was more amazing, the cichlids also ignored the Guppies. 

After a nice “ stroll ” amongst the deeper and dangerous waters, the group returned to their save river banks. 

Why have they done such a thing? Why leave the save environments and risk being eaten alive ? 

Why didn’t any of the predators even seem to consider an easy snack ( the characids didn’t hesitate earlier when Michael went into the water… ) ?

This beautiful Caribbean story could go on and on forever, but alas… parties weren’t meant to last. 

So, also this trip had to end sometime and, even more unfortunately, we weren’t able to take some of the ( living ) gems with us. 

It would have been memorable to take some of the “ other ” varieties with us ( although it is impossible to take the whole range of colours and shades with us, infinite is a large number ! ). 

So, for the time being, it’s mostly the red Guppies with the large comma that are present in our aquaria, but… there is hope !

Fred visited the Antwerp zoo a while ago and in an aquarium labelled “ wild Guppies ” he saw the “ normally spotted ” Carúpano variety, just swimming around. 

Yes, these were another variety of the extremely beautiful fish he had seen in Venezuela… 

Instantly, he was back in Venezuela, amidst lagoons with millions of Flamingos, swooping pelicans, and the millions and millions of specimens of Poecilia ( Acanthophacelus ) wingei, formerly Endler’s Guppy but now known as the Campoma Guppy.

Typical ecosystem from that region of Venezuela.

Editor notes : I couldn’t let this opportunity goes by, without express my public gratitude to Dr. Fred N. Poeser by his philanthropic authorization that allow me to present my readers with the Portuguese translation as well as the enclosed images for both versions.

Besides a prominent scientist, he have reveal to be an fantastic personality, letting me the impression of a very kind person and a extremely cooperative partner, who even surprised me with an unexpected help while correcting a few mistakes as well as some scientific imprecision on this website.

It would be unreasonable if I forgot also a few words expressing my consideration about the excellent contribution of Michael Kempkes to this work, as well as my thoughtfulness to Dr. Isaäc Isbrücker from Amesterdam University by his essential contribution on this new species scientific description, with both authors of this paper.

For those who wish to go further on this subject matter I do encourage you a reading on the below bibliography :

Poeser, FN, M Kempkes, and IJH Isbrücker, 2005. Description of Poecilia ( Acanthophacelus ) wingei n. sp. from the Paría Peninsula, Venezuela, including notes on Acanthophacelus Eigenmann, 1907 and other subgenera of Poecilia Bloch and Schneider, 1808 ( Teleostei, Cyprinodontiformes, Poeciliidae ).

Contributions to Zoology 74: 97–115.

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