Guppy Designer- The Problem of Names in the Guppy Hobby

By Philip Shaddock

Originally published on the Guppy Designer Website.

I keep running up against the problem of names in the guppy hobby. Names of strains. In their 1971 article on the “Veiltail Moscow,” N. Vasilev and F. Polkanov talk about the true and false Moscow. This debate about the authenticity of a strain is a debate I am very familiar with. Hobbyists will argue for hours about whether a guppy is a Moscow or not. But where is the authority for making a final determination? There is no truly international guppy organization that can adjudicate the authenticity a Moscow phenotype.

New strains of guppies usually come from individuals not organizations. What about the many strains that become popular and widely distributed under names like Grass, Moscow, Mikarif and Cobra Snakeskin?

There is good authority associated with the 1971 Moscow article. One author is a famous breeder of the times and the other is a scientist. But there is a problem. There are no pictures in the article. What if Polkanov and Vasilev are referring to an entirely different genotype that no longer exists? The authors don’t mention the trait that we now consider the defining characteristic of the modern Moscow: the colored head. That’s what makes a Metal Head Snakeskin…well, a Moscow. That’s what makes a Blue Moscow a Moscow rather than a solid blue guppy. Was a blue head a later addition to the strain? A spontaneous mutation? I have a feeling we will never know.

Problems pile on problems. Do you think this is a Moscow?

Stoerzbach White Moscow. Guppy and photo Philip Shaddock

It has no colored head and very little black or blue color. Yet I happen to know it is a Moscow because I developed it using a Blue Hawaiian male and a Stoerzbach Metal White female.

The same problem with nomenclature can be found with the Galaxy guppy. The person who gave the Galaxy its name was the Japanese breeder Hoshiki Tsutsui, who I consider the natural heir to the title “king of the guppy world” after Paul Hahnel. I recently visited his site and looked at a page of his creations and was blown away. His guppy creations were truly original. And his deep knowledge of guppy genetics is reflected in the names he gave his originals, names like “Cedar Iridescens” and “Metalica Top Sword Cinnamomeus,” both of which contain the names of genes Winge gave to guppy patterns in his Eighteen Genes paper in 1927. There is another page of a huge number of very old guppy books. Tsutsui did his research and used his knowledge to create extraordinary guppy phenotypes. Alas, the king is dead. Tsutsui died from a stroke several years ago.

About six years ago I was in correspondence with him about the origins of the Galaxy. But it was difficult because his English was bad and my Japanese was non-existent. I never got a chance to further question him about the origins of the Galaxy guppy after that initial contact.

Tsutsui told me that the Galaxy was a combination of the snakeskin and platinum genes. He said that there was another very similar phenotype called the “Medusa” that was created in Japan. The color in the caudal fin was different.

Here is a picture of a Medusa provided to me by Karen Koomans.

Red Medusa. Karen Koomans

And another one provided to me by Nico Roselli.

This is a guppy bred by Nico Roselli’s friend Laura.

It looks to me like the major difference between a Medusa and Galaxy is the presence of red color in the caudal.

The key to the Galaxy, Tsutsui told me, was that it combines the snakeskin and platinum genes on the Y chromosome. This must be the defining characteristic and the actual visual outcome of this combination must be somewhat variable, given there can be other genes present that modify the phenotype.

For the past several years I have been trying to recreate the Galaxy using Tsutsui’s forumula. And I think I have finally done it. But wait. Is it really a Galaxy? Before I show you my “reverse engineered” Galaxy, I need to first show you the phenotype I have been trying to recreate. I did some research.

I looked throughout the Tsutsui site and only found one guppy picture labeled with the term “Galaxy.” It was a cross between a Galaxy and a Grass Guppy. He called it a Blue Galaxy Grass.

Tsutsui’s Blue Galaxy Grass

Obviously the Blue Galaxy Grass is complicated by the fact it has a Grass gene mixed in. So I will go to the best secondary evidence I have. It is a picture sent to me by Luke Roebuck of a Japanese Blue Grass.

Galaxy Blue Grass. Picture by Luke Roebuck

I had this strain in 2002 and created a Moscow variant from a cross with it.

And there is a white version of this strain. It was developed by my friend Uwe Bergman, who got the Blue Galaxy strain from Luke.

 White Galaxy. Guppy and picture by Uwe Bergmann

Uwe’s version is similar to Tsutsui’s white variant.

Luke got the original strain from Japan. So I am reasonably sure that the Galaxy pictures above can act as a reliable guide to the Tsutsui Galaxy. But how can I be 100% sure?

What are the common features of the three different pictures?

More Metallic Pattern

Certainly the pattern has larger and thicker background iridophore color, especially in the dorsal and caudal fins. In Uwe’s case it is white platinum and Luke’s case it is blue platinum. The would make intuitive sense if the snakeskin were a combination of snakeskin and platinum genes. The platinum gene would enhance the iridophore portion of the pattern.

Vertical Bands in the Peduncle

In all three guppies there is a distinct vertical orientation to the snakeskin pattern. I have seen guppies without the vertical bands called Galaxies, and I have seen guppies with vertical bands in the peduncle called “cobras.” This is obviously a blurred boundary between very similar phenotypes. Robert Gall, the knowledgeable guppy breeder in Europe who has created European Galaxy phenotypes, does not consider the vertical bands to be part of the Galaxy definition.It’s optional.

Bandit Markings

Finally there is a large blue area in the front of the body, the so-called bandit markings. This is not as obvious in the case of Uwe’s variant. So the bandit markings may actually vary quite a bit. How big does the bandit marking have to be before it is considered to be a Galaxy trademark? Is it in fact essential to a definition of the Galaxy? Tsutsui’s galaxy has the bandit markings. So do most of the European Galaxies I have seen.

Genotype

This is the key characteristic. The Galaxy has a platinum gene on the Y chromosome and a lace snakeskin gene on the Y chromosome. some German breeders do not think it is necessary for the platinum and snakeskin genes to be on the same chromosome. It’s certainly possible that there was poor communication between Tsutsui and me regarding the necessity for the two genes to be on the same chromosome.

Both think the requirement is that male be Y-linked Schimmelpfennig Platinum and X-linked lace snakeskin.

In his posting on the DGV forum ([url]http://www.dgv-forum.de/t1469f17-Guppydesigner-Blog-1.html#msg9795[/url]) one breeder talks about a European Galaxy, particularly those that are roundtails. I don’t have his permission to post the pictures he uses to illustrate the European Galaxy, so visit the thread on the DGV forum to see what a European Galaxy looks like. It may be the case that the European Galaxy has the same genotype as the Tsutsui Galaxy.

Galaxy Phenotypes

Are there other variants of the Galaxy?

One of my early attempts to reproduce the Galaxy phenotype was to cross a Yellow Cobra Snakeskin with what was called an Albino Yellow “Full Platinum” guppy. The so-called Full Platinum looked like this:

Albino Yellow Full Platinum. Philip Shaddock But the name is wrong!

A prominent German breeder, genetics enthusiast and longtime hobbyist wrote me an email and said this is not a platinum!

Names again! The strain is called a “Full Platinum” by guppy sellers, I suppose because of the metallic sheen you see on the above guppy. But I agree with him that it has a confusing name. It is not the same platinum as found in the European Schimmelpfennig Platinum Sword.

Schimmelpfennig Platinum Sword.

This guppy bears a superficial resemblance to the so-called Asian Full Platinums, with its yellow metallic color. But I have discovered that the so-called Asian Full Platinum cannot be used to create a Galaxy. I crossed the Asian Full Platinum with a Yellow Cobra Snakeskin.

The Yellow Cobra Snakeskin looked like this.

Bader-style Yellow Cobra Snakeskin

The Asian Full Platinum, as the German breeder has pointed out, is composed largely of leucophores, which he calls guanophores. Leucophores is the contemporary scientific terms of choice. So the Asian Full Platinums are more properly described as Leucophores, and that is what I am going to call them henceforth. I will be changing the name in all my published work.

What about the metallic yellow sheen on the Leucophores, seen in the above picture? My crossing experiments have yielded up an interesting find. The yellow metallic color is due to a gene I call Metallic Gold. I created Full Golds with it. I will leave the full story of the Full Gold and Gold Metallic gene for another time.

Back to naming the Galaxy…

The Yellow Cobra Snakeskin traces back to Rick Grigsby, an American breeder. Now I want you to look at the snakeskin and compare it to the Galaxy phenotypes I have previously shown. I think this guppy has a certain amount of resemblance to a Galaxy. It has the vertical bars in the peduncle, a spot in the front the body that appears to be yellow instead of blue, and a lot of yellow platinum. I do not know the genotype other than knowing that it is X-linked snakeskin. Take a look at a similar phenotype found in Europe:

Doublesword  Snakeskin. Photo by Finn Bindeballe from the Dansk Guppy Club, fall 2007

This is essentially the same phenotype, with more obvious bandit markings in the front of the body. Is it a snakeskin or a Galaxy? I rather suspect that the phenotype would be called snakeskin or cobra snakeskin. See how difficult it is to apply any rules about a strain name?

I suspect that the yellow metallic color you see in this strain might be an allele of the Schimmelpfennig Platinum that was used to create the original Galaxies. It is a speculation worth exploring. The irony is that in trying to recreate the Galaxy with the Yellow Cobra Snakeskin I may have been using an alternate form of the Galaxy… But as I said, this requires further exploration.

In any event the Yellow Cobra cross to the Leucophores was a bust. It produced not Galaxies. But it was worth the effort because I finally broke the code for Asian Leucophores.

I am not sure that Karen’s Medusa is actually a Medusa. Nico’s Medusa does seem closer to the phenotype. My problem is that I have seen a lot of guppies at different places on the net labelled “Galaxy” or “Medusa.” Most have two or three of these characteristics. But few have all four. The fourth requirement, genotype, is the most important criteria, but it is rarely provided by the breeder, because most people do not investigate the actual genotype of their guppy.

What about this phenotype:

It looks somewhat like a Galaxy, but it is not. It is a cross between a Stoerzbach Moscow and the same Yellow Cobra Snakeskin see above.

In actual fact there is a whole range of crosses between snakeskins and other strains that might look vaguely like the original Tsutsui strain. Take a look at the Santa Maria guppy.

Picture of Santa Maria provided to me by Yours Young.

The Santa Maria appears to be a Galaxy, when you check it against the criteria. But Tsutsui in his classification system tells us it is not. That is a story I will also leave for another time.

I want to thank the German breeders for their comments on the DGV forum. The name “Full Platinum” used by guppy sellers led me down the wrong path. I am certainly going to follow their advice and try that particular combination, a Y-linked Schimmlepfennig Sword and a lace snakeskin female.I have been in touch with Luke Roebuck who is sending me an X-linked German lace line from Gernot Kaden. I am confident it will produce a Galaxy. So I am certainly drawn to the conclusion that the Galaxy phenotype is the result of two very specific platinum and swordtail genes.

His email actually nails home the point I wanted to make in this blog. The only way to truly authenticate a strain is by its genotype. If your strain descended from a Moscow, no matter what it looks like now, it is a Moscow, because the Moscow gene is strictly Y-linked.

We know that Tsutsui used a Y-linked  Schimmelpfennig Platinum guppy and an X-linked lace snakeskin for his original cross. The German’s experimental crosses seem to have borne that out.