Why the Guppy is not named "Gollmer"!

The discovery story of Poecilia reticulata

Do you know the guppy? Yes?  Do you know Mr. Gollmer? No?
Here you see why this is so!

All started when Julius Gollmer, a pharmacist from Germany, living in Caracas (Venezuela), caught some colorful little fishes in Rio Guayre (near Caracas) at 14/05/1856.

The passion of Gollmer was biology and therefore, in the years 1857-58, he sent some shipments with preparated animals of all kind, living animals and plants to Berlin to the Zoological Museum, the Zoo and the Botanic Garden.

The first delivery was honored with praise and 100 "Reichstaler" (bucks), but the Museum did take fundamentally less notice of the succeeding deliveries. Maybe they found too few highlights in them, or it was  because the institute had to go through a change of the director. (W. Peters succeeded Mr. Liechtenstein who had died in 1857)

So the shipment that included the 61 little fishes from Venezuela was just put to the archives. The contact to Gollmer ended and Gollmer was not happy at all about this development. He eventually died 1861 in Venezuela without ever foreseeing the career his little Poecilids should make in the future.

In 1859  Peters examined the fishes at last and made the first scientific description of them. He named the species as Poecilia reticulata, but surprisingly he only described the females.
The reason for this is still obscure because Gollmer had sent males and females to Germany.

In 1866, Reverend John Lechmere Guppy, a mission on Trinidad, sent some fishes (males and females) to London, where A. GŁnther named the species Giradinus guppyi (not recognizing Peter's earlier description to be the same species). This was therefore the first scientific description of the guppy males.

In the museum collection in Berlin only Gollmer's females were listed as Poecilia reticulata, two of Gollmer's jars that contained also males were registered as Giradinus guppyi, which obviously could only have happened after 1866.

The reason for leaving away the males by Peters is not understandable today. Gollmer was certainly no fish expert, but when catching the animals he should have noticed that the colorful males tried to mate with the females (which is always the case with guppies, even in a bad surrounding). Although he put both sexes in the same jar, a sign that he held them for one species.

The reason for the wrong sorting of the two jars containing both sexes in the collection was perhaps the lack of communication between Berlin and Gollmer. Peters should have known about the sexual dimorphism of Poecilids in 1859, as Heckel has described the two sexes of the green swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri) as early as 1848, but without knowing that these animals are livebearing. This fact was recognized much later when Poecilids were kept in aquaria. (Another contribution from amateur aquarists to the biological science!)

In 1908 there was the first import of living Guppies (as Giradinus guppyi) to Germany by Siggelkow. In the following years the fish itself and the trivial name Guppy and successfully spead worldwide and even survived C.T. Regan's revision of the Genus Poecilidae in 1913 among fanciers. Then both the stocks from Berlin and London were recognized to be the same species and renamed Lebistes reticulatus (Thus acknowledging Peter's description as the first valid one).
The revision of Rosen and Bailey in 1963 made the species name Poecilia reticulata, Peters 1859 valid again, and this is still so today.
So why not breeding some fancy "Gollmer" in your tanks? ;-)


Paepke, H.-J. (1986): Neues zur Entdeckungsgeschichte von Poecilia reticulata. - Aquarien Terrarien Heft 6/86, 192-194.
GŁnther, A. (1866): Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum. -Band 6, London.


Guppy M.