The goby Lythrypnus pulchellus is a bi-directional sex changer

  • Sayuri Muñoz-Arroyo
  • Carmen Rodríguez-Jaramillo
  • Eduardo F. BalartEmail author


Sex change in both directions is a novelty reported in some species of fishes belonging to seven families associated to reefs. This study demonstrated that Lythrypnus pulchellus, a small cryptobenthic haremic reef fish, is a bi-directional sex changer, at least in experimental conditions. The influence of body size in duration and direction of sex reversal was tested, and the changes of sexual dimorphic traits (elongated anterior dorsal spine, genital papillae, body size) and sex-cell allocation in the gonad during sex change were described. Unisex pairs of individuals, male-male and female-female of similar and different body size, were housed in aquaria recording the changes until spawning. Sex change duration showed no significant differences between protogyny (11 days) and protandry (12 days), regardless of their size. Among pairs of males of different size, the smaller individual changes sex to female whilst among pairs of females of different size larger individuals change sex to male. Among pairs of males of similar size, dominant individuals remained as male whilst subordinate individual did change sex to female. If the pair of similar size were females, the dominant individual changed sex to male whilst the subordinate remained as female. The gonads, before, throughout, and after sex change, showed that females and males contained both ovarian and testicular tissues in different ratios. The length/width ratio of the genital papilla probed to be useful to predict functional sex of individuals. The results support the idea that extreme sexual plasticity is a widespread reproductive trait in the genus Lythrypnus.


Fishes Bi-directional sex change Sexual plasticity Size-advantage model Sex-cell allocation Gonad structure 



The authors are grateful to two anonymous referees for their valuable comments improving this manuscript; Enrique Calvillo, Jorge Angulo, Mario Cota and Andrés González for assistance in field work at the culture farm. Pablo Monsalvo, Gabriel Robles, Miguel Trujillo García, and Jorge Cobos for helping in fish aquaria maintenance throughout the study; María E. Meza Chávez for assistance in histological analysis; Claudia J. Pérez Estrada for laboratory and photography support and Noemí Bocanegra Castillo for laboratory assistance; Diana Fischer for editorial services in English. This research was partially funded by Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste (CIBNOR) project PEP. Sayuri Muñoz-Arroyo was a recipient of a CONACYT (351061) student fellowship.

Compliance with ethical standards

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for care and use of animals were followed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Fig. S1

Cross-section of gonads of Lythrypnus pulchellus. (a, b) Focal fish that reallocated from male-to-female function; (c, d) focal fish that reallocated from female-to-male function; (e) AGS, accessory gonadal structure with abundant number of spermatozoids. Abbreviations: O, ovary; T, testis; EP, early perinucleolar oocyte; LP, late perinucleolar oocyte; CA, cortical alveoli oocyte; LI, lipid inclusions; MO, mature oocyte; sg, spermatogonia; spt, spermatids; spc1, primary and spc2, secondary spermatocytes; sz, spermatozoa (PNG 3664 kb)

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High resolution image (TIF 56967 kb)
10641_2019_913_Fig11_ESM.png (1.4 mb)
Fig. S2

Gonad structure of male individuals of Lythrypnus pulchellus showing spermatic tissue at the dorsal and ventral poles (a, b, c, d). Abbreviations: G, gut; AGS, accessory gonadal structure; s, spermatic tissue (PNG 1425 kb)

10641_2019_913_MOESM2_ESM.tif (20.5 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 20942 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidad Autónoma de Baja California SurLa PazMexico
  2. 2.Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, S.C. (CIBNOR)La PazMexico

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