Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Poecilia latipinna
(sailfin molly)



Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly)


  • Last modified
  • 06 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Poecilia latipinna
  • Preferred Common Name
  • sailfin molly
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The sailfin molly, P. latipinna, is a small popular ornamental fish that occurs as an introduced species in the aquatic habitats of at least 15 countries. P. latipinna has successfully colonized aqua...

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Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.
CaptionPoecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.
Copyright©Mark Maddern
Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.
MalePoecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.©Mark Maddern
Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, 65mm in length.
CaptionPoecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, 65mm in length.
Copyright©Mark Maddern
Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, 65mm in length.
MalePoecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, 65mm in length.©Mark Maddern
Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.
CaptionPoecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.
Copyright©Mark Maddern
Poecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.
MalePoecilia latipinna (sailfin molly); male, captive specimen.©Mark Maddern


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Poecilia latipinna Lesueur

Preferred Common Name

  • sailfin molly

Other Scientific Names

  • Limia matamorensis Girard
  • Limia poeciloides Girard
  • Mollienesia latipinna Lesueur
  • Poecilia lineolata Girard
  • Poecilia multilineata Lesueur

International Common Names

  • French: molliénésie á voilure

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: lebiste
  • Denmark: lille sejlfinnefisk; lille sejlfinnemolly
  • Finland: leveäevämolli
  • Germany: Breitflossenkärpfling
  • Mexico: topote velo negro
  • Philippines: bubuntis
  • Poland: molinezja szerokopletwa
  • USA/Hawaii: tabai

Summary of Invasiveness

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The sailfin molly, P. latipinna, is a small popular ornamental fish that occurs as an introduced species in the aquatic habitats of at least 15 countries. P. latipinna has successfully colonized aquatic and estuarine habitats because of wide environmental tolerances, the ability to colonize anthropogenically disturbed habitats, trophic opportunism, fast growth rates and the ability to give birth to live offspring. Of particular note is that P. latipinna naturally occurs over a wide subtropical and temperate latitudinal range and therefore may be more cold tolerant than other invasive tropical ornamental fishes. Furthermore, P. latipinna is euryhaline and tolerant of freshwater to salinities much higher than seawater. Research conducted in two states in the USA suggests that deleterious environmental impacts have been observed following the introduction of P. latipinna. Ecological impacts upon endemic fish fauna may include resource competition and alteration of aquatic biodiversity/foodwebs.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Cyprinodontiformes
  •                         Family: Poeciliidae
  •                             Genus: Poecilia
  •                                 Species: Poecilia latipinna

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The species was first described as Mollienesia latipinna by Lesueur in 1821 and was reclassified as P. latipinna by Rosen and Bailey who published the first systematic monograph of the family Poeciliidae. These authors noted the priority of Poecilia and relegated Mollienesia to the synonymy of the former genus.

Wild fish exhibit variable patterning and colouration, however in captivity mollies readily interbreed and many ornamental fishes are hybrids of different Poecilia species (including P. latipinna, P. mexicana, P. sphenops and P. velifera). Hybrids of P. latipinna X P. velifera are heavily melanistic or black. These, along with a number of hybrids with multiple species, are collectively known as black mollies (USGS NAS, 2014).

P. latipinna is universally referred to as the sailfin molly in English ornamental fish literature.


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The body of P. latipinna is oblong and the head is dorsally flattened with a small superior mouth. The caudal peduncle is deep, typically almost as deep as the body and the caudal fin is large and rounded. The dorsal fin is greatly enlarged in mature males but not all males display the enlarged dorsal fin (Dawes, 1995). The species has many rows of very fine teeth (Robins, 2014). Male fish possess a gonopodium which is a modified anal fin utilised as a copulatory organ.

Variations in colour and patterning are common in both wild populations and ornamental varieties. Mollies readily interbreed in captivity and many ornamental fishes are hybrids of different Poecilia species (including P. latipinna, P. mexicana, P. sphenops, and P. velifera) (USGS NAS, 2014). In wild populations the body is generally light gray/olive, although large breeding males may be greenish-blue. Up to five rows of brown spots occur along the sides and spots are also observed in the dorsal and caudal fins. These spots may blend together or are very close to one another, creating an appearance of stripes. Much variation occurs naturally in wild populations with semi-melanistic forms observed (Page and Burr, 1991; Robins, 2014). P. latipinna has been selectively bred into many different colour morphs for the ornamental aquarium trade. These include fish that are predominantly yellow, orange, albino (white) or melanic/speckled. Varieties that possess a modified caudal fin with elongate upper and lower fin rays known as lyretail have also been bred (Dawes, 1995; Kempkes and Schäfer, 1998). An extensive library of images of P. latipinna from wild populations and ornamental varieties (colour morphs, lyretail and sailfin strains and P. latipinna hybrids) may be viewed in Kempkes and Schäfer (1998).

Distinguishing characteristics of P. latipinna can be found in Miller (1983) and Page and Burr (1991). The origin of the dorsal fin is positioned over or in advance of pelvic fin insertion. The dorsal fin has 12 or 13 to 16 rays. There are 16 scales around caudal peduncle and 23-28 lateral scales.

P. latipinna is sexually dimorphic with males growing to 100 mm and females to 120 mm (Robins, 2014). A maximum size of 150 mm total length is often quoted, though mature fish in wild populations are typically much smaller (Page and Burr, 1991; Froese and Pauly, 2014; Robins, 2014). Robins (2014) reported that at one year of age male fish are typically between 15-51 mm in length while mature females are likely to be approximately 19-53 mm.


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P. latipinna is native to the Atlantic and Gulf Coast drainages from the Cape Fear drainage, North Carolina, to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. There is however, some disagreement with this. According to Schulpp (I. Schulpp, University of Oklahoma personal communication 2015), this species is present from North Carolina down to Tuxpan, Mexico and the status of populations further south than this is not completely clear.

P. latipinna is restricted to coastal areas in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South and North Carolina and is found further inland in Texas, Louisiana and is abundant in Florida (Page and Burr, 1991). 

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-JavaPresentIntroduced Not invasive Kottelat et al., 1993Introduced into north Java through the pet/aquarium trade
IraqLocalisedIntroduced Not invasive Hussain et al., 2009Al-Hammar Marsh near Basra
OmanPresentIntroducedRandall, 1995; Froese and Pauly, 2014May be present in estuaries in the Gulf of Oman
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedHerre, 1929; Juliano et al., 1989; Froese and Pauly, 2014Introduced early in the twentieth century as a mosquito biocontrol agent
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroducedBartley, 2006; Al-Kahem et al., 2007; Al-Akel et al., 2010Fish collected from Wadi Haneefah stream, Riyadh
SingaporePresentIntroduced1960-1969Ng et al., 1993; FAO, 1997; Froese and Pauly, 2014Widely distributed in the ornamental trade in Singapore
TaiwanPresentIntroducedpre 2009Yang et al., 2009Found in the lower reaches and river mouths over the southwestern part of Taiwan


KenyaPresentIntroducedOkeyo, 1998; Froese and Pauly, 2014Found in the lower reaches of the Athi-Galana-Sabaki river system

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlbertaLocalisedIntroduced Not invasive Welcomme, 1988; Coad, 1995; Froese and Pauly, 2014Confined to hot springs in Banff National Park, Alberta. Introduced as a result of the aquarium trade
MexicoWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Found in the Yucatán Peninsula
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Generally restricted to coastal areas
-ArizonaPresentIntroducedMinckley, 1973
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedSwift et al., 1993
-ColoradoPresentIntroducedZuckerman and Behnke, 1986Found in Conejos County
-FloridaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Abundant, found throughout Florida
-GeorgiaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Generally restricted to coastal areas
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroducedDevick, 1991; USGS NAS, 2014Originally found on most islands however the range is reportedly decreasing
-LouisianaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Found coastal areas and inland
-MississippiWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Generally restricted to coastal areas
-MontanaPresentIntroducedHolton, 1990Found in Trudau Pond, Madison County
-NevadaPresentIntroducedDeacon and Williams, 1984
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedSublette et al., 1990Dona Ana County
-North CarolinaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Generally restricted to coastal areas
-South CarolinaWidespreadNative Not invasive Page and Burr, 1991Generally restricted to coastal areas
-TexasWidespreadHubbs et al., 1991; Page and Burr, 1991In Texas this species is both native and introduced. Introduced to San Antonio River, Bexar County and can be found in coastal areas and inland

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasWidespreadIntroducedBarton and Wilmhoff, 1996Widespread in New Providence, Paradise Island and in Lake Killarney
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedUSGS NAS, 2014

South America

BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Minas GeraisLocalisedIntroducedMagalhães and Jacobi, 2008Santo Antônio creek, Vieiras municipality. Likely escaped or released from large aquaculture facilities
ColombiaPresentIntroducedWelcomme, 1988Established in the Magdalena watershed. Escaped and/or released from aquaculture facilities


AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedCorfield et al., 2008Found in Darwin
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedArthington et al., 1999; Lintermans, 2004; Webb, 2007; Corfield et al., 2008Introduced to at least three locations, around Brisbane and the Ross River near Townsville. Specimens from Majors Creek, approximately 50 km south-east of Townsville have been collected
GuamPresentIntroducedWelcomme, 1988
New ZealandLocalisedIntroducedMcDowall, 1999Introduced to geothermal wetlands at southern end of Lake Taupo

History of Introduction and Spread

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There is little information available on introduced populations of P. latipinna.

P. latipinna is native to eight states in the USA and has established in at least a further seven states including areas of Texas where the species doesn’t naturally occur. These areas include Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas (Minckley, 1973; Deacon and Williams, 1984; Zuckerman and Behnke, 1986; Holton, 1990; Sublette et al., 1990; Devick, 1991; Hubbs et al., 1991; Swift et al., 1993).

P. latipinna was first brought to Hawaii from Texas in 1905 as a potential biocontrol agent for mosquitos (Seale, 1905; Brock, 1960; Maciolek, 1984). The species however was not efficacious at mosquito control and may have then have been used as a tuna baitfish (USGS NAS, 2014). It had established on most islands of Hawaii in the early twentieth century (Devick, 1991) though there may be a reduction in this range with local extinctions occurring (Yamamoto and Tagawa, 2000; Mundy, 2005).

Similarly, P. latipinna was also introduced to the Philippines in the early twentieth century as a potential mosquito biocontrol agent (Juliano et al., 1989; Froese and Pauly, 2014).

P. latipinna has been introduced to a number of countries in the Middle East. The species appears to be established in the Al-Hammar Marsh in Iraq though was only collected in one of twelve sampling events (Hussain et al., 2009). In Oman, the species is present in the estuaries in the Gulf of Oman though no further information is available (Randall, 1995; Froese and Pauly, 2014). P. latipinna is established in the Wadi Haneefah stream, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia since 2003 (Al-Kahem et al., 2007). 


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia 1969 Yes Arthington and McKenzie (1997); Corfield et al. (2008); Kumaraguru et al. (2005); Webb (2007) Introduced to at least three locations. Webb (2007) collected specimens from Majors Creek, approximately 50 km south-east of Townsville
Canada 1960 Pet trade (pathway cause) Yes Coad (1995); Coad (1995); Froese and Pauly (2014); Welcomme (1988) Confined to hot springs in Banff National Park, Alberta; result of aquarium release
Hawaii Texas 1905 Biological control (pathway cause) Yes Devick (1991); USGS NAS (2014); USGSNAS (2014) Mosquito control. Originally on all islands but range decreasing
Philippines Hawaii 1914 Biological control (pathway cause) Yes Froese and Pauly (2014); Juliano and et al. (1989); Juliano et al. (1989) Introduced for mosquito control
Saudi Arabia 1983 Yes Al-Akel et al. (2010); Al-Kahem et al. (2007); Bartley (2006); Froese and Pauly (2014) First recorded in Ank, Eastern Sector in 1983; first recorded in Wadi Haneefah stream, Central Sector, in 1995

Risk of Introduction

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Researchers have speculated that the release of unwanted ornamental fishes is the most likely explanation for the nonindigenous populations of P. latipinna in Australia and some states in the USA (Lintermans, 2004; USGS NAS, 2014).

In Australia, Corfield et al. (2008) listed the relative importance of P. latipinna as a commercial aquarium fish species in Australia as of high importance as an ornamental fish, with the volume of fish sold ranked as high (between 500,000 and 1,000,000 fish annually in Australia). There is the potential for the natural dispersal and anthropogenic translocation of introduced populations of P. latipinna and this is more likely to occur in areas that contain multiple populations and/or larger and widely distributed populations. The natural dispersal of populations of P. latipinna may be less constrained due to the species tolerance of high ranges of temperature, salinity and oxygen levels (USGS NAS, 2014). However, P. latipinna only inhabits lentic or slow flowing lotic environments; rapidly flowing or highly variable lotic environments may inhibit the species establishment or population growth, a phenomenon that has been observed in other nonindigenous poeciliid populations, e.g. Gambusia species (Pen and Potter 1991). The invasiveness of P. latipinna is rated as very high by both Arthington et al. (1999) and Bomford and Glover (2004). Overall, when the popularity of P. latipinna is considered, along with the species tolerance of a wide range of temperature, salinity and oxygen levels, the likelihood of introduction and establishment is high in comparison with other freshwater ornamental fishes.


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P. latipinna occurs in gently flowing lotic habitats including small creeks and drains and lentic habitats including ponds, lakes, marshes, ditches and swamps. The species is also commonly found in brackish estuarine habitats and readily inhabits artificial habitats including ditches and tidal canals. Within these habitats P. latipinna is commonly found in shallow surface waters in association with floating vegetation and/or structure (Page and Burr, 1991; Al-Kahem et al., 2007; USGS NAS, 2014).

Habitat List

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Irrigation channels Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Lakes Principal habitat Natural
Reservoirs Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Reservoirs Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Ponds Principal habitat Natural
Estuaries Principal habitat Natural
Lagoons Principal habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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The diploid/haploid chromosome numbers of P. latipinna are 48/24 (Froese and Pauly, 2014).

Reproductive Biology

The lifespan of P. latipinna is short, particularly in the case of the males, which may live less than one year once sexually mature (Robins, 2014). P. latipinna may mature and reproduce within one year under favourable environmental conditions. At one year of age males typically range in size from 15-51 mm in length (Robins, 2014), though mean male size is highly variable between P. latipinna populations (Trexler, 1989).

The large dorsal fin of male fish plays a role in female mate choice (Robins, 2014). There is rudimentary courtship behaviour where the male displays swimming motions and fin postures (Farr, 1989). Fertilisation is internal and the male's gonopodium, a modified anal fin, transfers sperm into the female. Females may store sperm and produce subsequent broods independently of male fish (Farr and Travis, 1986). A study by Girndt et al. (2012) found that more than 70% of broods were sired by at least two males. Males spend significantly less time with females under conditions of high turbidity (Heubel and Schlupp, 2006).

Brood size and gestation period are variable and influenced by genetic, environmental and social factors. P. latipinna produces broods of 10 to between 100-300 young; though a more conservative maxima may be between 100-140 young (Wischnath, 1993; Yamamoto and Tagawa, 2000; Froese and Pauly, 2014; Robins, 2014). Brood size is correlated with female standard length, with larger fish producing larger broods (Girndt et al., 2012). Travis (1989) reported mean brood sizes of between 8.9 and 56.6 for female P. latipinna of 33.6 mm to 66.8 mm in length. The gestation period is approximately three to four weeks and females may give birth on multiple occasions throughout the year, approximately eight to 10 weeks apart, depending upon environmental conditions (Wischnath, 1993; Yamamoto and Tagawa, 2000; Robins, 2014). Al-Akel et al. (2010) investigated the reproductive biology of P. latipinna from the Wadi Haneefah stream, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. P. latipinna reproduced continuously with two peaks of reproductive activity noted. Fecundity ranged from 35 to 161 eggs. Fifty percent male and female fish matured at 67 mm and 65 mm total length, respectively. In addition to this Magalhães and Jacobi (2008) collected P. latipinna monthly for one year from Santo Antônio creek, Vieiras municipality, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Female fish ranged in length from 8 – 61 mm SL and 61% were pregnant.

Sex ratios of broods are balanced though adult populations are usually female biased (Hubbs and Schlupp; 2008; Robins, 2014). This phenomenon is common in Poeciliids and the higher mortality of male fish has been attributed to a number of factors. These include higher levels of predation due to courtship/breeding behaviour and brighter colouration, shorter lifespan of male fish and accelerated aging (Snelson and Wetherington, 1980; Robins, 2014). Snelson and Wetherington (1980) investigated juvenile and adult sex ratios of two natural populations of P. latipinna in Florida, and the sex ratios of broods in the laboratory. They found that the sex ratio of broods in the laboratory and juvenile fish in the field, were even. However, out of approximately 17,000 adult fish, 72% were female.

Physiology and Phenology

Phenotypic variation in life history traits has been extensively studied in Poeciliids and may be influenced by social and environmental factors (Travis, 1989).

The age at maturity and size of male P. latipinna varies widely within populations and causative factors may include genetics (Snelson, 1985) and social influences. Robins (2014) reported that the sizes of adult males are negatively correlated with the population density of male fish.

Trexler (1989) concluded that most female variation was environmentally induced and not heritable. For example, gestation period is influenced by environmental factors, including temperature (Robins, 2014), ration level (Snelson et al., 1986) and salinity (Trexler, 1989; Kumaraguru et al., 2005). Longer gestation periods are also correlated with larger broods (Travis, 1989).

Angus (1983) reported that cooler temperatures increase the expression of a mutation for melanism in P. latipinna.


P. latipinna is principally herbivorous, consuming plant and algal matter and also periphyton (including the common components of periphyton such as diatoms) and detritus (Harrington and Harrington, 1961; Harrington and Harrington, 1982; Al-Kahem et al., 2007; Scharnweber et al., 2011; Barbiano et al., 2014; Jaffe, 2014; Robins, 2014). It will also consume aquatic invertebrates including mosquito larvae/pupae (Robins, 2014).

The predominantly herbivorous diet of P. latipinna includes dietary food items that are unlikely to be resource limited, though may be of low nutritional quality. Jaffe (2014) conducted research to determine the diet selectively and effects of an herbivorous diet on the growth of P. latipinna. The author found that of the periphyton mats consumed by P. latipinna in the Everglades (Florida), the fish preferred the inner components of the mats (i.e. green algae and diatoms) in comparison to the outer components (i.e. cyanobacteria). Laboratory trials of the effects of commercial flake fish food or periphyton on the growth of neonates found that growth was superior with the former food source (presumably due to the higher caloric/protein content). The author concluded that the preferred diet of P. latipinna in this habitat in the Everglades was nutrient limited (Jaffe, 2014).

Ontogenetic dietary changes have been observed in some populations of P. latipinna. Both Al-Akel (2003) and Al-Kahem et al. (2007) researched the ontogenetic dietary changes in P. latipinna in the Wadi Haneefah Stream in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Al-Kahem et al. (2007) found the diet to be herbivorous and consist principally of planktonic Bacillariophyceae and Chlorophyceae. No difference was observed between the diets of different size classes. In contrast, Al-Akel (2003) observed distinct ontogenetic dietary preferences with small fish consuming predominantly zooplankton and larger fish consuming phytoplankton. Meffe and Snelson (1989) reported that P. latipinna is cannibalistic in laboratory populations though it is not known if this occurs in natural populations.


P. latipinna commonly occurs with P. formosa in North America and the two Poecilia species may be found in mixed species shoals (Hubbs and Schlupp, 2008; Barbiano et al., 2014).

Environmental Requirements

P. latipinna has fairly broad environmental tolerances and will thrive in habitats with large ranges of temperature, salinity and low oxygen levels (Meffe and Snelson, 1989; Robbins, 2005; Robins, 2014; USGS NAS, 2014).

The native latitudinal range of P. latipinna corresponds to ambient water temperatures of 20–28°C (Froese and Pauly, 2014). Hussain et al. (2009) recorded monthly environmental data at Al-Hammar Marsh, Iraq with water temperatures ranging from approximately 12.5-29°C at P. latipinna collection sites. Fischer and Schlupp (2009) tested the upper and lower critical thermal tolerance limits of P. latipinna in the laboratory and recorded minima and maxima of approximately 6°C and 40°C, respectively. These authors noted that the collection sites for the specimens utilized in this research (i.e. Guadalupe River Basin, Texas) do experience such low temperatures suggesting that the species does survive similarly low temperatures in natural environments.

P. latipinna is euryhaline and occurs in salinities from freshwater to hypersaline conditions (i.e. 95 ppt) (Gonzalez et al., 2005; Kumaraguru et al., 2005; Robbins, 2005; Backman and Rand, 2008; Hussain et al., 2009; Robins, 2014). The species inhabits freshwater environments. Hussain et al. (2009) recorded monthly salinities ranging from approximately 0.0012 to 0.002 ppt, at P. latipinna collection sites in Iraq. P. latipinna can also grow and reproduce in salinities above that of seawater; e.g. 43 ppt (Robbins, 2005). Fish at different life stages appear to have differing salinity preferences. Kumaraguru et al. (2005) found that fry production was highest at 25 ppt and the highest growth of recruits was at 10 ppt. While tolerant of a wide range of salinities, acute salinity changes may increase mortality in natural populations. For example, Backman and Rand (2008) noted that P. latipinna experienced 40% mortality when salinity was rapidly reduced from 32 ppt to 0 ppt.

P. latipinna is tolerant of low oxygen levels and is able to utilize the oxygen rich layer directly under the water surface with their superior (i.e. upturned) mouth (USGS NAS, 2014; Robins, 2014). The species may become acclimated to hypoxic conditions, with dissolved oxygen concentrations as low as 1 mg per liter (Timmerman and Chapman, 2004). 


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
40 27

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) >1 Harmful
Salinity (part per thousand) 0 95 Harmful
Water pH (pH) 7 8.5 Optimum
Water pH (pH) 7 8.68 Harmful
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 12.5 29 Optimum
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 6 40 Harmful

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Alligator mississippiensis Predator Adult not specific Robins, 2014
Egretta thula Predator Adult not specific Robins, 2014; Trexler et al., 1994
Fundulus parvipinnis Predator Fry not specific Torchin, 2010
Micropterus salmoides Predator Adult not specific Robins, 2014
Procyon lotor Predator Adult not specific Robins, 2014
Saccocoelioides sogandaresi Parasite Adult not specific Robins, 2014

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Some information is available on the mostly piscine natural predators of P. latipinna which is documented in the natural enemies table.

P. latipinna, along with two other Poeciliids, Gambusia affinis and Heterandria formosa, are important prey for water snakes (Nerodia species) (Mushinsky and Hebrard, 1977; Kofron, 1978) and gars (Lepisosteus species) (Hunt, 1953). Robins (2014) reported that P. latipinna is prey for many animals including giant water bugs (Belostomatidae), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), and racoon (Procyon lotor). P. latipinna is also consumed by herons including the snowy egret (Egretta thula) and the great egret (Ardea alba) (Trexler et al., 1994; Robins, 2014).

P. latipinna is parasitized by the haploplorid trematode, Saccocoelioides sogandaresi (Robins, 2014). A study by Tobler et al. (2005) identified a number of parasites from P. latipinna. The most prevelant of these include species of Ambiphyta, Oodinium and Trichodina.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

Further spread of P. latipinna by natural dispersal may occur (e.g. flooding), though is most likely in areas with substantial populations. However, P. latipinna only inhabits lentic or slow flowing lotic environments; rapidly flowing or highly variable lotic environments may inhibit the species establishment or population growth, a phenomenon that has been observed in other nonindigenous Poeciliid populations, e.g. Gambusia species (Pen and Potter, 1991).

Accidental Introduction

Magalhães and Jacobi (2008) suggested that commercially important ornamental species, including P. latipinna, may be accidentally released from outdoor aquaculture ponds during drainage and/or flood events in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Intentional Introduction

P. latipinna may be intentionally introduced to aquatic habitats as unwanted ornamental fishes and possibly as a mosquito biocontrol agent.

Wide scale cultivation of popular ornamental freshwater fishes occurs in the state Minas Gerais in Brazil (Magalhães and Jacobi, 2008). These authors speculated that ornamental fishes, including P. latipinna may be released intentionally for a number of reasons including disposal of specimens of low commercial value and intentional release of commercially imported species to create harvestable, self-sustaining populations.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Biological controlUSA and Philippines Yes Yes Brock, 1960; Froese and Pauly, 2014; Juliano et al., 1989; Maciolek, 1984; Seale, 1905
Intentional release Yes Yes Magalhães and Jacobi, 2008
Internet sales Yes Magalhães and Jacobi, 2010
Pet tradePopular ornamental fish translocated to many continents/countries Yes Yes Lintermans, 2004
ResearchPopular ornamental fish translocated for biological research Yes Yes Fischer and Schlupp, 2009

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Pets and aquarium speciesPopular ornamental species Yes Yes Magalhães and Jacobi, 2010
WaterDispersal by flooding Yes Corfield et al., 2008

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Biodiversity

Little data are available on the impacts of introduced populations of P. latipinna though a number of references have stated that anecdotal impacts have occurred.

Juliano et al. (1989) stated that P. latipinna competes with the native milkfish, Chanos chanos, for food in the Philippines. Englund (1999) implicated P. latipinna and other introduced Poeciliids (Xiphophorus hellerii and Gambusia species), for the decline of native damselflies (Megalagrion species) on Oahu, Hawaii.

P. latipinna is a contributing factor to the decline of the desert pupfish, Cyprinodon macularius, in California (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1983; Robins, 2014). C. macularius is endangered and currently on the ICUN Red List. Also in the USA, Sigler and Sigler (1987) stated that the sailfin molly has probably impacted native species adversely. In Australia, Arthington et al. (1999) considered the species to have a potential for adverse effects on some native fish. 

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Cyprinodon maculariusVU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)USACompetition - monopolizing resources; PredationRobins, 2014; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1983

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Gregarious
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Economic Value

P. latipinna is a very popular ornamental fish worldwide (Rixon et al., 2005; Corfield et al., 2008; Magalhães and Jacobi, 2008; 2010; 2013).

Social Benefit

Al-Akel et al. (2010) stated that P. latipinna is harvested for human consumption, however no further details are given. P. latipinna is also utilized as a biological research model in many disciplines including genetics, ecology and biochemistry (Yang et al., 2009).

The species was translocated and released as a mosquito biocontrol agent in Hawaii and Philippines at the beginning of the twentieth century though it was considered to be inefficacious (Maciolek, 1984; Juliano et al., 1989). Even while this endeavour was unsuccessful, some individuals may still positively associate the species with mosquito control.

Environmental Services

Torchin (2010) reported a potentially positive environmental impact of the introduction of P. latipinna. In field experiments, the author found a positive association of female P. latipinna density on the growth of the native California killifish, Fundulus parvipinnis. It was speculated that the neonates of P. latipinna provided a novel food source and this could have overcompensated for any potential competition for other resources. It is unknown if these results are applicable to natural environment in California, or other habitats. 

Uses List

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  • Biological control
  • Host of pest


  • Laboratory use
  • Pet/aquarium trade
  • Research model

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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As noted, Poecilia species readily interbreed and many ornamental varieties are hybrids of different species. For example, hybrids of P. latipinna X P. velifera are commonly available in the ornamental trade (USGS NAS, 2014). Therefore, it is possible that nonindigenous populations originating from ornamental stock may be hybrids. Thus, the identification of different fishes and populations of molly species may not be definitive, even within the groups native range of North and Central America.

Outside of North/Central America, P. latipinna is unlikely to be confused with indigenous species though small fish may appear superficially similar to other translocated poeciliids (e.g. Gambusia species and Xiphophorus species).

P. latipinna and many other molly species are relatively similar and may be confused. These include: P. formosa (Amazon molly), P. mexicana (Atlantic molly), P. petenensis (spiketail molly) and P. velifera (sailfin molly or Yucatán molly).

P. formosa is a unisexual (i.e. all female fish) hybrid between P. mexicana and P. latipinna that is morphologically intermediate between the two Poecilia species (Schultz, 1989; Fischer and Schlupp, 2009). In comparison with P. latipinna, P. formosa lacks male fish, only grows to approximately 95 mm, may lack rows of brown spots on flanks and has 10–12 dorsal fin rays (Page and Burr, 1991).

P. mexicana lacks the large sailfin of male P. latipinna, has 8 – 11 dorsal rays, 25-29 dorsal scales, grows to a smaller size (males 70 mm and females 85 mm) and the dorsal fin origin is behind the pelvic fin insertion (Page and Burr, 1991; Dawes, 1995).

P. petenensis males also possess a sailfin like P. latipinna, however the former species also exhibits a shorter gonopodium, a very short sword or extension at the base of the caudal fin; the dorsal fin has 12 to 16 rays (usually 15 or 16) and 28–29 lateral scales (Miller, 1983; Dawes, 1995).

P. velifera males also possess a sailfin like P. latipinna, however the former species grows to a larger size (males 150 mm and females 180 mm), the dorsal fin has 15-16 to 19 rays (usually 17 or 18) and 26 to 27 lateral scales (Miller, 1983; Dawes, 1995).

Prevention and Control

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Magalhães and Jacobi (2008) proposed a number of measures to control the accidental release of fishes from aquaculture facilities in Minas Gerais in Brazil. These included preventative measures such as to re-route all effluent waters from fish rearing facilities through an underground or above ground dry well, to install an adequate sand and gravel filter which will allow passage of water but not livestock, outdoor fish ponds located on floodable land should be diked and to promote environmental awareness of those directly involved with ornamental fish farms.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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P. latipinna is a very popular ornamental species with nonindigenous populations occurring in many countries yet little research has been conducted on the potential ecological impacts upon introduction. The specific mechanisms and/or ecological impacts need to be more closely examined.


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27/07/2014 Original text by:

Mark Maddern, University of Western Australia, Australia

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