Teleost fishes have evolved a unique complexity and diversity of pigmentation and colour patterning that is unmatched among vertebrates. Teleost colouration is mediated by five different major types of neural-crest derived pigment cells, while tetrapods have a smaller repertoire of such chromatophores. The genetic basis of teleost colouration has been mainly uncovered by the cloning of pigmentation genes in mutants of zebrafish Danio rerio and medaka Oryzias latipes. Many of these teleost pigmentation genes were already known as key players in mammalian pigmentation, suggesting partial conservation of the corresponding developmental programme among vertebrates. Strikingly, teleost fishes have additional copies of many pigmentation genes compared with tetrapods, mainly as a result of a whole-genome duplication that occurred 320–350 million years ago at the base of the teleost lineage, the so-called fish-specific genome duplication. Furthermore, teleosts have retained several duplicated pigmentation genes from earlier rounds of genome duplication in the vertebrate lineage, which were lost in other vertebrate groups. It was hypothesized that divergent evolution of such duplicated genes may have played an important role in pigmentation diversity and complexity in teleost fishes, which therefore not only provide important insights into the evolution of the vertebrate pigmentary system but also allow us to study the significance of genome duplications for vertebrate biodiversity.