Aquatics Unlimited: Articles: Fancy Goldfish
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Fancy Goldfish

Fancy goldfish are a unique group of aquarium fish that have been selectively bred by Oriental cultures for over one thousand years. They exhibit remarkable differences in color patterns, body shape, and fin structure.

red telescope butterfly tailMost of us have had some experience keeping common goldfish, (low grade comets) in a bowl. Unfortunately, this practice has led to a lot of misconceptions. Because of their resiliency, goldfish can survive under conditions that few if any tropical or native fish would tolerate. They are often subjected to poor conditions, like living in tiny bowls, overcrowding, overfeeding, no filtration, extreme temperatures, chlorine poisoning and general abuse. Because of this, goldfish have gotten a bad image of being dirty and messy, leading to the common opinion "What would you expect, they're just carp."

The fact of the matter is, that although goldfish are in the carp family, they are not true carp. Many of our popular tropical fish, like the tiger barb, are also in the carp family. Japanese koi are true carp and because of their large potential size, are more suited for ponds and are enjoyed more when viewed from above. Goldfish can be distinguished from koi by observing their lower jaw. Goldfish never have "whiskers" and koi always have "whiskers".

red cap orandaGoldfish are not dirty fish, but because they always appear hungry, they are often overfed. They produce no more waste than any other "eager eater" tropical fish of the same size. Goldfish, in fact, act as scavengers and clean up even the tiniest specs of food that would otherwise cloud the water. They will also eat some algae but will likely eat tender live plants as well. Keeping a clean healthy goldfish aquarium is easy. Control the amount of high quality food, have good filtration and do appropriate water changes. These are the same three principles that apply to keeping any healthy aquarium. Adding aquarium salt (a tablespoon for every 5 gallons of water) will also help keep goldfish in good condition. If you want your goldfish, or any fish for that matter, to grow quickly, be prepared to do a lot of water changes (normally about 20% at a time). The amount of food the fish are given is directly proportional to the amount of maintenance that you will have to do.

bubble eyeGoldfish do have a lot of positive attributes. First of all, goldfish are extremely peaceful. Even very large and very small goldfish can be kept together. They can also be kept with any other peaceful fish, but they cannot be mixed with fish that bully, nip or harass other fish. They can live harmoniously with docile tropical fish and can actually tolerate warmer water than most tropicals. Goldfish don't require a heater, but when mixed with tropicals, one should be used. All types of Plecostomus do well with goldfish. At times, the streamlined comet goldfish may pester much slower fantails, so it's usually best to keep them separate. Goldfish have a longer life span than most tropicals and can live up to 20 years or more. In addition, goldfish are extremely showy. They're never hiding or cowering in the back of the aquarium and quickly "train" themselves to come to the front whenever someone comes near. This behavior, of course, is nothing more than them wanting to be fed, but it doesn't mean that they should be fed. Twice a day modest feedings should suffice and they will do perfectly well without any food for a few days. Don't let your neighbors kill them with "kindness" while you're on vacation. A live plant called Hornwort can be used to give goldfish something to nibble on while you are away.

The best thing about goldfish is the amazing selection of colors, shapes, sizes and special traits that the hobbyist has to choose from. In general, there are only two major types of fancy goldfish: comets and fantails.

Comets are sleek, "single tailed" goldfish. The common goldfish is a far removed mass-produced (feeder goldfish) version of a true comet. They are the typical "dime store" goldfish that you might get at a county fair or a church festival. "Fancy" comets are completely different. They come in an assortment of beautiful colors and patterns and possess a long straight single tail that is nearly as long and sometimes even longer than the fish itself. Comets are among the hardiest of all goldfish and when seen in a mixture of color combinations, create a beautiful and active aquarium.

red & white ryukinFantail goldfish are far more diverse. Each fantail goldfish has a "split" double tail that can be of various lengths depending on the variety. Here is a brief description of some of the most popular types of fantail goldfish. The most common, but also one of the most beautiful of the fantails, is the Ryukin. Ryukins possess a "high" back, long flowing fins and tail, and some of the most vivid colors found on fancy goldfish. They are also one of the hardiest varieties. Orandas are similar to Ryukins, but lack the "high" back. They develop a "crown" on their heads which increases in size as the fish matures. They also have long flowing fins and tails. Telescopes are similar to Orandas, but lack the crown and have large bulging eyes. Lionheads have a sort of football-shaped body with a "crowned" head, no dorsal fin, and a short stubby fantail.

pearl scaleThe following three types of fantails are somewhat trickier to keep and therefore would not be recommended for a beginner goldfish hobbyist. Celestial Eyes are similar in shape to Lionheads, have medium length tails and have very large solid bulging eyes that look straight up. Bubble eyes are similar to celestial eyes, except that their eyes have huge attached water- filled bubbles that wiggle like Jello when the fish swims. Finally are the Pearl Scales. They have bloated bodies, some have "crowns" and they have very large scales on their sides.

Comets are most commonly found in red, red and white, red and black, and calico (3 or more colors). Most of the fantails come in red, red and white, red and black, black, and calico varieties. In addition to all the colors found on other Fantails, Orandas can also be found in chocolate, blue, and a beautiful pure white variety with a bright red cap ("crown").

The principles and opinions contained in this writing are based on more than 40 years of continuous goldfish keeping. Beware of the internet blogger who has kept one tankful of goldfish for three months. They are not always right just because they're on the internet!

Here are some products we recommend to keep your goldfish happy and healthy.

  • Prime Water Conditioner (For start-up and water changes)
  • Aquarium Salt
  • Hikari and Tetramin Goldfish Foods
  • Hornwort (Live Plant)
  • Intelli-Feed by Lifegard (Automatic feeder for up to 3 weeks at a time when you're not home)

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