A guide to keeping and breeding fancy goldfish
Goldfish are one of the perennial favorites of the aquarium trade. It is difficult to imagine a fish more evidently associated with fish keeping than the goldfish. While everyone is familiar with the traditional appearance of the common goldfish, the various varieties known as fancy goldfish offer a much wider selection of colors and forms than the layperson would expect.
All of these fish share similar needs when it comes to successfully keeping them. Because they create more waste than any other fish, it is necessary to provide them an appropriately powerful filtration system. This is because their digestive system lacks a stomach; food passes through their body very quickly, making it easy for you to end up with more mess in your tank than you know what to do with.
Ideal goldfish equipment
While it seems reasonable to imagine that goldfish belong in a bowl, the truth is that they need lots of space to survive. Use a large tank if you want to keep more than a few goldfish at a time, or keep them in an outdoor pond. Ponds offer numerous benefits to goldfish due to the large size, but offer poor visibility to aquarists.
If you keep a tank for your goldfish, you can create a tightly controlled, ideal environment for breeding. Before getting into breeding though, you will need to install a powerful filter that can move ten times the volume of the tank per hour in order to keep the water clean. That means a 100-liter tank should move 1000 liters per hour, in order to compensate for the waste these fish produce.
Goldfish do not need heaters in indoor tanks, but you may want one in order to encourage early breeding. These fish are biologically programmed to begin breeding when the water gets warm and food becomes abundant. Choosing which breed to breed, however, requires an introduction to the various types of fancy goldfish available.
Types of fancy goldfish
Despite the wide range of appearances common to different species of fancy goldfish, they are biologically very similar to the standard common goldfish. Most of them are characterized by a single major difference that they exhibit when compared to the common goldfish. Different sizes, colors, fin and body shapes, or other combinations of special features define the various species:
- Comet Golfish – The single-tailed comet goldfish is similar in appearance to the common goldfish, but features a long forked tail. They come in a wide variety of colors, but the common gold coloration remains most prevalent. Comet goldfish come in white, red, and various spotted colorations as well. Comets as well as common goldfish can be wintered outside in ponds that ice over.
- Fantail Goldfish – Fantails are one of the more basic fancy varieties. They have a sturdy tail fin that is forked into two when viewed from above. The top of the split tail will be closer together than the bottom of the tail creating a fan shape. The top of the tail fin should be firmly held above horizontal. The ends of the tail fin will be rounded. The body is deep and wide, egg shaped in fact. Fantails can be wintered outside in ponds as long as it doesn’t ice over.
Ryukin Goldfish – This is the Japanese version of the fantail and veiltail. They are distinguished by having a distinct humped back starting from behind the head and ending at the tail. Also, their tail fin fans out wider than the fantail. Finally the tail rises higher than the fantail. These goldfish come in red, white, black, and orange color combinations as well as the calico version. There is also a lionhead version too. Ryukin can be wintered in ponds with no ice because they have been outcrossed back to the common goldfish to re-introduce vigour.
- Veiltail Goldfish – While featuring a body shape largely similar to that of the fantail, veiltail goldfish have a distinct double tail that is lengthy and uniquely square-edged, without any forking between lobes. The best ones will have a straightish end to the tail fin rather than lobed. The bottom of the veil in champions is horizontal and not diagonal. They come in many colors, with metallic varieties also available. Calico specimens are particularly attractive, where the colours should run into the fins. The veiltail is one of the less hardy breeds of goldfish and should not be wintered outdoors.
Shubunkin – The fascinating Shubunkin goldfish is a single-tailed type of fish featuring nacreous scales that are a blend of both metallic and transparent genes. The fins are similar to the common goldfish except they are elongated. They come in a wide variety of colors, most often with overlapping patches. This mixture of colours is called calico. Deep blue is the background colour with overlayed patches of red, brown, orange, yellow and black. The colour should extend into the fins. These can be wintered in ponds that don’t ice over.
- Black Moor Goldfish – This species of fancy goldfish is surprisingly not gold in color at all. In fact, it is jet black with metallic scales, and sometimes a very slight orange tinge. They tend to be longer and thinner than most other goldfish varieties.
- Pearlscale Goldfish – The pearlscale goldfish is a very popular fish for beginners. While very similar in appearance to fantails, every one of its scales feature a distinctive raised bump that makes it look like it is covered in pearls. The best specimens have a round, globe like body. Additionally, this type of fancy goldfish can grow significantly larger than others, so needs to be given sufficient space to thrive in successfully. A pearlscale with a lionhead is called a crown pearlscale.
Oranda Goldfish – One of the most colorful varieties of fancy goldfish, the oranda subspecies comes in combinations of red, black, blue, white, brown, and black. This species features a unique “hood” that covers part of its head. While they are born without this hood, it grows into place over the first two years of the fish’s life. The size of this growth is affected by the diet and water conditions the fish enjoys. Similar to the fantail but with the hooded growth similar to the lionhead.
- Telescope Eye Goldfish – This sub breed, also sometimes called a demekin goldfish, dragon goldfish, or globe eye goldfish, feature extra large, protruding eyes and a round body. Fantails, blackmoors, orandas, veiltails and other shortbodied breeds can have telescope eyes.
- Lionhead Goldfish – The distinctive lionhead hood and lack of a dorsal fin separates this fancy goldfish from the other breeds. Apart from the signature growth on its head, it features short fins and a rotund body structure. Colors include numerous combinations of red, orange, white, black, blue, and brown.
These are only ten varieties of fancy goldfish—there are many more commercially available types, and even rarer varieties available to the fortunate aquarist. Many of these species look so different than the common goldfish that only experienced aquarists can recognize them as goldfish.
Because of the intentional genetic differences bred in fancy goldfish to develop their unique characteristics and traits, goldfish pedigree is important for individuals who wish to breed goldfish. Breeding fancy goldfish successfully requires access to adequate information about their lineage. This allows you to choose which characteristics you would like to see emphasized.
How to breed fancy goldfish
You can breed fancy goldfish in the aquarium or when the weather is warmer in a pond. In the aquarium you can breed them as early as march by using a heater to raise the temperature to about 65F.
If you have a male and female of fancy goldfish that you would like to encourage to breed, you need to set up the appropriate conditions. Female goldfish tend to anchor their eggs to something solid when they spawn, so you will want to add some live plants or a spawning mop to your tank.
Spawning mops, which are designed to protect the eggs from hungry adults while making it easy to transport eggs, are also widely commercial available for this purpose. Using a spawning mop, you can easily collect the eggs and deposit them in a secondary breeding tank, ensuring their safety in the process.
Feeding chopped earthworms, brine shrimp, or black worms to the fish can help mimic the abundance of spring time, when goldfish would naturally breed. Feed them three times a day and the fish will begin to enter the breeding mood.
If the female looks plump with eggs and the fish haven’t bred then try spraying cooler water into the aquarium first thing in the morning. This should trigger them to breed. The male will start chasing the female around the aquarium.
Sexing your fish for breeding
Once you set up the conditions for breeding, it is likely that your fish will enter breeding season, when they can be sexed. Identifying female goldfish can be tricky, especially for fancy varieties in which individuals can look very different. The following four steps can help:
- See if you can identify the shape of the vent, located between the anus and anal fin of the goldfish. Female vents are convex and rounded, looking somewhat like the protruding “outie” navel a human being might have.
- Feel the abdomen of the goldfish to determine how soft and yielding it feels. The area between the pelvic and anal fins on a female goldfish should be softer than that of a male goldfish.
- Observe the pectoral fins. Females tend to have shorter, rounder pectoral fins than males do.
- Males usually develop with pimples around the pectoral fins and gill area during the breeding season.
- Males will start to gently chase and bump females before they are ready to breed.
Once you’ve conclusively identified your males and females, you should take the extra step of separating males and females into separate tanks for a few days before introduction.
Then select which male to breed with female. Often just picking your best female specimen with the best male specimen and allowing them to breed doesn’t give the best resulting offspring. With a little experimentation it can be discovered that a fish with slightly overlong fins should be bred with a fish with shorter fins to get a brood with perfect finnage.
It should be noted that calico coloured fish (including shubunkins) do not breed true. Only half the offspring will be calico coloured. The other half will be either metallic or pink in equal numbers.
Breeding season, however, is usually enough to get them to begin. Your males will become atypically aggressive towards the females, who will release their eggs in response.
Spawning behavior and raising fry
The male will chase the female for up to several hours. When the male bumps the female she releases eggs, which he will immediately fertilise. The temperature of the water with the eggs can be raised to 72F to help with egg development. During the next 3 days you can place the eggs in their own tank or remove all thish. Add methylene blue to your breeding tank’s water in order to prevent fungus growth on the unfertilized eggs and protect your fertilized ones.
Once they hatch, they will live off of their egg yolk for a day and a half. Only then do you need to feed them. They eat infusoria for a few days. Then start feeding on newly hatched brine shrimp.
After the fry have hatched, you should remove the spawning mop from the tank, taking great care to allow your fry to escape from inside the media first. You may then focus on raising them with an excellent diet of live brine shrimp and immaculately clean water.
After 4 weeks they can move onto bigger foods such as blood worm and chopped earthworms. And, weather permitting you can move the fry outside into ponds so that greater numbers can be grown. At 8 weeks they can eat finer grained fish food or flakes. The more delicate breeds will have to be brought back indoors before winter sets in. At this stage you should cull as many defective fish as possible.
Culling your goldfish
The last part of successfully breeding your fancy goldfish is rigorously culling your brood in order to ensure that the best specimens survive. Unless you are fortunate enough to have access to unlimited aquarium space, there is no way that the hundreds of even thousands of fry you are caring for will be able to survive without culling them weekly using a small net. Be sure not to discard your fish in the toilet.
When goldfish are born they are the colour of their native ancestors which is a greyish green colour. So it is not easy to cull for colour until later on. The young will start to change to the adult gold from the age of 5 months onwards. The green will darken to almost black then the orange colour will break out from this. Fish that change colour later such as 12 months and later will have a deeper richer red than fish that colour early. But some fish actually never change colour and stay green all their lives.
A lot of the brood will revert back to the natural form. Breeds such as fantail with the double tail can be easier to cull. Remove all fry with a single tail, leaving only the double tailed fry. But also note whether the tail has completely divided or not. Many otherwise perfect fantails have tails that don’t completely divide. These need to be removed too. Breeds that lack a dorsal fin can have fry culled that have the dorsal fin.
The lionhead and oranda do not develop their raspberry like growths on their head until they are about 12 months old so culling is difficult. However, you can still cull for the twin tail and lack of dorsal in the lionhead. But note that an oranda is not just a lionhead with a dorsal. If you are breeding lionheads and the fry have a dorsal you can’t just declare them as orandas. The lionhead has a more splayed fantail than the oranda and the back has a different curve.
Fancy goldfish require more rigorous culling, since they will doubtlessly feature much wider variation in their traits and characteristics, including body deformities and missing organs. You will need to begin separating and culling your fish after two weeks of life in order to make sure that you end up with a handful of healthy, high-grade adult fish in the end.
After several breeding and raising fry, you will gain experience as to which young show promise and which young should be culled earlier.
If you keep it up and handle your fry right, you’ll soon have a new generation of fancy goldfish, bred to your exact specifications.
Always match your fish against champion grade fish. There are many examples on the internet showing high quality body shapes, coloration, finnage and other features. Strive to emulate the best specimens and proven champions. This goes for purchases as well. Use the show class standards to help you buy the best specimens you can.