Although correct information about fancy goldfish is only just starting to replace popular misconceptions, there is still a lot of confusion when it comes to goldfish identification and tank requirements. Many beginners still think goldfish can be kept in bowls (which is not the case) and are frequently mislabeled in stores. Because of this, new goldfish owners often have no clue what types of goldfish they actually have swimming around in their freshwater aquarium.
If you’re trying to identify your goldfish type or are looking to eventually purchase a specific variety, continue reading for descriptions of the common goldfish breeds you’re bound to find in your local fish store.
Note: For more information on how to care for fancy goldfish, check out the Fancy Goldfish Care Sheet.
Single tailed goldfish
Single tails have a longer body shape than fancy goldfish and, as the name suggests, a single tail fin instead of a double tail fin (these fins are also known as the caudal fin of a fish). They grow very large and are active swimmers, which makes them most suitable for ponds or large bodies of water. With over 200 breeds of this goldfish recognized in China, there are many varieties for you to choose from!
These are the typical orange goldfish type that is sold as feeders or given out as prizes at fairs. They usually end up in a small bowl fish tank and die after a few days/weeks, which is a pity. On average, commons live 10 to 15 years, but it is not unheard of them to live for up to 20 years when properly cared for. Keep your common goldfish in a pond, as they have the potential to grow to a size of almost 12 inches (30 cm)! They will quickly outgrow your aquarium or cause fatal ammonia spikes if you try to keep them in a tank! Because of their wide availability and inexpensive price, commons are often used as food for larger fish.
Common goldfish come in many different color varieties, including orange, red, yellow, white, and their wild variation that has dull hues of brown or silver. Their patterns can range from an even and uniform color to all kinds of overlapping color combinations and spots.
Don’t believe commons will outgrow your aquarium? Check out this goldfish that’s already 11 inches long!
Comet goldfish are quite similar to commons with the only difference being their caudal fin: comet goldfish have a long flowing tail fin. Common colors of comet goldfish include yellow, white, red, and red and white combinations. Their requirements are pretty much the same as common goldfish. However, comets tend to be one of the most active goldfish types; they like to dart around their tank or pond in a very playful manner. They also have a shorter average lifespan than that of common goldfish, living between 5 and 14 years. Because of their activity level and potential size, comets are unsuitable for small fish tanks, vases, and bowls. This freshwater fish belongs with koi or other similar species in an outdoor pond!
Very similar to comet goldfish when it comes to tail and body shape, shubunkin breeds can be recognized by color and pattern type: they only come in the calico variety with overlapping shades of red, blue, grey, black, and white. They first emerged from Japan around 1900, and have since been bred into three different varieties. You can tell these breeds of goldfish apart by looking at their tail fin:
- American Shubunkin goldfishhave long tails like that of comet goldfish.
- London Shubunkin goldfishhave a tail that is more similar to that of a common goldfish and are a more recently developed breed.
- Bristol Shubunkingoldfishhave a long, heart-shaped tail.
Like commons and comets, these types of goldfish will quickly outgrow an aquarium and are best kept in ponds due to their large potential size.
Here is a small Bristol variety, easily distinguishable by its overlapping orange, yellow, and black and calico colors and long caudal fin.
Double tailed goldfish (fancy goldfish)
Double tailed goldfish are usually referred to as fancy goldfish because of their ornate fins. Most breeds of these goldfish are much rounder than single tailed goldfish and have all kinds of interesting features that make them the most popular and most expensive goldfish in the hobby.
Because they remain small and are usually less active swimmers than single tailed goldfish varieties, rounder fancy goldfish types can actually be kept in an aquarium setup. A 20 gallon aquarium is recommended for one fancy, with each additional fish requiring another 20 gallons of water volume. Since these types of goldfish cannot be kept alone, you’re looking at at least a 40 gallon aquarium. And because goldfish produce a lot of waste and can quickly create dramatic ammonia spikes in a tank, heavy water filtration is also a good idea.
Although most types of double tailed goldfish remain small enough to be kept in an aquarium, there are two exceptions.
Wakin goldfish are the second oldest variety of goldfish bred from the common goldfish. They have slightly stockier bodies than single tailed goldfish but are easy to recognize due to their small, double caudal fins. They are not kept much outside of Japan, although they do pop up in local aquarium stores every now and then and can usually be bought online. If you manage to obtain one, it’s not a good idea to keep it in an aquarium. Like single tails, wakin goldfish can grow very large, possibly up to 16 inches in length! This makes a pond a much better home for this goldfish rather than sticking it in a tank.
Even rarer than wakin, jikin goldfish are very hard to find because it’s nearly impossible to breed a perfect specimen. They are supposed to have long bodies, like a single tailed goldfish, but with a double caudal fin that has a 180° spread. The color should be white with red on the ‘points’ (tail, fins, mouth, gills). Because this specific color pattern is so hard to breed, some jikin are treated with chemicals to remove any red color that is in the wrong places.
I have personally only seen real-life jikin at fish shows. If you want one, try talking to a local goldfish importer to see if they can find them for you. To ensure a long healthy life, keep your jikin in a pond where they are free to grow and swim.
Fantail goldfish are similar to wakin, except they have longer fins and an egg-shaped body. They are among the most popular fancy varieties because of the beauty of their fantail and can be found in almost every fish store. Because they have a smaller body than those long-bodied goldfish types, fantail goldfish can be kept in an aquarium as long as their requirements are met. Keeping them in ponds is also possible because they are strong hardy fish. However, temperature fluctuations should be closely monitored; in a regulated fish tank, the temperature should stay between 73 and 74°F.
Fantail goldfish come in a variety of colors and patterns, although a uniform orange seems most common.
Veiltail goldfish look a lot like regular fantail goldfish, but with much longer, flowier fins. In fact, the tail sometimes grows almost twice as long as the body! The name comes from the veil-like appearance of the tail when the fish swims, which looks very elegant but also makes the fish weaker than other types of fancy goldfish. To prevent the fins from collapsing, ensure the water flow isn’t too strong throughout the tank.
Veiltails are best kept in an aquarium, as they are very slow swimmers and don’t usually do well in ponds. They come in almost all colors and patterns.
Available in long- and short-finned versions, ryukin goldfish are similar to fantails with the exception of featuring a large hump just behind the head, leading into a high dorsal fin. They are among the biggest types of fancy goldfish, with show quality specimens needing up to 130 gallons (500l) to grow out nicely without stunting occurring. In a regular aquarium with a pet store quality ryukin, try to go for 25-30 gallons (95-114l) for each one. A pond is also a possibility, as ryukin are quite a hardy fish.
Ryukin goldfish also come in all varieties of colors and patterns, including calico, although red and white seem to be the most common.
Tosakin goldfish, famous for their huge, curly caudal fins, are a rather rare variety of goldfish with very specific requirements. While it looks like they have two tails, the divided caudal fin is actually connected in the middle. They often have a hard time swimming properly–especially older show quality fish–which is believed to be caused by poor breeding. Because their caudal fin is best viewed from above and can easily collapse, they are often kept in a shallow tank or pond.
Water quality should be very high, as tosakins are very sensitive. All in all, they are beautiful fish that look incredible when viewed from above, but definitely not the fish for beginners.
Telescope eye goldfish
Telescope eye goldfish are named after their big, protruding eyes, that are caused by a genetic mutation. They are bred as a few different subtypes like butterfly (with a butterfly shaped tail), black moor (a completely black telescope eye) and demekin (a ryukin with telescope eyes), that all have similar requirements.
Because they don’t see very well, you should always keep an eye on your telescope eye to ensure it gets enough food. From my personal experience, I have learned that it’s easiest to just keep your fish with only other similar breeds so there isn’t too much competition for food. Sharp decorations like plastic plants or pointy gravel should be avoided, as the eyes are easily damaged.
These fish are very popular and can be found in most aquarium shops. They come in various colors and patterns, including more exotic ones like panda, chocolate, and purple.
Oranda, often mistakenly labeled as lionheads, are easily recognized by the brain-like growth on their head. This head growth, called a ‘wen’, is the result of selective breeding. Oranda goldfish are one of the larger fancy goldfish varieties, so 25 gallons for each one of them is a good idea if put in an aquarium. An outdoor setting is also a possibility, as they are quite strong.
When setting up an aquarium or pond for an oranda goldfish, it is common to not use substrate. These goldfish, especially the more extreme ones, may get small grains of sand in their wens when foraging. This can cause irritation and even infection in severe cases.
Oranda are one of the most popular fancy goldfish breeds so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one. The size of the wen depends on the quality of the fish, although any well-cared-for oranda may suddenly grow a wen over the course of a few weeks. Oranda goldfish color range varies with interesting patterns: red-cap orandas, for example, are completely white with a red wen!
The name of the pompom, also sometimes referred to as hana fusa, is derived from the enlarged bouquets coming from thei nasal area; they look just like little pompoms coming out from the nose of the fish!
Pompom goldfish can be bred in two different varieties: those with a regular dorsal fin and those without a dorsal fin. Both are rarely seen in regular fish stores, which is a pity because they are strong fish (especially the variety with a dorsal fin) that come in lovely color patterns like chocolate with orange pompoms.
Ranchu goldfish–often confused with lionheads due to their similar looks–have an egg-shaped body, a wen encasing the entire head, and lack a dorsal fin. Ranchu were first developed in Japan, but are now quite popular throughout the world; ranchu from reputable breeders sell for crazy prices! Ranchu come in two different varieties: side-view and top-view, both with slightly different features. Both can be kept in both ponds and aquariums, although top-view fish are more specifically meant for (indoor) ponds than side-view ones.
Ranchu are available in almost every color. They are quite popular, although high-quality fish are sometimes difficult to find in local fish stores.
Lionhead goldfish look almost the same as ranchu, with a few small exceptions. They have a bigger, less smooth wen and are less round, although the difference can be very difficult to spot. These fish are less popular than ranchu and usually more difficult to find; don’t be fooled by the label ‘lionhead’ in stores, as they will often call everything with a head growth a lionhead.
If kept in an aquarium, every additional fish should be provided 20 gallons. Because they are not active swimmers, they should be kept with other calm goldfish.
This rather extreme variety of fish is named after their round, pearl-like scales. What is most striking about pearlscale goldfish, though, is their roundness! Pearlscales are bred to be extremely round and fat, with some subtypes, like tiku pearlscales, looking almost like tennis balls as they age.
Pearlscales are available with and without head growth; the ones with a wen, called crown pearlscales or hamanishiki, have one or two smooth “blobs” on their head. Pearlscales are steadily gaining popularity and can be found in some fish stores. These goldfish may come in red, white, and calico, although all color combinations are possible.
Celestial eye goldfish
Celestial goldfish look similar to regular telescope eyes when they are very young, with the exception of missing a dorsal fin. As they age, however, their eyes will start turning upwards until the fish is constantly looking at the sky (which is where the ‘celestial’ name comes from).
Celestial eye goldfish are not a very popular breed because they are often seen as too extreme. The ones found in local pet stores are usually skinny and badly bred, which doesn’t help their popularity either. A well-bred celestial can actually be a beautiful fish, although you don’t tend to see them in your average fish tank. Celestials mostly come in regular orange, although other colors are also possible.
Bubble eye goldfish
Bubble eye goldfish are quite similar to celestials–the difference is in the eyes. Bubble eyes have eyes that are turned upwards, but they are of normal size. For bubble eye goldfish, there is a sac filled with water under their eyes that grows bigger as the fish ages. These sacs are very fragile and can burst when touched by a sharp object, so the best type of aquarium for a bubble eye is a bare bottom tank with only smooth, round rocks and soft plants like Anacharis.
If one of the sacs does burst, care should be taken to prevent infection; the sac will usually grow back. This sometimes results in an asymmetrical fish, though, so always try to prevent bursting.
Bubble eyes are best kept with other fish of the same breed or celestials; other fancy goldfish are usually too fast and may eat all the food before the bubble eye gets a chance. Red, white, and orange bubble eyes are most common, although other colors and patterns, like calico and panda, are also possible.
With all the different types of fancy goldfish available both online and in pet stores, there is always a breed for you. Just be sure not to run out to the store immediately; do some research on how to provide for your new fish with the care it needs first.
Remember! Goldfish are not truly for beginners. You should expect your goldfish to grow and to keep on growing throughout the years; in fact, you should expect your fish to live up to 20 years! Make sure you have an appropriate tank set up or an outdoor body of water with a regulated temperature that can support your goldfish. Once you get your fish, remember not to give too much food! Goldfish are notorious for creating incredible amounts of waste that can crash your tank overnight. Carassius auratus are difficult to keep, but their beauty makes it all worthwhile.
If you’re still not sure what type of goldfish you have or which one is suitable for your aquarium or pond, feel free to leave a comment below and I will try to help you out.
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