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A Brief Intro to Koi

Patty here. Koi  are basically colored Carp.  They are descendants of Asian and Central European Carp originally domesticated and used as food in China and Southeast Asia.  Their hardy nature and adaptability made them easy to propagate and transport to new locations.  Beginning over a thousand years ago, Asian breeders were selectively breeding these fish to develop natural color mutations into the brilliant and brightly colored fish that exist today. By the early 19th century through the early 20th century, desirable color patterns were established by the Japanese, and Koi started gaining world -wide popularity. 

As Pond season rolls around this year, many might be considering the addition of Koi to a water feature. Here are a few tidbits to think about before you purchase koi.

  • Koi should only be housed in ponds at least 1000 gallons or more. The bigger the better. The depth of the pond should be at least 3 feet to help the fish to avoid overexposure to sun and heat and to allow them to survive harsh winter temps. If your pond does not fit these criteria, goldfish and comets will be a better fit for you.
  • The bright colors shown by koi make them beacons for predators. Herons, raccoons, bears, and even cats and dogs amongst others may find koi a fancy meal if they can reach the fish. Proper depths and shade trees can help the fish to stay safe.
  • Koi have big appetites. They are omnivores, and will enjoy a varied diet of staple pellets along with frequent treats of fruits and veggies like watermelon, peas, lettuce, and corn. Koi will also eat plants at the surface of the water and will happily dig at the roots of potted plants on the pond too. You may need to cage the plants to preserve them, or at least top the soil with river rocks.
  • By encouraging these fish to the surface for feeding, they can become quite tame, often hand feeding. This behavior allows for visual health inspections that may need to be treated.
  • Koi should not be fed if the temperature of the pond sees a constant of 50 degrees or lower as they cannot properly digest proteins.
  • Along with their big appetites comes a lot of waste. Be sure to provide ample filtration and aeration particularly if you have a number of these fish in a minimally sized pond.
  • If provided with a proper environment, koi can live for decades, and have even been reported as living more than 200 years!
  • Wild carp can grow to almost 6 feet in length, and ornamental koi are known to reach lengths of about 3 feet in length. Carefully consider this in relation to the pond you plan on housing the fish in as they grow QUICKLY! Juvenile fish can double in size in a year, and though the growth rate can slow after 2 or 3 years, the fish continue to grow for 10 to 15 years. They’ll need plenty of space to grow and live comfortably.
  • Koi spawn in the spring. Females grow bloated with eggs and males compete for the opportunity to fertilize the eggs when she releases them. You may see one fish being chased aggressively around the pond by several others. The female is the target of the attention. Supply breeding mats, floating plants, or plants at the bottom of the pond as a place where she can release her eggs. You may be lucky enough to see new additions to your population not long after, though survivability is usually not high unless the fry are collected and nurtured.

Koi can be the pride of a backyard pond, but they do require a bit more attention and a lot more space than goldfish and comets.  When you’re ready to add fish, give us a call or shoot us an e-mail with any concerns or questions so we can help you to have a successful pond experience.  Be sure to save the date for or annual Pond Festival, too, May 16-17 2009!

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Stan Shebs

The Name Game, Part 3: Koi and the Japanese Naming System

In past blogs (here and here), we’ve gone over the basics of the Latin scientific naming system. Now, with spring and pond season just around the corner, it’s time to discuss a different naming system – Japanese Koi Nomenclature. Koi are considered some of the most valuable ornamental fish in some parts of the world and mature show quality koi can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars much like purebreed dogs and horses. Though other countries raise and produce koi, a Japanese emperor was believed to be the first to begin the practice of keeping koi in ornamental ponds and led to the breeding traditions practiced today. Koi are still usually referred to by their Japanese names for color and pattern.

Like the Latin naming system, the color of the fish plays a large part in the naming system and can point to more specific details in a larger group. For example, Bekko koi are fish that have black markings on a white, red or yellow background. Ki Bekko koi refer to those with a yellow background (“Ki” = “yellow”). The term “hikari” in koi names is also used to refer to a metallic sheen to the scales. Some color terms commonly used for koi are:

Red (Background) “Aka”
Red (markings) “Hi”
Orange/Red (background) “Beni”
Orange “Orenji”
Yellow “Ki”
Pale Yellow “Yamabuki”
Green “Midori”
Blue “Ai”
Brown “Cha”
Gold “Kin”
Silver “Gin”
Grey “Nezu” or “Zezumi”
Black (background) “Karasu”
Black (markings) “Sumi”
White “Shiro”

The most common Japanese terms that are used in reference to koi are those that refer to the pattern on the fish. The most common varieties are Kohaku, Sanke and Showa but there are over 15 commonly-used varieties and each of these can be broken down farther into color variations within that pattern or through lines developed by various breeders.  Some of the most common varieties are:

  • Kohaku – Kohaku koi are white with red markings. High quality Kohaku are pure white with no yellow in the coloring and have a deep, solid red color in the markings.
  • Sanke – Sanke is one of the most popular varieties. Like the Kohaku, these koi are white with red markings, but Sanke koi also have black markings superimposed on the red and white. High quality Sanke may not be symmetrical in their coloration, but the color should be distributed over the entire body, except for the head.
  • Showa – Showa koi are very similar to Sanke but can have much more black on their bodies. The black can be anywhere on the body, including the head, sides and belly (considered undesireable for Sanke koi). Hi Showa is an example of a subvariety of the Showa koi with more deep red color than others.
  • Asagi – Asagi koi are one of the most distinctive varieties (and my personal favorite). These koi have blue bodies, white heads and red markings in the tail, fins and face.
  • Bekko – These koi have black markings with a white, red or yellow base color. The name of the color is usually used to determine which type of Bekko a fish is (Aka Bekko, Ki Bekko, or Shiro Bekko).
  • Goshiki – “Goshiki” literally means “5-colored”, in this case light blue, dark blue, red, black and white. The markings are colored over a white background. This variety can be highly variable in appearance.
  • Hikari Utsuri – These koi have the same pattern as Showa and Utsuri koi, but have a metallic sheen to their scales.
  • Hikarimoyo – These koi are also metallic but are made up of the metallic koi that are not Showa or Utsuri. Hariwake is a popular variety within this group; this subvariety is metallic silver with orange or yellow markings.
  • Hikarimuji – Hikarimuji is another metallic variety but these fish are all one solid metallic color. Pure-colored metallic koi within this category are also known as Ogon koi, leading to the popular Yamabuki Ogons (pale metallic yellow) and Platinum Ogons (pure white and metallic).
  • Kawarimono – This variety is like the Hikarimoyo variety in that it included all fish not included in the other popular varieties, but koi within this group can also be divided into their out categories describing their breeder lineage, color or scale traits. The terms “Gin Rin” (meaning sparkling scales) and “Doitsu” (referring to fish that are otherwise scaleless except for mirrored scales around the dorsal fin) are used more in this variety than most others.
  • Koromo – Koromo koi are similar to Kohaku, but the scales of the red pattern in Koromo koi have dark edges, leading to an almost crosshatched pattern on these markings.
  • Tancho – Tancho koi can sometimes fit within the Kohaku, Sanke or Showa categories, but the markings in Tancho koi are more specific. Tancho koi are white with one red patch on their head, preferably as circular as possible. Tancho Kohaku are the most popular with their pure white bodies and one red patch, but Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa koi are also popular.
  • Utsurimono or Utsuri – These koi are in some ways the opposite of Bekko koi. Instead of having black marings on a colored background, Utsuri koi are black with white, red or yellow markings. Shiro Utsuri, the black and white variety, are the most common, folowed by the more rare Hi Utsuri (red and black) and Ki Utsuri (yellow and black).

This list is far from all-inclusive of all the koi varieties and patterns but can give you a good start in learning the difference between all of the varieties available. As this list demonstrates, koi are some of the most collectible and carefully-bred fish around with a history going back hundreds of years. Koi and pond care can open up a whole new frontier for avid aquarists and the time to start planning your new pond or new pond additions is here! Chart referenced from Wikipedia here.

Keeping the Chinese Sailfin Sucker (Shark) in Outdoor Goldfish and Koi Ponds

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. 

Known by as many as twenty common names, including rough fish and Chinese high-finned banded shark (Myxocyprinus asiaticus), this unusual Chinese import is the subject of much confusion…both as to its natural history and care in captivity.  One thing is certain – this often over-looked oddity is among the hardiest and most interesting fishes that one might add to an outdoor goldfish or koi pond. Check out a picture here.

Natural History

Chinese sailfin suckers are believed to be endemic (found nowhere else) to the Yangtze and Minjiang River Basins in China.  Yet rumors persist that the fish is native to Japan as well, and for a time the populations there were considered to be a distinct subspecies.  Most authorities now consider the subspecies status to be invalid, but there is no consensus as to the origin of the animals living in Japanese waters (I imagine they are feral, introduced from China).

Recent studies indicate that this fish makes extensive breeding migrations, and that its continued survival in China is threatened by dam building and over-harvesting for the food trade.

Care in Captivity

The confusion as to the care of the Chinese sailfin arises from the lack of basic information concerning its natural history.  Fueled perhaps by its “exotic” appearance, this fish is generally sold as a tropical species for inclusion in home aquariums.  In truth it favors water of 62-70 F (although it is tolerant of higher temperatures), may reach 24 inches in length (39 inches by some accounts) and can over-winter under ice in water of sufficient depth.

Chinese sailfins are, therefore, much better suited to an outdoor pond than an aquarium.  Clad in tones ranging from golden-brown to rusty-pink (breeding males are red, females dark purple) and with 3 broad, dark vertical bands, an enormous triangular dorsal fin and comically small head, this bottom-dweller is quite a sight! 

It does best in groups, is peaceful in the extreme, and fares well on a diet of Koi or Goldfish Pellets and Algae Wafers  (they are decidedly vegetarian in their food preferences).

Other Unusual Pond Fishes

Cutlips MinnowChinese sailfin suckers present no difficulties over and above what you might encounter in keeping koi or goldfish outdoors, and will add a great deal of character and interest to your pond. 

Native fishes also present fine opportunities to expand upon your collection of “outdoor fishes”…some mix well with typical pond fish, and without exception all are very interesting.  The cutlips minnows and burbots pictured here, while not very colorful, are fascinating to keep and very hardy.  Please look for my articles on keeping native fishes in the Burbotsfuture.

Further Reading

A synopsis of what little field research has been done with this fish is presented in Current Zoology.


Please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Amphilophus festae: The Red Terror – Cichlid Species profile

True Red TerrorJose here. A South American brute that can give many Central Americans a run for the money (when it comes to aggression), the Red Terror is one of my favorites. Ranked in the top 5 among cichlid keepers, the festae is not afraid to bite the hand that feeds it, which is good cause feeding it should be no problem as it will eat anything. The downfall would be tank space.  As an adult male can top out at 20 inches, an adult pair would be looking at a 125 gallon just for the pair, larger if you wanted to keep tank mates. Sexing young fish is pretty hard, but it’s different with adults. Besides the size difference between male and female, the male will have blue dots on his body, while retaining the overall orange red coloration. The female festae is the one out of the pair that truly lives up to the name red terror in aggression and coloration. She takes on a very vibrant red coloration, with a black or blue area in three quarters of the dorsal fin. Males lack this marking. An adult pair of Red Terrors tending fry is an awesome and scary sight (scary for the owner trying to do a water change).

A word of caution in searching for Red Terrors if you choose to invest in them, there is another species that resembles the festae, Cichlasoma uophthalmus, the False Red Terror or Mayan Cichlid.  These fish are often misidentified in the trade, or simply labeled as Red Terrors in error, as common names are sometimes assigned for convenience.  You can tell the difference by looking at the spot on the base of the tail. The eyespot on the festae only reaches half way down the base, where on the False Red Terror, the eyespot extends below the midline.

Well there it is now you know!  In closing I would say this is definitely a fish worth keeping.  If you have an empty 75 gallon tank sitting around, and you’re looking for a “WOW” fish with a lot of attitude, Amphilophus festae will fit the bill.

Until next time have fun with cichlids,


Pond Fish Diseases: Parasitic Infections

Hi, Melissa here. As the pond season is coming to a close I figured I would write one more article about pond fish diseases so when next spring arrives you will be ready to treat any creepy crawly things scampering over your fish.

Along with bacterial infections, koi and goldfish are also very susceptible to parasitic infections. Parasites are crawling around everywhere, but the majority are microscopic and never seen with the naked eye. There are a few parasites that are visible with the naked eye. Fish lice, anchor worms, leaches, and ich are among the few parasites that can be seen without a microscope. Most parasites themselves are not particularly deadly, but they will set the stage for further infections that will ultimately lead to death if left untreated. Parasites irritate fish by latching on to their gills, scales, or other soft tissue to feed causing a lot of stress. Once a fish is stressed, they become very susceptible to infections. Bacterial infections are very common in conjunction with parasitic infections. Some symptoms of parasites include flashing, white spots, clamped fins, respiratory distress, erratic swimming, white and slimy feces, red sores, among others. If any external parasites are observed medications with the active ingredient diflubenxuron, praziquantel, and trichlorfon are a good choice. Some medications that we sell containing these ingredients include, anchors away, dimlin, parasite guard, and prazipro.

Parasitic infections are not directly caused by poor water quality, unlike bacterial infections, thus prevention is a little harder. Quarantining new fish and plants are highly recommended. Fish should be housed in a hospital tank for several weeks for observation and plants should be dipped before added directly to a pond since plants can carry unwanted parasite eggs. Some people suggest a very dilute bleach solution to dip the plants in for a few seconds then rinse in dechlorinated water. Others suggest potassium permanganate (use just enough to turn the water pink). Plants could also be placed in a quarantine tank for a few weeks as long as the plant are receiving the correct lighting.

So the take home lesson here is…”Learn from the mistakes of others, you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself!” ..ALWAYS quarantine new arrivals. Nobody wants to have thousands of dollars turn belly up because of one careless mistake.