The Goldfish – America’s Favorite Low-Maintenance Pet


Part of the standard childhood experience here in the USA, and in many other countries for that matter, is getting your first pet goldfish. They’re low-cost, low-maintenance, and lots of fun. However, there’s a lot more to a goldfish than just swimming around a little bowl or tank. Read on and learn some things about this famous fish that you likely never knew before. It’ll give you a new-found appreciation for these popular animals.

While they are surprisingly not the most commonly-kept pet fish in the world (the beta fish claims this honor), goldfish were among the very first fish species to be domesticated. They are a freshwater fish who can trace their ancestry back to the carp, originally dwelling in China. In fact, it was during the 1100s in China during the Song Dynasty that goldfish first started to be kept as pets. The carp family is quite a large one, with many species around the world which are still around and thriving.

You may have a certain set image in your mind as to what a goldfish looks like. That’s fine – most people do. What many people do not realize is that there are several different sub-species of goldfish, all of which vary in size, shape, and color. Some goldfish aren’t even gold – white, red, yellow, brown, and black are all colors that appear in different kinds of goldfish. We’ve included a picture below showing 9 different goldfish species – the common goldfish, black moor, bubble eye, lionhead, fantail, oranda, pompom, ranchu, and tosakin. They’ll appear in that order, going from left to right in each row starting from the top. Remember though, these are only 9 varieties. There are a whole lot more of them out there.

the many varieties of goldfish

As long as we’re on the topic of color, did you know that under the right (or more accurately, wrong) circumstances, a goldfish can lose its color? There are four main causes for this. One is fairly innocuous, and this is cause is purely genetic. The three other causes of color loss are far more problematic.

One possible reason for your goldfish losing its color is that it is not receiving adequate lighting. When kept in surroundings that are too dim, a goldfish’s color will begin to fade. This is a problem they can also face in the wild when living in streams with continuously running water1. The lighting problem is easy enough to fix, but the next two color-sapping problems are much more difficult to handle.

A goldfish can lose its color due to illness. Usually the illnesses that cause this to happen are either bacterial infections or tuberculosis. Fortunately, this is pretty rare but if it does happen, it can have devastating effects on your goldfish, including death. If your goldfish is rapidly losing weight and its eyes are bugging out, tuberculosis is likely to be the cause1. Parasites can also cause a goldfish to lose its color. They are particularly vulnerable to small worms known as “skin flukes” which burrow underneath their scales. When this happens, a goldfish will secrete a protective mucous and will often become very lethargic, with the exception of frequently rubbing itself against the side of its tank/bowl. If any of the illnesses or parasites mentioned in this paragraph appear in your goldfish, consult a veterinarian with a knowledge of fish as soon as possible.

Many people who were alive during the 1970s recall and regret the many gaudy fashion trends the decade had to offer. Probably the only species that regretted 70s fads more than humans was the goldfish. As we’ve already mentioned in a previous post, it was not uncommon during the disco era to see people wearing platform shoes with live goldfish living in the water-filled heels, much like the beloved Disco Stu from The Simpsons¬†shown below:

Another unfortunate fad that took place around the same time was the swallowing of whole live goldfish. This was usually done on a dare, and for whatever reason, seemed to be especially common on buses and subways. This fad/problem became so wide spread that eventually the state of New Jersey passed legislation banning this bizarre practice.

On a less distressing note, we’ll switch gears and discuss goldfish size for a bit. Goldfish are among the smallest members of the carp family, with most domestically kept pet goldfish being less than five inches in length. It is possible though for a goldfish to grow much larger than that. In 2008, a world record was set in the Netherlands when the world’s largest common goldfish measured in at an astonishing 19 inches. To put it in perspective, that’s about the height of an average newborn human!

When living in the wild, goldfish mostly eat aquatic insects, plants, and very small crustaceans2. They are not picky eaters by any means though, so most any fish food flakes you pick up from your local pet shop will be just fine by your goldfish. Be careful not to overfeed them, as a goldfish will keep on eating until any present food is gone. Overeating can lead to dangerous intestinal problems for a goldfish. Another situation to be mindful of when it comes to feeding is the fact that single-tailed goldfish are able to move more quickly and access food more easily and fan-tailed and split-tailed species. Because of this, it is recommended that you keep the single tails in their own tank so that none of your goldfish end up starving. If you plan on having both varieties of goldfish, then be sure to consult the owner of your local pet shop as to how you should divide them up.

Contrary to popular belief, a goldfish has a much longer memory span than 2 seconds. In fact, most goldfish have been proven to be able to hold memories for more than three months. Some can even learn to perform tricks (shown in the two images below this paragraph), especially when they’re rewarded with snacks for successful completion. They also have somewhat of an internal clock, showing the ability to expect feeding to occur at specific times during the day2. They can even learn to tell different people apart. When a trusted friend approaches the tank, a goldfish may swim up to the close side of the tank or up toward the surface. When a stranger or or known foe approaches, they will often go into hiding.

Despite their rather (usually) flat and simple appearance, the eyes of goldfish are highly advanced. They can see nearly every color that humans can see. In addition to this, they are also capable of perceiving ultraviolet colors and lights, something that even our eyes cannot do.

All in all, as common as they may be, goldfish are truly fascinating animals that do not get nearly the credit they deserve when it comes to their diversity, intelligence, and capabilities. The next time you pass through the fish section of a pet store, we hope you’ll look at the goldfish with a newly-found sense of respect and understanding for these well-known yet little-understood fish.

Works Cited

Jones, Carlye
What Causes Goldfish to Lose Their Color?

2. Author Unavailable

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