Text by Majid Ali

Photograph by Pauline Simpson

History & Origin

Goldfish had their origin in China from where admirers of the fish first took them to Japan and later the U.K. The shubunkin is a calico variety of goldfish and, if my memory serves me right, means in Chinese 'Chuwen-Chin' (Poor man's koi).

The scientific name of the shubunkin is Carrasius auratus var, and as far as I am aware this fish is available as 3 types: -

1. Japanese Style - have long fins and good strong colours, depicted in Japanese paintings of 80 years ago (the basic shubunkin).

2. London shubunkin - regarded as a nacreous form of common goldfish.

3. Bristol shubunkin - has a larger rounder finnage, especially the tail (caudal fin), often having a deeper body.

London shubunkins are very similar to the common goldfish except for the colours. According to information obtained from a fellow aquarist this fish is mostly the work of a British breeder (Mrs. Pamela Whittingdon), who produced some of the most striking species of shubunkins.

The first Bristol shubunkins were developed by the Bristol Aquarist Society, hence the name. When compared with the London shubunkin the Bristol shubunkin has a larger tail that is very wide, moderately forked and shows well-rounded lobes.

The parentage of these fish is rather complex and it's heritage lies in crossing a sanshoka-demenkin (a fancy goldfish with a fancy tail and globe eyes) with a wild type fish. It is also known as Japanese style shubunkin or often the comet shubunkin, but this upsets purists, as it is technically not a comet - as the tail is not long enough. For this reason you are most likely to know our subject specie as simply shubunkin.

Size of fish and life expectancy

According to the Y.A.A.S. Showing Guide (which recognizes the London variety only) the norm size is a length of 20cms x 8cms depth. Can live for 10 years or more.

Aquarium care

These fish do not need a particular temperature, happily living at room temperature, and are undemanding with water requirements. Aquarium salt proves most beneficial for shubunkins, especially in new tanks or ponds, helping to build and maintain a shiny layer of skin (first layer of defence against diseases). Salt also helps reduce nitrite levels in aquariums and decreases osmotic pressure.

Please note that poor aquarium conditions like high ammonia levels will compel your fish to develop a slimy-protective layer on their skins that dulls body colours. It is also known that long-term exposure to high nitrate levels affects the health of fish.

These omnivorous fish are not fussy feeders and will happily accept a variety of foods. Will eat flakes, pellets, homemade foods, plants, aquatic/terrestrial live foods, frozen foods etc. The red and orange colours of your shubunkins can be enhanced when feeding colour enhancing flakes/pellets, bloodworms, krill etc. Apparently the best colour enhancer is actually to keep shubunkins in ponds.


Very sociable fish and are able to co-exist with other fish. I have mixed weather loaches, coldwater plecs, albino Corydoras and adult African dwarf clawed frogs with shubunkins without any problems.

Shubunkins are active and energetic fish which are always hungry and searching for food, making them good scavengers, so you won't really need bottom feeding fish such as weather loach to help finish off uneaten food because shubunkins will happily do the cleaning up. When feeling threatened they immediately retreat to the bottom of the tank or pond (usually).

Sexual differences and breeding

Females, when viewed from above appear more plump and lumpy. These fish are egglayers and not difficult to breed.

Both male and female need to be fed on a varied and high protein diet for a couple of months, making sure that both fish are kept separate. The aquarium conditions for both separated fish must also be at a good standard and also well aerated. In the wild goldfish start spawning around spring time, early in the morning, but in aquaria this is done by raising the temperature by a few degrees celcius over a month or so. Soon after both fishes are united, but separated by a divider first as it will give time for both fish to allow pheromones to mix, so that the male in particular can get excited over the female and thus make both ready to spawn. Just remember to add feathery plants or spawning mops to the breeding tank so that the floating eggs can stick to them.

After spawning remove the fish into a different tank but not back into the main tank or pond with other fish, as there is often damage caused during spawning which can lead to a secondary infection. Remove the eggs that are attached to the plants or spawning mop to the fry-rearing tank which should be filtered via small air pump-powered sponge filters, set to a slow bubbling flow rate. The eggs will hatch after 3-5 days at 15 to 25 degrees celcius. Again ensure the water quality is good, and that the tank is well aerated (but not to excess as this dislodges the eggs).

When the eggs hatch the larvae attach themselves to the surface in the tank and stay there feeding on their yolk sacs and when you see them swimming that means they have used up their primary food source and thus need feeding via yourself. Offer the fry small amounts of newly hatched brine shrimp while doing 70-80% water changes, making sure that the new water is de-chlorinated and the same temperature as the tank. Carry on with brine shrimp until the fry are ready to take fine granular or other fry food as recommended by your local retailer.

As with all fish fry in high numbers you may have to find a humane way to cull any fry with abnormalities such as bent spines and snubbed noses. Remember our ultimate aim is to produce a small number of quality fish.

Finally I wish to thank my friends for their help in putting this article together