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
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.
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
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
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
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
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