It’s time again to add new fish to your outdoor pond. There are many types of pond fish out there, and it’s easy to get confused about what all those names actually mean. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular pond fish available.

For smaller ponds (fewer than 500 gallons), goldfish are the best choice. They stay smaller than koi and do not need as much space per fish. Just because you are in a smaller pond does not mean a lack of choice in fish, though. From their common ancestor, a drab brown Chinese carp, hundreds of varieties of goldfish have been developed.

The common goldfish is a great place to start. All the others we’ll be looking at are derived from this fish. Common goldfish are a long-bodied fish with a short tail, and are born silvery gray. As they grow, they turn orange with black along their top line, and finally the black fades, leaving them all orange. Common goldfish are very sturdy, active fish. They will grow about 12 inches long, and should be provided around 20 gallons of pond space each to allow them to grow their full size. Given enough room, they can live over 100 years. They are raised by the thousands as “feeder” fish for other pets to eat. These feeder fish are very inexpensive, but not a great choice for a pond. They are often very stressed from the crowded conditions they are raised in and can sometimes have health issues. They are also very unstable in color. An orange feeder may turn white or brown in adulthood. It is far better to pay a little extra and get pond goldfish, which have been carefully bred and raised for their color and hardiness.

Comet goldfish are they same as the commons, but with longer fins, especially the tail. They are generally all orange, but often have white fins and tails. The added tail length can push their maximum size up to around 18 inches long. The long flowing tails make them a bit showier in your pond, but they remain fast and sturdy fish. Again, it is best to buy pond comets, not the feeder variety.

Sarassa comets are comet goldfish of a different color. They reach the same size and need the same amount of space. Instead of gold, they are a bright white with red splotches. Their colors can change as they grow, gaining and losing red spots. If you are really set on one with a certain pattern of red, buy it as a larger fish, whose coloration is more stable. There are several common patterns for the red color. Red caps have a white body with a red splotch on the head like a hat. These are also called a one-step pattern. The two steps have two blotches on their backs, and so on up to about five steps. Some have a red line on their back, and some even have “lipstick.” No matter how hard you try, like snowflakes you will never find two sarassas that look exactly the same.

Shubunkin come in three types. All three types have a calico color pattern with scattered shiny scales. Some have a lot of orange and red, while some are almost blue. Like their cousins the sarassas, they are all unique. Standard shubunkin have the common goldfish body type with the short tail. Butterfly shubunkin are comets with the calico pattern, having the long comet-style fins and tails. Bristol shubunkin have a very rounded, defined tail, which is longer than the common but shorter than the comet. Bristols are not commonly seen in the U.S., so you’ll likely be choosing between the other two. You can expect commons to reach 12 inches, bristols to grow to 15 inches, and butterflies to grow 18 inches. All can live over 100 years when given enough room to grow.

Exotic goldfish can be kept in ponds, but they need special care. Exotics have a rounded, deep body type, a double tail, and many other body changes. Some have extra growths on their heads. A few even have eyes that point straight up.

Exotic goldfish come in all colors, and are named by their body shape. The most common are:

  • Fantail – round body with a double tail
  • Butterfly – Fantail with a short tail that looks like butterfly wings
  • Ryukin – Fantail with a high arched back
  • Telescope Eye or Moor – Fantail with bulging eyes
  • Oranda – Fantail that grows a “hat” of extra flesh on the head
  • Lionhead – Oranda that has no dorsal (back) fin
  • Celestial – Lionhead with eyes that point up out of the water, preventing them from seeing in front of them
  • Bubble Eye – Celestial with a fluid-filled sac under the eyes; the bubbles are very delicate and may pop if handled roughly

Although they are very beautiful, exotics are slow swimmers because of their extreme bodies. Long-bodied goldfish and koi pick on them, and neighborhood predators can easily catch them. This, along with their preference for slightly warmer water, makes them a challenge to keep in a pond year round. The best way to set them up in a pond is to provide a rather deep pond covered with floating plants like hyacinth. This gives them places to hide from herons, raccoons, and cats. Consider installing a pond net, or a motion-activated deterrent like the scarecrow to keep them safe from predators. A pond with exotics should not have any koi or normal goldfish in it, and should be of a generous size. These fish grow roughly the size of a grapefruit plus fins, and are very sensitive to water quality. They should be given 30 gallons of pond water per fish, and can be expected to live past 50. Winter is a challenge with exotics. They can be over-wintered if the pond is deep and the winter isn’t too severe, but are safest if brought indoors for the coldest months. Don’t leave them outdoors through the winter in a pond less than 2 feet deep.

Even in the smaller pond, a wonderful variety of pond fish awaits you. There is a color and type of pond goldfish for everyone. Happy pond keeping!

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