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What is a Goldfish?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated May 21, 2024
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The goldfish, or Carassius auratus auratus, is a species of domesticated freshwater fish that belongs to the carp family. These generally hardy fish are best known for their characteristic orange-gold hue, but actually come in a variety of colors and patterns. They also vary in general appearance, some having telescopic eyes, others bubbled; some may have short, simple tail fins, while others may have long, flowing fins that look like veils. These fish are a very popular choice for home aquariums due to their ease of care and friendly demeanor.

Although goldfish may vary in appearance, most are anatomically similar. Goldfish bear numerous fins all across their bodies that help propel, steer, and keep them stable in the water. These fins consist of the tail fin, as well as the dorsal, pectoral, anal, and pelvic fins. The gills, mouth, and eyes are associated with breathing and senses; in some varieties, as with bubble or celestial eyes, visual acuity may be limited. These freshwater fish also bear lateral lines to further help with movement, and what is known as a wen — skin folds that develop on top of the head of some breeds.

The common goldfish, as its name implies, is one of the best-known varieties. Depending upon the environment, this type of fish can grow to anywhere between 4 inches (10.1 cm) and 1 foot (30.4cm), and may be the traditional orange-gold color, as well as white, red, or black. Black moor, fantail, and comet types are also quite popular due to their conspicuous tail fins, which many find to be an attractive variation. Other breeds, such as the pearlscale and panda moor, are less common, and bear unique markings and body shapes.

The goldfish is said to be a direct descendant of the Prussian carp, which comes in colors from olive-brown to a deep silver hue. During China's Jin Dynasty (265-420), a natural mutation rendered the otherwise drab fish into brilliant hues of orange, red, and yellow. During the later Tang Dynasty (618-907), it had become increasingly popular to keep carp as a feature within ornamental ponds, and because of the unusual colors that the mutation produced, this particular species of carp became very stylish to raise and keep. These fish then moved through Japan around 1502, then to Europe, and by 1850 became one of the most popular household pets in the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a goldfish?

A goldfish is a freshwater fish in the family Cyprinidae of the order Cypriniformes. It is one of the most common aquarium pets and is known for its vibrant gold coloration, which can vary from light yellow to deep orange. Goldfish are descendants of wild carp and were first domesticated in China over a thousand years ago.

How long can a goldfish live?

Contrary to popular belief, goldfish can have a long lifespan when properly cared for. In a well-maintained aquarium or pond, goldfish can live for 10-15 years on average, with some individuals reaching 20 years or more. The oldest recorded goldfish lived to be 43 years old, according to the Guinness World Records.

What do goldfish eat?

Goldfish are omnivores and have a varied diet. In captivity, they can be fed specially formulated goldfish flakes or pellets that provide balanced nutrition. They also enjoy live or frozen foods like brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms. Vegetables such as peas and lettuce can be offered as well, ensuring a diverse and healthy diet.

Do goldfish need a large tank?

Yes, goldfish require ample space to thrive. While they are often sold as suitable for small bowls, this is a misconception. A single goldfish needs a tank of at least 20 gallons to start, with an additional 10 gallons for each extra fish. This space allows for proper swimming and growth, as well as stable water conditions.

Can goldfish live with other fish species?

Goldfish can coexist with other fish species, but careful selection is crucial. Tank mates should have similar water temperature and pH requirements. Peaceful, slow-moving fish are preferable, as fast or aggressive species may outcompete goldfish for food or nip at their fins. Always research compatibility before introducing new fish to a goldfish aquarium.

How do you maintain a healthy goldfish tank?

Maintaining a healthy goldfish tank involves regular water changes (typically 10-20% weekly), monitoring water parameters like ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, and ensuring adequate filtration. The tank should be kept at a consistent temperature suitable for goldfish, which is usually between 65-75°F (18-24°C). Proper feeding and avoiding overstocking are also key to their well-being.

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Discussion Comments

By Talentryto — On Feb 21, 2014

It's also important to treat goldfish diseases as soon as you notice any potential problems, Rundocuri. From lethargy to fin discoloration, there are symptoms of fish diseases that can be treated before the entire tank population becomes infected. This will help your goldfish live long in captivity.

By Rundocuri — On Feb 20, 2014

There are so many different types of goldfish available for aquariums that it is hard to decide which ones to buy. Regardless of which type of you choose, as long as you keep the aquarium clean, you will find that most goldfish will thrive.

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