Peter Ponzio is an AGA (American
Goldfish Association) certified goldfish judge, and an AKCA (Associated
Koi Clubs of America) certified judge. Peter has been raising
goldfish for over forty years and koi for over 20 years. He has
written hundreds of articles on goldfish and koi, and is the
author of Spikes Goldfish Guide, published by the
MAKC (Mid-Atlantic Koi Club).
by Peter J. Ponzio
Click images to enlarge
A few years ago, several folks were working on a goldfish standard
project for the GFSA (Goldfish Society of America), and were
looking for a simple way to identify the seemingly endless varieties
of goldfish. Our project was started to provide a way to identify,
classify, and judge among the various types of goldfish commonly
seen by hobbyists and entered in fish shows. The identification
process had to be simple and easy to follow. After much thought,
we came up with three basic criteria which could be used to categorize
all types of goldfish. A few years later, we added a fourth classification
type which made identification easier.
The classification system that was developed differentiates fish
into three broad categories, based on tail-fin and dorsal type.
These three categories include:
Single tail fish with dorsal fin
Double tail fish with dorsal fin
Double tail fish without dorsal fin
The fourth criterion that was added later dealt with the basic
body shape of the fish. The body types recognized were as follows:
Egg shape (ranchu)
Based on the four criteria listed above, the following varieties
of goldfish were recognized in the US.
1. Single tail with dorsal fin, and streamlined body shape
2. Double tail with dorsal fin, possessing either a fantail or
veil tail body shape
3. Double tail without dorsal fin
There are several additional fish which could fit into these
categories, such as tosakin and wakin, but these were not considered
plentiful enough to recognize as a separate breed at that time.
A general understanding of goldfish characteristics is helpful
before a detailed discussion of breed varieties is started. Listed
below are basic goldfish characteristics, along with a line drawing
of goldfish anatomy provided by Merlin Cunliffe.
Larger image will open in a new window
1. Scalation Three basic types
of scalation occur in goldfish: metallic, matte, and nacreous.
a. Metallic has a shiny, reflective appearance, much
like a metal object, hence the name metallic. The shiny appearance
is caused by the presence of guanine in the scale.
b. Matte scales which lack the reflective guanine layer,
leading to a dull or non-reflective appearance.
c. Nacreous a scale type which combines characteristics
of the metallic and matte scale patterns, often in random proportions,
causing a mixture of reflective and non-reflective scales on
2. Colors Goldfish come in a
number of distinct colors, including combinations of colors.
Common goldfish colors include the following: red, orange, white,
black, blue, chocolate brown, yellow, red and white, black and
red, black red and white, calico (a combination of colors usually
including red, white, black and blue).
3. Eyes Goldfish have several
different eye-types, as follows:
a. Normal eye types
b. Telescope eyes eyes which are mounted atop a cone-shaped
protrusion on either side of the head
c. Celestial eyes similar to a telescope-eyed goldfish,
but the eyes are pointing upward at the end of the telescope
d. Bubble eyes The eyes of a bubble-eyed goldfish are
actually considered of the normal type. The distinguishing feature
of this fish is the large, fluid-filled sack which forms on each
side of the face, directly underneath the eye of the fish.
A telescope showing excellent
eye development and finnage
4. Tail types Goldfish have
a great deal of variation in the caudal or tail fin, as outlined
a. Single tail The most common form of tail type, which
is moderately forked, and rounded at the edges. Shown at the
right is a typical single-tail goldfish or common goldfish.
b. Comet tail longer than the single tail variety (about
2 3 times longer), with a marked forking, and pointed
tail tips. Pictured right is a comet goldfish.
c. Shubunkin tail type (primarily in the Bristol shubunkin)
a long tail, similar in size to the comet tail type, but having
rounded tail edges, which tend to flare out the at tail edge,
causing the tail to look more full than that of the comet. Shown
at the left is an example of a Bristol shubunkin.
d. Double tail a tail which has two distinct components
or lobes, and which is not joined along 2/3 of its length, and
which has rounded tail edges. The size of the double tail can
range from 2/3 the length of the body to double the length of
the body, depending on the goldfish variety. Pictured left is
a fantail goldfish.
e. Lionhead or ranchu tail similar to the double tail,
but forking is permissible. Generally speaking the double tail
of the ranchu or lionhead is 1/4 to 3/8 the length of the body.
At the left is a picture of a ranchu, illustrating the tail and
back characteristic of this type of fish.
f. Tosakin tail a variation on the double tail, where the tail
is not only joined, but is rounded at the edges, producing a
curlicue-type appearance in the tail of the fish. Here is a tosakin
tail type showing the unique tail characteristic of the fish.
g. Jikin tail Similar in appearance to the rancho or lionhead
tail, but forming an X shape when looked at from
behind, due to the angle at which the tail is joined to the caudal
peduncle. Notice the appearance of the jikin tails, which looks
like an X when viewed from behind.
h. Veiltail A modification of the double tail variety,
whereby the tail is 2-1/2 to 3 times the body length of the fish,
and where the forking is non-existent, producing a tail with
a straight edge, hence the name veil tail. The veiltail,
when fully developed, is quite beautiful.
5. Head growth Some varieties
of goldfish, including the oranda, lionhead, and ranchu have
a growth on the head known as a wen. This growth
looks like a raspberry, and causes a distinct appearance, similar
to a lions mane, when viewed on the fish. Several varieties
of head growth are recognized.
a. Goose head growth limited primarily to the top of
the head, with little or no wen occurring on the
cheeks or opercula.
b. Tiger head head growth which appears on the top of
the head and on the cheeks of the fish.
c. Lionhead full head growth, which appears on the top
of the head, cheeks, and opercula.
< An oranda with a
A lionhead with full
hood development >
6. Dorsal fin characteristics
The fin located on the back of the fish is known as the dorsal
fin. In some varieties (ranchu, lionhead, celestial, and bubbleye),
the dorsal fin is not present. The dorsal-less varieties can
be further sub-divided into the ranchu and lionhead type of back
a. In the ranchu type back profile, the back is gently arched,
until it reaches the caudal peduncle, when it sharply angles
downward and meets the tail at a 45 degree angle.
b. In the lionhead type back profile (which is also shared with
the celestial and bubbleye), the back is much straighter than
that of the ranchu, and joins the tail at an angle that is much
less severe than in the ranchu-type tail.
7. Other growth characteristics of goldfish
Goldfish have been selectively bred for growth characteristics
over the centuries. A partial listing of these characteristics
a. Narial bouquets a tuft-like series of growths appearing
on the narial area (nose) of the fish, which in fully developed
specimens resembles a cheerleaders pom-pom.
b. Pearlscale an encrustation on each scale of the fish,
causing the scale to appear to have a miniature dome in the center.
In the best specimens, the pearling occurs over the body of the
fish, and wraps around the entire fish completely.
c. Out-turned operculum a fish with the gill-plates turned-over,
so that the gills are revealed.
8. Body shape characteristics
Body shape characteristics are varied among goldfish types, and
are difficult to succinctly categorize, since body shapes can
vary within the same variety (as an example, and oranda may have
a fantail or veiltail body conformation).
a. Streamlined body shape This shape is found on the
common goldfish, shubunkin, and comet varieties. It is the basic
torpedo shape common to most types of fish.
b. Fantail shape This body shape is more egg-like, and
produces a rounded profile in the fish. This body type is commonly
seen in the fantail, some varieties of telescope, some oranda
bodies (especially on the red cap), some pearlscales, and on
the celestial and bubble-eye.
c. Veiltail body type This body type is similar to that
of the Ryukin, without the hump on the back. It is more rounded
than that of the fantail, and the body depth is approximately
1/4 to 1/3 deeper than that of the traditional fantail. This
body type is found on some telescopes, some orandas, pearlscale,
veiltails, and some ribbon tails.
d. Egg shape (also called ranchu or lionhead body type)
A very rounded body type, with a depth that is 1/4 to 1/3 greater
than that of the veiltail variety. The body appears chunky, especially
in the area of the caudal peduncle, which does not flare out
to meet the tail as on most fish, but looks more like a part
of the body.
For more information on goldfish, please visit
the website of the
American Goldfish Association (AGA)
Spike's Goldfish Guide