A goldfish is considered to be a common fish which is a staple of cheap fish in petstores around the world. Nobody really bothers to consider the history of the goldfish or where it originated from because it appears to be extremely mundane. People fail to realize that the goldfish has a very rich and interesting history.

There are many different species of goldfish but they are all descendants of the Prussian carp, a species native to East and South-East asia.

A Prussian carp – see the resemblance?

Breeding of the modern goldfish:

Image result for china goldfish art dynasty

Firstly, let us return back more than 1,500 years ago to China’s Jin Dynasty. The ancient Jin Chinese breeded carp fish for food, they noticed some carp displayed mutated colors, such as red, orange and yellow. They were very intrigued by this uncommon combination, they started to keep the colored fish together to breed and soon enough this rare genetic mutation became an entire different lineage of fish.

A few centuries later, in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), a period famous for its artistic development, people started to develop ornamental water gardens (koi ponds).


Image result for koi ponds

Great advancements in goldfish breeding were made in ancient China’s Song dynasty (960AD  – 1279AD). It was during this Dynasty when China experienced great development of culture due to many favorable conditions such as weather suitable for plant growth. People started developing artistic and aesthetic pursuits, breeding beautifully colored goldfish was a new hobby for many people.

Once carp breeding started, color mutations started to appear, resulting in yellowish orange scales on fish. Yellow was considered to be a royal color exclusive to the imperial family, commoners were not allowed to display such colors.

Image result for china emperor song dynasty

Like every single society in history, people copy the mannerisms of the higher class therefore the orange colored carp were most popular with regular people, people started calling them “goldfish”.

In the  Song Dynasty, glass creation was not a refined technique therefore it was very difficult to provide a see-through fish tank. To increase the visibility of fish, people created fish ponds in gardens and raised fish outdoors. This tradition still exists in many Asian cultures today. If the fish was a particularly beautiful or rare specimen it would sometimes be brought indoors for display. After the Song Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty occured in 1276.

Ancient Chinese Fishbow;

The Ming Dynasty was another great Chinese Dynasty with prosperous conditions and great developments of culture and art. In the Ming dynasty, outdoor fishponds were extremely popular, goldfish were officially bred and raised outdoors, a great variety of morphological colors  became developed such as gold, red, spotted, white and many others. It was during the Ming Dynasty that goldfish were started to be raised indoors, allowing the selection of mutations that cannot survive in ponds, these fish were usually smaller in size and bred specifically for raising indoors. The first appearance of “fancy-tailed goldfish” was in the Ming Dynasty.

Fancy tailed goldfish

Goldfish were first introduced out of China and into Japan in 1603. In 1611, with the arrival of European merchants to China, goldfish were introduced to Portugal. Their popularity spread quickly, goldfish were quickly introduced to other parts of Europe too.

As goldfish spread to Southern Europe they became highly popular because their metallic scales symbolised prosperity, fortune and luck. A very strong cultural tradition was formed – men gifted their wives a goldfish for their first annual anniversary. However, because goldfish are relatively easy to breed and raise, the tradition died as goldfish became numerous and lost their status symbol reputation. With hoards of immigration to the US, the goldfish was introduced to the new world into North America, becoming popular pets with children and adults alike.

Chinese goldfish groups.

Even today, Chinese identify goldfish with four distinct groups, each with their own unique visual and behavioral differences.

  • Crucian – Plain goldfish without fancy features. (eg. common goldfish, coment goldfish)
  • Wen – Goldfish with a fancy tail. (fantail, veiltail)
  • Dragon’s Eye – Goldfish with bulging eyes (Black Moor, Bubble Eye, Telescope Eye)
  • Egg – Goldfish lacking a dorsal fin, their body is shaped like an egg (Lionhead goldfish). Goldfish that are classified as “dragon’s eye” without a dorsal fin all belong into this group)

Goldfish vision:

Goldfish are used as a staple for the study of fish vision. Cone cells occur in the retina of many animals (including humans), goldfish have 4 different types of cone cells which can detect: red, green, blue and UV. Gold fish display tetrachromacy, they are known as tetrachromats, meaning they can see four colors.

Goldfish intelligence:

Despite sayings such “goldfish have a memory of 2 seconds” goldfish have strong learning abilities.

In fact, they can be trained to perform tricks such as this

There is evidence that goldfish can differentiate between humans, you’re right in thinking that your goldfish rushes to the surface to food when you come around and hide when a stranger shows up!

Overtime, goldfish learn that the appearance of a particular human is associated with a particular type of food. Once a goldfish “sees” you enough, you are no longer perceived as a danger.

If you keep a goldfish for long enough, you may even reach a point where it will let you pet it like a dog or cat! (note: this is not recommended though, if you do try, make sure your hands are clean!)

Although goldfish certainly have a memory span of much longer than 3 seconds, it is no longer than a few months. Goldfish have been proven to be able to differentiate different shapes, colours and sounds.

Training your goldfish to perform tricks and obey orders deserves another entirely different article, but in general using food as positive reinforcement is the the safest bet.

Goldfish for mosquito control

Goldfish can be added to stagnant areas of water for mosquito control. Mosquitos lay their eggs in water, the squiggly things in water are called mosquito larvae, they are the young aquatic worms of mosquito species. These young larvae feed on algae growing in stagnant water. Adult mosquitoes require the protein in blood to lay eggs. Although goldfish won’t directly eat the adult mosquitos, they will happily eat mosquito eggs and larvae, effectively reducing the mosquito population in the area. Goldfish have been introduced to prevent spreads of diseases such as malaria and the West Nile Virus (related to the Zika virus) which use mosquitos as a medium of spread.


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