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Telling the Difference Between Koi & Goldfish – Water Garden & Feature Q & A

Picture of Koi & Goldfish.

Water Gardens & Features Q & A

Q: I have many different types of fish in my water garden. Most were given to me by my friends. I think they are koi but how can I tell the difference between a koi and goldfish? – Troy of Kansas

A: I remember when I first got into water gardening not only did I not know what the heck a water garden was, but pretty much every koi or goldfish I saw in a water garden was a goldfish to me. So how do you tell the difference? Is it by size? shape? Hopefully the following will be able to help you become a basic koi and
goldfish identifier!

Koi and Goldfish are related but not closely. Colors, patterns and body structure are the most distinctive differences between the two fish types.

Colors & Patterns: Did you know that koi varities are named by their color patterns?

Here are some of the most common koi varieties. See the pictures to the left to help identify them:

  • Kohaku, white koi with red patterns;
  • Sanke, white koi with red and small black “stepping stone” patterns;
  • Showa White, red and black patterns fit together;
  • Bekko Solid color koi with black spots;
  • Ogon Solid color in with regular or metallic scales just to name a few.

Just like koi there are many varieties of goldfish. Common goldfish found in water gardens are:

  • Sarassa, red and white patterns;
  • Shubunkin, “Calico colored” bluish tint with red and black spots;
  • Commons, Orange, yellow, red, brown, or black

Body Structure: A koi’s body is tapered at each end with pointy noses, barbells/whiskers like a catfish and flat bellies. Koi fins can be well defined (called standard koi by retailers) or long fins (called butterfly koi) shown in the pictures on the left. Scale quantity and placement may vary on a koi as well. Some koi have scales on just a few parts of their body while some may have no true scales at all.

Goldfish tend to be more rounded with a blunt nose and do not have barbells. Goldfish may also have butterfly fins or fan tails. Fan tail fish have divided tail fins that form a triangle shape or fan shape when viewed from above. Scales on a goldfish are more evenly distributed and located all over the fish.

If you would like to know more information about these and other fish types check out the Book The Hobbyist’s Guide to Pond Fish. It’ll make you an expert in no time!

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