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Why do koi have barbels? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Janice – Clear Creek, KY

A:  Koi have been growing trendy whiskers way before the hipsters made it cool! Those whiskers—or barbels—are a defining characteristic of the fish. Here’s what they are, what they do, and why the popular pond fish has them.

Super-Sensing Organ
Barbels are sensory organs not unlike whiskers in mammals. Rather than being used for tactile sensing, however, a fish’s barbels are used for taste. Koi, along with catfish, goatfish, hagfish, sturgeon, zebrafish, some species of shark and other carp, have barbels. They use these taste bud-covered organs to search for food in murky water.

Tasting Without Ingesting
Koi and other carp have four barbels, with two on each side of the koi’s mouth (termed “maxillary barbels”). The top two appear shorter than the lower two, but they all serve the same purpose: taste debris without actually ingesting it. Being omnivorous scavengers that forage along murky pond and river bottoms, it’s a good survival skill to have.

Weird Appendages
As spring approaches and you start feeding your finned pals some Spring and Fall Fish Food, take a closer look at these weird appendages. Most koi (except those with mutations) have barbels—even koi fry have them! So go grab a pond net, catch a koi or fingerling, and look closely to see them.

As with hipsters and their whiskers, they probably won’t like you playing with their barbels. But they’re still fun to look at!

Pond Talk: Are some of your koi’s barbels bigger than others?

Easy to Digest in Cooler Water - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food

I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go?

Q: I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go?

George – Price, UT

A: Koi aficionados call their fish “living jewels” for a reason. With their rich red, brilliant white, velvety black and shimmering metallic scales, these swimming beauties resemble vibrant precious stones that glisten and glimmer as they glide through the water.

Colorful, Dynamic

Thanks to generations of careful breeding practices, koi hobbyists have developed more than 20 varieties of nishikigoi (brocaded carp) that differ by their scale color and pattern. Some of the stand-out types include:

  • Kohaku: White body topped with large red markings.
  • Sanke (Taisho Sanke): Similar to the Kohaku but with the addition of small black markings called sumi.
  • Showa (Showa Sanke): Black body topped with red (hi) and white (shiroji) markings.
  • Ogon: Metallic scales in one solid color, usually orange, white, silver or gold.

A koi’s color pattern is dynamic through its entire life; the colors and markings change as the fish grows in size and loses and regrows its scales. For instance, a black spot on your Sanke’s back may seem to shrink or disappear beneath its red markings – only to return a year later in a morphed size or shape.

Bring Out the Brilliance

Though it’s part of a koi’s DNA to change its spots, environmental factors can cause modifications as well. Poor water quality, parasites and fungal infections, for example, may fade scale color. Insufficient sun exposure during the winter months, too, may cause colors to wane. But once the water quality is back up to par and sunless sky gives way to bright sunshine, those brilliant colors will return.

On the flip side, some external factors can actually enhance a koi’s color. Fresh vegetables and citrus fruits, like green peas, oranges and grapefruit, can bring out the vibrant red and orange tones, brighten the whites and deepen the blacks. You can also find commercial diets that are packed with ingredients, like vitamin C and spirulina, formulated to boost color.

Summer Color

As warmer weather approaches and your fish start to get hungry again, start them off with an easy-to-digest wheat germ diet, like The Pond Guy Spring & Fall Fish Food, followed by a higher protein, color-enhancing diet, like The Pond Guy Growth & Vibrance Fish Food. Also test your water quality and do what’s necessary to make sure it’s the best it can be. In time, you’ll likely see your koi’s black markings return – or change into something completely different!

Pond Talk: What changes have you seen in your koi’s color and markings?

Perfect for Cool Weather Feeding - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food