Male or female goldfish? How to tell (with pictures)

The easiest time to tell whether goldfish are male or female is during spawning season. In the wild, this is in the spring and summer, though could be any time of year in the home aquarium.

When spawning, male goldfish will develop spots on their gills and pectoral fins. While female goldfish will have a swollen vent under their tails.

The fish will also act differently, with male goldfish chasing female goldfish much more than usual.

By looking out for each of these clues during spawning season, you can work out which of your goldfish are male and which are female.

Male goldfish:

  • Have spots on their gills
  • Have spots on their pectoral fins
  • Chase females
  • Release milt to fertilize eggs

Female goldfish

  • Have a vent that lumps out
  • Get chased by males
  • Lay eggs

Let’s look at some pictures of male and female goldfish so that you know what to look out for.

How the vent tells you whether a goldfish is male or female

In goldfish, the vent serves two purposes. It’s how they release waste and it’s how they breed.

Females release eggs through their vent, while males release milt, which fertilizes the eggs.

The vent in a male goldfish is flat and not very noticeable. It’s just a small slit hidden away under their tails.

In female goldfish the vent will become swollen and puffed out during breeding season.

The difference can be seen in the photos below, from Bristol Aquarists Society.

The vent of a male goldfish
Above: The male goldfish vent. (Not much to see here!)
A female goldfish vent sticking out
Above: The female goldfish vent. Notice how it lumps out.

Identifying breeding tubercles on male goldfish

Male goldfish will get small white bumps that appear on their gill covers, these are called breeding tubercles.

A goldfish with breeding spots on its gills
Note the spots on the gills of the goldfish and around its eyes.

The spots or “breeding stars” usually also appear on the fish’s pectoral fin, as you can see in the photos below.

Close-up of goldfish breeding spots on gills
Another angle showing breeding tubercles on the gills, pectoral fin, and around the eyes.
Breeding tubercles on a male black moor goldfish
Breeding tubercles on the gills and pectoral fin of a Black Moor goldfish.

What are breeding tubercles for?

It’s not completely clear what goldfish breeding tubercles are actually for. However, the scientific evidence suggests they help to show that the male goldfish is in a healthy breeding condition.

Male goldfish with more breeding tubercles tend to be healthier and breed more successfully.

The tubercles could therefore be an outward sign to female goldfish that a male is a good choice of mate.

How to tell different between breeding stars and ich parasite

The white breeding tubercles can easily be mistaken for white spot disease, also known as Ick or Ich.

You should verify that spawning season is happening before trying to treat for any disease. Inappropriately treating a disease can cause disruption to the spawning time and health of the aquarium or pond.

Breeding stars appear as small dots in a very neat, regular pattern. They’re also most commonly found on the gills and pectoral fins (though can be found anywhere on the goldfish).

Ich causes similar looking white spots, but the spots tend to vary in size and appear with no organised pattern. They also appear randomly, all over the fish.

Chasing behavior during spawning season

During spawning season, male goldfish will chase females around and bump them into the sides of the tank.

Orange and white male and female goldfish swimming together
Typical goldfish mating behavior. A male chasing a female.

Seeing one goldfish chasing another like this gives you a clue about whether they are male or female.

Chasing suggests that the fish is male. While being chased suggests the goldfish is female.

However, this isn’t always a fool proof system. Particularly if you are housing different ages of goldfish in the same tank.

Sometimes, when pheromones are released by fish that are spawning, younger immature goldfish will start to act out behaviors that aren’t appropriate to their gender.

You may think you have a female because it is being chased, but then the following year it gets breeding tubercles and you realise it’s a male.

Chasing behavior should always be combined with other signs (such as breeding tubercles or releasing eggs or milt) in order to accurately work out whether a goldfish is male or female.

Releasing eggs and milt: The easiest way to tell if a goldfish is male or female

Of course, the easiest possible way to work out whether a goldfish is male or female is to spot them releasing milt or eggs.

Clearly, if you see a goldfish releasing eggs then you know it’s a female. And if you see a goldfish release milt then you know it’s a male.

But what does this look like?

Here are some pictures to help.

A male goldfish releasing milt
Do you see the white lines, like wisps of smoke, in this picture? That’s milt exiting the vent of a male goldfish.
A female goldfish laying eggs
And this is a female goldfish laying eggs. See the three small white dots? Those are the eggs.

How old do goldfish need to be to tell if they are male or female?

The physical differences between male and female goldfish will only show once the fish has reached sexual maturity and is in good health.

The normal age for a goldfish to reach maturity is above one year of age. However, fish can sometimes reach maturity earlier or later.

If you are trying to breed goldfish, then the best thing to do is buy six fish from the same tank at the store because you get a high chance of getting a male and female.

Just be sure that you have a large enough tank or pond to house them all safely.

Other physical characteristics of male vs female goldfish

The primary signs of male vs female goldish are:

  • Spots on the gills and pectoral fins during breeding season (males)
  • A vent that sticks out (females)
  • Chasing (males) and being chased (females)
  • Laying eggs (females) and releasing milt (males)

More subtle – and less reliable – secondary signs include:

  • The pectoral fin in male goldfish tends to be thicker and longer.
  • Pectoral fins are usually more pointed in males compared to females.
  • The anal fin in males is closer to the tail compared to females.
  • Male goldfish tend to have more flowing fins and tails compared to females.
  • Male goldfish tend to have a slightly smaller and skinnier body compared to females.
  • Females will have a larger and rounder body and their abdomen can appear soft.
  • Females can be asymmetrical during spawning season when looked at them from above due to the egg development.
  • Often, females are deeper bodied compared to males when they are looked at from the side.
  • A ridge that runs through the rear of the pelvic fins and to the opening of the vent is often more pronounced in males and smaller or absent in females.

However, these secondary rules don’t hold true for all goldfish. We therefore recommend not drawing any firm conclusions about whether a goldfish is male or female until you spot some of the primary signs.

4 thoughts on “Male or female goldfish? How to tell (with pictures)”

  1. I have 2 goldfish, a male and a female. I’ve had them for 3 and half years and they haven’t mated yet. Why?

    • HI TerraLynn,
      Thanks for commenting, goldfish naturally spawn in schools where they feel most comfortable in larger numbers.
      You will know when they are spawning as the males develop rough bumpy white spots on their pectoral fins and gill plates.
      Part of their courtship is for the males to chase females at high speeds, so you may need to increase their tank or pond size if it is too small.

      goldfish will also only spawn if they have a place to drop their eggs, usually this is within plants or moss.

      Hope this helps.


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