Lionhead Goldfish

The Lionhead goldfish or Chinese Lionhead goldfish is an unusual fish that can make a fun, quirky addition to a Fancy goldfish aquarium. However, the goldfish’s “wen” or fleshy growth on its head makes this a delicate species that’s probably not the best option for beginners to the hobby. 

Read this care guide to find out everything you need to know if you fancy taking on some of these hugely popular coldwater fish. 

Origins Of The Lionhead Goldfish

The Lionhead goldfish, scientific name Carassius auratus, is thought to be related to a species of wild Prussian carp

In China in the 1700s, the carp were raised in ponds as food fish. One day, breeders noticed a few carp that had a few brightly colored scales and began experimenting with crossbreeding the fish. The result of that experiment was the first goldfish. Over the next couple of centuries, the fish were widely traded with Japan, Europe, and the United States, where they quickly gained popularity as ornamental pond fish.

All modern goldfish species are captive-bred, and any specimens that you see in the wild environment are most likely unwanted pets that have been released by their owners.

What Is A Lionhead Goldfish?

The Lionhead goldfish is one of 125 species of Fancy goldfish and is probably the most well-known and popular of these dorsal-less goldfish that include the Bubble Eye and Celestial Eye goldfish.

Like most Fancies, the Chinese Lionhead has an egg-shaped body. What makes this fish unique among goldfish is its wen or hood that’s meant to resemble the mythical Chinese lion-dog or Shishi. The growth of the fish’s distinctive lion’s mane or raspberry varies between individuals. Some specimens have a very broad head that becomes completely covered in the weird fleshy growth, except for the mouth, eyes, and nostrils, sometimes leaving the fish barely able to see. Other Lionhead goldfish develop hardly any head growth at all.

The fish’s body shape is very similar to the Ranchu goldfish that was created by Japanese breeders, although the Lionhead’s back is less curved. Lionheads have double caudal and anal fins. Occasionally, you’ll see a long-finned variety of Lionhead, although these are pretty rare.

Mistaken Identity

Sometimes, the Lionhead goldfish is mistaken for the Oranda. However, the Oranda has a dorsal fin, which Lionheads do not. Also, the Lionhead’s back is much more arched, and the raspberry growth around the head is more intense.

Lionhead Goldfish Lifespan

Some goldfish can live for up to 30 years, but those are exceptional cases.

Lionhead goldfish typically have a life expectancy of between ten and 15 years. However, if the fish are kept in a well-maintained tank and fed a correct, high-quality diet, the Lionhead can survive for 20 years or more.

What Size Are Lionhead Goldfish?

Lionhead goldfish typically grow to around 5 inches in length or a little more in some cases.

You’ll need to remember that when you buy your Lionheads, as those tiny little inch-long fish you see in pet stores are juvenile specimens of around six months old. Goldfish grow very quickly, roughly doubling in size in just a month or two. So, you must ensure that you buy a tank that’s big enough for your Lionheads once they’re fully grown.

Colors And Patterns

Lionhead goldfish come in a dazzling array of colors and patterns, including:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Chocolate
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Calico
  • Bi-colored (red and white or black and red)
  • Tri-colored (red, white, and black)

There’s also a red-capped variety of Lionhead with a pearly white body and a bright, crimson head.

Solid-colored fish usually have metallic scales, whereas the multicolored types are nacreous.

Price And Availability

You can usually find Lionhead goldfish in good pet and fish stores and online for around $10. 

Is The Chinese Lionhead Goldfish Suitable For Beginners?

We don’t recommend the Lionhead goldfish as a suitable fish for newbie goldfish owners.

The Lionhead’s wen is prone to injury and infection, and the fish’s rotund body shape and lack of a dorsal fin make these fish rather clumsy swimmers. Often, the fish struggle to compete for food with their more agile tank mates, leading to stress and even starvation in extreme cases.

Chinese Lionhead Goldfish Care Guide

In this part of our guide, you will learn how to care for these unusual, beautiful Fancy goldfish.

Tank Size

Lionhead goldfish need a tank of at least 10 gallons, and you’ll need to allow an extra ten gallons per additional fish.

Goldfish don’t stop growing just because their container is small! Instead, fish kept in cramped conditions tend to be stunted, and many develop physical abnormalities. So, it makes good sense to buy the largest tank you can afford to save the expense and hassle of having to upsize in the future.

The tank should be rectangular in shape rather than tall so that these poor swimmers can make it to the surface to feed. A shallow, long tank provides more surface area that allows for better gaseous exchange. That’s essential for goldfish, as these are oxygen-hungry creatures that don’t do well in an environment that’s starved of dissolved oxygen.

How Many Goldfish Can You Keep?

All goldfish thrive when kept in the company of other goldfish. 

However, don’t overcrowd your aquarium or pond, as that will stress the fish, leading to outbreaks of disease. As a general rule of thumb, you should allow 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish.

Water Parameters

Goldfish need cool water between 65o and 72o Fahrenheit. However, Lionheads are more delicate than many species and cannot tolerate water temperatures much below 60o Fahrenheit. 

The water pH level should be between 6.0 to 8.0, with a water hardness of between 5 and 19 dGH. Although goldfish are freshwater fish, they can tolerate a slightly brackish environment, provided that the salinity is kept below 10% with a specific gravity of under 1.002.

Ammonia and nitrite levels should always be zero, and nitrates should be 20ppm or less. 

Although goldfish are not known as jumpers, the tank should have a cover slide or lid to prevent accidents. A lid also reduces evaporation and keeps dust and foreign bodies out of the water. 

Filtration Systems

All kinds of goldfish are very dirty fish that produce huge amounts of waste every day. Goldfish don’t have a stomach. Whatever the fish consumes simply passes through the digestive tract, where the nutrients are extracted. Waste is then passed out into the water as the fish swims around. 

For that reason, you need a highly efficient, powerful filtration system in a goldfish tank. The filter you choose must pass the water around the tank and through the filter media at least four times every hour, 24/7. That will ensure that the water is clean and healthy for your goldfish.

Unfortunately, since Lionhead goldfish are terrible swimmers, you’ll need to use a filter system with an adjustable outflow valve to direct the current away from the fishes’ main swimming area. Alternatively, you can use thick clumps of plants or decorations to buffer the flow.

Tank Maintenance

Goldfish tanks do take quite a lot of maintenance to ensure that the environment stays clean and healthy and the filter runs efficiently. 

Each week, you should carry out a partial water change of up to 30% to get rid of nitrates from the water. Use an aquarium vacuum cleaner to remove organic waste, uneaten fish food, and plant debris from around plant bases, under your internal filter box, and beneath ornaments.

If your tank has living plants, you’ll need to trim off dead leaves and damaged stems. Clean any algae from the viewing panes so that you can see your fish. You might want to leave a few small algae colonies somewhere discreet to give your Lionheads something to graze on between feeds.

Tank Decoration

Since Lionhead goldfish are an artificial creation, you can use whatever décor scheme you prefer for your fish tank. However, there are a few important considerations to take into account in a Fancy goldfish tank.

Stay Safe!

The fleshy wen on the Lionhead’s head can be prone to injury, so don’t include anything sharp or rough in the tank that could damage the fish. Sometimes, the wen grows down over the fish’s eyes, obscuring the vision. So, it’s a good idea to place decorations around the perimeter of the main swimming area to avoid collisions.

Choose smooth, large gauge gravel for the substrate so that the fish don’t get damaged when they’re scavenging for food scraps.


Living plants are a useful and attractive addition to your aquarium. The plants will take up carbon dioxide and give off oxygen as they photosynthesize and remove toxic nitrates from the water for use as fertilizer.

However, goldfish are notorious plant destroyers, eating tender new leaves and uprooting plants while rooting through the substrate looking for scraps. That said, several robust species of plants can survive in a goldfish tank, including Marimo Moss Balls, Java Fern, and Anubias.


You’ll need lighting in your fish tank if you have living plants. Ideally, you want to have the tank lights on for eight to ten hours every day for the plants, which also allows you a great view of your Lionheads. 

Goldfish also benefit from a night-day cycle, and you can provide that by using aquarium lighting. When the lights come on in the morning, the fish know that it’s time to become active and feed. When the lights go out in the evening, the fish know that it’s time for sleep. Although you can operate your fish tank lights manually, it’s much easier to buy a lighting unit that has a built-in automatic timer. Alternatively, you can use a timer plug that you can buy relatively cheaply from good DIY or hardware stores.

Nutrition and Feeding

Lionhead goldfish eat a mixture of plant matter, algae, and meaty foods. A healthy basic diet for your fish should contain:

  • High-quality goldfish flakes and pellets
  • Frozen meaty protein includes bloodworms, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, etc.
  • Blanched fresh vegetables, such as zucchini, peas, etc.

You must include a portion of meaty food in your Fancy goldfishes’ daily diet to keep their digestive system working correctly.

Round-bodied Fancy goldfish are prone to gastric problems, including constipation and bloating. Those problems are generally caused by eating too many dried foods. The food builds up in the fish’s digestive tract, pushing on the swim bladder. That causes the fish to struggle to swim on an even keel, leading to stress and sometimes even death.

Fortunately, you can usually cure those issues by feeding your fish some meaty food or fresh vegetables.

Do Lionhead Goldfish Like Live Foods?

Lionheads would certainly gobble up a portion of live food, but we recommend that you don’t introduce living food into your aquarium.

Often, live food contains bacteria and parasites that can be extremely harmful to your fish and might even kill them. So, if you don’t have the luxury of a home brine shrimp hatchery, we suggest you give your Lionheads frozen meaty foods instead.

How Much To Feed Chinese Lionhead Goldfish?

Goldfish should receive two or three small meals daily. Feed your Lionhead goldfish only what they will eat in a few minutes to prevent overfeeding.

What Are Good Tank Mates For Lionhead Goldfish?

All goldfish varieties are peaceful creatures that are happiest when kept in groups. 

When choosing suitable tank mates for your Lionheads, we recommend sticking to other Lionheads or egg-shaped Fancy goldfish. Large shrimp species and snails can also make suitable companions for the fish and add variety and interest to the environment.

Flat goldfish are fast swimmers that often outcompete the slower Fancies for food and tend to barge and bump them at feeding times. Species to avoid are fin nippers and slim-bodied goldfish. Tiny fish and invertebrates are also not a good choice, as the Lionheads will probably view them as a food source. 

Health and Diseases

Lionhead goldfish are quite fragile compared with other types of goldfish, and a few health issues can affect them.

Wen Injuries

The Lionhead’s fleshy growth or wen is susceptible to injury and damage. 

Sometimes, when the wen is very large, fragments of detritus can become wedged between the folds, setting up bacterial infections.

If you notice any reddened areas or noticeable scratches or scrapes to the wen, quarantine the Lionhead, and treat the fish with a broad-spectrum antibacterial medication that you’ll get from good fish stores.


Ich or Ick is also commonly known as White Spot Disease.

The Ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite causes white Spot. The parasite is generally present in most freshwater and marine aquariums. However, Ichthyophthirius multifiliis only attacks fish that are already sick or stressed. 

During the early stages of its lifecycle, the parasite burrows into the fish’s skin, causing infected fish to flick or flash against solid objects in the tank in response to the irritation caused. A rash of tiny white dots appears on the fish’s fins, body, and gill covers within a few days. 

White Spot Disease is generally treatable with an over-the-counter medication from good pet stores.

Bacterial Infections

Lionheads that are injured or stressed can be vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections. Symptoms of infection often include: 

  • Red areas on the skin
  • Bloody ulcers
  • Lethargy
  • Ragged, ripped fins
  • Missing scales
  • Poor appetite
  • Breathing problems

You can usually treat minor bacterial infections with a proprietary drug that you can buy in good fish or pet stores.


Fluke is the umbrella term that’s commonly used to describe the many species of external parasites that can attack Lionhead goldfish. The most common flukes that you’ll see in coldwater tanks are:

  • Anchor worms
  • Fish lice
  • Skin flukes

Flukes are usually carried into your aquarium on new fish, with live food, or hidden in living plants. 

You can prevent flukes from invading your fish tank by quarantining any new fish in a separate tank for a couple of weeks before introducing them to your main display aquarium. Check underneath plant leaves carefully, and pick off anything suspicious. Then, rinse the plants in a mild solution of tank water and antiparasitic medication.

Breeding Lionhead Goldfish

Lionhead goldfish are pretty easy to breed, provided that you give the fish plenty of meaty protein in the run-up to spawning and provide them with the correct tank conditions.

For a successful breeding project, you’ll need a mixture of male and female Lionheads, ideally in the ratio of one male to two females. 

However, it’s virtually impossible to tell the two sexes apart when the fish are very young. In adult fish, males are usually slimmer and slightly smaller than females. Once males are in breeding condition, they develop white prickles or tubercles on their gill covers and head. We recommend that you start with a group of five or six individuals to have a good chance of getting a mixture of both sexes.

Spawning Conditions

Lionhead goldfish are egg layers. Wild carp begin to spawn in spring when the water gets warmer, and captive goldfish do the same.

Your goldfish must be in excellent condition, free from injury and disease, and sexually mature. The spawning tank should be at least 20 gallons and set up with spawning mops and a few flat rocks where the fish can lay their eggs.

Many breeders suggest keeping the male and female fish apart for a few weeks prior to breeding, as that seems to make them more interested in spawning when the time comes. Once you’ve added your breeding stock to the spawning tank, begin to increase the water temperature by a few degrees every day until the temperature is between 68o and 74o Fahrenheit.

You should change 20% of the tank water each day until the Lionheads begin to breed. Throughout this time, feed the fish daily with generous amounts of high-quality, protein-rich foods, including brine shrimp and bloodworms.


The male Lionhead goldfish pursues the female around the aquarium during spawning, rubbing against her to stimulate egg-laying. Once the eggs are deposited, the male fertilizes them. In a process that often lasts for several hours, the female can lay around 10,000 eggs.

Unfortunately, Lionhead goldfish would not win “parent of the year!” If left to their own devices, the fish will eat every egg before any fry emerge. So, remove the parent fish and put them into your main tank as soon as the eggs are laid.

The eggs hatch out after around seven days. The fry is free-swimming on hatching, and you can start offering them commercially-produced fry food right away. Once the baby Lionheads are large enough to cope, you can give them finely crushed Fancy goldfish flakes and live baby brine shrimp.

Baby Lionheads grow rapidly, and once the babies are an inch or so long, you can put them into your main aquarium. Don’t be disappointed because the juvenile fish are drab brown or bronze at first. That’s nature’s way of protecting the youngsters from predators, and within a month or so, the Lionhead’s true adult coloration and patterns will begin to emerge.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed our guide to the iconic Lionhead goldfish. If you did, please share it!

Lionhead goldfish are delicate Fancy goldfish that don’t make the best goldfish choice for beginners. However, if you are an experienced Fancy goldfish keeper, you might fancy keeping a few of these unique fish and even trying a breeding project in your home tank. Lionheads need a minimum 10-gallon fish tank with a powerful filtration system to keep the water clean and healthy.

Do you keep Lionhead goldfish? Did you breed your Lionheads successfully? Tell us about your goldfish in the comments box below.

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