Shubunkin Goldfish: Intro & Care Guide

Did you know that there are no two Shubunkin goldfish that look exactly the same? In fact, Shubunkin goldfish are much sought after because of their unique coloration.

There are three varieties of Shubunkin. So, which one is the best choice for life in a fish tank? How long do Shubunkins live for? And, which kind of Shubunkin is most suitable for a beginner?

Read our comprehensive guide to the Shubunkin goldfish to find out!

Goldfish Origins

Shubunkins are just one of around 200 varieties of goldfish. The origins of all goldfish can be traced back around 1,000 years to a species of wild carp that’s still found today in parts of Asia, specifically in Siberia.

The Prussian carp were once a common food source, known locally as “chi.” These wild fish are a dull silver-gray in color, although a genetic quirk occasionally produces a brightly colored orange, yellow, or red specimen. These attractive novelties were removed from the wild population and added to ornamental fish ponds, it’s thought by Buddhist monks.

The fish bred readily, producing more attractive colors, which captured the imagination of early fishkeepers. Soon, more and more color morphs and forms were produced through crossbreeding, and by the 14th century, goldfish were being traded between China and Japan.

In the 1600s, goldfish arrived in Europe and reached the U.S. by the 1800s.

The Shubunkin Goldfish

According to some records, Shubunkins were first produced by Japanese breeders in the late 1800s.

Like all goldfish, Shubunkins are members of the Cyprinidae family of fishes. They have the scientific name Carassius auratus auratus and have several common names, including:

  • Shubunkin
  • Calico goldfish
  • Harlequin goldfish
  • Speckled goldfish
  • Coronation fish
  • Chuwen-chin (in China)

But, thanks to the Shubunkin’s rare blue color, these beautiful fish are generally regarded as more valuable than other varieties.

What Do Shubunkin Goldfish Look Like?

Shubunkins have short, broad heads and a long, flat body that tapers to a deeply forked tail. The fins are upright, and the edge of the dorsal is slightly concave. 

But it’s the fish’s coloration that makes them so popular. Shubunkins are generally described as calico, meaning they have a random mixture of many colors, including:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Black
  • Brown
  • Gold
  • White
  • Purple
  • Gray
  • Yellow

For the fish to be a true Shubunkin, the base color must be blue. Blue is rarely seen in goldfish, so the more blue the fish has, the greater its value, and the more sought-after it will be.

No two Shubunkins are exactly the same. So, if you buy one of these beauties, you’ll know that you have one of a kind!

Varieties of Shubunkin Goldfish

The Shubunkin comes in three forms:

  • The London Shubunkin
  • The American Shubunkin
  • The Bristol Shubunkin

Although all three types of Shubunkins have the same calico coloration superimposed on a blue background, they are quite different in form.

London Shubunkin

The London Shubunkin has a more slender body and noticeably more rounded fins than the other types.

American Shubunkin

American Shubunkins are thought to be the original form of these fish. Sometimes called the Japanese Shubunkin, this variant has the classic Shubunkin body shape, but their tails are very deeply forked and much longer than the other forms.

Bristol Shubunkin

The Bristol Shubunkin has a similar body shape to the Comet goldfish but has rounder, shorter finnage.

Male or Female?

If you want to breed your fish, you’ll need to make sure you have a mix of males and females.

Unfortunately, both sexes are much the same in appearance. However, during the spring, when the weather becomes warmer, and spawning is imminent, you can tell the difference between them.

Female fish are generally plumper when viewed from above, whereas males develop white spots over their heads and gill covers, commonly known as breeding stars or tubercles.

How Big Are Shubunkin Goldfish?

Shubunkins are generally considered more suitable for life in a garden pond than a tank unless you have a very large aquarium.

These are big fish! When fully grown, Shubunkins reach between 12 and 18 inches in length. Generally, Shubunkins kept in ponds grow larger than tank-kept specimens.

How Long Do Shubunkin Goldfish Live?

The usual Shubunkin’s lifespan is between ten and 15 years. However, pond fish typically live much longer than that.

Compatibility and Tankmates

All goldfish are very social fish that don’t do well if deprived of company. So, we recommend that you keep at least two Shubunkins, ideally more if you have a large enough tank or pond.

What Fish Make Good Tank Mates For Shubunkins?

Shubunkins are peaceful fish that are more likely to thrive if kept in groups of conspecifics or with other large goldfish varieties. 

If you keep your Shubunkins in a pond setting, Koi and Golden Orfe can also make suitable companions.

Fish to Avoid

The Shubunkin is a very fast, agile swimmer. So, slower swimmers such as Lioneads, Orandas, and other Fancy goldfish don’t make a good choice of tank mates. These round-bodied fish will be outcompeted for food and might be injured if bumped into by the Shubunkin speedsters.

Large Shubunkins are perfectly capable of hunting and eating small fish, small snails, and shrimp. So, you can’t safely include any of those creatures in your tank.

What To Feed Shubunkin Goldfish

Like all goldfish, Shubunkins are omnivores, eating a mixture of plant matter, algae, and meaty protein.

To keep your fish healthy, we recommend feeding a mix of high-quality goldfish flakes, pellets, and frozen foods.

Can I Feed My Shubunkin Goldfish Live Foods?

Wild carp eat insect larvae, insects, worms, and small crustaceans, so all goldfish love live foods.

However, we recommend that you feed frozen food to your goldfish rather than live foods. 

Why?

Well, unfortunately, live foods are a common source of parasites and bacteria that you might accidentally introduce into your tank. The same goes for bugs and worms that you harvest from the environment.

There are lots of different frozen foods, including bloodworms, daphnia, tubifex, brine shrimp, and krill, which you can offer to your fish instead. Your Shubunkins will love these foods, and you won’t risk introducing disease into your tank.

How Often and How Much to Feed?

Goldfish are greedy creatures, and it’s easy to overfeed them.

Aquarium-kept Shubunkins

If you keep your fish in a tank, feed them twice a day, only feeding what they will clear in a minute or two.

Pond Fish

Shubunkins living in a fish pond will find plenty to eat in their natural environment. That means you won’t need to feed your fish every day when they are small. However, larger fish will need to have their diet supplemented with pond pellets.

Feed the fish once daily in the early morning or late afternoon, offering what they will eat in a couple of minutes.

Winter Feeding

In the winter months, when the water drops to below 50°F, you don’t need to feed your fish every day. 

In cold temperatures, the fish’s metabolism slows down so that they don’t need much food. A small amount of food once a week or so is adequate for your pond Shubunkins during the wintertime.

Tank Requirements

What Size Tank Do I Need For Shubunkin Goldfish?

If you want to keep Shubunkins in an aquarium setting, you need a large setup of 75 gallons or larger for one pair of fish. Add a further 10 gallons of water per additional fish.

As previously mentioned, Shubunkins are very agile, speedy swimmers, so you need to provide plenty of space for these large fish. For that reason, a long tank works best. Goldfish also need lots of oxygen, and the large surface area of a long tank is better for gaseous exchange.

Your tank should have a cover slide or a lid, as Shubunkins can jump when startled or excited by the prospect of being fed.

Shubunkin Tank Setup

Shubunkins like to dig around in the substrate, foraging for scraps. Unfortunately, that habit dislodges plants, so heavy medium-gauge gravel is a good choice. You should also anchor your plants with plant weights or put them in clay pots.

When it comes to choosing decorations for your tank, driftwood, stones, and other natural-looking items look great. Just be careful to leave plenty of swimming space for the fish, perhaps by arranging the decor around the perimeter of the tank.

Filtration

Shubunkins are messy fish that produce a large amount of waste, so your aquarium needs a very efficient filtration system.

Ideally, you want a filter that creates a decent amount of surface agitation to oxygenate the water while generating a good Gallons Per Hour flow rate. The best choice is probably an external canister filter with additional powerheads. For extra oxygen, a bubbler or air stone is beneficial.

Lighting

Shubunkins don’t need lighting in their tank, although your plants do. Also, a well-lit tank can really show off those gorgeous colors, so choose an LED lighting unit with a variety of effects to bring out the best in your fish.

Water Parameters

Shubunkins are coldwater fish that need a water temperature of between 65o and 72o Fahrenheit.

The water pH should be between 6.0 and 8.0, with the water hardness in the broad range of 5 to 19 dGH.

Tank Maintenance

You’ll need to keep your fish tank clean and safe for the Shubunkins by performing 30% water changes every week. 

Pay particular attention to deep-cleaning the gravel with an aquarium vacuum, especially in the corners of the tank, under decorations, and around the bases of plants. That gets rid of uneaten food, fish waste, and decomposing plant matter, helping to reduce the ammonia that gets into the water and easing the burden on your environmental filter.

Once every two to three weeks, use dirty tank water to wash sludge from the filter media to prevent clogging and keep the filter working efficiently. Replace spent media periodically as recommended by the manufacturer.

Health and Disease

If you keep your tank clean and properly maintained, your Shubunkins should remain healthy. However, even these hardy fish can be susceptible to some common fish diseases.

Generally, if you spot and treat the problem quickly, your fish will recover, and all these conditions can be treated with over-the-counter medication that you put in the tank water. Ask the staff in your local fish store for more advice on what treatment to use.

White Spot Disease

White Spot Disease is also known as Ich. 

The disease is caused by an aquatic parasite that’s often present in fish tanks. The parasite typically attacks fish that are weak or stressed.

Infected fish rub or flick their bodies on objects within the tank. As the parasite’s life cycle progresses, a sprinkling of tiny white spots appears over the fish’s gill covers, fins, and body.

External Parasites

There are several species of parasites that can affect coldwater fish, including flukes and fish lice.

You can often see these creatures clinging to the fish’s body or gills. Infected fish secrete large quantities of slimy mucus and rub against tank decor in an attempt to remove the irritating parasites.

Bacterial Infections

There are many types of bacteria that live in aquariums, some of which are necessary for the biological filtration system’s effective function. However, other bacteria attack fish that are injured or weak.

External symptoms can include red patches on the skin, sores, ulcers, and bloody or torn fins. Internal bacterial infections can go undetected until it’s too late to save the fish. 

Fungal Infections

Fungus is generally associated with poor water conditions and dirty tanks.

Fish infected by fungus develop fluffy white growths around the head, mouth, and body.

Breeding Shubunkin Goldfish

If you keep your Shubunkins in an outdoor pond, they will most likely breed naturally in line with the changing seasons. But you can also breed these fish in an aquarium setting.

Breeding Tank

The breeding tank should contain lots of dense planting, smooth stones, and some spawning mops.

You can trigger spawning behavior by lowering the water temperature to around 60°F and leaving the tank light on for an additional hour every day. Introduce the Shubunkins you want to breed to the spawning tank, and gradually increase the water temperature by 3°F every day until your fish start spawning.

Spawning usually starts when the temperature in the tank reaches between 68° to 74° F.

Throughout the breeding process, give your fish a high-quality, protein-rich diet that includes carefully sourced live bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp.

Spawning Behavior

Before the fish mate, you’ll see the male pursuing the female around the aquarium. Both fishes’ colors become even more vivid, and the male develops tubercles on his gill covers.

After a few hours, the female produces up to 10,000 eggs. Once the eggs appear, you’ll need to remove the parents to prevent them from eating the eggs and fry.

The eggs generally hatch within four to seven days. Feed the fry with infusoria and commercially prepared fry food. When the baby Shubunkins are large enough, you can give them baby brine shrimp and crushed fish flake.

Availability

Shubunkin are readily available from fish and pond stores and online. 

Prices vary quite widely, depending on the size of the fish and the amount of blue in its coloring.

Of the three varieties, the London Shubunkin is the rarest and is, therefore, the most expensive.

Final thoughts

Shubunkin goldfish are hardy, easy to care for fish that make a great choice for a garden pond or large home aquarium.

Do you have a rare example of a London Shubunkin? 

Tell us about your fish in the comments box below. And don’t forget to share this guide if you found it helpful.

Photo credit: iStock.com/calvste

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