Shubunkin Goldfish Care Guide

American Shubunkin
Credits to Michelle Jo

Shubunkin goldfish, as the name would suggest, is of Japanese origin and a colorful breed at that. They are colorful little creatures that get their name from their coloration and are also often referred to as calico goldfish or goldfish calico. Shubunkins, along with the rest of the goldfish species are from the Cyprinidae family, and was bred by Yoshigoro Akiyama by crossing the Calico telescope eye goldfish (for the color), the comet goldfish and the common goldfish for the stature.

One really cool trait about the shubunkins is they don’t possess teeth the way many other animals do. Instead, their teeth are located in the back of their throats, also known as pharyngeal teeth. Due to their bright and multi-hued coloration, these fish are great additions to any pond or aquarium. They are similar to koi fish in appearance, but aquarists will know that a huge difference between the shubunkin and the koi is the price tag.

If you are looking for an affordable yet just as beautiful addition to your aquarium, the shubunkin is a great choice. They are available in most pet stores, can keep you company for years and live up to their calico name with many color variations including hints of blue!

Information Chart
Care Level:
Easy to Medium
Temperament:
Peaceful
Color:
Red, yellow, white, orange, blue and black
Lifespan:
15 years
Size:
12 inches (1 foot)
Family
Cyprinidae
Diet:
Omnivorous
Minimum Tank Size:

75 gallons

Temperature:
65-72 ºF, 18-22 ºC
Water Conditions:
pH levels from 6 to 8
Tank Mate Compatibility
Fast, less timid and peaceful fish

Care Level

Shubunkins are hardy fish that are easy to care for. They can get quite big (about a foot long) so having enough space is imperative for them to thrive. This is why shubunkins are best kept in ponds, which can simulate their natural environment and have enough room to grow to their full potential.

These peaceful freshwater fish are not demanding in terms of water conditions and can stay healthy with very little. Shubunkins come in many color variants, but blue (yes, blue), is the most coveted, sought-after and expensive color of shubunkins. More on all of this later as we dive into more detail on these colorful fish.

Temperament and Behavior

Shubunkin, like a lot of other common goldfish, is friendly. They can get along with a lot of other fish, aside from more aggressive species. They can get quite large and they are also strong swimmers, which also contributes to their need for lots of room. They do well with other species and their own as they can be quite the social butterfly, but because of their tendency to outswim their tankmates and love to eat, you need to make sure there is plenty to go around.

When we say they love to eat, it was an understatement. These fish will clean up the tank and all the food you give, which helps maintain the tank or pond environment. It also minimizes the need for scavengers in the tank. You can find them swimming around the tank or dwelling at the bottom picking up leftovers.

Shubukin Goldfish
Credits to Axel Kuhlmann

Appearance

Although the shubunkin originates from Japan, the names that classify the most common shubunkins are named after cities miles away.

The London Shubunkin is slimmer with more rounded fins but the coloration is still the same (blue, red, black, white, orange and yellow). The Bristol Shubunkin is also slim, but their fins are more distinctive. The original shubunkin, the American or also referred to as the Japanese Shubunkin (a more suitable name due to its origin), has a deeply forked tail that’s longer than the other types.

Size

How big does a Shubunkin goldfish get? They can get quite large up to 12 inches (1 foot) long. The size does depend largely on the environment and diet given to the shubunkins. In the right conditions, it can grow to this size.

Color

Think of the shubunkin goldfish as a smaller version of koi. They come in many calico variations each more unique than the last. They are a combination of the following colors: red, yellow, white, orange, blue and black. Similarly to the comet goldfish, which also happens to be where they get it from, they can have long billowing tail fins that are gorgeous as they swim.

As mentioned before, blue is the most coveted color and the rarest as well. The more blue hues the shubunkin goldfish has, the more expensive and rarer it is. You will mostly find shubunkin goldfish with a white base and splashes of red, black, yellow, orange, and if you are lucky, blue. A mostly blue shubunkin fish will demand a hefty penny, so be sure you have the available funds if you want a rare one.

Lifespan

How long do Shubunkin goldfish live? Shubunkins are a hardy fish that can live quite long. Goldfish in general, if properly taken care of, are healthy fish that can live up to 15 years. Again, this largely depends on the environment and the level of care it receives. One thing you can be sure of is the fish will be with you for at least 10 years.

Diet

The Shubunkin goldfish is unique in the sense that it was bred in captivity and has known to be a domestic species. Due to this, it’s hard to gauge what these goldfish would eat in the wild since all they have ever known is captivity. If we compare them to other species of goldfish or their ancestors, we can come to the conclusion that they ate whatever they could in the wild.

An accurate projection of their diet would include plants and floating materials, smaller crustaceans and insects as well as whatever they can wrap their mouths around. This is why you need to be aware of what you place in the tank, but more on that later.

It can be tough when feeding the shubunkin goldfish because you would need to be more accurate with the portions. However, on the bright side, it does eliminate the need for scavengers and regular tank cleaning. Thanks to their love of eating that you can pretty much give them anything. Pellets and flakes are a great place to start but since they are omnivorous (both plant and meat-eating), we would suggest supplementing their diet with the occasional treat.

Think about extra greensand frozen foods. they will definitely appreciate the occasional bloodworm and shrimp in their diet.

Family

Like most other goldfish, the Shubunkins are a freshwater species from the Cyprinidae family.

Tank Conditions

Larger fish will need more space, this is why a pond is most recommended instead of a tank. Unless you have enough space indoors or you only plan on having 1 or 2 shubunkins, a pond is the way to go. It can make sure your shubunkin has enough room and the natural conditions of the outdoor environment will simulate what they are used to. The water flow should be slow and consistent if any at all but shubunkins are tough and can handle most subtle changes.

As we mentioned earlier, these fish love to eat. The substrate you place in the tank will need to be strong-rooted and fast-growing. As for tank liners, look for larger gravel and not sand since they are known to mistake it for food. The larger substrate will give it the chance to scavenge for leftovers like it would in a natural environment.

You can opt for a good filtration system or you would need to clean out the pond quite often since these fish are messy. They like to play around with their environment all in the name of searching for food.

Temperature

You should keep the temperature between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit (around 18 to 22 degrees Celsius).

Water Conditions

The PH levels should be around neutral, but since they are a hardy fish shubunkins can be more forgiving and live with pH levels from 6 to 8.

Minimum Tank Size

Just one shubunkin goldfish would need around 75 gallons! That means you would need a whole lot of room. This again backs up our suggestion of keeping them in a pond. Also, shubunkin goldfish are fast-growing, so you would need to commit to a large space right from the get-go. Keep no more than 2 shubunkins in a tank of 75 gallons. For an extra one, you would need to add another 75 gallons.

Maintenance and Care

They don’t need much from you in terms of tank maintenance other than cleaning. They do clean up well after themselves since they pick up leftovers. To keep them healthy, just make sure they always have clean water. The water could be contaminated by leaves and such if the pond is outdoors and their tendency to make a mess of the tank could soil water conditions as well.

To prevent the spread of diseases such as ich and swim bladder, you are looking at a 25% water change biweekly. They are prone to common fish diseases such as ich, swim bladder, fin rot, and more. Keep a close eye on your fish to make sure they are healthy. When they display signs of illness, it’s important to isolate them from the group until it has recovered to prevent the spread.

Suitable Tank Mates

Shubunkin goldfish and black fish at meenalokam aquarium

Can Shubunkin live with goldfish? Speaking strictly about temperament, yes, they can. However, you need to be sure that the species you choose are not slow and timid because fish like these will have the food snatched right from them. Chances are slower and timider fish will not get to feed at all and possibly die of malnutrition. Other goldfish, tetras, and certain catfish and barbs.

If you find that shubunkins are still dominating the tank and taking food from the other fish, you can feed them first towards one side of the tank then feed the slower and more disadvantaged fish on the other. However, you can avoid this disparity by adding other goldfish to the tank. Comet, koi, and fancy goldfish can more than match the energetic tendency of a shubunkin.

Other than fish tankmates, the shubunkin can get along well with crustaceans and tank cleaners as well if you choose to add them to the tank. Larger and peaceful creatures can live in harmony with the shubunkin and make a good match. Be sure to steer clear of aggressive predatory fish such as cichlids and the invertebrates you add to the mix should not be small enough for them to fit inside the mouths of your shubunkins.

Compatibility

For the least amount of stress and effort, we would suggest placing shubunkin goldfish with others of its family. They all have the same temperament and attitudes that won’t require extra attention from you.

Breeding

Again, these fish were bred in captivity, which makes it possible for aquarists to do the same at home. However, to ensure proper breeding, you would need a good number of fish between 4-5. If you remember what we said about tank size (75 gallons per 1-2 shubunkin), then you can do the math on how much space you would need for a group of that number.

You would definitely need more than one since they are a social fish that prefer to shoal. Much like the comet goldfish, there isn’t much effort needed on your part to trigger breeding. All you need to do is to ensure that the water conditions are right and the fish will do the rest. You would need a separate space or tank (especially if you have other fish species in the tank) because you would need to separate the parents from the eggs when laid.

Shubunkin fish tends to lay their eggs on surfaces and a tank full of plants (artificial or natural) will be good additions to catch the eggs. You need to lower the water temperature in the breeding tank to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (about 15-16 degrees Celsius) so you can see the tank will be colder than usual.

Your next step is to slowly increase the water temperature just a little bit day by day 1-3 degrees each day until you get to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (about 22-22.5 degrees Celsius). This will be a significant enough change to induce breeding since goldfish tend to breed in warmer waters.

To ensure the best conditions, be sure to always clean up leftover food (if there is any) from the tank to not spoil the simulated conditions. Also, during this time the fish will do well with a high protein diet of bloodworms and brine shrimp. When you start to see the males chasing the females around the pond or tank, you will know that you have succeeded and breeding is about to happen.

Their colors will then become brighter and darken. The females will lay their eggs against the plants, about 10,000 in total. The males will then fertilize them and spawning will only take a few hours. Shubunkins along with other goldfish are terrible parents because they will then start eating the eggs, which is why you should separate the adults once the eggs are laid.

A week later, you should see the fry swimming around the breeding tank. Give them food small enough for them until they are large enough to fit brine shrimp and such larger foods into their mouths. You can reintroduce them to their parents when they grow to be about an inch or two.

Conclusion

Shubunkins are great to have in a tank due to their easy care and them being a hardy breed. Both beginners and experienced aquarists alike can be mesmerized by their unique colors and relatively affordable price unless you find a blue one.

They do need a lot of space, but they can get along with many other species as long as you keep the food coming. If you have a large enough space, these fish can live for many years and are a cheaper alternative to the more expensive koi. These pretty creatures are available in most pet stores.

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