Shubunkin – or Calico – Goldfish: Care, History, Photos and More

Close up of a multi-colored Shubunkin goldfish
Original image, used with permission: “Herman, the Shubunkin Goldfish” Copyright Pamela Smith, on Flickr

The shubunkin goldfish is a hardy variety and therefore relatively easy to keep, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have needs and requires attention.

While shubunkins don’t have the flowing tails or flashy good looks of some types of fancy goldfish, they make up for it with their impressive coloring.

Description

Shubunkin goldfish are single-tailed with flat, elongated bodies very similar to comet goldfish. They have broad, short heads and bodies that taper evenly from their back and belly down to their caudal (tail) fin.

There are three variations of shubunkin that all differ somewhat.

  • American shubunkins have slightly larger and droopier caudal fins than other types
  • Bristol shubunkins have shorter and more rounded heart-shaped caudal fins
  • London shubunkins are somewhat stockier than other types and look more like common goldfish than comet goldfish

Shubunkin Goldfish Colors and Variations

The shubunkin’s unusual coloring is what defines them.

All shubunkin must have a patchy and/or spotted calico pattern with a blue background that covers at least 25 percent of the fish.

Blue is an unusual color in goldfish, so the more vivid the blue, the more attractive the fish is deemed to be. Shubunkin with vivid, highly contrasting colors are also particularly sought-after.

Any specimen that doesn’t have a calico coloring with a blue background isn’t considered a true shubunkin.

How Big do Shubunkin Goldfish Get?

Shubunkin goldfish grow larger depending on the size of their tank or pond. It’s not so much they “grow to their environment” as their growth is stunted when kept in too small an aquarium.

Average size is about 5 to 8 inches, but when kept in a large enough environment, such as a pond, shubunkin can grow up to 18 inches in length.

How Long do Shubunkin Goldfish Live?

If kept in an aquarium, the average lifespan of a shubunkin is about ten years, whereas this increases to about 25 years if kept in a pond. However, in rare cases, shubunkin goldfish can live up to 30 years.

That said, many goldfish die after just a year or two (or even after a couple of months) because they’re not properly looked after. So, you should always do your research to ensure your fish is getting everything it needs.

History, Origins and Development

The history of goldfish begins in china. All of today’s goldfish are descended from wild carp that were kept in ponds in China over a thousand years ago. However, different types of goldfish may have more recent origins, the shubunkin included.

Shubunkin goldfish were developed in Japan around the turn of the 20th century by a man named Yoshigoro Akiyama I. He cross-bred the common goldfish, the single-tail wakin goldfish, and the calico telescope goldfish to create a single-tailed variety with a unique calico pattern.

Easy or Hard to Keep in a Home Aquarium?

Shubunkins are hardy fish that can tolerate the occasional slip-up, which is why many people suggest that they’re excellent starter fish for the beginner aquarist.

We certainly agree that they’re simple to look after, but they may not be the best first fish unless you’re willing to get an extremely large tank for them, as they do require a lot of space.

They also have a significant lifespan, so be prepared to commit ten years plus to the life of this fish.

Shubunkin Goldfish Care Requirements

As noted above, shubunkin are relatively easy to keep, so they don’t have any extra special needs above and beyond what any other goldfish requires.

Feeding Shubunkin Goldfish

Shubunkins are omnivores and aren’t picky eaters. They’ll eat a range of plant and animal foods from mosquito larvae to fresh vegetables to flake or pellet foods.

A good quality flake or pellet food that’s designed for goldfish and doesn’t exceed 30 percent protein is a good base for a shubunkin’s diet, as it provides reasonably well-balanced nutrition.

However, variety is key here, so you should also supplement their diet with fresh, frozen or freeze-dried foods.

Goldfish will overeat given a chance, so be sure you’re feeding an appropriate amount for your fish’s size, and ideally feed them two small meals a day instead of one large one.

Aquarium Set-up

The right tank set-up for your shubunkin goldfish will help keep them happy and healthy.

Tank Size and Shape

Shubunkin goldfish can grow so large that a big pond is the ideal environment for them. That said, they can be kept in tanks if you’re willing to go large enough.

Start out with a 30- to 40-gallon tank for a single shubunkin and add an extra 10 gallons for each additional fish. You should, however, be prepared to upgrade to an even larger tank if your shubunkin grows so large that they seem cramped in their current environment.

Ideally, their tank should be wider than it is long, as this maximizes the space they have in which to swim horizontally. Plus, the increased surface area means that the water is more thoroughly oxygenated.

Filtration

Like other types of goldfish, shubunkins produce a hefty amount of waste, including lots of ammonia. Therefore, good filtration is essential, unless you want to be constantly changing the water in the tank.

Make sure the filter you choose is of appropriate strength for the size of your tank. It’s best to size up where possible, to deal with all that extra goldfish waste.

For instance, if you have a 40-gallon tank, it’s even better to go for a filter that’s designed for a 50- or 60-gallon tank as it will be stronger and more effective.

Substrate Requirements

Since shubunkins like to forage for food at the bottom of the tank, it’s best to have some kind of substrate in their tank, rather than just a bare bottom.

Smooth gravel that’s not small enough for your shubunkin to swallow is ideal. Avoid sharp substrate as it could catch on their fins.

Lighting

Unless they’re kept in an extremely dark corner of the room without any natural light, shubunkin don’t absolutely need lighting in their tank, as they should get enough ambient light from the room.

It’s also worth noting here, you shouldn’t put their aquarium in direct sunlight as it can heat up the water too much and encourage algae to grow.

While you may not need a light, you might want one anyway to make the tank look brighter and more interesting. You shouldn’t keep it on for more than 8 hours a day, however, as goldfish need darkness, too.

Temperature

Shubunkin goldfish are cold water fish, who thrive at temperatures of between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Unless you live in a particularly cold climate, it’s likely that the temperature inside your house will usually remain within these levels, so a water heater isn’t necessary.

Tank Mate Compatibility

Many experts report that shubunkin are relatively sociable fish, so we’d recommend keeping them with at least one or two tank mates.

Because shubunkin live in cold water, you can’t keep them with any tropical fish. In fact, your best bet is to keep them with other similar goldfish. Common goldfish, comet goldfish, and other shubunkins are ideal.

It’s not a good idea to keep them with fancy goldfish because they’re much slower and the shubunkin will out-compete them for food.

Video: A Close Look at the Shubunkin Goldfish

Here you can see a couple of young shubunkins in a 55-gallon tank, giving them plenty of room to swim around in.

 

Final Thoughts

Shubunkin may be simple to keep with few complex requirements, but they do grow large, so you must be committed to providing them with the space they need.

If you’re willing to house them in a sizable aquarium, they can be extremely rewarding, long-living fish to keep.

Happy fish keeping!

Wendy Kathryn

Hi, I'm Wendy, the owner and creator of this website, an experienced fish keeper and avid student of the art since 2010. My aim is to help beginners avoid the many possible mistakes when getting started in this wonderful hobby.

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