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Nishikigoi : An Overview Of Koi Fish
Koi, often referred to as swimming jewels of the Orient, are beautiful and elegant. They are ornamental varieties of common carp usually kept as pond fish. Koi have become well know and popular fish across the world. They enhance the beauty of any pond or water garden graced with their presence. The word koi comes from the Japanese translation meaning carp. This includes the dull grey and the more aesthetically pleasing varieties. The koi most of us are familiar with are the nishikigoi, which means brocaded or colorful carp. In Japan koi have become the national fish and are symbols of strength, love, and friendship.
Many carp species were originally domesticated in East Asia since they are initially native to Central Europe and East Asia. Carp were first domesticated as a food source. Carp naturally would show different color mutations. Such mutations would be bred for first in China more than 1,000 years ago. Fossils of carp have been found in China and date back 20 million years. Since carp are able to survive and adapt to many climates and water changes they were able to spread to many new location in the world including Japan. It is unknown exactly how koi were first introduced to Japan but many myths and theories are floating around.
Japan is now considered the experts when it comes to koi, in fact some refferr to koi as Japanese koi. Common carp were first bred in Japan for color and pattern in the 1820’s. By the 20th century numerous color patterns had been established. It wasn’t until 1914 at an annual expo in Tokyo that the rest of the world would come to know of the beautiful color variations of koi fish. After this debut koi popularity exploded across Japan and eventually the hobby of koi keeping would spread across the world. Today many types of koi can be found in pet shops. Higher quality fish can be found through specialist dealers or breeders.
Koi are striking fish and can be found in many beautiful colors and patterns. The most common koi colors are white, black, yellow, red, silver, orange, blue and cream. However, the possibility of colors and patterns are nearly boundless. Varieties are determined by factors such as color, pattern, and the type of scales. Numerous specific categories have been named and identified by breeders. New koi varieties are still being developed even today. Ghost koi were developed in the 1980’s and have gained popularity in the United Kingdom. They are actually a hybrid of wild carp and Ogon koi. They are known for their metallic scales. Another recent variety is Butterfly koi, sometimes referred to as Dragon koi or Longfin koi. They are another hybrid developed in the 1980’s and have become popular in the United States, this popularity has given them the nickname of American Koi. They are known for their long flowing finnage that traditional koi do not have. Since both varieties are hybrids some breeders do not consider them to be true nishikigoi.
There are many varieties but some of the major ones include:
- Kohaku: These koi are white and have large red markings on their backs. The name means red and white and they were the first ornamental variety to be established in Japan.
- Taisho Sanshoku: Sometimes referred to as Taisho Sanke are very similar to Kohaku except they have additional small black markings know as sumi. In the United State this variety is often referred to simply as Sanke.
- Showa Sanshoku: Also referred to as Showa Sanke are black koi with red and white markings. In the US they are often referred to as just Showa.
- Tancho: Are any koi with a single red patch on its head. They can be a Tancho Showa, Tancho Sanke, or even Tancho Goshiki. They are named for a Japanese crane that also has a red spot on its head.
- Utsurimono: Are black koi with white, red or yellow markings in a zebra pattern.
- Bekko: Are white, red or yellow koi with black sumi markings.
- Goshiki: Are dark fish with red kohaku style pattern. The base color can range from almost black to pale sky blue.
- Shusui: Were developed in 1910 by crossing Japanese Asagi koi with German mirror carp. These fish only have a single line of large mirror scales. These scales extend from head to tail. Most commonly seen in a pale sky blue or grey color above the lateral line and red, orange or very rarely bright yellow below the side line and on the cheeks. Since they are a hybrid some may not consider this variety to be a true nishikigoi.
- Chagoi: Are tea colored koi. They range in color from pale olive green, brown, copper, bronze or even dark downcast orange. They are popular for their friendly nature and large size. These koi are also considered a sign of good luck.
- Asagi: Are light blue and red on top and occasionally pale yellow or cream below the side line and on the cheeks.
- Kinginrin: Are koi with metallic scales. An English translation of the name would be gold and silver scales. Often referred to as Ginrin. Almost all koi varieties can be found in Ginrin.
- Ogon: Metallic koi of one color only. Most commonly seen in gold, platinum and orange. Rarely seen cream specimens exist.
- Kumonryu: Means 9 tattooed dragons, and are koi that are black with doitsu scales with curling white markings. The pattern is similar to Japanese ink paintings of dragons. They are famous for changing color with the seasons.
- Koromo: Are white koi with kohaku style pattern of blue or black edged scales.
- Ochiba: Are light blue koi with copper, bronze or yellow kohaku style patterns. They are similar to autumn leaves on water and their name in Japanese means fallen leaves.
- Hikari-moyomono: Koi have colored markings over a metallic base or have 2 metallic colors.
- Kikokuryu: Are also known as Sparkle Black Dragon or Glitter Black Dragon. These koi are metallic versions of Kumonryu with a Kohaku style patterns.
- Kawarimono: Is a collective term used for koi that cannot be categorized. They are often referred to as kawarigoi.
While some keep smaller koi in aquariums they are most popular as pond fish. They are hardy cold water fish and are relatively easy to care for. However, they do best when kept in a temperature range of 59-77 degrees F and do not react well to prolonged cold temperatures. Though their colors and patterns are stunning this also puts koi at risk against predators. Brightly colored koi are like moving dinner advertisements against the backdrop of a pond. Birds and small mammals are prime candidates for feasting upon a pond of koi fish. However with proper construction it is possible to make a safe pond for these lovely fish.
Koi enjoy a wide range of food, including insects and vegetation. Commercial koi food is not only nutritionally balanced; it floats on the surface encouraging fish to feed at the pounds surface. This not only allows you to watch them eat it gives you the opportunity to inspect the fish for health problems. Koi will begin to recognize the person feeding them and can even be trained to take food from hand. During the winter months their digestive systems slow almost to a halt and they require very little food. When the temperatures dip below 50 degrees F feeding, especially of protein should be stopped or the food can turn sour in the fish’s stomach and cause illness. Their appetites will return with warm weather. Take care to ensure the pond gets the proper oxygen and gas exchanges during the winter months so the fish do not die. Also the pond dept should be at least 4 ½ feet so that the water does not freeze solid. Koi fish can live for centuries and are often owned by more than one individual. Some koi can live over 200 years with excellent care but most have a lifespan of 25-35 years. They can grow to lengths of 18-36 inches.
Like many other fish koi breed by spawning. Females will lay large amounts of eggs which are then fertilized by males. Raising and caring for the resulting off spring, known as fry, can be a tricky job and is often left up to professional breeders. Although breeders carefully select the parents the offspring can display a wide range of color and quality. A single spawning will produce thousands of offspring. However the majority of these, even those produced by high quality koi, will not be accepted as nishikigoi. They may have no interesting colors, patterns or perhaps even be genetically defective. The unaccepted offspring will be culled, or killed at various stages of development at the breeder’s digressions. Fry that are culled are usually destroyed or used as feeder fish. Older unaccepted fish, usually between 3-6 inches, are often sold as low grade or pound quality koi.
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