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Shubunkin Goldfish – Tank Size, Care, Health And Lifespan

Did you know that there are three different types of Shubunkin goldfish, one of which is pretty rare?

Whichever variety of these super-popular, beautiful goldfish you decide to keep, you’ll be rewarded with many years of enjoyment, provided that you care for your fish properly. 

So, what tank size do you need for a Shubunkin? What’s the average lifespan of a Shubunkin and which variety lives the longest? Are Shubunkins suitable for beginners?

In this comprehensive guide to Shubunkin goldfish care, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to give these beautiful fish all that they need to thrive.

Shubunkin Goldfish – Overview

Scientific Name

Carassius auratus auratus

Common Name (species)

Shubunkin, Calico goldfish, Speckled goldfish, Harlequin goldfish, Coronation fish

Family

Origin

No wild populations, captive-bred hybrid

Diet

Omnivore

Care Level

Beginner

Activity

Active, sociable foragers

Lifespan

10 to 15 years, although some specimens live longer

Temperament

Peaceful, gregarious fish

Tank Level

Swim in all areas of the tank

Minimum Tank Size

75 gallons

Temperature Range

65° to 72° Fahrenheit

Water Hardness

5 to 19 dGH

pH Range

6.0 to 8.0

Filtration/Flow Rate

Needs strong filtration

Water type

Freshwater

Breeding

Moderate, egg-layers

Compatibility

Good community fish

OK, for Planted Tanks?

Tends to dig, so can uproot plants. May nibble tender new shoots and leaves.

Origins

There are around 200 different species of goldfish, all of which are thought to be genetically descended from wild Silver Prussian carp that are found extensively in Asia, more specifically in Siberia. 

These wild carp, or “chi” as they were called, were the most commonly eaten fish species in China. In fact, the fish were captive-raised as a food source. Chi is a rather drab gray or silver in color. However, every now and then, a wild fish would produce a random orange, red, or yellow fish due to a genetic anomaly. 

Clearly, brightly colored wild carp would quickly be eaten by predators, so kindly ninth-century vegetarian Buddhist monks “rescued” a few of those early goldfish and kept them in ponds as pets.

These early fishkeepers began experimenting with crossbreeding the colorful chi, creating more and more varieties. By the 1500s, goldfish in many different forms and colors were being traded with neighboring Japan. The 1600s saw ornamental pond fish arriving in parts of Europe, and by the 1800s, goldfish had reached the U.S.

Enter The Shubunkin

Goldfish Shubunkin. This is a breeding form Of goldfish, bred in Japan.

It’s thought that the first Shubunkins were developed around 1900 in Japan, and, in China, the unusual color variant is called Chuwen-chin.

Thanks to the Shubunkin’s blue color, which is rare in goldfish, these gorgeous creatures are considered to be more valuable than other goldfish color morphs.

Natural Habitat

There are no wild Shubunkin goldfish, although the Silver Prussian carp can still be seen alive and well in Central Asia. 

Although all the different varieties of goldfish you find in fish stores are commercially bred, they eat the same diet as their wild distant relatives and prefer the same habitat. Wild carp live in slow-moving bodies of water such as small rivers, lakes, ponds, and ditches, feeding on algae, plant matter, small crustaceans, and insects, and insect larvae.

Thanks to their ancestry and large size, Shubunkins are typically happier and longer-lived if kept in a garden pond rather than a tank.

Appearance

Shubunkin Goldfish, carassius auratus, Aquarium Fish

Shubunkin goldfish are flat-bodied, elongated fish. These fish have a wide, short head and a smoothly tapering body that becomes narrower from the back and belly to the base of the forked tail fin. Unlike Fancy goldfish species, the Shubunkin’s fins stand erect, and the edge of the dorsal fin is somewhat concave.

The Shubunkin is universally popular because of its coloration. The fish are commonly described as calico, meaning that they have a mottled combination of many different colors, including:

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

All those colors must be set on a blue base color. Blue is a very rare color in goldfish, and the more blue a Shubunkin has, the more valuable it will be.

Types Of Shubunkin Goldfish

There are three varieties of Shubunkins:

  • The American
  • The London
  • The Bristol

American Shubunkin

American Shubunkins have the characteristic multicolored appearance of all Shubunkins but are distinguished by their tails. These fish have much longer, more deeply forked tails than the other variants. 

Sometimes, this type of Shubunkin is called the Japanese Shubunkin, as it is thought to be the original form of the species.

London Shubunkin

London Shubunkins are calico colored but they have much more rounded fins and a more slender body shape than the other types.

Bristol Shubunkin

The Bristol Shubunkin has a slender body like that of the Comet goldfish, but with shorter, rounder fins.

Is My Shubunkin Male Or Female?

Male and female goldfish generally look pretty much the same. However, you can differentiate between male and female fish when the breeding season comes around when the water warms up and the days lengthen in the springtime.

If possible, observe your Shubunkins from above. Female fish are usually wider and rounder than males. Also, when male goldfish are in breeding condition, they develop white pimples over their gill covers and heads called tubercles or breeding stars

Size

So, what size will your Shubunkin goldfish reach?

Shubunkin goldfish generally grow to between 12 and 18 inches long when fully grown. Fish kept in large outdoor ponds typically achieve a larger size than tank-kept Shubunkins.

Life Expectancy

Shubunkin Goldfish, carassius auratus, Aquarium Fish

Shubunkins have a life expectancy of between ten and 15 years, although it’s not unusual for these fish to live much longer than that if kept in optimum conditions.

Compatibility And Tankmates

I recommend that you don’t keep one Shubunkin goldfish on its own. These are highly social fish that will not thrive if kept in isolation.

Tank Mates

Like all goldfish varieties, Shubunkins are peaceable creatures that are happiest when they’re kept in groups of conspecifics or similar types of other coldwater fish

Read a detailed article on safe tank mates for goldfish in the article at this link.

Fish To Avoid

All varieties of Shubunkins are agile, fast swimmers. For that reason, it’s not a good idea to mix these speedsters with slower, clumsy swimmers such as Orandas, Lionheads, and other types of fancy goldfish. 

Lionhead goldfish, Carassius auratus, in front of white background

The Shubunkins will snap up all the food you offer before the fancies get a look in. Also, fancies are typically poor swimmers and will most likely be bumped into and potentially injured by the fast-swimming Shubunkins. 

Very small fishes should also be avoided, as a large goldfish will most likely regard the tiddlers as a food source.

Can Shrimp Live With Shubunkin Goldfish?

Shubunkins can grow to quite a large size and they have mouths to match!

Goldfish are notoriously greedy fish that will make a meal of pretty much anything that’s small enough to fit into their mouths, including shrimp and small snails. 

Feeding

If you feed your fish the highest quality food you can afford, you can be sure that your pets will be getting all the nutrients and variety they need to remain healthy. Buying cheap fish food is really a false economy because budget brands often contain a high percentage of padding that has no real nutritional value. 

What to Feed Your Shubunkin Goldfish

All goldfish are omnivorous. That means they need a mix of meaty protein and plant matter in their daily diet. So, I recommend a blend of goldfish flakes, pellets, and frozen foods.

Little girl feeding fishes in the aquarium.

Do Shubunkin Goldfish Need Live Foods?

Just like their wild cousins, the Prussian carp, goldfish love live foods. However, I recommend frozen foods rather than the living equivalent.

Why? Well, unfortunately, live foods often come with hitchhikers in the form of parasites and bacteria, so that yummy meal your fish are enjoying can be deadly. Harvesting insect larvae, worms, and the like from your local pond might seem like a good option, but that should be avoided for the same reason.

If you really want to give your Shubunkins live food, the safest option is to keep a home brine shrimp hatchery if you have the space and time. 

How Much And How Often To Feed

Goldfish are voracious feeders, and they will eat everything that they’re offered without complaint. Unfortunately, that means it’s easy to overfeed your fish, which can sometimes cause health problems.

Tank-kept Shubunkins

I recommend that you feed tank-kept Shubunkins twice a day, giving them only what they will eat in a couple of minutes.

Pond Fish

Japanese garden with swimming koi fishes in pond. Nature background

If your Shubunkin goldfish live in a pond in your garden, they will find quite a lot to eat in the form of plant matter, algae, insects, and insect larvae that occur naturally in their environment. So, if you have just a few small fish, you won’t need to feed them. 

However, larger specimens will need to be fed with goldfish pellets. Feed the fish once a day, offering only enough to last the fish a few minutes. Don’t overfeed the fish, as uneaten food will decompose in the pond, polluting the water and overburdening your filtration system.

Feeding Pond Fish In Winter

When the pond water temperature falls below 50°F, stop feeding your fish every day. When the temperature drops, your cold-blooded goldfishes’ metabolism slows so much that they don’t need much food at all. A small feed given by hand once or twice a week is all the Shubunkins need in winter weather. 

Tank Requirements

Tank Size

Shubunkin goldfish grow rapidly and can reach 12 to 18 inches when fully grown. So, you need a large tank of at least 75 gallons for one fish or a pair. For any additional fish, add a further 10 gallons per fish.

close up image of underwater landscape nature style aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants inside.

Goldfish are also very dirty fish, producing large quantities of waste matter. So, the greater the water volume in the tank, the more the waste will be diluted. That makes for a healthier environment for the fish and less maintenance work for you. 

Tank Shape

Shubunkins are fast swimmers that need plenty of space to move around, so choose a long tank rather than a deep one. That shape also permits excellent gaseous exchange, which is crucial for these oxygen-hungry fish. Needless to say, a goldfish bowl is not a suitable home for Shubunkins. A bowl is much too small for these lively fish and does not offer enough surface area.

Does A Goldfish Tank Need A Lid?

Shubunkin goldfish can jump when alarmed or when food is on offer, so you must choose a tank with a tightly fitting lid or a cover slide.

Tank Setup

Shubunkins don’t have any specific requirements when it comes to tank set up. The look of your aquarium and aquascaping you choose is entirely to your personal preference.

That said, there are a few things to consider when setting up a tank for Shubunkins:

Asian women set the fish tank

Substrate

Goldfish like to dig around in the substrate on the lookout for morsels of leftover food to grab. To prevent injury to your fish, a medium-gauge, smooth gravel is the best option. 

Decoration

Goldfish often look best when displayed against a natural-looking backdrop. So, driftwood, smooth rocks, and twisted roots can all look good.

Remember that these fish are active swimmers, so don’t clutter the tank too much, and leave a clear area of open water in the middle of the tank.  

Plants

Living plants are an excellent addition to any aquarium, utilizing toxins as nutrients and helping to oxygenate the water through photosynthesis.

background of the aquarium with green plants

However, goldfish are confirmed plant nibblers, so you need to choose robust species whose tough leaves are not appealing to the fish. Remember that your Shubunkins like to dig in the substrate, which can uproot plants. Use plant weights to anchor the plants or put them in clay pots.

Habitat Requirements

Filtration

It’s an urban myth that you don’t need a filter for goldfish! All goldfish, including Shubunkins, produce lots of waste that will pollute the tank if you don’t have an efficient filter.

The best choice of filtration system for goldfish is something that generates enough power to provide excellent circulation and surface agitation but without creating a strong flow. For that, an external canister filter system and powerheads are recommended. You might also want to add an air stone or a bubbler to help oxygenate the water.

Water Parameters

Water Temperature

All goldfish are coldwater fish, preferring a water temperature of between 65o and 72o Fahrenheit.

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

Lighting

close up image of landscape nature style aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants inside.

Goldfish will do fine with natural ambient lighting. However, your plants will need between eight and ten hours of light per day for photosynthesis. 

Basically, you need to select an LED lighting unit that suits the light level requirements of the plant species you’re growing in the aquarium.

Tank Maintenance

Carry out weekly 30% water changes and deep-clean the substrate with an aquarium vacuum. Take care to remove leftover food, dead plant matter, and fish waste from between the base of plants, in the corners of the tank, and from underneath items of tank decor.

Use an algae magnet to clear algae from the viewing panes so that you can enjoy your fish. But be careful not to scrape away all the beneficial bacteria and biofilm that are essential for biological filtration.

Male hand cleaning aquarium using magnetic cleaner.

You need to rinse the filter media in dirty tank water once every few weeks or so to keep it from getting clogged with sludge. Change the old filter media every so often, as recommended by the manufacturer.

Setting Up The Aquarium

Assemble everything you need to set up your aquarium, including: 

  • Canister filtration system or powerhead
  • Air stone or bubbler (if used)
  • LED lighting unit
  • Plants
  • Medium-gauge gravel substrate
  • Smooth rocks, driftwood, twisted roots, etc
  • Water conditioner

How To Set Up The Tank

  1. Wash the gravel under running water to get rid of dust. 
  2. Add a few inches of gravel to the aquarium. Place an upturned plate or dish on top of the substrate. 
  3. Fit the filter and heater, but don’t switch them on just yet. 
  4. Add dechlorinated tap water to an inch below the fill line. Pour the water over the upturned plate so that you don’t displace the gravel. 
  5. The water needs to contain a small amount of ammonia to initiate the nitrogen cycle. To do that, you can add some gravel from an established fish tank, sprinkle some fish flakes into the water, or add a drop or two of pure ammonia. 
  6. Wash your decorations to remove dust, and add them to the tank. 
  7. Trim live plants if you’re using them to remove dead or brown leaves and damaged stems, and plant the prepared stems in clay pots or directly in the gravel. Be sure to leave space between the plants for growth and spread. 
  8. Activate the heater and filter system, and let them run 24/7. Your plants will require between eight and ten hours of light each day to photosynthesize, so turn on your tank lights if appropriate. 

Cycling The Aquarium

Now, you need to wait until the tank has fully cycled. That can take at least ten days, and you can’t add fish to your tank until cycling is complete.

Test the water to see that the levels of ammonia and nitrites are zero and nitrate levels are, ideally, below 20ppm. 

If those levels are too high, you must allow time and keep re-testing the water.

Health And Disease

Shubunkin goldfish are hardy creatures, but they can sometimes be prone to a few diseases, especially if the water is dirty and polluted.

Signs Of Good Health

Shubunkins are active, sociable fish that enjoy swimming with their tank mates, digging, and foraging in the substrate.

Red Flags

Red flags that could indicate potential health problems include:

  • Not eating
  • Inactivity
  • Sores, ulcers, or red areas on the skin
  • Torn, ripped, or bloody fins 
  • Rubbing or flicking on the substrate or solid objects in the tank
  • Not socializing with companions

Common Health Issues And Treatment

Health Issue

Ich (White Spot Disease)

Flukes

Fungal infections

Bacterial infections

Symptoms or Causes

White Spot disease is a parasitic infection.
Infected goldfish rub against solid objects, and a scattering of white spots appears over the fish’s gill covers, fins, and body.

Flukes is an umbrella term for several species of parasites that fasten themselves to the fish’s body or gills. 
Fish with flukes secrete excessive mucus and rub against objects in the tank.

White, fluffy growths on the mouth, head, body, and gill covers.

Sores, ulcers, and red patches over the head and body, and ripped, bloody fins.

Suggested Action

Treat the tank with over-the-counter Ich medication.

Treat the water with an antiparasitic medication.

Quarantine infected fish, and treat the tank with antifungal medication.

Treat the water with an OTC antibacterial medicine.

Health Issue

Ich (White Spot Disease)

Symptoms or Causes

White Spot disease is a parasitic infection.
Infected goldfish rub against solid objects, and a scattering of white spots appears over the fish’s gill covers, fins, and body.

Suggested Action

Treat the tank with over-the-counter Ich medication.

Health Issue

Flukes

Symptoms or Causes

Flukes is an umbrella term for several species of parasites that fasten themselves to the fish’s body or gills. 
Fish with flukes secrete excessive mucus and rub against objects in the tank.

Suggested Action

Treat the water with an antiparasitic medication.

Health Issue

Fungal infections

Symptoms or Causes

White, fluffy growths on the mouth, head, body, and gill covers.

Suggested Action

Quarantine infected fish, and treat the tank with antifungal medication.

Health Issue

Bacterial infections

Symptoms or Causes

Sores, ulcers, and red patches over the head and body, and ripped, bloody fins.

Suggested Action

Treat the water with an OTC antibacterial medicine.

Breeding

Shubunkins are egg-layers and you can breed them in a home tank. The fish usually spawn in the spring when the weather warms up, and if you have goldfish in an outdoor pond, you’ll most likely discover lots of babies without having to make any effort at all! 

Spawning Tank

Set up a large spawning tank that contains plenty of lush plants, smooth pebbles, and perhaps a few spawning mops. When the eggs are laid, they will stick to the plants, pebbles, or spawning mops.

To induce spawning, reduce the water temperature to 60°. Over the next few days, slowly raise the temperature by 3° each day until the Shubunkins begin to spawn, generally, once the water temperature reaches between 68° and 74° F.

Feed the fish a high-protein, live diet of bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia, etc.

Spawning

Before mating takes place, the male fish chases the female around the tank, and both fish’ colors intensify. Watch out for breeding stars on the male’s gill covers that indicate he’s ready to breed.

The male fish will push the female against the plants to stimulate her to drop her cargo of eggs. That can take a few hours, and the female can produce up to 10,000 eggs.

The Eggs And Fry

Keep an eye on proceedings, and be ready to remove the parent fish once the eggs are laid, as they will eat the eggs and fry given the chance.

Hatching generally takes between four and seven days. When the fry is free-swimming, you can feed them infusoria and fry food, followed by baby brine shrimp and crushed goldfish flakes when the little Shubunkins are large enough to cope with that.

Availability

You can buy Shubunkin goldfish from most fish and pet stores.

Generally, Shubunkins are not very expensive, although you will pay more for those with exceptional blue coloration. London Shubunkins tend to be less commonly available and are, therefore, more expensive than the other varieties. 

Product Recommendations

  • Air stone and pump
  • Algae magnet
  • Aquarium (minimum size 75 gallons)
  • Aquarium vacuum
  • Books on keeping goldfish
  • Canister filtration
  • Powerheads (optional)
  • Medium-gauge gravel
  • High-quality goldfish flakes and pellets, frozen foods
  • LED lighting unit
  • Living plants (optional)
  • Smooth rocks, driftwood, tangled roots
  • Water conditioner/dechlorinator

In Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed our comprehensive guide to the beautiful, unusual Shubunkin goldfish.

Do you have Shubunkins in a tank or an outdoor pond? Are you the proud owner of a rare blue Shubunkin?

Tell us your story in the comments box below, and please remember to share our guide if you loved it!

Alison Page has been an avid fish keeper for over 35 years and has owned many different species of freshwater tropical fish including bettas. Currently Alison has two large freshwater tanks. The first tank has two huge fancy goldfish who are almost ten years old and still looking as good as ever. In the other, she has a happy community of tiger barbs, green tiger barbs, corydoras catfish, platys, and mollies.

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