Ojiya Nishikigoi no Sato ac (3).jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Genus: Cyprinus
C. r. var. "koi"
Trinomial name
Cyprinus rubrofuscus var. "koi"
Several koi swim around in a pond in Japan. (video)

Koi (, English: /ˈkɔɪ/, Japanese: [koꜜi]) or more specifically nishikigoi (錦鯉, Japanese: [ɲiɕi̥kiꜜɡoi], literally "brocaded carp"), are colored varieties of the Amur carp (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) that are kept for decorative purposes in outdoor koi ponds or water gardens.

Koi is an informal name for the colored variants of C. rubrofuscus kept for ornamental purposes. There are many varieties of ornamental koi, originating from breeding that began in Niigata, Japan in the early 19th century.[1][2][3] Several varieties are recognized by the Japanese, distinguished by coloration, patterning, and scalation. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, orange, yellow, blue, brown and cream, besides metallic shades like gold and silver-white ('platinum') scales. The most popular category of koi is the Gosanke, which is made up of the Kōhaku, Taishō Sanshoku and Shōwa Sanshoku varieties.


Carp are a large group of fish originally found in Central Europe and Asia. Various carp species were originally domesticated in East Asia, where they were used as food fish. Carp are coldwater fish, and their ability to survive and adapt to many climates and water conditions allowed the domesticated species to be propagated to many new locations, including Japan. Natural color mutations of these carp would have occurred across all populations. Jin Dynasty (fourth century AD) texts mentioned carp of various colors.[4][5] The oldest mention of colored carp in Japan is found in the Japanese history book Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) completed in 720. According to the Nihon shoki, it is recorded that Emperor Keikō praised colored carp in a pond in the Mino region in 94 and that Emperor Suiko saw them in the garden of Soga no Umako's residence in 620.[6][7] Carp were first bred for color mutations in China more than a thousand years ago, where selective breeding of colored varieties led to the development of the goldfish (Carassius auratus).[8]

The Amur carp (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) is a member of the cyprinid family species complex native to East Asia. Amur carp were previously identified as a subspecies of the common carp (as C. c. haematopterus), but recent authorities treat it as a separate species under the name C. rubrofuscus.[9] Amur carp have been aquacultured as a food fish at least as long ago as the fifth century BC in China. The systematic breeding of ornamental Amur carp began in the 1820s, in Ojiya and Yamakoshi in the Niigata Prefecture (located on the northeastern coast of Honshu) in Japan. Selective breeding gave rise first to red carp, then to pale blue Asagi and white, red, and yellow Bekkou. The Sarasa variety, with a red on white pattern, was created around 1830. Later, a yellow-based Ki utsuri variety was born. From this original handful of koi varieties, all other Nishikigoi varieties were bred, with the exception of the Ogon variety (single-colored, metallic koi), which was developed relatively recently.[1][3]

The outside world was unaware of the development of color variations in Japanese koi until 1914 when the Niigata koi were exhibited at an annual exposition in Tokyo. From that time, interest in koi spread throughout Japan. The number of varieties continued to grow, and repeated cross-breeding gave rise to more flashy varieties, such as Kōhaku, Taishō Sanshoku and Shōwa Sanshoku.[10]

The hobby of keeping koi eventually spread worldwide. They are sold in many pet aquarium shops, with higher-quality fish available from specialist dealers.[11][12] Collecting koi has become a social hobby. Passionate hobbyists join clubs, share their knowledge and help each other with their koi.[13] In particular, since the 21st century, some wealthy Chinese have imported large quantities of koi from Niigata in Japan, and the price of high-quality carp has soared. In 2018, one carp was bought by a Chinese collector for about $2 million, the highest price ever. There are also cases in which purchased carp are bred in China and sold to foreign countries, and many breeds are spreading all over the world.[14][15]


The words "koi" and "nishikigoi" come from the Japanese words 鯉 (carp), and 錦鯉 (brocaded carp), respectively. In Japanese, "koi" is a homophone for 恋, another word that means "affection" or "love", so koi are symbols of love and friendship in Japan.

Colored ornamental carp were originally called Irokoi (色鯉) meaning colored carp, Hanakoi (花鯉) meaning floral carp, and Moyōkoi (模様鯉) meaning patterned carp. There are various theories as to how these words came to be disused, in favor of Nishikigoi (錦鯉), which is used today. One theory holds that, during World War II, the words Irokoi and Hanakoi (which can have sexual meanings) were changed to Nishikigoi because they were not suitable for the social situation of war. Another theory is that Nisikigoi, which was the original name for the popular Taishō Sanshoku variety, gradually became the term used for all ornamental koi.[3]


In the past, koi were commonly believed to have been bred from the common carp (Cyprinus carpio). Extensive hybridization between different populations, coupled with widespread translocations, have muddled the historical zoogeography of the common carp and its relatives. Traditionally, Amur carp (C. rubrofuscus) were considered a subspecies of the common carp, often under the scientific name C. carpio haematopterus. However, they differ in meristics from the common carp of Europe and Western Asia,[9] leading recent authorities to recognize them as a separate species, C. rubrofuscus (C. c. haematopterus being a junior synonym).[16][17] Although one study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was unable to find a clear genetic structure matching the geographic populations (possibly because of translocation of carp from separate regions),[18] others based on mtDNA, microsatellite DNA and genomic DNA found a clear separation between the European/West Asian population and the East Asian population, with koi belonging in the latter.[19][20][21] Consequently, recent authorities have suggested that the ancestral species of the koi is C. rubrofuscus (syn. C. c. haematopterus) or at least an East Asian carp species instead of C. carpio.[9][22] Regardless, a taxonomic review of Cyprinus carp from eastern and southeastern Asia may be necessary, as the genetic variations do not fully match the currently recognized species pattern,[20] with one study of mtDNA suggesting that koi are close to the Southeast Asian carp, but not necessarily the Chinese.[23]


The Ojiya no Sato Museum in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, is the only museum in the world that exhibits both varieties of living koi and data that show the history of their breeding.[2]
The Ojiya no Sato Museum in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, is the only museum in the world that exhibits both varieties of living koi and data that show the history of their breeding.[2]

According to Zen Nippon Airinkai, a group that leads the breeding and dissemination of koi in Japan, there are more than 100 varieties of koi created through breeding, and each variety is classified into 16 groups.[24] Koi varieties are distinguished by coloration, patterning, and scalation. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, yellow, blue, and cream. Metallic shades of gold and platinum in the scales have also been developed through selective breeding. Although the possible colors are virtually limitless, breeders have identified and named a number of specific categories. The most notable category is Gosanke (御三家), which is made up of the Kōhaku, Taishō Sanshoku, and Shōwa Sanshoku varieties.

New koi varieties are still being actively developed.[25] Ghost koi developed in the 1980s have become very popular in the United Kingdom; they are a hybrid of wild carp and Ogon koi and are distinguished by their metallic scales. Butterfly koi (also known as longfin koi, or dragon carp), also developed in the 1980s, are notable for their long and flowing fins. They are hybrids of koi with Asian carp. Butterfly koi and ghost koi are considered by some to be not true nishikigoi.[citation needed]

The major named varieties include:[24]

Differences from goldfish

Koi have prominent barbels on the lip that are not visible in goldfish.
Koi have prominent barbels on the lip that are not visible in goldfish.

Goldfish (Carassius auratus) were developed in China more than a thousand years ago by selectively breeding colored varieties; by the Song dynasty (960–1279), yellow, orange, white, and red-and-white colorations had been developed. Goldfish were introduced to Japan in the 16th century and to Europe in the 17th century.[8] On the other hand, most ornamental koi breeds currently distributed worldwide originate from Amur carp (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) bred in Japan in the first half of the 19th century. Koi are domesticated Amur carp that are selected or culled for color; they are not a different species, and will revert to the original coloration within a few generations if allowed to breed freely.

Some goldfish varieties, such as the common goldfish, comet goldfish, and shubunkin, have body shapes and coloration that are similar to koi, and can be difficult to tell apart from koi when immature.[27] Goldfish and koi can interbreed; however, as they were developed from different species of carp, their offspring are sterile.[28][29]

Health, maintenance, and longevity

Koi in Yu Garden, Shanghai

The Amur carp is a hardy fish, and koi retain that durability. Koi are coldwater fish, but benefit from being kept in the 15–25 °C (59–77 °F) range, and do not react well to long, cold, winter temperatures; their immune systems are very weak below 10 °C. Koi ponds usually have a metre or more of depth in areas of the world that become warm during the summer, whereas in areas that have harsher winters, ponds generally have a minimum of 1.5 m (5 ft). Specific pond construction has been evolved by koi keepers intent on raising show-quality koi.

The bright colors of koi put them at a severe disadvantage against predators; a white-skinned Kōhaku is a visual dinner bell against the dark green of a pond. Herons, kingfishers, otters, raccoons, skunk, mink, cats, foxes, and badgers are all capable of emptying a pond of its fish.[citation needed] A well-designed outdoor pond has areas too deep for herons to stand, overhangs high enough above the water that mammals cannot reach in, and shade trees overhead to block the view of aerial passers-by. It may prove necessary to string nets or wires above the surface. A pond usually includes a pump and filtration system to keep the water clear.

Koi are an omnivorous fish. They eat a wide variety of foods, including peas, lettuce, and watermelon. Koi food is designed not only to be nutritionally balanced, but also to float so as to encourage them to come to the surface. When they are eating, koi can be checked for parasites and ulcers. Naturally, koi are bottom feeders with a mouth configuration adapted for that. Some koi have a tendency to eat mostly from the bottom, so food producers create a mixed sinking and floating combination food. Koi recognize the persons feeding them and gather around them at feeding times. They can be trained to take food from one's hand. In the winter, their digestive systems slow nearly to a halt, and they eat very little, perhaps no more than nibbles of algae from the bottom. Feeding is not recommended when the water temperature drops below 10 °C (50 °F).[30][31] Care should be taken by hobbyists that proper oxygenation, pH stabilization, and off-gassing occur over the winter in small ponds, so they do not perish. Their appetites do not come back until the water becomes warm in the spring.

Koi have been reported to achieve ages of 100–200 years.[32] One famous scarlet koi named "Hanako" was owned by several individuals, the last of whom was Komei Koshihara. In July 1974, a study of the growth rings of one of the koi's scales reported that Hanako was 226 years old.[33] Some sources give an accepted age for the species at little more than 50 years.[34][35]


Koi are very hardy. With proper care, they resist many of the parasites that affect more sensitive tropical fish species, such as Trichodina, Epistylis, and Ichthyophthirius multifiliis infections. Water pH is important for maintaining koi's health.[36] Water changes help reduce the risk of diseases and keep koi from being stressed. Two of the biggest health concerns among koi breeders are the koi herpes virus (KHV) and rhabdovirus carpio, which causes spring viraemia of carp (SVC). No treatment is known for either disease. Some koi farms in Israel use the KV3 vaccine, developed by Prof. M. Kotler from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and produced by Kovax, to immunise fish against KHV. Israel is currently the only country in the world to vaccinate koi against the KHV. The vaccine is injected into the fish when they are under one year old, and is accentuated by using an ultraviolet light. The vaccine has a 90% success rate[37] and when immunized, the fish cannot succumb to a KHV outbreak and neither can the immunised koi pass KHV onto other fish in a pond.[38] Only biosecurity measures such as prompt detection, isolation, and disinfection of tanks and equipment can prevent the spread of the disease and limit the loss of fish stock. In 2002, spring viraemia struck an ornamental koi farm in Kernersville, North Carolina, and required complete depopulation of the ponds and a lengthy quarantine period. For a while after this, some koi farmers in neighboring states stopped importing fish for fear of infecting their own stocks.[39][40]


Feeding the koi
Feeding the koi

When koi naturally breed on their own they tend to spawn in the spring and summer seasons. The male will start following the female, swimming right behind her and nudging her. After the female koi releases her eggs they sink to the bottom of the pond and stay there. A sticky outer shell around the egg helps keep it in place so it does not float around. Although the female can produce many spawns, many of the fry do not survive due to being eaten by others. On average if the egg survives around 4–7 days the fry will be hatched from the egg.[41]

Like most fish, koi reproduce through spawning in which a female lays a vast number of eggs and one or more males fertilize them. Nurturing the resulting offspring (referred to as "fry") is a tricky and tedious job, usually done only by professionals. Although a koi breeder may carefully select the parents they wish based on their desired characteristics, the resulting fry nonetheless exhibit a wide range of color and quality.

Koi produce thousands of offspring from a single spawning. However, unlike cattle, purebred dogs, or more relevantly, goldfish, the large majority of these offspring, even from the best champion-grade koi, are not acceptable as nishikigoi (they have no interesting colors) or may even be genetically defective. These unacceptable offspring are culled at various stages of development based on the breeder's expert eye and closely guarded trade techniques. Culled fry are usually destroyed or used as feeder fish (mostly used for feeding arowana due to the belief that it will enhance its color), while older culls, within their first year between 3 and 6 inches long (also called tosai), are often sold as lower-grade, pond-quality koi.

The semi-randomized result of the koi's reproductive process has both advantages and disadvantages for the breeder. While it requires diligent oversight to narrow down the favorable result that the breeder wants, it also makes possible the development of new varieties of koi within relatively few generations.

In the wild

Various colors of koi feeding in a pond in Qingxiu Mountain, Nanning, China
Various colors of koi feeding in a pond in Qingxiu Mountain, Nanning, China

See also: Cyprinus rubrofuscus

Koi have been accidentally or deliberately released into the wild in every continent except Antarctica. They quickly revert to the natural coloration of an Amur carp within a few generations. In many areas, they are considered an invasive species and a pest. In the states of Queensland and New South Wales in Australia, they are considered noxious fish.[42][43]

Koi greatly increase the turbidity of the water because they are constantly stirring up the substrate. This makes waterways unattractive, reduces the abundance of aquatic plants, and can render the water unsuitable for swimming or drinking, even by livestock. In some countries, koi have caused so much damage to waterways that vast amounts of money and effort have been spent trying to eradicate them, largely unsuccessfully.[44]

In many areas of North America, koi are introduced into the artificial "water hazards" and ponds on golf courses to keep water-borne insect larvae under control through predation.

In common culture

61st Nagaoka Koi Show at Yamakoshi Branch Office, Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Japan
61st Nagaoka Koi Show at Yamakoshi Branch Office, Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Japan

In Japan, the koi is a symbol of luck, prosperity, and good fortune, and also of perseverance in the face of adversity.[45] Ornamental koi are symbolic of Japanese culture and are closely associated with the country's national identity.[46]

Since the late 20th century, the keeping of koi in outdoor water gardens has become popular among the more affluent Chinese. Koi ponds are found in Chinese communities around the world, and the number of people who keep koi imported from Niigata, has been increasing. In addition, there are increasing numbers of Japanese koi bred in China that are sold domestically and exported to foreign countries.[14][15]

Koi are also popular in many countries in the equatorial region, where outdoor water gardens are popular.[47] In Sri Lanka, interior courtyards most often have one or several fish ponds dedicated to koi.[48]

See also


  1. ^ a b Japanese Ornamental Koi Carp: Origin, Variation and Genetics May 2015
  2. ^ a b Ojiya Nishikigoi no Sato Museum
  3. ^ a b c The History of Nishikigoi 錦鯉とその起源 Zen Nippon Airinkai
  4. ^ Genome Mapping and Genomics in Fishes and Aquatic Animals. Springer. 2008. p. 47. ISBN 978-3-540-73837-4.
  5. ^ Flajšhans, M.; Hulata, G. "Common carp – Cyprinus carpio" (PDF). genimpact.imr.no. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  6. ^ The History of Nishikigoi 50th Anniversary All Japan Nishikigoi Show
  7. ^ The Background of Nishikigoi Born All Japan Nishikigoi Promotion Association
  8. ^ a b "Background information about goldfish". Retrieved 28 July 2006.
  9. ^ a b c Freyhof, J.; Kottelat, M. (2008). "Cyprinus carpio". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008: e.T6181A12559362. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T6181A12559362.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  10. ^ The History of Nishikigoi Zen Nippon Airinkai
  11. ^ "MPKS Ray Jordan Koi History". Ray Jordan. Archived from the original on 23 July 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2009.
  12. ^ "Early Records". Netpets.org. Retrieved 11 April 2009.
  13. ^ Fletcher, Nick (1 January 1999). The Ultimate Koi. Interpet. ISBN 978-1-86054-146-9.
  14. ^ a b The reason why wealthy Chinese started to buy a lot of Japanese "nishikigoi" 1/3, Gendai Business. 29 March 2019.
  15. ^ a b The reason why wealthy Chinese started to buy a lot of Japanese "nishikigoi" 3/3, Gendai Business. 29 March 2019.
  16. ^ Huckstorf, V. (2012). "Cyprinus rubrofuscus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012: e.T166052A1108337. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T166052A1108337.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  17. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2016). "Cyprinus rubrofuscus" in FishBase. November 2016 version.
  18. ^ Mabuchi, K.; Senou, H.; Suzuki, T.; Nishida, M. (2005). "Discovery of an ancient lineage of Cyprinus carpio from Lake Biwa, central Japan, based on mtDNA sequence data, with reference to possible multiple origins of koi". Journal of Fish Biology. 66 (6): 1516. doi:10.1111/j.0022-1112.2005.00676.x.
  19. ^ Grossa, Riho; Klaus Kohlmannb & Petra Kerstenb (2002). "PCR–RFLP analysis of the mitochondrial ND-3/4 and ND-5/6 gene polymorphisms in the European and East Asian subspecies of common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.)". Aquaculture. 204 (3–4): 507–516. doi:10.1016/S0044-8486(01)00836-5.
  20. ^ a b Chistiakov, D.A.; Voronova, N.V (2009). "Genetic evolution and diversity of common carp Cyprinus carpio L." Central European Journal of Biology. 4 (3): 304–312. doi:10.2478/s11535-009-0024-2.
  21. ^ Xu, P.; et al. (2014). "Genome sequence and genetic diversity of the common carp, Cyprinus carpio". Nature Genetics. 46 (11): 1212–1219. doi:10.1038/ng.3098. PMID 25240282.
  22. ^ Craig, J.F. (2015). Freshwater Fisheries Ecology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 297. ISBN 978-1-118-39442-7.
  23. ^ Thai, B.T.; Burridge, C.P.; Pham, T.A.; Austin, C.M. (2005). "Using mitochondrial nucleotide sequences to investigate diversity and genealogical relationships within common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.)". Anim. Genet. 1 (1): 22–28. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2004.01215.x. PMID 15670127.
  24. ^ a b The Varieties of Nishikigoi Zen Nippon Airinkai
  25. ^ "Guide to Koi Varieties". mitchkoi.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  26. ^ Tamadachi M (1990). "Koi varieties". The Cult of the Koi. Neptune City, New Jersey: TFH Publications. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-86622-085-9.
  27. ^ "Koi Fish vs Goldfish: 10 Differences to Help You Distinguish Them". Fish Tank World. 5 April 2019. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  28. ^ "The difference between koi and goldfish". Living the Country Life. Archived from the original on 18 November 2019.
  29. ^ "Aquatic-oasis articles". Aquatic-oasis. Archived from the original on 22 June 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  30. ^ "Koi Feeding Guide". lagunakoi.com. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  31. ^ "Temperatures to feed koi fish". mitchkoi.co.uk. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  32. ^ Felicity Huntingford; Malcolm Jobling; Sunil Kadri (2012). Aquaculture and Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-1-4051-3089-9. ... and there are reports of fish that have achieved ages of 100–200 years (Purdom 1993; Billard 1999).
  33. ^ Barton, Laura (12 April 2007). "The Guardian". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 April 2009.
  34. ^ Carwardine, Mark (2008). Animal Records. Sterling Publishing Company. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-4027-5623-8.
  35. ^ "AnAge entry for Cyprinus carpio". genomics.senescence.inf.
  36. ^ Lee, Richard (3 August 2013). Essential Guide for Koi Fish Owner: How to Build and Maintain a Beautiful Koi Pond. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-304-28627-7.
  37. ^ "KV3 Vaccine against KHV". KoVax Ltd. – Specializes in Aqua culture vaccines development and Manufacturing.
  38. ^ Reynolds, Paula (October 2011) ISRAELI KOI ...and the battle against KHV. mitchkoi.co.uk
  39. ^ Spring Viremia of Carp. Impact Worksheet•17 July 2002
  40. ^ "Blackwater Creek Koi Farms". koisale.com.
  41. ^ Lee, Richard (3 August 2013). Essential Guide for Koi Fish Owner: How to Build and Maintain a Beautiful Koi Pond. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-304-28627-7.
  42. ^ "Carp" Archived 28 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine. daff.qld.gov.au.
  43. ^ "Freshwater pest fish in New South Wales" (PDF). NSW Department of Primary Industries. August 2014.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  44. ^ "Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) – FactSheet" Archived 10 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. usgs.gov.
  45. ^ Staff, Inked Mag. "An Inked Guide to Symbolism Within Japanese Tattoos". Tattoo Ideas, Artists and Models. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  46. ^ Azuma, Mariko (21 August 2020). "The Men of Koiyama: Keeping the Gion Festival Tradition for the Next Generation". JAPAN Forward. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  47. ^ "Japan's Koi fish gaining popularity around world". ANI News. ANI. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  48. ^ "The detail : Koi fish pond, Sri Lanka | the Voyageur".

History of Koi Fish

Further reading