Goldfish for the BeginnerBy Bill "Pegasus NZ" of New Zealand
It is said that the origins of these fish dates back to the T'ang Dynasty, around 618 to 907AD, so your little friends have been around for quite some time. I suppose we have the Chinese and Japanese to thank for all the developments that have gone into the various new species, and even today they still breed and keep these fish in huge numbers, and their export markets for these fish runs into the many millions.
Possibly your first ever fish was a goldfish, and possibly it lived for many years, or was even passed on to your children. They just seem to go on year after year, despite the conditions they sometimes live in, which can range from small fish globes with hardly enough room for the fish, to large tanks, or even outdoor ponds, and many modern homes have pools built indoors just to keep their goldfish happy. Some of these indoor setups are quite elaborate, with fountains and waterfalls, along with all manner of fancy rockwork and plants, both alive and artificial, so it seems that only the personal budget restricts how much care you can give to these fish.
Many of the more common species may cost only a few dollars at your local tropical fish supplier (LFS), whereas others of the ornate variety may cost many hundreds, or even thousands of dollars per fish. There are other places to buy your fish besides your LFS, and these are outdoor pool centres, or in many cases garden centres, but if you were just starting out, you would possibly get a bit more information about your selection from your local LFS.
Some hobbyists start off with just the odd couple of fish, but soon find that the 'bug' has got to them, and shortly afterwards they find their homes and every available space is filled with tanks and pools full of the faithful old goldfish, and by this time they have perhaps gone into breeding a few species in order to cover some of the expense for the hobby. More fish means more equipment, plus more food, plus more care and time that needs to be devoted to their upkeep, and so it goes on. As with all fish, it's not only the fish that seem to breed, but the things we need to keep them happy as well.
Among these things we need is the main component, which is water, for goldfish tend to create more waste products than your normal run of the mill tropical fish, and keepers of large fish stocks run huge filtration units in order to keep their water in top condition. Some of the outdoor pools have pumps that circulate thousands of gallons of water per hour, while the simple indoor fishbowl possibly only gets cleaned once a week.
Depending on the type of goldfish you have, they will live quite happily in temperatures from as low as 40degF, or as high as 80degF, and I personally had some that lived in an outdoor pond in the UK that used to freeze over solid every year, but come spring they were always there, waiting to be fed. Normally a good guideline is that "The fancier the fish, the higher the temperature it requires", so in saying this your common little goldie might be happy in the lower temps, but your fancy veiltail with all the adornments certainly won't be, so think about the conditions your fish will live in before you purchase it.
Let's look at what you will need.
Fish bowls are certainly a convenient way to keep a goldfish, but far from ideal. Most bowls tend to get narrower towards the top, and herein lies the problem, especially if you try to add too much water. Any fish that you keep in an enclosed space, be it a tank or a bowl, needs the maximum amount of surface space it can get, so the more water you put in the bowl towards the top, the more you reduce the surface space. A four inch by four inch square of surface area per inch of fish is the minimum requirement, so if your goldie is say four inches long, it would require a surface area of 16 square inches multiplied by four giving you 64 square inches of surface area to be on the safe side. So by the above guideline you can see that you would only be able to place two fish of four inches long in an 18x10x10 tank, as a third fish of this size would be just pushing the limit a bit.
An 18"x10"x10" tank will give you so much more pleasure than a fishbowl, and will give you the opportunity to add a few extra items such as plants, gravel and the odd ornament if you are that way inclined. Larger living quarters will also reduce your need to do water changes as often, plus your fish can be viewed to their best advantage. One thing you should also consider is that your tiny two inch long goldfish will soon grow much bigger, and may even outgrow the 18" tank mentioned above, so you should only consider placing two, or perhaps three small goldies in a tank this size. You could of course add aeration and filtration which will allow you to keep more fish in a given space, but more on this later.
Because of their size we tend to think that goldfish are always hungry, and as they watch you as you pass by, they usually wag their tails and seem to smile as much to say "feed me... I'm hungry", so the next passerby adds a bit more food to the tank or bowl, and soon we have a problem. Overfeeding has got to be one of the largest killers of fish, both tropical and coldwater, for any food that is not eaten in a short time can quickly pollute your water and lead you down the road to disaster. Try to designate a certain person to feed the fish, and ideally store your fish food out of the reach of children, as there is nothing they like better than feeding the fish, and usually far too much.
Once you have a basic tank you are pretty much on the way to getting things started, and depending on what you want your tank to look like, you can get things moving fairly quickly. Although goldies are quite hardy in most cases, they will still need de-chlorinated water in the first instance. You can get this by allowing your water to stand for 24hrs, preferably with strong aeration running through an air stone, or you could purchase a chemical from your LFS which will remove the chlorine and speed things up, but my advice is to wait, as this allows you to set the tank up how you want it and add the things you might need. You can set your tank up as per the instructions as mentioned elsewhere and the only exception is that you won't need a heater if you are just keeping the common types, but you will need a heater for the more ornate varieties.
Once your goldfish reach three or four inches in length they will be old enough to spawn, and most varieties will do this quite freely, but again it depends on the type. They 'will' spawn in reasonable sized tanks if given the right conditions, but do far better in ponds and outdoor pools. They will spawn outdoors in the late spring or early summer, perhaps because of all the availability of fresh insects they can feed on. Goldfish lay what are known as 'sticky eggs', and once laid they will adhere to anything that they touch as they are released from the female. If precautions are not taken, these eggs will soon become a good meal for your fish, so heavy planting with fine leafed plants is recommended. To induce the spawning the fish must be in good condition, and at this time some of the males may show what are known as "nuptial tubercles" which may appear on the body, head, and fins. You may at this time become alarmed, as it looks very similar to white spot, but these "pimples" are about the size of a pinhead, and fish showing these are 'always' males.
An ideal situation would be to have the sexes separated in different quarters for around a week prior to setting up to spawn, as once they are placed together after their separation they will usually go into a breeding frenzy if the females are ripe. Females will show swollen bellies which are ripe with roe, and the males will be asking more and more for the attention of the females. A good combination is three males to two females, but single pairs will work, but with less results. The temperature should be raised to slightly lower than 80degF and if the fish are ready and in good condition they will spawn. This of course is hard to control in outdoor pools, but covering with polythene will usually help bring the temperature up a few degrees. The females will scatter the sticky eggs as the pairs come together, and the males will fertilize the eggs as they are released. Spawnings can be large, with around 2000 eggs, but in many cases around 500 to six hundred is the average. Spawning could last up to three hours or so, and after the spawning has ceased and no interest is being shown, then the parents should be moved to different quarters and the eggs allowed to hatch, which takes around five days. The fry will not need feeding at this time, as they will be three or four days consuming their egg sac, but by the ninth day they should be fed on infusoria, and later as they begin to swim more freely they should be fed newly hatched brine shrimp. Eggs that turn white are unfertilized, and if 'all' your eggs turn white, then you either have an immature pair, or the male is sterile. If spawning indoors in a tank, it is best to remove these fungused eggs if possible, and the addition of two or three drops of methylene Blue per gallon will help prevent more eggs from fungus spores.
Many breeders 'strip' their fish in order to guarantee the quality and quantity of their fry stocks. This is not for the amateur to undertake, as it is a skillful process that takes a great deal of skill and understanding, but basically the females are held in a wet towel and the belly is gently massaged to extrude the eggs into a dish. The male is then held in the same manner and their milt is stripped from them which with great care is mixed with the eggs. In this way many breeders can predict the outcome by using only the best females and males from their stocks, and many of the ornate varieties of fish you see today were created in this manner.
The basic rules in keeping these fish are much the same as will all fish kept in confinement, and they are, don't overfeed, keep the water clean and pollution free by regular water changes, and observe your fish carefully for any early signs of sickness or unusual behavior. Also be wary about anything that you place in your water along with your fish, should it be more fish or plants, as any of these can harbour a disease. Even birds can transmit undesirables from one water source to another, but this is up to the individual owner and the size of their budget.
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