Basic Goldfish Characteristics & Types

Essential Qualities that Make goldfish who they are  

By Nikita Baptiste
Published January 8, 2015

Varieties of gold-fish (from Japanese paintings): Lower left, wakin; lower right (group of three), deme, ryukin, ranchu; upper left (two), ranchu; upper middle and right, oranda shishigashira.

1905. The Popular Science Monthly, Volume 67. pp 382

The varieties of goldfish, each with their own combinations of characteristics, are vastly abundant. Needless to say, we humans have a knack for trying to organize nature’s chaos. Since the goldfish’s form was tended by human hands, we’ve categorized them into eight parts of the body (odds and ends included). Just don’t get too caught up in what defines certain characteristics. Each goldfish is unique and it’s beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.



There are four basic types of scalation that occur on goldfish. To learn more about what determines scalation, read here.

Metallic: Like polished metal, these scales are shiny and reflective. 

Matte: Opposite to metallic scales, matte scales are dull and transparent with a velvety appearance.

Nacreous: This scale type brings together the best characteristics of metallic and matte scales. By combining reflective and non-reflective in random proportions and locations, the scales have a "mother of pearl" appearance.

Pearl Scale: Instead of laying flat like the other scales, this scale type is encrusted along its entire border causing it to have a domed center. When on the entire body of the fish, these scales look like chains of pearls.

       Matte Scale

        Pearl Scale

Colors & Patterns

Goldfish come in countless colors and patterns; no two are the same. To learn more about the coloration, read here.

Self Colored:  From head to tail, this goldfish is one solid color. Common colors are red, orange, yellow, white, black, blue, chocolate, and bronze. 

Variegated: Variegated scales contain more than one color on each individual scale. The pattern along the edge of the scales makes the fish have a "polka dot" appearance.

Mottled: Goldfish with a mottled pattern have distinct color patches that do not overlap. “Bi-colored” and “tri-colored” describe fish that have two and three distinct colors, respectively. Most color combinations seen are red and white, black and red, and black, red, and white. The bi-colored pattern with black and red is also know as Apache.

Calico: The calico pattern has numerous colors that overlay each other. While the mottled pattern is observed in all scale types, the calico pattern is only found on nacreous scales. The combinations of colors can include: red, orange, white, blue, and black. Two Japanese variations of the calico pattern are Kirin and Sakura. While the typical calico pattern has sprinklings of black, the Kirin pattern contains a significant amount of black that spreads over the fish in dense patches. The Sakura pattern only contains red and white, but like the calico pattern only nacreous scales are observed with mostly matte scales.

Panda: This mottled pattern variation describes a black and white goldfish with the markings of a Panda; eyes and fins are black while the body is white. Usually seen on Telescopes, its popularity has demanded other varieties to have the same pattern. Unfortunately, the pattern is unstable and fish eventually fade to white. To be considered a true Panda, a goldfish must maintain this pattern throughout its life.

Tancho: Most first see this pattern on “Red Cap” Orandas, a white fish with a red circle that covers the entire top of the head. Unlike the Panda pattern, the Tancho pattern is very stable and will last the entire lifetime of the goldfish.

Jade Seal: This pattern is the reverse of the Tancho pattern and is named so because it resembles the Chinese Jade Seal, a white jade stamp. Goldfish with the Jade Seal pattern have red bodies with a white circle that covers the entire top of the head. Fish with this pattern are more popular in China and generally not seen in else where.

12 Reds: Distinctly know as the Jikin pattern, the “12 Reds" is a white fish with twelve spots of red: lips, pectoral fins, pelvic fins, anal fins, caudal fins, dorsal fin, and gill covers. This pattern has also been seen on other Japanese fish like the Tosakin. Unfortunately, fish with this pattern are often fabricated to look this way by removing red skin and scales. Since removed scales will not grow back the same color the white will be permanent on new scales. Breeders try to get fish that are closest to the ideal pattern before beginning their cosmetic surgery as the process is traumatic for the fish.






       Jade Seal

         12 Reds

body Shapes

Body shape characteristics are not usually concrete for each variety. As a result, the body shapes of a variety can vary among the different categories. Body shapes are difficult to categorize because each goldfish lies on a scale of conformation. For example, Orandas and Telescopes can have either a egg-shaped or teardrop-shaped body conformation or anywhere in-between. Goldfish like the Wakin, Jikin, and Tosakin have specific body types that are the only conformation of the distinct varieties.

Torpedo: This streamline body types is found among koi, common goldfish, Shubunkin, and Comet varieties. It is the basic cylindrical shape of most fish.  

Egg: These bodies are egg-like with an oval profile. They are wide and deep at one end and narrow at the other.  This body type is seen on Fantails, Celestials, Bubble Eyes, some Telescopes, some Oranda (especially Red Cap), and some Pearlscale goldfish.

Teardrop: Teardrop bodies are similar to egg-shaped bodies but with a greater depth. Compared to the egg-shaped body, this body type is a quarter to a third times deeper and appears more spherical. This body type is typical of Pearlscales, Veiltails, Orandas, and some Telescopes. Ryukins have teardrop-shaped bodies with an additional hump on the back. This makes their profile appear as a full circle.

Ranchu or Lionhead: This “full-bodied” type has greater body depth than the teardrop body shape. The body appears very thick and solid, especially the caudal peduncle. In other body shapes it tapers from the stomach and flares out to meet the tail. However, this body type's caudal peduncle looks like it is an extension of the stomach. This body type is generally specific for Ranchus and Lionheads.




eye types

Goldfish can have four different eye types. Although, some varieties are specific for their eye type it is not unusual for other varieties to exhibit an uncommon eye type. 

Normal eyes: Typical round eye type that is flush with the face.

Telescope eyes: Also known as Dragon Eyes or Demekin (in Japanese), these eyes are mounted outwardly on a globular structure that protrudes from either side of the face.

Celestial eyes: Like the telescope conformation, the eye is mounted on a protrusion. The celestial eye is located at the top of the globe pointing upward, sky gazing.

Bubble eyes: This eye type features a large, fluid-filled sack that hangs below the normal eye of the fish. Size of the sacks may vary but they are usually large and of equal size in prized specimens. 

      Normal Eyes

      Celestial Eyes

       Bubble Eyes

head growths

The plump raspberry-like head growth known as a “wen” is specific for some varieties of goldfish including: the Oranda, Lionhead, and Ranchu. Like the mane of lions, the distinct appearance of the wen can range from being just on the top of the head to robustness all over the head.

Flat head: This normal type lacks any type of head growth.

Goose head: Head growth is concentrated on the top and/or front of the head, with little or no growth on the cheeks or gill plates. The top of the head growth should extend from the head and appear like a top hat.

Lionhead: The wen growth extends from the top of the head to the cheeks but does not appear on the gill plates. Goldfish with a lion head wen growth have a 'top hat' appearance with chubby cheeks.

Tiger head: Distinctive full head growth that encompasses the head. Growth extends from the top of the head to the cheeks and over the gill plates. It is important to note that the growth is not dominated by one section of the head; but, it is spread evenly over the entire head. Tiger head wen growth resembles cauliflower

Dragonhead: This wen is combined with telescope eyes and can be seen in a range from limited to the top of the head to full head growth.

       Goose Head

       Tiger Head



tail type

Goldfish varieties can have many different types of tails. None of these tail types are specific for a varietal and can be seen on all varieties.  

Single tails are found on common goldfish. This tail type is short, moderately forked with rounded edges, and is situated on the vertical axis of the caudal pentacle. Other single tail varieties have developed from this tail type.

Comet tail: Twice as long as the common single tail, the Comet tail has deep forking with pointed tail tips.

Shubunkin tail: This tail type has similar length as the Comet tail but with flared and rounded tail edges that make the tail look full.

              Comet Tail

            Shubunkin Tail

Double tails have two distinct caudal fins that are separated along at least ⅔ of the center’s length. The double tail size can vary from a quarter to double or even triple the length of the goldfish’s body. Many tail varieties have developed from the basic double tail.

Fantail: With similar shape and stiffness to the finnage found on Common goldfish, the fantail is the basic double tail type. This fin size can range from a quarter to half the body length.

Veiltail: The veiltail has a great length that is 2 to 3 times the body length of the fish. With straight edges and no forking, this tail drapes off the back of the goldfish looking like a bride’s veil.

Ribbontail: Like the veiltail, the ribbontail is a long and flowing tail type. The length can be up to 1 ½  times the body length. The ribbontail's main difference from the veil tail is that it has a fork along the edge.

Broadtail: The term broadtail tends to be used interchangeably veiltail. While broadtails have the same characteristics in shape, the finnage tends to be stiffer and held higher than the veiltail. The broadtail has a variety of lengths ranging from short, a ¼ of the body length, to long, a full body length. 

Butterfly tail: The caudal fin of this tail type is fully split and on a horizontal plane when view from the side. From a top view, the fins are spread out like butterfly wings. The edges are rounded with an offset forking that causes the lower lobes to the larger than the top lobes.

Ranchu or Lionhead tail: This tail type is a very short being only ¼ to ⅜ times the body length. It is held at no greater than a 45° angle at the caudal peduncle.  




              Broad Tail

            Butterfly Tail

    Ranchu or Lionhead Tail

dorsal fins

Also known as Dragonbacks, the dorsal fin on the back of these goldfish is not present. These dorsal-less varieties have two different back types.

Ranchu type: The Ranchu back profile is gently arched and dives down a steep slope at the caudal peduncle. Here the tail meets at a 45° angle.

Lionhead type: Shared among the Celestial, Bubble Eye, Phoenix, and Lionhead, this back profile is less arched than the Ranchu type. The tail junction can have a wider angle too.


        Ranchu Back Type


other characteristics

These characteristics do not belong to any other category. Nevertheless, these they have been selectively breed and appear on our goldfish today.

Narial Bouquets: Also known as pom poms, these spherical tufts are fleshy appendages that grow out from the nasal area of the fish on both sides of the face.

Curled Operculum: This growth turns the gill plates out so the the gills are revealed. From a top view, the gill plates look like bull horns.



         Curled Gill Plates



Bristol Aquarists’ Society. “Background Information About Goldfish”. Retrieved 24 December 2014.

Hess, Richard E. “Keeping Fancy Goldfish: Commonly Asked Questions”. Fancy Goldfish: A Complete Guide to Care and Collecting. pp. 95 - 99. ISBN 978-0-8348-0448-7. Retrieved 23 December 2014.

Ponzio, Peter J. “Basic Goldfish Characteristics”. American Goldfish Association: Goldfish Standards. pp. 5 - 12. PDF. Retrieved 23 December 2014.

Tong, Steve. "All About Head Growth". Fynn Mood - Singapore Goldfish Club. Retrieved 24 December 2014.

Images used in this article are for teaching purposes only. All retrievals were searched between 1/5/2015 and 1/7/2015. The origin of each image is linked to the description below the image.