A goldfish is an eye-catcher in any fish tank and makes an excellent pet. Amongst the various varieties of fancy goldfish, the Lionhead goldfish is one of the most popular kinds.
This egg-shaped fish can be easily identified with the lack of a dorsal fin and a big hood called wen (Chinese).
Lionhead goldfish is one of the older variants of fancy goldfish. This fish originated in China and bears a resemblance to the image of the mythical Chinese lion-dog (called shishi, in Japanese legend). After China, this variant was introduced to Japan during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Japanese Lionheads had a slightly more rounded back, modified tails, and a smaller head growth. Lionhead goldfish was developed by breeders from a species of wild carp found in Asia. The carp was a slow-moving fish found in stagnant water bodies like lakes and ponds. The current domesticated form of a lionhead is a result attained after centuries of breeding.
Recent research on these says that the ancestor and precursor of the Lionhead is the Egg fish, known as Maruko in Japan. The egg-shaped body structure of the lionhead is said to have come from this fish.
Lionhead goldfish have a small deep body with an arched back but they do not have dorsal fins. The body resembles an egg and the head growth or wen resembles a mane, giving these the name Lionhead.
The hood is supported by its short and broad back and often looks like a raspberry. Their puffy cheeks make them look like a puppy.
Their hood can also be seen on the gill plates along with their head and cheeks. It takes about a year for the hood to fully develop and is more prominent in males.
The hood differs from fish to fish and in mature males, patches of this head growth keep shedding periodically.
The finnage is short and its anal fins are paired. The lack of a dorsal fin is compensated by double anal and caudal fins.
As per the breeding standards, the double tail fins must not be droopy and the upper edges must be away from the body.
The tail can be webbed, separated, or partially separated and it meets the caudal peduncle (the point where the body joins the tail) perpendicularly to the body. This caudal peduncle is wide enough to allow the tail to open and spread while swimming.
The body of a Lionhead is covered with matte, metallic scales and they come in red, orange, white, natural, chocolate, blue, and black colors.
These are also available in double color combinations such as black-and-white, red-and-white, and black-and-red.
A fully grown Lionhead can touch up to 6 inches (15 cm) in length and this includes the finnage.
Behavior & Temperament
These are generally sensitive to cold and are slow swimmers. Lack of a dorsal fin makes them a slow swimmers and it also affects their stability in water. An overgrown wen also hampers their eyesight sometimes.
When kept in a clean environment and fed a good diet, a Lionhead goldfish can live up to 20 years or more but the average lifespan is between 10-15 years.
Lionhead goldfish should not be paired with faster-moving fish like the Comet, the Common, or the Shubunkin. They can be kept with other fish of their species or similarly tempered fish as this fish likes socializing.
If paired with fast-moving fish, they will have to put up a fight for food as they are not agile swimmers. These are cordial that do not display aggressive behavior even during the mating season.
Their slow speed and temperament prevent them from defending themselves against aggressive fish that nip on their fins. If injured, they can easily catch infections.
However, since they are friendly, ideal tank mates can be similar fish like:
- Slow-swimming goldfish like the Telescope (black moor), the Bubble Eye, and celestial goldfish
- Cordial schooling fish like Danios and Minnows
- Non-fish aqua companions such as shrimp, snails, and freshwater crabs. Do not keep very small shrimp species as they may get eaten by them.
- Bottom feeders like Banded Corydoras and Loaches
- Multiple Lionhead goldfish can also be kept in the community aquarium
You can also keep a single one if you want.
Lionhead Goldfish Care & Tank Setup
The tank size recommended for a Lionhead is 20 gallons and the tank must have double filtration. For every additional fish, an extra 10 gallons must be added to the tank size. If you’re keeping multiple fish, the aquarium size must be a minimum of 50 gallons.
Keeping a large amount of water per fish in the tank will help in diluting the waste produced by the fish and that would mean fewer water changes.
For juveniles, you need 1 gallon of water for every 1-inch fish size but as they grow, the water requirement for each fish goes up. Do not overstock the fish tank and keep the number of fish according to the size of your aquarium to prevent stunted growth in them.
These are slow swimmers but they love their space, so choose a horizontal aquarium over a vertical or columnar one.
This gives them ample surface area to swim around slowly. A larger surface area will ensure that these will have sufficient oxygen.
Because of its weaker eyesight, a Lionhead goldfish finds it easier to navigate wider spaces than taller ones.
An oval or round aquarium is not ideal for them as it will be filled less than full to maximize the surface area.
This species is not very hardy and requires special care. Like other goldfish, a Lionhead creates a mess with its food and is prone to infections in a dirty environment. Filtration and aeration are the primary requirements.
The aquarium should not have any sharp or rough décor items like driftwood. An empty floor would be ideal but if you wish to add some landscaping items,
you can add sand and smooth stones as substrate. Natural plants can be added as well but they like to dig them up and nibble on them. You can also add silk plants instead of plastic once.
These are not recommended for novice fish keepers as it requires extra work in its upkeep. Since these are sensitive and prone to diseases, the water in the fish tank must be changed regularly. The water also needs to be kept warm as they cannot withstand low temperatures.
Heating & Filtration
Although a heater in the fish tank is a must, it can be a low-wattage one as lionheads need a steady water temperature that is neither too high nor too low. Filtration of the aquarium is a major requirement and the filter added to the fish tank must be a powerful one. It will help in removing the excess foods, detritus, and waste.
Adding an aerator like a bubble device to the aquarium can help with not just maximum filtration but also oxygenation and water movement.
Lionheads can survive both in dimly lit as well as a bright environment but lighting is needed if there are live plants in the fish tank.
Most fish tanks have a built-in light in the tank cover. You can consider adding a cover for the tank as not only does it reduce evaporation but it also keeps the fish from jumping out.
As Lionheads are slow swimmers they do not require high water flow. High currents can make it difficult for them to maintain their steadiness while swimming. A low or moderate water current in the fish tank also prevents stagnation of leftover food.
Some other water parameters that must be maintained including the temperature, pH levels, and dGH levels.
Lionhead goldfish need a moderate water temperature between 65 – 72 °F. It cannot tolerate temperatures much below 60° F (16° C), unlike its flat-bodied counterparts.
The pH levels must be between 6.0 – 8.0 and the water hardness should be anywhere between 5 – 19 dGH.
The ammonia, nitrates, and nitrite levels must be maintained close to 0 ppm sense levels as low as 2 ppm can also affect the health.
The salinity level of the water must be kept below 10% with a specific gravity of less than 1.002 as it can tolerate slightly brackish water.
It is a good idea to do regular water testing and to maintain a logbook of the results. These are not as tolerant to pollution as other flat body goldfish and need constant monitoring of the water quality.
Water Cleaning Cycle
Since lionheads are messy eaters and produce a good amount of waste, their habitat warrants a regular water change. ¼ to ⅓ of the water must be changed weekly to keep these fish safe from any infection. Adding snails to the fish tank also helps in keeping the water clean as they reduce the algae.
Food & Diet
These must be fed sinking flakes as floating food or flakes can cause swim bladder issues. They are omnivores and can be given an animal matter or plant content-rich diet. A high-protein diet enhances their growth and maintains their vibrant color.
This variety is a voracious eater and is omnivorous. Although they can eat any amount of food at any time, they must be fed only twice a day. Some Lionhead goldfish food items include freeze-dried, frozen, flake, and pellet varieties. Other food items that you can include in the diet are:
- Brine shrimp
- Tubifex worms
- Goldfish-specific pellets
- Quality flakes
- Plant matter
- Plant matter
- Meaty foods
If you are feeding meaty food to your Lionhead goldfish, then it must not constitute more than fifty percent diet.
It should be given only as a supplement and there should be a balance between different varieties and types of food like flakes/pellets, meaty foods, plant matter, and vegetables. Live foods can give a parasite or bacterial infection, so it is better to give freeze-dried foods.
Lionhead goldfish need more attention during feeding time because of their poor eyesight and slow speed.
If there are multiple fish in the aquarium, you may have to feed them separately using tongs or syringes. They need not just special attention and care but also extra time, making them not an ideal pick for novice aquarists.
Lionheads are not a hardy variety of goldfish and are prone to diseases and infections. Some common causes of infections are poor water quality, injuries, and bad tank hygiene.
Aquarists must keep observing them regularly to detect any signs of illness or visible wounds like damaged or nipped fins. If untreated, these infections may cause serious diseases and even lead to death. A lionhead is susceptible to several diseases such as:
- Fungal Infections: External cotton wool fungus and internal ichthyosporidium are types of fish fungus that can affect the health.
- Bacterial Infections: Fish tuberculosis, fin rot, and Dropsy (kidney infection) can prove fatal for them
- Protozoa: The most common types of protozoan diseases that affect are Costia (causing cloudiness of the skin), Ich (in this case the fish look like they have been sprinkled with salt), and Chilodenella (causing blu-white cloudiness of the skin)
- Parasites: Aquarists must observe the fish for external parasites. The most common ones include fish lice (Argulus), flukes/ flatworms (they infest the body or gills of the fish), and anchor worms.
Swim Bladder Disease causes abnormal swimming patterns and balance issues. It is a common ailment that afflicts these wobbly swimmers. Defrosted frozen peas are believed to be a cure for this disease but it does not prove effective in all cases.
Overeaters that they are, Lionhead goldfish are also prone to constipation and bloating. This disease also occurs when the fish are fed a poor or imbalanced diet.
Keep evaluating the diet at regular intervals and if problems persist, take into consideration any external sources of food that the fish are feeding on, such as the live plants in the aquarium.
Other miscellaneous diseases include Cloudy Eye, caused by bad water quality, malnutrition, bacterial infections, and rough handling. Wounds and ulcers must be treated immediately as they can develop into bacteria or fungal infections.
For treating individual sick lionheads, they should be moved into a separate tank with no gravel or plants and the water in the tank must be changed regularly. In case the disease seems to affect all the fish in the tank, they can all be treated in the main tank itself.
Do not try self-medication and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any medication. Some medicines can destroy the beneficial bacteria in the water and affect its quality adversely.
The carbon in the filtration system can absorb many medications so it must be removed from the filter before starting the treatment.
Breeding & Reproduction
Their breeding takes place in spring when water temperatures are about 68° F (20° C). During the mating season, the male develops breeding tubercles or white prickles on its head and gill covers. To breed this fish in the aquarium, natural conditions need to be replicated in the tank.
It is difficult to differentiate between a young male and female lionhead but the male is generally more slender and smaller than the female. Lionhead goldfish can be bred in small groups of five or even larger groups as they are quite social. When a female is carrying eggs, she starts to appear fatter.
Once the eggs are laid, they must be separated from the parents who start to eat as many eggs as possible. The fertilized eggs take 4 to 7 days to hatch and the hatching duration depends on the water temperature.
The newly hatched lionhead goldfish can be fed specialty fry foods until they are big enough to eat flake or brine shrimp.
The dark brown or black color of the fry protects them from getting eaten by larger fish. They acquire their adult color in a few months and once the juvenile’s size is 1 inch, they can be paired with larger fish.
The Lionhead goldfish is not a fish for beginner aquarists as it needs specific care and handling.
They are a delicate variety of fancy goldfish and one must be fully aware of their characteristics before keeping them
Nonetheless, it is one of the most popular varieties of goldfish and its striking appearance makes it sought-after by aquarists around the world.