By: Mike Gannon | Posted On: April 30th, 2012 | 1 Comment on “POOR MAN’S KOI” AKA THE AWESOME SHUBUNKIN | In: POND FISH, WATER GARDENS

shubunkin blog

You say Shubunkin, I say Shuboykin

You say Shubumpkin, I Shubunkin

Let’s call it all the same… or are they?!


Shubunkin, the poor man’s koi, are beautiful and easy to care for calico goldfish. Shubunkin make a great choice for the backyard water garden pond adding color and liveliness to any setting. As a pond fish the shubunkin are cold hardy, can tolerate a wide spectrum of water conditions, accept many foods, and will reproduce pretty readily in a typical pond set up. They are available from most pond fish sellers; and with a reasonable price tag they have become a popular choice for water garden and pond owners.

Even though shubunkin, or Carassuis auratus “auratus”, are nicknamed “poor man’s koi”, let’s face it, koi are a “hole nutha level” of fish. Koi have very distinctive patterns which will define what type of koi it is. What the shubunkin do share with koi are the nice colors, but with random speckled calico patterns of red, blue, copper, black, violet, yellow, orange, and white. Blue is the most desired background color with shubunkin aficionados. What shubunkin also share with koi is the high level of breeding standards among shubunkin breeders. Being a shubunkin enthusiast is practically a way of life. There are even competitions where members of various “societies” will show their fish for awards and ribbons for their prize shubunkin; much like those involved in “kichi societies”.

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The attention to breeding standards has been producing different type of shubunkin according to body type, not color patterns, which have produced 3 distinct type of shubunkin: the Bristol Shubunkin, the London Shubunkin, and the American Shubunkin also called the Japanese Shubunkin. So, the Chinese brought goldfish to Japan. The Japanese developed calico goldfish somewhere around 1900. Some American breeders fixed the characteristics of the shubunkin, and the British developed shubunkin types. The British Aquarist’s Society (BAS) officially recognized the Bristol shubunkin in 1934. …a simple history to this fish.

The London shubunkin could basically be described as a calico goldfish with the same body shape as the common goldfish. The Bristol shubunkin has a more refined body shape and fins with richer colors and deeper blues and blacks. The American shubunkin has the classic shubunkin colors and markings but with a body shape more like the comet goldfish’s longer body and fins. The American shubunkin also drives a 1967 Mustang convertible and goes honky tonking on weekends.

Shubunkins are happy fast moving pond fish that get along fine with most other pond fish including koi, orfe, bitterling, and dace; but they may be too fast to be kept with highly ornamental goldfish. Shubunkin can live up to 20 years and grow to 15+ inches full size. Shubunkin have some transparent and pearly scales that catch and reflect light giving them a sparkle! Vegetable based pellets should be the staple of their varied diet, and feed the shunbunkin daily. They are very social and do best in groups, which is also the best way to display them. Then can thrive indoors in aquariums too, just give them big tanks.

The wide appeal of the shubunkin from the beginner fish keeper to the experienced fish keeper is easy to see. The ease of keeping and bright colors for the beginner, and the high breeding standards with the opportunity to claim top honors at fish competitions appeals to the experienced. The shubunkin has claimed its rightful spot among the favorite fish in the pond and water gardening world. It’s time for you to give them a try too.

Now, if we could only get the name right…shubikin, shubunten, bunkers, shubunks, shubinks, shudoobeedoos…

All copyrights to this material is solely owned by Mike Gannon.

Written by Mike Gannon

Mike Gannon

The LOVEYOURPOND Blog is written by Mike Gannon of Full Service Aquatics located in Summit, NJ. Mike is an award winning pond, water garden, and water feature builder. Always “In The Pursuit Of All Things Aquatic” Mike has been a lifelong hobbyist and providing professional services since 1995. Mike is the creator of The Pond Hunter video series seen on Youtube and has made several television appearances on Networks such as HGTV and the DIY Network. He also hosts the Pond Hunter Radio Broadcast, a show on everything aquatic, every other Wednesday at 8pm EST. You can see what else Mike is up to at the following sites:


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  1. fred Says:

    on August 13, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Good read and informative overview of the “Shubunkin”. I own and now have bred the lovely fish which competes ascetically with the ubiquitous Koi! They ornament incredible pondscapes, with multiple water features, with the quiet beauty that colors only found underwater throughout the world’s reefs into your own backyard. Since they swim fast they add the “business” also found in the coral reef biosphere flashing color schemes. Thanks

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