By: Mike Gannon | Posted On: April 30th, 2012 | 14 Comments on “POOR MAN’S KOI” AKA THE AWESOME SHUBUNKIN | In: POND FISH, WATER GARDENS

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”.

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.

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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:


    Comments Feed
  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

  2. Wolney Says:

    on December 4, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    I love watching fihses swimming in school at the aquarium. It amuses me they way they make swirls and turns. Raising a fish in an aquarium is good hobby. It tries how patient are you in taking care of those fihses. And yours is Koi which I understand grows very big and brings good fortune to the owner.

  3. Brad Says:

    on December 18, 2016 at 2:16 am

    I have 4 sunbunkin goldfish Nicola, Stallion, Phonex, and Dragon in a small tank and they are wonderful i love them heaps.

  4. Mike Gannon Says:

    on December 24, 2016 at 2:11 am

    They are wonderful fish Brad! Enjoy!! -Mike

  5. Heather Says:

    on December 24, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Can u use these fish in an outside garden pond without filtration or a heater?

  6. Mike Gannon Says:

    on December 28, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Heather. Shubunkin can easily be kept outdoor without the use of heating since they are a variety of goldfish. I can’t really recommend NOT using a filter, but if your pond is set up in a way that the water quality is balancing out naturally then a shubunkin could probably do pretty well. I’d still consider using some filtration. Good luck! -Mike

  7. efren Says:

    on March 14, 2017 at 8:26 am

    I found a shubunkin in a pt shop and thought it a Koi. They move in swift leaps and bound. My curiosity motivated me to acquire 4 pieces of them. I place them in my old aquarium tank. I think will love keeping more this cute shiny fish or I may breed them in full count. I observed they are voracious aquarium fish. They eat everytime pellets is drop in the tank.

  8. Mike Gannon Says:

    on March 15, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    I hope you enjoy your experience keeping shubunkin. They are wonderful fish indoors or outdoors. And yes, they like to eat alot! Have fun! -Mike

  9. Ann Krause Says:

    on April 18, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Looking for six small shubunkins for our small pond to replace those that we had a year ago. Cannot pay a very big price.

  10. Mike Gannon Says:

    on April 19, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Can anybody help Ann? I’d call a local water garden center or aquarium store. Good luck! -Mike

  11. Graham Carling Says:

    on May 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I bought 6 six inch subunkins at our local garden centre for eight pounds each and put them in a large garden pond. They “disappeared” for nearly a month, but gradually appeared until we have seen, for sure, five. We expect that all six should be seen soon. After their appearance, they swum around rather quietly, but six weeks in and they are flying around and, seem to be following one that could be full of eggs, so we are hopeful of seeing spry.
    I think they need time to settle in to new surroundings after spending part of their life in a square metal tank and seem to enjoy pushing through the bottom weeds.

  12. Helen Storey Says:

    on August 2, 2017 at 7:11 am

    Great article – very useful. We have just made a garden pond from a very large tractor tyre – works a treat and looks great with fountain feature as past of the pump. A week ago we introduced 6 shabunkins – they’re each unique and beautiful. Don’t often see them as they hide under plant. Is this normal – are they nervous until settled? Also they are about 5 inches. Does this mean they are very young’? Would they enjoy coral type pieces in the pond with them (currently just have 3 small plants). Thanks, Helen

  13. Mike Gannon Says:

    on August 2, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Hey Helen! Aren’t shubunkins fun! It is pretty common for fish to be shy for many weeks after introduction to a new pond, give them time. I’d probably use some river rock instead of coral pieces. Have fun! -Mike

  14. Helen Storey Says:

    on August 8, 2017 at 5:56 am

    Thanks Mike – that’s useful. Rocks it is!

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