With their striking colors, beautiful shape, and graceful motions, the Koi are considered the jewels of the pond. From humble beginnings as wild carp, these fish have been domesticated and bred to become the renowned beauties they are today. Once owned only by the wealthy, Koi are now loved and kept in garden ponds across the world. As a pond owner or future Koi enthusiast, you may want to learn to tell the BASIC differences between the thirteen types of Koi and distinguish a high quality fish from an ordinary, colorful one.
Koi, or Nishikigoi as the Japanese call them, come in over 100 different varieties but have been reduced to thirteen major groups-as previously mentioned. They are as follows: Kohaku, Taisho-Sanke, Showa-Sanshoku, Bekko, Utsurimono, Asagi Shusui, Ogon, Koromo, Hikari-Moyomono, Hikari-Utsurimono, Kawarimono, Kinginrin, and Tancho. It’s difficult to correctly distinguish all the types of Koi in the beginning, but with practice and determination it will become easier.
Before you can start to classify Koi you must first know the basic body shape and anatomy of the fish. A Koi is usually bilaterally symmetrical. What does that mean? If you were to draw a line along the dorsal (top) fin from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, the shape of both pieces would be the same. Although this is a good trait, it is a MUST in any show Koi.
Like most carp, Koi have barbells, a dorsal fin, pectoral fins, pelvic fins, an anal fin, and a caudal (tail) fin. If a Koi is missing any of these it is considered abnormal and of poor quality.
The head of the fish should be of normal proportion to the body. It should not be extra long or to short. The mouth should be inferior, which means it opens from the bottom, like most scavenger fish.
Now that you know a Koi’s basic body shape and requirement you can get to know the color variations.
The most known Koi is the Kohaku. The Kohaku has white skin (Koi have two skin base colors, white and blue) with red markings. This is the simplest variety to spot and arguably the most beautiful. One of good quality has a milk white skin and deep red pattern. The most highly admired pattern is the stepping stone patterns- 3-5 red markings resembling a rock pathway.
Then there is the Taisho-Sanke or Sanke for short. It has the same color variation as the Kohaku (white with red markings) along with black as a third less obvious color. A high quality Sanke will have red (with no other color) on the head and an interesting pattern of red and black.
The third is the Showa-Sanshoku, Showa for short. This is the same three color distinction as the Sanke. However, black is the basic color and there are red and white markings contrasting it. An ideal Showa has deep black markings and an interesting pattern of red and white.
The Bekko is two colored with small black patterns on top of another color-white, yellow and red are most common. There are many kinds of Bekko’s. The most standard is the Shiro-Bekko (white with black.)
Another two colored Koi is the Utsurimono. Like the Bekko, it has black and one other color. However black is the main color and there are spots or markings of another color-white, red, and yellow.
The Asagi Shusui is a blue skinned Koi with white edges and red covering on the gills, stomach and pectoral fins. They have a net like appearance and the German (Doitsu) scales. The German scales are typically larger or leather like (no scales at all.)
Koromo’s are fish with blue scales. There are different types of Koromos such as the Aigoromo and Sumigoromo. The word Koromo comes from the word garment. This fish looks like it’s wearing a blue scaled veil or net on top of its regular color scheme.
An Ogon is a Koi with a metallic luster. They are typically white or gold. They should only have one color and most commonly have the Doitsu scales. A good Ogon is robust with nice muscle structure.
Another metallic Koi is the Hikari-Moyomono. They are a cross breed from the Ogon and have more than one color.
The Hikari-Utsurimono is a metallic Koi that is a cross between the Ogon and the Showa. They have the coloration of a Showa-black as the main color, with red and white markings-but are lustrous like the Ogon.
Kinginrin are a shiny sparkly Koi. Do not confuse them with the Ogon which are metallic. Kinginrin have a shine in each individual scale but not all of them. They can sparkle with either gold or silver. For a Koi to be prize worthy it must have at least 20 glistening scales. These Koi are great for Dark bottom ponds due to their outstanding visibility.
The Tancho’s are Koi with the Hi (red) patch on their head. The patch can not be connected to other markings and must be contrasted with a white skin. It can not cover the eye and is only recognized on the Kohaku, Sanke and Showa variations.
The last variation of Koi is the Kawarimono. Simply put, they are the Koi that do not fit any other category. This category was invented for the purpose of selling and shows. Although they are not as valued as the other twelve varieties, these Koi are very beautiful and make a great addition to any collection.
These are the recognized variations of Koi. There are also long fined or butterfly Koi. These have abnormally, yet extremely beautiful long fins. This category is not recognized by the Japanese in Koi shows. In the U.S. this type is bred and sold in large quantities. They are a graceful and welcomed member of the Koi family.
Whether you are interested in including these unique fish in your garden pond or want to learn about and keep them as a hobby, it is always good to be able to identify each type of Koi. This will not only help you make an educated decision when purchasing your new found friends, but it will also help you to appreciate the diversity of Koi even more. Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I say beauty is in the eye of the Koi holder!
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