Do Koi Fish Have Whiskers/Barbels? What Purpose Do They Serve?

Yes, Koi fish do have whiskers.

The whiskers of koi fish are called “Barbels,” and all species have them.

Found on the top and bottom of the mouth, the barbels act as sensory organs, helping koi find food.

These whisker-like appendages hang from the mouth of the koi, resembling a beard or a mustache. Koi fish also use the barbels to find a mate and communicate with other fish in the pond.

Did you know that barbels are the only prominent feature that distinguishes goldfish from koi? This makes the whiskers a defining characteristic of the aquatic creature.

Keep reading to learn more about koi barbels and their purpose in the life of the beautiful fish.

Where Are the Koi Fish Whiskers Located?

They are situated on the bottom and top of the koi fish’s mouth and are usually pretty easy to find.

The whiskers have been known to be of different colors, including black, white, and brown.

Did you know that some pond owners have gone over the top and dyed the barbels to match the color of their koi fish? Fascinating, isn’t it?

This proves that not all barbels are the same color as the koi.

How Many Whiskers Does a Koi Have?

Typically, a koi fish has two sets of barbels. The first set of whiskers is usually located near the top of the lips of the koi.

They are generally small in size and represent the growth of the fish.

Moving on, the next set of barbels is located at the very point where the bottom and top lips of the koi meet. These whiskers can range from 1 to 3 inches in length.

There have been instances when the whiskers of the koi have grown too long, causing the fish problems in swimming.

Therefore, it is recommended that when selecting a koi fish, make sure that the barbels are proportional to the koi’s head.

How Old Are Koi When They Develop Barbels?

From the embryonic stage until birth, a koi fish has cells responsible for the development of barbels. However, the whiskers aren’t visible at the time of the koi’s birth.

Even though temporary, the first set of barbels will appear as soon as they are a few weeks old. However, they will shed off within a few months and regrow once again.

It takes a koi fish approximately one or two years to develop the next set of barbels near its lower lip.

In order to grow to its full potential, the second pair of barbels requires lots of protein.

Therefore, make sure to feed your koi fish protein-rich food when in the growing stage.

Last but not the least, the third and final pair of barbels will develop at three to four years old. This set of barbels also has the same protein requirement to grow efficiently. 

A koi fish doesn’t develop barbels until it has grown to be one or two inches in length.

Note that it takes from six months to two years for a full complement of koi’s barbels to grow.

What Is the Length of a Koi’s Barbels?

In comparison to the long-length whiskers of a catfish, the barbels of a koi fish are relatively modest.

The lower set of barbels is usually longer than the upper set.

The length of the barbels of koi fish can range between one and three inches in length.

Do Male and Female Koi Have Different-Sized Barbels?

Pond owners are unable to determine the gender of their koi fish based on the number or size of whiskers or barbels.

Instead, they analyze the body shape and fins to distinguish between a male and female koi fish. 

Does A Baby Koi Have Barbels?

Yes, baby koi fish have barbels. However, they are tiny in size and almost invisible to the naked eye initially.

The little set of whiskers is only present for a few weeks before they fall off as the koi fish turns one year old.

The growth of the barbels depends upon the food quality, which makes it essential for pond owners to ensure that they feed koi with a highly nutritious diet during its growing stage.

What Do Barbels Look Like?

Looking like a stubby thing to poke out from under the lower lip of the koi, the first set of koi barbels are comparatively less developed than the second and third sets.

When the barbels start to develop, they are so small that they look like little growth of new hairs, not koi whiskers.

The first set of koi whiskers is temporary. Once it reaches the full length, the barbels fall off and then regrow again.

On the flip side, the third pair of koi fish’s whiskers are usually larger than the first and second sets. They can grow as long as one to three inches.

The color of koi fish’s whiskers is usually black, brown, or white. However, some pond owners even dye the koi barbels just to match the color of their scales.

Please note that dyeing the barbels using artificial color is lethal as it can clog the koi fish’s gills. Hence, no matter how bad you want it, don’t dye your koi fish. 

Are There Any Koi Fish Without Barbels?

There are four cases in which the koi fish doesn’t develop whiskers (barbels):

  • Case 01: The barbels of the koi fish have been broken or removed due to improper netting, and the fish is now being transported to a new pond.
  • Case 02: The koi fish doesn’t develop barbels until it is at least one or two inches long. Therefore, a koi fish that measures less than one inch in size doesn’t have any whiskers.
  • Case 03: Because a koi fish usually has 149,999 siblings, there is a high probability of one or two koi fishes being born with deformities and congenital disabilities.Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see a koi with badly deformed or missing barbels.
  • Case 04: During the mating season, the koi fish can inbreed with fishes like the goldfish, as a result of which the hybrid spawn is born without barbels.

A fun fact about barbels is that even the youngest koi fishes have them; all you need to do is look closer.

You can also use a magnifying lens to see small non-functional barbels.

What Purpose Do the Whiskers (Barbels) of Koi Fish Serve?

Also known as “Maxillary Barbels,” koi whiskers play an instrumental role in the koi’s life.

Listed below are the three purposes that a koi uses its whiskers for:

Tasting Without Ingestion

The barbels are covered with olfactory sensors, which function as a nose helping the koi smell food. The whisker-like slender organs also comprise taste buds that help the koi in tasting food before ingesting it.

A koi fish has four barbels, two on each side of its mouth. While the top two whiskers appear short, the bottom two are comparatively longer.

However, all barbels serve the same purpose: helping the koi fish taste debris without actually eating it.

Communicating with Other Koi Fish

A lesser-known fact about the koi fish barbels is that the aquatic creature uses its whiskers to find a mate during the breeding season.

A male koi fish will flare their whiskers when courting a female koi dish, whereas female koi fishes flare their barbels when they are ready to spawn eggs.

Furthermore, both female and male koi fish open their barbels when marking and defending their territory.

Super-Sensing Organ

Barbels are the multipurpose sensory powerhouse of the koi fish. While we humans use our eyesight to easily spot objects from even a distance. Koi fish aren’t that lucky.

Operating under challenging conditions, the koi fish often needs to survive in dark and murky conditions with limited visibility.

Even though the koi fish’s eyes help them find a way out, its whiskers give the koi an extra edge that they need to find food in low light conditions.

The sensory organs of the barbels also help the koi to sense predators from a mile away. The barbels also help in sensing the chemical composition in the water.

What Happens If a Koi Loses its Barbels?

One of the most asked questions about the koi fish is, “Does a koi die if it loses its barbels?” No, they don’t.

When an adult koi fish loses its whiskers, there is always hope because if the tissues are healthy enough, they can regenerate new barbels.

Even if the tissues aren’t healthy enough, there is nothing to worry about.

When feeding a koi without barbels, the pond owners treat the koi with floating food, making it easier for the fish to eat without whiskers.

How Do I Protect an Injured Koi Fish?

If your koi fish has injured its barbels, move it to another pond.

This is essential as, in some cases, the koi fish can get really stressed from the injury.

Wrapping It Up!

A koi fish is born with whiskers that are called “Barbels.” The first set of barbels looks like little stubby things that are sticking out of the koi’s bottom lip.

The second set of barbels develops on the koi’s lower lip and grows upwards. The third pair of barbels are usually longer than the second and first set and grow downwards.

The barbels of the koi fish play an instrumental role in helping them communicate with other fish and find food.

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