Why Do Koi Fish Have Different Colors?

For centuries koi fish has been a symbol of elegance and majesty in traditional Japanese art.

Even today, Koi fish are highly sought after in the fish-keeping community, for their beautiful, vibrant colors and intricate patterns.

A casual observer may be enthralled by the natural beauty of all the different koi in a pond, but experienced koi keepers know that the colors and patterns on each koi aren’t just decorative.

The patterns on a koi indicate what variety it belongs to, and the exact colors and shades are an indication of the specimen’s quality.

All over the world, thousands of koi breeders try to breed the most beautiful variants of koi fish. The highest quality specimens have sold for upwards of a million US dollars in the past.

But why do koi fish have different colors in the first place?

This article will aim to explain the many different colors and patterns found on koi fish so that enthusiasts and new koi keepers can understand this phenomenon a little better.

Why does Koi Have Such Diverse Colors?

Koi fish come in so many different colors because of the difference in their genetics.

The coloration and patterns that each fish displays as it matures are determined by a mix of dominant and recessive genes from its parents.

For instance, a Showa will have genes that correspond to a Sumi (black) base with both hi and shoji markings, whereas a Kohaku will have a white body with red markings.

Koi Colors Can Change

It can be challenging to judge the quality of young koi based on color, as some koi tend to change color dramatically as they age.

Consider our Golden Corn koi, for example.

A baby gold corn koi is monochrome gold, but a fully grown adult Golden Corn has a rich orange coloration all over and well-defined Gin Rin scales with each having a darker center.

The base colors of a koi aren’t the only determining factor in how a koi looks.

Some koi look rather plain, while others boast a shimmering metallic look to their scales and fins. This shimmering quality or ‘luster’ is highly sought after by breeders.

Koi Fish Can Also Lose It’s Color

When koi fish aren’t raised correctly, they may even lose their color over time.

Bold, vibrant colors and shimmering scales are all signs of koi that have been bred correctly and taken proper care of.

If a koi don’t get enough clean water and sunlight as it grows or is fed a poor diet, it will have dull colors, and perhaps lose its colors altogether.

This is one of the main reasons that raising koi fish is such a complicated hobby, and should be left to those who know what they are doing.

Also read: Can Betta Fish Change Color (or Lose Color)?

The Different Types of Koi

Koi fish varieties differ based on their color as well as their features:

Koi Colors

Koi fish usually come in eight different colors.

These include Black (Sumi), White (Shiro), Metallic (Hikari), Red (Aka), Gold (Kin), Silver (Gin), Orange (Orenji), and Yellow (Ki).

Koi Features

Gin Rin: These koi fish have reflective scales that some say glimmer like polished silver as they move through the water.

Maruten: Maruten are a variety of koi that feature a distinct pattern atop their heads. Some say this pattern resembles a crown.

Doitsu: These koi don’t have as many scales as other variants. They have larger lateral scales and two rows of scales running across their dorsal fin.

Tancho: These koi feature a singular red circle atop their heads. Some say this pattern is reminiscent of the Japanese flag.

Varieties of Koi

Matsuba: These koi feature a body with a metallic sheen, and black scales across their backs in a net-like pattern. Their base color can come in a few varieties, including white, yellow, orange, and red.

Chagoi: This variety of koi is highly sought after by professional collectors, as they are known to be the easiest to train. Some experts even say their calm temperament helps influence that of other koi in the pond. Their bodies usually come in a metallic gold or silver color, but don’t feature any patterns.

Kumonryu: These koi are some of the most fascinating to observe over their lifespan because they change color more frequently than other varieties.

Asagi: These koi are fairly common and inexpensive. Asagi koi feature a white base color, with deep blue back scales, and smaller orange patterns along its sides and fins. Scaleless Asagi is known as Shusui.

Kohaku: Some say Kohaku was the first variety of koi ever discovered. They feature a white base, with deep vibrant red patterns all over their body.

Showa Sanshoku: These koi feature an abstract blend of black, red, and white patterns all over their body. Expert collectors often seek high-quality Showa, with deeper, more vibrant colors.

Kikokuryu: These koi come in a mix of white and black patterns, with smaller patches of red and orange along their bodies.

Taisho: These koi feature white bodies with black and red patterns. Those with flecks of yellow on their bodies are usually regarded as lower-quality Taisho by experienced breeders and collectors.

Ogon: These koi feature monochrome platinum-white or gold bodies, with no visible markings or patterns along their bodies.

Shigure: These koi fish feature two distinct variations; one that boasts shimmering scales, and one that has no scales. They are sought by breeders and keepers for their calm temperament. They have even been observed feeding other koi before feeding themselves.

Shiro Utsuri: These koi feature a mix of shimmering platinum white and deep, inky black colors. Breeders tend to prefer high-quality Shiro Utsuri, that don’t have any grey on their bodies, where the colors meet.

Kujaku: These koi have white bodies, with black scales across their back, and red, yellow, and orange blotches across their sides.

Tancho Kohaku: As the name suggests, these koi feature the circular head pattern that Tancho is known for. In recent years, Tancho, which has a misshapen head pattern that resembles a heart, has become very popular amongst breeders and collectors.

Hi Utsuri and Ki Utsuri: These koi feature dark black bodies with thick yellow, orange, and red patches. red and white breeders generally prefer the red variant of these koi, as they are seen as having higher value amongst keepers.

Understanding Koi Patterns and Colors

The majority of koi names are translations of the Japanese terms for the fish’s markings or hues.

For instance, the term ‘Kohaku’ refers to the white and red colors found on the fish.

It may indicate other characteristics of the koi as well, such as specific shapes and textures on its body.

Although these concepts are straightforward in Japanese, they seem complex and foreign to us, which only helps to increase the allure of this magnificent kind of fish.

Through years of selective breeding, koi colors and patterns have expanded to encompass a seemingly endless range, including oranges, blues yellows, silvers, and more.

But the fundamental canvas of many types is made up of just three colors; black, white, and red.

Koi can also be described by different hues. Common hues include yellow, metallic, or multicolored.

Although koi typically feature two or three colors on their bodies, some feature multiple colors.

What It Means to Be a High-Quality Koi

To be regarded as the highest quality specimen, each type of koi needs a distinct combination of components.

A koi is chosen by judges based on various factors, such as their colors, as well as their body size, degrees of completion, and the steps and symmetry of their designs.

An average person most often imagines a Kohaku when thinking of a koi.

It exhibits the most conventional hues and is one of the most well-liked kinds among ardent enthusiasts and casual keepers alike.

A white ‘Shiro’ koi with patches of red is called a Kohaku. The Hi might range from dark red to orange-red.

A Sanke is created by peppering in Sumi (black) patterning with the Hi and Shiro designs of the Kohaku koi.

It is a Showa if the base color is Sumi and it has deep red and porcelain white markings. It can be challenging to tell a Showa from a Sanke depending on the base color and markings found on the fish.

It is also important to note that a Showa will always have black on its head and underbelly.

Any black Koi with either yellow, white, or red as the second color will be of the Utsuri kind. This may be reversed to create a Bekko by using a black design on a colored body.

Now That You Know

Now that you know more about the many different color and pattern variations of koi, what do you think?

Are you still interested in raising your pond of beautiful koi fish? It’s important to understand that raising koi fish can be an expensive hobby, to say the least.

But money isn’t the only factor to consider. These are highly intelligent creatures that deserve proper care and attention.

If you’d like to raise your koi, we recommend doing plenty of research, so that you can give your koi the life they deserve.

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