Lionhead Goldfish

Chinese Lionhead Goldfish, Fancy Goldfish

Family: Cyprinidae Lionhead Goldfish, Chinese Lionhead Goldfish, Carassius auratusCarassius auratus auratusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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I have two fishes and they are so active but it's been two Days one of them looks like she lost her balance, always Stays at the bottom ..! She was never... (more)  Elana

The Lionhead Goldfish develops a fleshy growth that looks somewhat like a lion's mane... hence the name "Lionhead"!

The Lionhead Goldfish is by far the most popular and well known of the dorsal less goldfish.The lack of a stabilizing dorsal fin is a trait that is also seen in the Bubble Eye and the Celestial Eye Goldfish. Unlike the long slender body found on Common Goldfish and the Shubunkins, it is also one of the more rounded or egg-shaped fancy gold fish.

This goldfish was bred in China to develop a "hood" that depicts the image of the mythical Chinese lion-dog. The distinctive raspberry or lion's mane appearance of the Chinese Lionhead Goldfish have led to its common name 'Lionhead' Goldfish. The amount of head growth differs for each fish. For some the broad head, except for its eyes, mouth and nostrils, can become completely covered with fleshy growth (sometimes impeding their vision) while others will develop hardly any head growth at all.

Lionheads have a double caudal (tail) fin and a double anal fin. This goldfish variety is very similar to the Ranchu Goldfish, a variant that was highly developed Japan. The Lionhead can be distinguished from it by a less curved contour shape to its back. Also, its caudal fin is quite similar to that of the Fantail Goldfish, while the Ranchu has a tail fin that splays out to the sides, often being almost horizontal. Though pretty rare, there is also a long finned Lionhead variety.

Red Cap Oranda Goldfish (left) Lionhead Goldfish (right), Carassius auratus
Redcap Oranda Goldfish

These goldfish are available in a variety of colors including red, orange, chocolate, blue, and black. They can also be calico, bi-colored in red and white or red and black, or tri-colored in red, white, and black. There is also a red-capped variety with a bright red head and white body.

The Lionhead Goldfish can be confused with the Oranda Goldfish when their coloring is very similar. The photo on the right of a Redcap Oranda shows the distinctive differences between the two. The Oranda is quickly identified by its dorsal fin, which Lionhead's do not have. The Lionhead also has higher arching on the back and more intense bubbly growth around the face.

The Lionhead Goldfish is considered a rather delicate fish and is not recommended for beginners. Its swimming ability is cumbersome because of its rounded body which is further diminished by the lack of a stabilizing dorsal fin.

Many of the elongated goldfish varieties like the Common Goldfish, Comet Goldfish, the Shubunkin, are not really good companions for the Lionhead Goldfish because they are fast swimmers and too competitive during feeding time. Better tank mates would be the similarly handicapped but less hardy Water-Bubble Eye Goldfish, Telescope Goldfish, and Celestial Goldfish. It won't win any races, but if kept with other slow-moving varieties the Lionhead Goldfish should get plenty to eat and do well.

For more goldfish information, see:
Goldfish Care: Fancy Goldfish and Goldfish Diseases

Geographic Distribution
Carassius auratus auratus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Cyprinidae
  • Genus: Carassius
  • Species: auratus auratus
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Lionhead Goldfish - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish - inches: 5.0 inches (12.70 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Temperature: 65.0 to 72.0° F (18.3 to 22.2° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The goldfish of today are descendants of a species of wild carp known as the Prussian Carp, Silver Prussian carp, or Gibel Carp Carassius gibelio (syn: Carassius auratus gibelio), which was described by Bloch in 1782. These wild carp originated in Asia; Central Asia (Siberia). They inhabit the slow moving and stagnant waters of rivers, lakes, ponds, and ditches feeding on plants, detritus, small crustaceans, and insects.

For many years, it was believed that goldfish had originated from the Crucian Carp Carassius carassius described by Linnaeus in 1758. This fish has a wide range across the waters of the European continent, running west to east from England to Russia, north to Scandinavian countries in the Arctic Circle and as far south as the central France and the Black Sea. However, recent genetic research points to C. gibelio as a more likely ancestor.

Goldfish were originally developed in China. By the 1500s, goldfish were traded to Japan, arriving in Europe in the 1600s and America in the 1800s. The majority of the fancy goldfish were developed by Asian breeders. We can see the results of this centuries-long endeavor in the wonderful colors and shapes of goldfish today. Today domesticated goldfish are distributed world-wide and there are more than 125 captive bred varieties that have been developed.

The Lionhead Goldfish, or Chinese Lionhead Goldfish, is one of the older varieties of fancy goldfish. In China this fish was bred to develop a "hood" that depicts the image of the mythical Chinese lion-dog. Its ancestor and precursor is the Eggfish, known as Maruko in Japan. The Lionhead and all other dorsal less fish resulted from developments of this egg shaped fish. The Eggfish itself is not popular in the United States. Although it can be found in the orient, it is very rare in the US and would be expensive.

  • Scientific Name: Carassius auratus auratus
  • Social Grouping: Groups - Can be kept singly or in groups.
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed - There are no wild populations of this captive bred variety.


The Lionhead Goldfish is an egg-shaped variety of goldfish. The body is short and stubby and they have a double caudal (tail) fin and a double anal fin. Lionhead Goldfish will generally reach about 5 inches (13 cm), though some hobbyist report their Lionhead's reaching more than a whopping 10" (25 cm). The average goldfish life span is 10 – 15 years, though living 20 years or more is not uncommon in well maintained goldfish aquariums and ponds.

Red Lionhead Goldfish (juvenile), Carassius auratus
Red Lionhead Goldfish (juvenile)

Their most distinctive feature is the head, which except for its eyes, mouth and nostrils, can become completely covered with fleshy growth. These fish mostly have short fins, but there is a long-finned variety that is rather rare.

Available color varieties include the solid metallic types in red, orange, chocolate, blue, and black; nacreous types can be calico, bi-colored combinations of red and white or red and black, or tri-colored combinations in red, white, and black. There is also a red-capped variety as in the photo above, with a bright red head and white body.

  • Size of fish - inches: 5.0 inches (12.70 cm) - Lionhead Goldfish will generally reach about 5 inches (13 cm), but have been reported to reach 10" (25 cm) in an exceedingly well maintained tank or pond.
  • Lifespan: 15 years - The average goldfish lifespan is 10 – 15 years, but they have been known to live 20 years of more when well maintained.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Calico Lionhead Goldfish (juvenile), Carassius auratus
Calico Lionhead Goldfish (juvenile) Photo Courtesy Kelli Kallenborn

Lionhead Goldfish are some of the more delicate species of goldfish. Unlike the flat-bodied types of goldfish, they have a lower tolerance for pollution.

They will need good care and plenty of space. When it comes to feeding, they will not thrive well with fast competitive tank mates.

Many people will keep goldfish in an aquarium with no heater or filtration. But for the best success in keeping goldfish, provide them the same filtration, especially biological filtration, that other aquarium residents enjoy.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult - The Lionhead Fancy Goldfish is compartively very weak relative to other Fancy Goldfish. The Wen is prone to infection, if the aquarist notices any rawness or irritation it is wise to treat right away.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous, the Lionhead Goldfish will generally eat all kinds of fresh, frozen, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food everyday. To care for your Lionhead Goldfish, feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen), blood worms, Daphnia, or tubifex worms as a treat. It is usually better to feed freeze-dried foods as opposed to live foods to avoid parasites and bacterial infections that could be present in live foods. Due to their fleshy head growth they can have poor vision and a harder time seeing their food, so need extra time to feed.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

These goldfish need to be kept in a well maintained tank with plenty of space and a proper diet. Minimum tank size is 10 gallons, so make sure water changes are frequent in such as small tank. Regular weekly water changes of 1/4 to 1/3 is strongly recommended to keep these fish healthy. Snails can be added as they reduce the algae in the tank, helping to keep it clean.

  • Water Changes: Weekly - Goldfish produce more waste than most other freshwater fish and benefit greatly from more frequent water changes.

Aquarium Setup

Setting up a goldfish aquarium in a manner that will keep your fish happy and healthy is the first step to success. The shape and size of the aquarium is important and depends upon the number of goldfish you are going to keep. These fish need a lot of oxygen and produce a lot of waste. Good filtration, especially biological filtration, is very helpful in maintaining the water quality of the aquarium. A filtration system will remove much of the detritus, excess foods, and waste, which keeps the tank clean and maintains the general health of the goldfish.

  • Tank parameters to consider when choosing a goldfish aquarium:
    • Tank size
      Ten gallons is the absolute minimum required to house a Lionhead Goldfish. It's best to start with a 20 - 30 gallon tank for your first goldfish and then increase the size of the tank by 10 gallons for each additional goldfish. Providing a large amount of water per fish will help dilute the amount of waste and reduce the number of water changes needed.
    • Tank Shape
      Always provide the maximum amount of surface area. A large surface area minimizes the possibility that the goldfish will suffer from an oxygen shortage. Surface area is determined by the shape of the tank. For example an elongated tank offers more surface area (and oxygen) than a tall tank. Oval or round tanks that are wide in the middle and narrower toward the top might be filled less than full to maximize the surface area.
    • Number of fish
      For juveniles a general rule of thumb is 1 inch of fish (2.54 cm) per 1 gallon of water. However, this rule only applies to young fish. Larger gold fish consume much more oxygen than young fish so maintaining this formula for growing fish will stunt them and could contribute to disease and even death.
    • Fish size and growth
      To allow for proper growth, either buy fewer fish than the maximum number or be prepared to get a larger tank. To prevent stunted growth and other health problems, don't overstock the aquarium.

Goldfish are a cold water fish and will do best at temperatures between 65 - 72° F (18°- 22° C). Unlike the flat-bodied types of goldfish however, the Lionhead Goldfish have a lower tolerance for pollution and cannot tolerate temperatures much below 60° F (16° C).

Provide a gravel substrate to help create a natural and comfortable environment for your fish. You can add some decor, but make sure that all ornamentation is smooth with no protruding points or sharp edges. Smooth rocks or driftwood should be used sparingly if at all. Aquarium plants would be the best choice of aquarium decor for goldfish, but unfortunately these fish are diggers. Consequently live plants may be uprooted. Artificial plants make a good substitute and silk plants are safer than plastic ones.

Most aquariums come with a cover that includes lighting. A cover for the tank is desirable as it reduces evaporation and though they are not prone to jumping, on occasion some gold fish will jump out. Lighting is not essential for goldfish, but does make the aquarium a nice show piece and lighting will help if you have live plants.

Goldfish are freshwater fish, but they have some tolerance for slightly brackish water. The salinity level for C. auratus must be kept low, below 10% with a specific gravity of less than 1.002.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gal (38 L) - Ten gallons is the absolute minimum required to house this fish. It has high oxygen requirements, produces a lot of waste. It will have very stunted growth if it is kept in a smaller aquarium.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: Sometimes
  • Substrate Type: Any - A medium sized gravel works best.
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 65.0 to 72.0° F (18.3 to 22.2° C) - Goldfish are a cold water fish and will do best at temperatures between 65 - 72° F (18°- 22° C). Unlike the flat-bodied types of goldfish however, the Lionhead cannot tolerate temperatures much below 60° F (16° C).
  • Breeding Temperature: - In the wild, goldfish spawn in the spring when water temperatures reach about 68° F (20° C).
  • Range ph: 6.0-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 5 - 19 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes - Goldfish are freshwater fish, but they have some tolerance for slightly brackish water. Any salinity for must be kept low, below 10%, a specific gravity of less than 1.002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All - These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

Goldfish are very social animals and thrive in a community. Not only are they a great community fish but they are great scavengers as well. It is really not necessary to add other scavengers or other bottom feeders to the aquarium when you have goldfish.

When choosing tank mates, keep in mind the physical traits of the Lionhead Goldfish. Like the Telescope Goldfish and the Celestial Goldfish, the Lionhead can be visually handicapped. Further its swimming ability is cumbersome because of its rounded body and the lack of a stabilizing dorsal fin, a trait that is also seen in the Water-Bubble Eye Goldfish. While the Lionhead cannot readily compete for food with fast swimming types of goldfish, these similarly handicapped varieties can make good companions.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Threat - Goldfish will eat many kinds of aquatic plants, and their constant search for food can end up uprooting plants that they don't eat.

Sex: Sexual differences

During the breeding season the male has white prickles, called breeding tubercles, on its gill covers and head. Seen from above a female will have a fatter appearance when she is carrying eggs. It is impossible to sex Goldfish when they are young and not in breeding season, but generally the male is smaller and more slender than the female.

Breeding / Reproduction

Lionhead Goldfish are egg layers that spawn readily in the right conditions. They can be bred in groups as small as five individuals, but they are very social animals and likely to breed in larger groups as well. The only time Goldfish will spawn in the wild is when spring arrives. To spawn them in the aquarium, you will need to mimic the conditions found in nature.

Provide an aquarium that is at least 20 gallons and make sure the fish are healthy and disease free. Some breeders suggest you treat them for parasites. Many breeders will also separate the males and females for a few weeks prior to breeding to help increase their interest in spawning. Introduce the fish into the breeding tank at the same time. The tank will need a lush environment with solid surfaces for the spawning process and for the eggs to adhere to. Bushy, oxygenating plants, such as Anacharis, work well for this, though artificial plants or fibrous spawning mops can also be used.

To induce spawning, the temperature can be slowly dropped to around 60° F (11° C) and then slowly warmed at a rate of 3° F (2° C) per day until they spawn. Spawning generally begins when the temperatures are between 68° and 74° F (20°-23° C). Feeding lots of high protein food such live brine shrimp and worms during this time will also induce spawning. Feed small amounts three times a day, but don't overfeed. Uneaten scraps will sink to the bottom and foul the water. Maintain the breeding tank with partial water changes of up to about 20% per day.

Before spawning, as the temperature increases, the male will chase the female around the aquarium in a non-aggressive way. This can go on for several days, and the fish will intensify in color. During the spawn, the fish will gyrate from side to side, and the male will push the female against the plants. This stimulates the female to drop tiny eggs which the male will then fertilize. The eggs will adhere by sticky threads to the plants or spawn mop. Spawning can last two or three hours and can produce up to 10,000 eggs.

At this point the parents will start to eat as many eggs as they can find. For this reason, it is best to remove the parents after spawning is complete. The fertilized eggs will hatch in 4 to 7 days, depending on the temperature. You can feed the newly hatched goldfish specialty fry foods until they become big enough to eat flake or brine shrimp, or you can offer the same food as you feed the parents as long as it is crushed very small. At first, the fry are a dark brown or black color in order to better hide and not be eaten by larger fish. They gain their adult color after several months and can be put in with larger fish once they reach about 1 inch long. See Breeding Freshwater Fish - Goldfish for more information on breeding Goldfish.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

In properly maintained goldfish aquariums or ponds, goldfish illness is largely preventable. Even so, goldfish illnesses can occur, and if left untreated, may prove fatal. Goldfish are hardy, though, and if treated in a timely manner, most will make a full recovery.

When treating individuals, it is usually best to move the afflicted fish into a separate tank with no gravel or plants and do regular partial water changes. However, if the disease is apparent throughout the main tank, it may be best to do the treatments there. Whether treating in a hospital tank or your main tank, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for any medication. Some medications can adversely affect the water quality by destroying beneficial bacteria. You may also need to remove the carbon from the filtration system, as carbon will absorb many medications, making the treatment ineffective.

Goldfish diseases are mostly the same as those that afflict other freshwater fish, and the symptoms and treatment of goldfish are also similar. The main types of fish diseases include bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasites, and protozoa. There are also other ailments caused by injury, poor nutrition, or bad water conditions.

One of the more common problems is Ich, which is a protozoan disease. Ich is easy to identify because your fish looks like it is sprinkled with salt. Though Ich is easily treated, like other protozoan diseases, it can be fatal if not caught quickly. Some other protozoan diseases are Costia, which causes a cloudiness of the skin, and Chilodonella, which will cause a blue-white cloudiness on the skin.

External parasites are fairly common, too, but pretty easy to treat and usually not fatal when treated. These include flukes, which are flatworms about 1 mm long with hooks around their mouths. They infest the gills or body of the fish. Another type of parasite is fish lice (Argulus), flattened, mite-like crustaceans about 5 mm long that attach themselves to the body of the goldfish. Lastly, anchor worms look like threads coming out of the fish.

Some bacterial infections include Dropsy, an infection in the kidneys that can be fatal if not treated quickly. Fish Tuberculosis is indicated by the fish becoming emaciated (having a hollow belly). For this illness, there is no absolute treatment, and it can be fatal. Tail/Fin Rot may also be bacterial, though the reduced tail or fins can be caused by a number of factors as well. There is also fungus, a fungal infection, and Black Spot or Black Ich, which is a parasitic infection.

Swim Bladder Disease is an ailment indicated by fish swimming in abnormal patterns and having difficulty maintaining their balance. This can be caused by a number of things: constipation, poor nutrition, a physical deformity, or a parasitic infection. Feeding frozen peas (defrosted) has been noted to help alleviate the symptoms and correct the problem in some cases.

Other miscellaneous ailments include Cloudy Eye, which can be caused by a variety of things ranging from poor nutrition, bad water quality, and rough handling. It can also be the result of other illnesses, such as bacterial infections. Constipation is indicated by a loss of appetite and swelling of the body, and the cause is almost always diet. Then there are wounds and ulcers. Wounds can become infected, creating ulcers. Wounds can develop either bacterial or fungal infections, or both, and must be treated. There are treatments for each of these diseases individually and treatments that handle both. For more in-depth information about goldfish diseases and illnesses, see Goldfish Care; Fancy Goldfish and Goldfish Diseases.


The Lionhead Goldfish is readily available in fish stores and on-line, and is inexpensive


Author: David Brough CFS
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Lastest Animal Stories on Lionhead Goldfish

Elana - 2011-01-18
I have two fishes and they are so active but it's been two
Days one of them looks like she lost her balance, always
Stays at the bottom ..! She was never like that ..! Can
Anybody tell me what to do? I don't her to die.

  • chrissy - 2015-05-16
    As your lionhead Ranchu grows, its head will grow into the characteristic shape. This can make it hard for the ranchu to keep his balance unto he gets used to it. My ranchu had been living in a small tank for 2 years before I got him. I put him into a big tank and he started to grow. After a while, his head got big and bubbly and he stayed at the bottom but sometimes came out for a feed. I read about their heads over balancing them so I wasnt too worried. He is fine now, just needed to get used to the weight.
Anonymous - 2014-02-28
I have three lionheads, one black, one orange, one gold and black. Also a black moor and a calico. They are all adorable. I am concerned for my big orange, as her head scales are growing down over the top of her eyes and she will soon be almost blind. Can the scales be cut back without hurting her? Does anyone know if there is anything I can do for her? She's my favorite!

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-03-09
    I don't know if they can be 'cut back', that sounds a little intrusive to me. It may just be her genetic makeup. These fish are breed for a number of things, with a large cap being one of them. I hope she will be alright, but I don't know that you can physically alter this. Perhaps another reader can give you a better idea.
  • DeeDee - 2014-03-27
    I currently have two lionheads in a 28 gallon tank. They are both about 2 inches. I'd like to add one more but I am concerned about stunting them. They are so adorable, just like all the others say.
  • Watha - 2015-04-02
    Goldfish of any kind require ten to twenty gallons of water per fish. You have babies right now, that with proper food and water will grow to be about five to six inches in length. I would not add another fish. I would be anticipating the growth of what you have and looking at bigger tanks.
  • Watha - 2015-04-02
    In regard to head growth, it is a preferred trait among some breeders, but according to 'Fancy Goldfish' written by Dr. Erik Johnson, the growth can be influenced by environmental factors, such as temperature of water. If you want to slow the growth down, keep the water above fall like temperatures, keep the over crowding at bay, and your water at PH 7. Poor environment conditions contribute to greater head growth and less body growth. If you have access to a Vet who knows fish you can ask them about cutting excess fatty tissue away. Believe or not they do surgery on fish, especially the very expensive Koi and Japanese Ranchu.
  • Watha - 2015-04-03
    PraziPro or Cure All is a good general treatment plan, especially if you did not quarantine your fish for a week prior to introducing them to the tank. You can purchase these products in most fish stores or online.
Debbie Tessler - 2015-01-16
I have a lionhead goldfish that has not eaten in almost 2 weeks. He was always eating and swimming around...I have no other fish in the is filtered and we did a water change about 2 weeks ago. He doesnt seem sick....stays in a corner of the tank now and does not eat. Please help!!

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-01-16
    Hiding in a corner and not eating can be signs that something is not right. Hard to say what the problem is because it sounds like your doing the right things. This could be an ammonia poisoning, but clean water will help. It's also been said that feeding peas (take the skins off) can help, because one of the biggest problems with goldfish is dietary. They need to be fed small amounts of a variety of food several times a day.
Bob&Jo - 2014-02-13
Our lionhead was a very active tankmate with our fantails but recently has started to hide in the vegetation, she or he is breathing normal but not swimming. mostly stays in one spot. Do you think she could be pregnant? She seems to have become very rounded. Please comment.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-02-16
    It's possible she could be pregnant.
  • Ineke - 2014-08-21
    Why doesn't any body see that these poor things are basically handicaspt, they are totally bred out of proportion.