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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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... (more)  Bob&Jo

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
  • 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)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The goldfish of today are descendants of a wild carp fish, known as the Prussian Carp, Silver Prussian carp, or Gibel Carp Carassius gibelio (syn: Carassius auratus gibelio) which was described by Bloch in 1782. For many years it was believed that goldfish had originated from the Crucian Carp or Golden Carp Carassius auratus auratus described by Linnaeus in 1758, but more recent research is pointing toward the former.

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. In the early 1500's these fish were exported first to Japan and then to Europe and were developed into the wonderful colors and forms of gold fish we see today.

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. Today there are more than 125 captive bred fancy varieties.

  • Scientific Name: Carassius auratus auratus
  • Social Grouping: 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

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

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. Filtration systems remove much of the detritus, excess foods and waste. This in turn helps to keep the tank clean and maintain 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 of water will help minimize goldfish suffering 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. In an oval or round shaped tank the middle offers more surface area than filling it to the top.
    • Number of fish
      For juveniles a general rule of thumb is 1 inch of fish (2.54 cm) per 1 gallon of water. But this rule only applies to young fish and is not adequate as they grow. Larger gold fish consume much more oxygen than young fish so maintaining this formula for growing fish will stunt them, and can 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 overstocking 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).
  • 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
    • 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

Although is it impossible to sex Goldfish when they are young and not in breeding season, the male is usually smaller and more slender that the female. In the breeding season the male has white prickles, called breeding tubercles, on its gill covers and head. Seen from above the female will have a fatter appearance as she is carrying eggs.

Breeding / Reproduction

Lionhead Goldfish are egg layers that spawn readily in the right conditions. See Breeding Freshwater Fish - Goldfish for more information on breeding Goldfish.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

Goldfish are subject to the same diseases as tropical fish. A couple of the more common problems are Ich, Swim Bladder Disease, and external parasites including flukes, lice and anchor worms. 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

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.
Tam - 2004-01-15
I have gotten 2 lion head fish and 2 black moore. They are so cute and I love them a lot. When I bought them they were in the same tank so I figured it would be fine to keep them together. They are all very active and seem to enjoy each other. Their names are (lionheads) R2 and D2; (black moors) Yoda and O-bee. They make great entertainment for everyone who sees them!

MudFrog - 2006-07-01
I have two goldies, Gibson and Flash, that are housed with three Dojo loaches. I have seen no agressive activity, unless you are here at dinner time.. and all I can say is "piggy, piggy, piggy! I first bought the goldies when they were 2.5 inches they are now about 4 inches and look like they are going to keep growing. Being the considerate fishkeeper that I am I first made internet inquiries about housing, feeding and life expectency. I have the group in a 50 gallon with two filters, one canister (rated for 125 gallon) and a sponge filter (rated for 125 gallon). I have several plants with my goldies... Anubias, Vals, swords, momosa ball and Cryptocornye Wendetti. They love to munch on Duckweed! Which is good because I have an abundence in my other thanks. I do not recommend them for first time fishkeepers, they need really clean water and large tanks. Most people can't figure out why they can't keep them in a 10 gallon, they are high waste producers and will end up killing them selves with out the proper care. These fish are a great source of entertainment and attention! As long as you treat them well they will have healthy happy lives.

Jade - 2005-02-20
I personally love lionheads!! I have one now that I have had him (im assuming)for about 3 years. His name is Squeegy and he is extremely active. He has grown to about 5 inches long, and does not look like he is going to stop growing any time soon. I have noticed that he is quite fond of fresh peas, and is a pig when it comes to feeding time. I highly recommend this type of fish for anybody who loves goldfish. Lionheads are beautiful and they are funny to watch and raise.

  • Vadiraj - 2010-05-14
    I had beautiful lion head goldfish which died due to lack of oxygen. . . She was stunning to look and was always very active but today i forgot to check my aquarium before leaving to office and my air pump had stopped working. Some how male fish survived but my beautiful little jenny died:( i am feeling so sad for her. . . My bad:(
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.

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