Of all the fish from all the oceans, rivers, and lakes, the goldfish is probably the single most iconic and universally-loved fish on the planet. Goldfish are so ubiquitous that a lot of people don’t really question the origins of goldfish as aquarium species. You see one of these yellow-orange fish swimming around in a fishbowl and you don’t give it another thought, because of course it would be a goldfish. What else? Well, it didn’t always used to be this way. Goldfish have a long and storied history the extends back thousands of years.
And when you’re talking about really, really old stuff, the two places you look first are the Romans and the Chinese. In this case, our Asian friends were responsible for the modern-day popularity of goldfish. It all started in the Jin Dynasty, which existed from about 265 to 420 CE, when people started raising various species of Asian Carp in small ponds for food. A rare genetic mutation caused these normally silver fish to spawn offspring of the golden color that we’re so familiar with, and the Chinese began to selectively breed these fish simply because they thought they were prettier.
Eventually, food-focused ponds became beauty-focused ponds, and the Chinese began to take pride in their lovely natural aquariums. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), people would even pull fish out of ponds and put them in viewing aquariums whenever guests came over, showing them off as a sort of artistic centerpiece to a social engagement.
Europeans also jumped on the goldfish wagon when the fish were later introduced to the Western world around the 1600s. They adored the fish because their metallic-looking scales reminded them of precious metals.
Goldfish have a golden-orange color. Duh.
Their scales tend to give off a metallic sheen that makes them sparkle under direct light. The fact that goldfish were one of the first species of domesticated fish means that there are dozens of different varieties. Some goldfish have bug-eyes, bulbous bodies, elegant fins, or different coloration ranging from brown to silver to black.
Despite the completely false old wives’ tail that goldfish only have a memory of three seconds, they’re actually rather clever fish. They can learn to recognize individual humans, and some studies have indicated that a goldfish can respond to its owner’s unique voice. They become docile once they get accustomed to humans and can even be fed by hand.
Caring for your Goldfish
This is another one of the reasons why goldfish have become so popular. They are a naturally hardy species that can survive in ponds or indoor aquariums without a lot of upkeep. One of the most convenient features about these fish is that they dig normal room temperature. If a human is comfortable, then a fish in the same room will also be comfortable. Keep your goldfish healthy and well-fed and they will naturally stay healthy for more than a decade.
In the wild goldfish eat crustaceans and insects, and they are often introduced into stagnant ponds to cut down on mosquito population. They will overeat if you give them too much food, so follow a strict feeding regimen.