Butterfly koi float through your pond like graceful dragons, trailing a beautiful shadow of long fins behind them. Their unique look make them a joy for pond owners who want to add something a little different to their backyards.
Butterfly koi look and behave much like their short-finned cousins. That means they can fit in seamlessly with just about any fish population.
At a Glance: Butterfly Koi
- Butterfly koi are a cross between traditional koi and long-finned carp
- Butterfly koi have longer fins and skinnier bodies than traditional koi
- Butterfly koi require the same care and have most of the same characteristics as regular koi
What are Butterfly Koi?
Butterfly koi are not technically koi according to strict Japanese definitions of the word, but rather a cross between long-finned Indonesian carp and traditional koi (which are also in the carp family). For the casual koi keeper, though, they are koi in all the ways that count: size, longevity, behavior, coloring, diet and general appearance.
Where butterfly koi differ from regular koi are their fins. Unlike traditional koi, which have genes that tell their fins to stop growing at a certain point, butterfly koi fins keep getting longer throughout their lifetimes. The result is the long, flowing fins that some pond owners love. Butterfly koi’s bodies also tend to be slightly more slender than traditional koi’s, and their barbels – the whisker-type growths on their faces – grow slightly longer.
Keeping Butterfly Koi
Are you an experienced koi owner? Then you already know how to care for butterfly koi; their upkeep is almost identical. Feed your butterfly koi just as you would a regular koi, keep your water aerated and make sure they have plenty of shelter from the sun and predators. Butterfly koi are just as docile as other varieties, so feel free to place them in ponds with goldfish, catfish, orfes or other koi.
How big will a butterfly koi get?
Butterfly koi are skinnier than their short-finned cousins but grow to roughly the same length: usually about 12 to 15 inches. Some Japanese koi grow even longer, while jumbo varieties might grow as large as 3 feet long!
How long does a butterfly koi live?
Butterfly koi have about the same lifespan as traditional koi: up to 25-30 years in ideal conditions. Some koi keepers say butterfly varieties are slightly more hardy than other kinds because of their hybrid genes and close ties to wild carp.
Are there any differences between caring for a butterfly koi and a regular koi?
So what does all this mean for you, the casual pond owner who just wants to relax and enjoy some beautiful fish? Not much. The only additional precaution you need to take with your butterfly koi is to be extra gentle with those beautiful long fins. They can easily bend or tear, and the damage – although usually cosmetic – is often permanent.
Butterfly Koi: Where Did They Come From?
Here’s what we know about the origin of butterfly koi: They started as a breed of long-finned carp, and breeders only started selling them commercially in the mid 20th century. Beyond that, the exact story of how these beautiful fish became staples of so many ponds is the subject of some debate.
While some sources say Japanese breeders started cultivating long-finned koi long before the fish made their way to the U.S., others say the breed really started its climb to popularity in the 1980s after breeders from North Carolina-based Blue Ridge Fish Hatchery took a chance on some long-finned feral carp from New York. They soon discovered that these carp, originally from the waterways of Indonesia, were just plain ugly: gangly-finned with plain brown and gray coloring.
Over the course of several generations, Blue Ridge selectively bred these new fish with prettier koi varieties. This selective breeding led to the beautiful butterfly koi pond owners love today.
Butterfly koi are not universally popular. Some serious koi keepers consider them mutts because of their cross-breeding with feral long-finned carp, and many koi competitions exclude butterfly varieties because of inconsistencies in their size and appearance. Still, butterfly koi have grown popular in the United States over the past several decades among pond owners who care more about their look than their heritage.
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Liz, if you can, you should purchase API drop test kits for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and KH. I'm afraid the dip sticks are notoriously unreliable. You will want to be cleaning your filters and replacing at least 10% of your pond water weekly, adding dechlorinator in with the replacement water. If you do that, you shouldn't have a chlorine reading. How deep is the pond, and how deep is the gravel layer on the bottom? Is there a bottom drain? How many fish, large or small?
I agree with Andrea, it looks like anchor worm, and fortunately, Dimilin takes care of that rapidly. Can you post a picture of the ingredient list on the bacterial control? Sometimes things that are aimed at "bad" bacteria will kill the "good" bacteria in your filters, which you need for processing the ammonia in the fish waste.
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In certain circles, when you mention butterfly koi it’s like speaking out of turn in an audience with the president. You just don’t do this. Quite a few koi connoisseurs think of butterfly koi as “mutts,” and some say that butterfly koi aren’t even koi. Others, however, happen to think butterfly koi can be the finest koi in any collection, depending on several factors – size, pattern, and finnage.
First, let’s consider where butterfly koi originated. In the early 80s, a population of common, brown and grey carp with long fins were found in a series of canals and ditches in Indonesia. A company in New York took an interest and brought the fish into the U.S. and sold some. They did not sell well because they were ugly. However, an enterprising and curious group of breeders at Blue Ridge Fish Hatchery placed an order for a dozen of these fish to see what the heck they were. Ugly, with long fins, is what they discovered. Over the next several years they bred these large, long finned mutations with their finest regular-fin koi and made several discoveries.
- Long-fin genes are dominant, so breeding the fish back to color would not breed out the long fin gene.
- Long-fin koi are robust and disease resistant.
- The fish could be bred back to color and many colorful lines of long-fin koi have been created at Blue Ridge Fish Hatchery.
The original breeder at Blue Ridge Fish Hatchery who spearheaded the cultivation of long-fin koi was a man named Wyatt LeFever. His son Randy made his way to the tanks to see the fish. As he regarded the fish with interest, he observed, “Dad, they look like Butterflies!” The name stuck.
As Butterfly koi grow, they become more and more impressive because the fins keep growing until the blood vessels can’t sustain the fins to be any longer. The older the fish, the longer and more impressive the finnage. So, a full-grown butterfly koi looks like a long, slinky dragon moving through the water. Their barbels (whiskers) even grow long and can fork into elaborate designs.
Butterfly koi seem to lack some of the body size of regular koi, but the overall fish can run as long as 36 to 40 inches in the right pond with plenty of food. They are graceful and pleasant to watch swim.
What about Pattern?
Since pattern seems to mean a great deal to the value of a regular koi, it makes logical sense that a good, standard pattern with bright colors would increase the value of a butterfly koi too, but there are a few notable additions. While a butterfly koi is more valuable when it has a properly defined and positioned pattern in the color, beautiful fins can often make even a poorly patterned fish look beautiful.
In addition, lemon and platinum ogons (solid color) in the butterfly category are awesome as adults. When you grow a metallic yellow or platinum ogon butterfly to an impressive, large size, their body movement is more graceful and slow. The fins are long, but the uniform gold or neon-white color is brilliant in the water and such fish look like fireballs or comets moving through the water with their “fire” (fins) streaming behind them. Gorgeous!
Sorogoi are incredible as adults in the butterfly class, as well. A sorogoi is the overall grey fish with the “fukurin” or black fish net pattern over the body. So, taking that color and putting it on a large, impressive adult butterfly koi gives you what rather appears as a grey sea monster moving through the water. Its subdued colors don’t attract the eye at first, but then you see its graceful, lengthy body and fins moving around below you and you are taken aback by both the robustness of the fish (they grow huge) and its mysterious, grey color.
Even better than that are black butterflies – which are, by far the coolest fish. They are seldom found, so the effect is rare and special when it happens. The black butterfly may be with or without scales. The rarest and most valuable of this type is the doitsu, karasu butterfly. This fish is black, has no scales, and has long fins.
Black butterflies grow up and become very large because their genes are not as strained as some of the brighter colored fish. And if they have no scales, the body is a glistening jet-black. The fins keep growing until the entire fish is broad, and streams long black robes behind it. They look like a jet-black dragon.
And when a visitor to your pond is feeding your fish at the side of the pond, suddenly, a large black shadow looms up from the depths. Larger it gets, until they realize that there is no color, the fish is just a shadow and when the fish takes the food, it turns and swirls down out of sight with a flourish of long, black fins. “What was that?” they usually stammer. “That is the shadow. He’s our black fish, which the Japanese have always regarded as a lucky fish,” you reply. The fully mature black butterfly koi is surely one of the most memorable fish a kid could ever encounter or feed. With such a fish, you own a living breathing shadow dragon.
In a discussion of butterfly koi, we should talk a tiny bit more about the fins. The butterfly koi fins are long because of a genetic aberration resulting in the length growth gene failing to turn off. In fish, the fins are supposed to grow to a genetically specified length, and then stop growing. But in the high fin mutation the fins don’t get the “stop growth” message and they keep growing. This happens in individual fish of many species from time to time. Some notable examples are Siamese fighting fish, Simpson’s hi fin swordtails, long fin oscars, and long fin black tetras. Any time the mutation is encountered and identified, it is bred into a species to see if it would make that species more economically important commercially.
Like any other koi, the fins of the butterfly koi are made up of dozens of rays of cartilage that radiate outward and support the fin. These rays generally grow very straight, but past the point of normal length they can grow wavy. The fish that grow straight rays even into the lengthier parts of the tail are more impressive looking and would be more valuable.
One problem with butterfly koi is that they are often handled the same way as regular koi. Broken fins and tails are par for the course by the time the fish is an adult. So, it’s normal to see bends and waves in the fins and tail of butterfly koi partly because of growing that way, but also because of netting-damage as a juvenile. As an adult, a split tail or fin often does not heal well and remains split. All of the above is irrelevant to the casual observer, the impact of the fish is exactly the same, but you might notice variations in fin quality and you may care enough to choose one fish over the other based on that.
The butterfly koi is a true koi. Despite this fact, the Japanese have shared some American purist’s distaste for these long fin beauties. Truth be told, the Japanese have usually reacted to any new color, at first, as an abomination. Eventually, they get used to it and accept it, and eventually love the diversity.
And it has been that way with the butterfly koi. At first, Mr. Suda was the only breeder in Japan producing butterfly koi. His fish have been gorgeous, and he even bred them for prodigious size. But the rest of the Japanese breeders declined.
Mr. Suda’s fish became so popular in the U.S. that they became scarce; making Mr. Suda realize his decision to breed them was a good one. Over time, as other breeders watched Mr. Suda sell everything he had very fast, they eventually overcame their resistance to butterfly koi and started producing them, too. Today, there are domestic breeders who compete in the butterfly koi market. They are very popular fish – and for good reason.
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