The Lowly Hibuna

by steve hopkins

reprinted from:

Koi Talk, Newsletter of the Hawaii Goldfish and Carp Association

March, 2007


The common goldfish might be the most maligned and least appreciated of all ornamental fish.  They are given away as inexpensive prizes at the state fair.  They are used as feeder fish for oscars, arrowana and other predators. They are often placed in a small bowl where they are over-fed until they die.  They are considered to be a beginners fish and, at best, a stepping stone to fancier varieties.


The common goldfish was the derived from the olive/brown crucian or gibel carp.  Through a thousand years of selection, the common goldfish has given rise to over three hundred varieties of “fancy” goldfish.  What they call  “common goldfish” in the west, are called “hibuna” in Japan.  The Chinese name translates to “gold carp”..\


Hibuna grow to about twelve inches and often live for ten years or more.  The fancier varieties of goldfish never grow as large nor live as long as hibuna.  They tolerate adverse conditions better than other types of goldfish.  Keeping a fish in a small bowl is seldom a good idea, but hibuna are one of the few ornamental fish hardy enough to handle it.


What color is a goldfish?  The early goldfish really were gold, but it was a dirty gold with dark mottling.  Today, the color ranges from orange to red.  They can also be white, or red and white.  The scales are metallic giving the fish a shine.  If the fish has non-metallic nacreous scales or if the fish has any black, then it is not a hibuna; it’s a shubunkin.  The common goldfish has a single vertical tail.  If it has a splayed double tail then it’s not a hibuna; it’s a wakin.  The tail should not be more than about one-forth the length of the body.  If the tail is longer then it’s not a hibuna, it’s a comet.  The body should be fusiform or torpedo-shaped and the length should be three to four times the height.  If the body is short and round, then it’s not a hibuna, it’s a tomasaba or nymph.  Hibuna conformation is very similar to that of a koi.


Hibuna are as easy to breed as any goldfish or koi, perhaps easier.  They are pretty good when it comes to breeding “true”.  Most of the offspring will look similar to the parents.  Nonetheless, within a given batch of hibuna some will be much better than others.  When selecting hibuna, first look for a strong well-proportioned body.  An individual demonstrating the ability to grow fast is usually desirable.  Next, look at the quality of the color.  Most prefer a thick deep red.  The white should be snow white, not yellowish.  It is particularly difficult to get a snow white color on the head.  If the fish is red and white, look for a pleasing pattern which is balanced left-to-right and front-to-back. The best hibuna will have a pattern like a kohaku or tancho koi.  Exceptional hibuna are as hard to find as exceptional examples of other goldfish or koi varieties.


Hibuna can be as inexpensive or as pricey as you want them to be.  Small feeder fish may retail for as little as thirty cents.  A large hibuna with exceptional conformation, color and pattern may cost as much as a good koi—if you can find one.  And, herein lies the problem.  Because hibuna are considered “common” and are not as highly sought-after as fancy goldfish varieties, they are typically only sold at a very small sizes.  If you want a large individual which has been selected for conformation, color and pattern, you may have to make it yourself.