The word Koi comes from Japanese, simply meaning “carp”. Koi are ornamental varieties of domesticated common carp that are kept for their beauty and decorative aspects in outdoor koi ponds or water gardens. Koi keeping in itself is an art form and keeping them as pets is a fun and relaxing hobby.
Koi – Man Made Sub Species
Common carp were aquacultured as a food fish at least as long ago as the fifth century BC in China and in Rome. In ancient Japan farmers that lived in the isolated mountainous region cultivated carp in unused rice paddies and dried them for protein during the harsh, snowy winter months. They left out a few fingerlings to breed in the spring to replenish their stocks.
The rice farmers noticed some of the carp they kept had patches of red color and in the 1820’s they selectively bred these unique carp in an attempt to bring out their natural color mutations. The results were beautiful Koi with bright splashes of colors, so different from their drab-colored ancestors.
The Hobby of Keeping Koi
Soon Koi keeping became a hobby that spread across Japan. Most of the people that kept Koi were well-to-do businessmen. The outside world was not aware of this wondrous development until 1914 when they were exhibited in a Tokyo exposition.
Until the 1960’s Koi keeping was almost exclusively a Japanese practice. Now it is a worldwide hobby with people keeping Koi as pets on 6 out of 7 continents. Advanced collectors often join a local Koi club. These clubs hold shows where competition for winning grand champion and big prize money is fierce. Koi are judged on perfect body conformation, skin quality, color and pattern.
Super Stars Among Fish
It was from this original handful of koi that all other varieties were bred. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, yellow, blue and pearlescent cream. The most popular koi are red markings on white, and red and white markings on a black background. They are bred so that their markings look most pleasing from above.
The 2 Million Dollar Koi
Koi can be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. New Koi varieties are still being developed. One exceptional single colored metallic Koi created in the 1980’s was purchased by a Japanese company as the most expensive Koi ever sold for $2.2 million in today’s dollars. Its body shimmered like solid gold. These highly developed Koi are considered living art and owning the most expensive Koi is a major status symbol compared to owning a collection of Impressionist paintings.
Keeping Koi as Pets
Domesticated as an ornamental aquatic pet Koi are peaceful, non-aggressive fish, especially the “tea-colored” Koi which are famous for their docile, friendly personalities and large size. Koi can grow up to 3 feet long, can be trained to eat from your hand, and will follow you around the pond begging for food.
Hanako, World’s Longest Living Koi – Her Amazing Story.
Koi carp are long-lived fish. The average lifespan is approximately 50 years. But there is one legendary Koi that was reportedly the longest lived ever recorded. It was a beautiful scarlet colored female fish named Hanako, meaning “flower girl” in Japanese. She was owned over the years by several individuals and in 1974 the last owner, Dr. Koshihara, gave Japanese scientists permission to extract one scale off her body to study its growth rings. They concluded that Hanako was born in 1751. She died in 1977 at, by their estimate, 226 years old!
Perhaps credit is due to the crystal clear Japanese mountain waters in her pond and the loving care of her owners. It is known that next to whales and tortoises, Koi are one of the longest living creatures on Earth. Dr. Koshihara described Hanako as his dearest friend and she is truly missed.
Koi thrive in a stable environment. They can live in fresh water ponds both indoors and outdoors. In winter they will go dormant. Optimal temperature is 60 to 75 degrees. The pond should have steep edges that will deter predators like herons, cats or raccoons from wading into it. Your efforts will be greatly rewarded with hours of tranquility.
Photo: Koi Pond in Japan--This gorgeous Japanese garden was found behind a small cookie factory on the Miyajima Island in Japan. It features beautiful cherry blossom trees, Koi fish and bonsai trees.
Best to purchase Koi in specialty Koi shops where the fish are kept in pristine conditions since the koi that are imported are very expensive. Big box retailers and nursery centers usually carry low grade Koi and survival rates aren’t the greatest
Koi are hardy and take care of themselves for the most part, but keep their pond clean. Koi are usually fed twice a day and only give them an amount of food that they can eat within 5 minutes. Like your pet dog they may spend most of their day begging for food but don’t overfeed, since it can lead to poor water quality and obesity problems. Koi should be minimally handled as this stresses out their immune systems making them more susceptible to bacterial infections.
In Japan Koi symbolize strength and perseverance since they must migrate up mighty rivers to fulfill their destinies. In ancient times children who lived past their 5th birthdays were celebrated with festivities that were decorated with Koi kites. The tradition carries on today each spring.
Carp bred in reverse from achieving Koi become your tiny five-and-dime store pet goldfish.
Koi not selectively bred, within a few generations will resort back to common brown carp.
Paintings of Koi are most ethereal and graceful of Japanese artworks.