Okanagan Koi & Water Gardens

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Butterfly Koi

Updated: Mon, 18 Mar 2019

Some people say they aren't really Koi at all, but they are, so deal with it...LOL. Butterfly Koi originated in the mid 20th century as a result of an effort to increase the hardiness of traditional koi. Japanese breeders interbred wild Indonesian Longfin river carp with traditional koi. The resulting fish had longer fins, long barbells, pompom nostrils, and were hardier than koi.
Butterfly Koi

Pond Royalty, The Butterfly Koi

By Dayleen Van Ryswyk aka “The Koi Lady”

When I think of ponds, I often think about the fish that are in them. For me, it’s all about the fish. Well, actually, it’s all about the Koi fish. I really love all pond fish but it’s the Koi that have really captured my heart and soul. Some people reading this may think that it’s strange to be so in love with fish, never mind one particular species. For the others reading this that have Koi, I know that you can completely relate to this. I know that I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. When you have a pond, something inevitable comes over you and you literally fall in love with it. Maybe it’s the soothing sound of the waterfall, maybe for you it’s the water plants or maybe it’s just sitting quietly, staring at the sheer perfection of your creation. There is no doubt, that water features and ponds are popular. The reasons for their popularity may differ from person to person, but one thing stays the same. Once you have one, they are in your heart and you will probably always have one in your yard.

I have been ponding for about 25 years now and I have had many different types of fish over the years. About 10 years ago I got my first butterfly Koi. I can still remember the first time I saw her. I was walking past a tank full of Koi for sale and out of the corner of my eye; I caught a glimpse, of this golden fish with long flowing fins. She was a bright golden yellow and her metallic scales made her shine like a gold nugget. Her fins were like nothing I’d seen before; they were longer than her body and flowed like a scarf in the breeze. She was sheer perfection and from that moment on, I was hooked.

There is something very regal about butterfly Koi. Maybe it’s the long flowing fins or maybe it’s the way they glide so effortlessly through the water, I’m not sure. All I know is that they are just amazing creatures! Over the years I have learned quite a bit about this particular Koi breed and I found their lineage to be pretty interesting. I was surprised to learn that they are actually a fairly new breed of Koi and they weren’t in fact a Koi and Goldfish hybrid as many people believed. In reality, Koi and Goldfish can inter-breed but the off-spring are always a sterile hybrid unable to re-produce. Back in the early 1990’s, the LeFever Family of Blue Ridge Fish hatchery in North Carolina, came across an ad in a trade magazine advertising long finned Koi for sale. Being as they breed Koi and Goldfish for the pond industry, they were quite interested in acquiring some of these long finned Koi. When they received their shipment, they realized that what they had in fact gotten were only a type of long finned grey/black carp from Indonesia. After some time, they realized that these carp were very hardy and wondered what their off spring would look like if they bred them with some of their colourful Japanese Koi.

At first, the pairing didn’t seem to produce anything saleable but despite their disappointment, they left the fry to grow on for an entire summer. At the end of the summer, they drained the grow-out ponds and harvested their creation. To their surprise, the Koi and long finned carp had developed into a beautiful pond fish. They weren’t the boring grey/black of the Indonesian carp but rather, had all the colour variations of the Japanese Koi, only with long flowing fins. What they found over time was that the long finned (or butterfly Koi, as they are known as now) was that they seemed more disease resistant and hardier than regular Koi. They also noted that they seemed to grow faster. I have found this observation to be true as well in my own ponds.

Since the LeFever families successful pairing of the Indonesian long finned carp and the Japanese Koi, it has been noted that a few well know Koi breeding families in Japan had started breeding them as well. Though in Japan butterfly Koi aren’t recognized as a true Koi and are not yet allowed to compete in the famous all Japan Koi show. There are Koi farms there that have realized the sale ability of the butterfly Koi and are breeding them in earnest. Though butterfly Koi will never compete with standard Koi at the All-Japan Koi show (also referred to as the greatest show on earth) I hope that one day they will compete against other Butterfly Koi there, as they do in the United States.

Unfortunately for me and my beautiful golden butterfly, she also caught the eye of the neighborhood Heron a year or so later, so she is no longer with me. Since that first glimpse of those long golden fins I have had the pleasure of having many more butterfly Koi over the years. I have also had the pleasure of breeding some of them myself and being able to watch the babies develop. If you ever have the chance to have your fish breed, whether they are Koi or Goldfish, it is quite fascinating to see the colours and patterns develop from a tiny little fry. I have also found that when a regular finned and a butterfly Koi breed, that about 80% of the off-spring tend to be butterfly. It would seem that the long finned gene to be quite dominant as well as strong.

So, if you haven’t had the good fortune to own your own butterfly Koi. Try and make the effort this summer to visit your neighborhood Koi dealer, garden centre or pet store and see what they have. Maybe you’ll find your own perfect beauty to grace your pond at home and you’ll be hooked…just like me!