Carassius auratus
Carassius auratus
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Carassius auratus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Common name: Goldfish

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Carassius auratus has an elongated, stocky body. Not all individuals have the well-known bright gold color. Wild populations vary in color from gold to olive green or even creamy white. It possesses a long dorsal fin with 15 to 21 rays and a hard serrate spine at the origin of the dorsal and anal fins. The lateral line is complete, with 25–31 scales in a lateral series. It can be distinguished from other Asian cyprinids by the presence of a stiff, serrate spine at the origin of the dorsal and anal fins. Asian cyprinids have a stiff, non-serrate spine at this position (Robison and Buchanan, 1988; Page and Burr, 1991). The anal fin of the male is concave, whereas on the female it is convex. It does not reach the large size attained by carp. The usual life span is 6 to 7 years, with a maximum of 30 years recorded (Robison and Buchanan, 1988). Distinguishing characteristics were provided in Wheeler (1978), Raicu et al. (1981), Trautman (1981) and Page and Burr (1991). Identification keys that include this species and photographs or illustrations are provided in most state and regional fish books (e.g., Hubbs and Lagler 1958; Becker 1983; Etnier and Starnes 1993). There has been considerable confusion concerning the taxonomic status of this species. Many authors have recognized two subspecies in its native range: C. a. auratus (the goldfish, Chinese goldfish, or Asian goldfish) from Asia, and C. a. gibelio (the Prussian carp, gibele carp, or European goldfish) from eastern Europe (Raicu et al. 1981). Others have concluded that the goldfish is a subspecies of the crucian carp Carassius carassius (i.e., C. c. auratus). More recently, it has been reported that C. auratus is a tetraploid derivative of C. carassius (references in Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). There are many mutant goldfish varieties and these exhibit a broad range of body forms and colors. Howells (1992b) reported that some exotic fish experts believe that "goldfish" typically observed in U.S. waters is actually a crucian carp x goldfish hybrid. In addition, goldfish commonly hybridizes with common carp Cyprinus carpio, giving rise to individuals that are intermediate in morphology between the two parent species. Goldfish has been widely and repeatedly stocked in the United States from many points of origin, including both Asia and Europe. As such, U.S. populations represent a complex of morphologically and taxonomically diverse forms.

Size: It typically grows to 120 to 220 mm SL, with a maximum of 410 mm SL (Page and Burr, 1991).

Native Range: Eastern Asia, including China and perhaps adjacent regions (Japan, Republic of Korea); also possibly parts of Europe if C. auratus gibelio is a valid subspecies and not just a feral introduction (Raicu et al. 1981).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: This species has been recorded from virtually every state. Documented cases were available for Alabama (Smith-Vaniz 1968; Boschung 1992; Mettee et al. 1996); Arizona (Miller and Lowe 1967; Minckley 1973; Tilmant 1999); Arkansas (Buchanan 1973); California (Moyle et al. 1974; Moyle 1976; Smith 1982; Swift et al. 1993; Dill and Cordone 1997; Tilmant 1999; Sommer et al. 2001; Matern et al. 2002); Colorado (Ellis 1974; Wiltzius 1981; Woodling 1985; Rasmussen 1998); Connecticut (Webster 1941; Whitworth et al. 1968; Schmidt 1986; Whitworth 1996); Delaware (Lee et al. 1976; Raasch and Altemus 1991); District of Columbia (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994; Tilmant 1999); Florida (Courtenay et al. 1974; Shafland 1976; Hill and Cichra 2005); Georgia (Ramsey 1965; Dahlberg and Scott 1971a, 1971b; Walters 1997); Hawaii (Cobb 1902; Jordan and Evermann 1902, 1905; Brock 1960; Maciolek 1984; Devick 1991; Mundy 2005); Idaho (Linder 1963; Simpson and Wallace 1978; Idaho Fish and Game 1990); Illinois (O'Donnell 1935; Smith 1979; Burr and Page 1986; Burr et al. 1996; Laird and Page 1996; Schmidt 1997; Illinois Natural History Survey 2004); Indiana (Blatchley 1938; Gerking 1945; Nelson and Gerking 1968; Simon et al. 1992; Tilmant 1999; AP 2004); Iowa (Burr and Page 1986; Harlan et al. 1987); Kansas (Dyche 1914; Cross 1967); Kentucky (Clay 1975; Burr and Page 1986; Burr and Warren 1986; Conner and Suttkus 1986); Louisiana (Sweeney 1902; Douglas and Davis 1967; Douglas 1974; K. Piller, pers. comm.); Maine (Kendall 1914); Maryland (Uhler and Lugger 1876; Truitt et al. 1929; Schwartz 1963; Lee et al. 1976; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994; Tilmant 1999; Alexander 2003; Starnes et al. 2011); Massachusetts (Smith 1833; Hartel 1992; Hartel et al. 1996; USFWS 2005); Michigan (Hubbs and Cooper 1936; Hubbs and Lagler 1958; Emery 1985; University of Michigan Museum of Zoology 2004); Minnesota (McDonald 1893; Eddy and Underhill 1974; Phillips et al. 1982; Myers 2004; Minnesota Sea Grant 2004); Mississippi (Cook 1959; Ross and Brenneman 1991; Ross 2001; Mississippi Museum of Natural Science 2004); Missouri (McDonald 1893; Ravenel 1896, 1898; Pflieger 1971, 1975, 1997); Montana (Brown and Fox 1966; Brown 1971; Holton 1990); Nebraska (Morris et al. 1974); Nevada (Miller and Alcorn 1946; La Rivers 1962; Bradley and Deacon 1967; Hubbs et al. 1974; USFWS 1983a; Deacon and Williams 1984; Tilmant 1999; Vinyard 2001; Courtenay 1983); New Hampshire (Scarola 1973); New Jersey (Nelson 1890; Ravenel 1898; Fowler 1906, 1952; Stiles 1978); New Mexico (Koster 1957; Propst et al. 1987; Sublette et al. 1990); New York (Bean 1903; Smith 1985; Schmidt 1986); North Carolina (Schmidt 1980; Menhinick 1991; Illinois Natural History Survey 2004; NC Museum of Natural History); North Dakota (Owen et al. 1981; Courtenay et al. 1984); Ohio (Jordan 1882; Trautman 1981; Burr and Page 1986; USFWS 2005); Oklahoma (Hall 1956; Miller and Robison 1973; Miller 2004); Oregon (Schultz 1929; Bond 1994); Pennsylvania (Bean 1903; Hendricks et al. 1979; Cooper 1983; Pearson and Krumholz 1984; Tilmant 1999); Rhode Island (Lapin, personal communication; museum specimen); South Carolina (Loyacano 1975; Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.); South Dakota (Churchill and Over 1933; Bailey and Allum 1962); Tennessee (Kuhne 1939; Starnes and Etnier 1986; Ryon and Loar 1988; Etnier and Starnes 1993); Texas (Kuehne 1955; Conner and Suttkus 1986; Edwards and Contreras-Balderas 1991; Hubbs et al. 1991; Howells 1992a; Texas System of Natural Laboratories, Inc. and USGS 1994; Red River Authority 2001; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department 1993 and 2001); Utah (Popov and Low 1953; Sigler and Miller 1963; Tilmant 1999); Vermont (Countryman 1975; Courtenay and Hensley 1979); Virginia (Ravenel 1896; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994; Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries 2004); Washington (Chapman 1942; Wydoski and Whitney 1979; Roesler 2003; USFWS 2005); West Virginia (Pearson and Krumholz 1984; Stauffer et al. 1995; USFWS 2005); Wisconsin (Johnson and Becker 1980; Becker 1983; Burr and Page 1986; Fago 1992); and Wyoming (Baxter and Simon 1970; Stone 1995).

Carassius auratus has also been collected in Puerto Rico (Erdman 1984; Lee et al. 1983).

Ecology: Goldfish may reach 59 cm TL and up to 3.0 kg (IGFA 2001); however, they generally reach only 15–20 cm TL and weigh 100–300 g (Szczerbowski 2001).  Lifespan is typically 6–7 years, but has been reported as long as 30 years (Carlander, 1969).

Typical habitat includes the quiet backwaters of streams and pools, especially those with submerged aquatic vegetation (Hensley and Courtenay 1980; Trautman 1981; Robison and Buchanan 1988).  The goldfish is tolerant of high levels of turbidity (Wallen 1951), temperature fluctuations (reviewed by Spotila et al. 1979), and low levels of dissolved oxygen (Zhadin and Gerd 1963; Walker and Johansen 1977).  Laboratory results reported pH tolerance levels between 4.5–10.5, and a preference for pH levels between 5.5–7.0 (Szczerbowski 2001).  Although laboratory tests suggested that eggs and fry are not particularly salinity tolerant (Murai and Andrews 1977), the goldfish is reported to live in salt lakes on the coast of the Black Sea and to inhabit the floodplain of the Ob delta in Russia (Zhadin and Gerd 1963).  The goldfish has been captured in waters with salinities as high as 17 parts per thousand (ppt) (Schwartz 1964), although studies have shown an inability to withstand long exposures exceeding 15 ppt (Lockley 1957).  Adults thrive equally well in salinities between 0–6 ppt (Canagartnam 1959), and can survive water temperatures between 0–41 °C (Carlander 1969; Moyle 2002).  Additionally, the species is more tolerant of aquatic pollution than most native North American fishes (Robison and Buchanan 1988).

The ominvorous diet includes planktonic crustaceans, phytoplankton, insect larvae, fish eggs and fry, benthic vegetation, and detritus (Scott and Crossman 1973; Hensley and Courtenay 1980; Robison and Buchanan 1988; Moyle 2002).  Foraging goldfish may create high levels of turbidity, which can result in the decline of aquatic vegetation (Richardson et al. 1995).

Means of Introduction: DeKay (1842) reported that goldfish first was brought into this country shortly after the early part of the seventeenth century. Citing that work, Courtenay and Stauffer (1990) reported that the first recorded goldfish releases in the United States occurred during the late 1600s, and they suggested that these earliest introductions resulted from intentional releases by settlers wanting to add it to the North American fish fauna, as opposed to goldfish escaping from ponds. DeKay (1842) reported, likely in reference to the early 1800s, that goldfish in the United States was considered an ornamental species rather than a food fish, even though the fish freely reproduced in ponds in New York and adjacent states. During the late 1800s the U.S. Fish Commission raised the species and was responsible for distributing it to many states, mainly to meet the demand for fish for aquaria, fountains, and ornamental lakes (McDonald 1886, 1893). Johnson and Becker (1980) stated that goldfish was introduced to Wisconsin through a fish exchange program with the Nebraska Fish Commission in the early 1900s. Brock (1960) stated that this species was established in Hawaii before 1900 and that there had doubtless been many reintroductions. Jordan and Evermann (1905) indicated that these fish were introduced into Hawaii from China, but stated that there is no record as to the date. They did state that shipments of goldfish were being made to San Francisco (California) as early as 1867. More recent introductions of C. auratus in the United States were the result of escapes from hatcheries and ponds, escapes and releases of baitfish, and aquarium releases (Knapp 1953; Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Courtenay et al. 1984; Pflieger 1997).

Status: Established or reported in all states except Alaska. Even though the species is one of the most widely distributed foreign fishes in North America, much of its established range is restricted to only portions of certain drainages (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990). Some areas may represent repeated escapes or releases rather than established populations (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.). Courtenay et al. (1984) reviewed the literature and concluded that the species had been taken in the wild in all states except Alaska. They denoted the species as being established in 16 of the lower 48 states, including California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Courtenay et al. (1984) listed it as possibly established, status uncertain, in 17 additional states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming. In recent years, the existence of breeding populations has been confirmed for some of the above names states, for example, Connecticut (Whitworth 1996), Missouri (Pflieger 1997), and Wyoming (Stone 1995). Bond (1994) noted that it is present locally in warm, still waters of Oregon. The species is also known from all the major islands of Hawaii and Brock (1960) stated that it was established in that state before 1900. Devick (1991) listed it as definitely established in Hawaii. This species has been recorded from Florida, Maine, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia, but there is as yet no available data indicating the presence of self-sustaining populations. Countryman (1975) listed it as "naturalized" in Vermont, which suggests presence of reproducing populations. In a recent paper, Courtenay (1993) listed goldfish as established in most states except Alaska and Florida.

Impact of Introduction: Little is known about the ecology of the goldfish in North America. In most states it is not considered a "pest species", this term generally referring to species whose populations become very large and highly visible to the public. Nevertheless, this species has the potential to produce large populations in U.S. waters. In the United States most of the large established populations are recorded from the vicinity of western Lake Erie (references in Courtenay and Hensley 1979; Trautman 1981) and in parts of southern and central California (Moyle 1976). In Nevada, its establishment in Manse Spring was believed to be a major reason for the initial decline during the early 1960s of populations of a subspecies of the now endangered Pahrump poolfish Empetrichthys latos latos (Deacon et al. 1964; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.), possibly competing with adult E. l. latos and preying on their young. According to Moyle (1976), goldfish probably compete with native fishes for food and space; and similar to common carp, large populations of this species can greatly disturb sport fish habitats. The Sacramento sucker Catostomus occidentalis, is one native species that suffers in the presence of goldfish (Moyle 1976). However, Laird and Page (1996) concluded that goldfish in Illinois appear unable to compete with native fishes and reported that the species becomes established only in severely disturbed areas. Based on a series of artificial pond experiments, and observations of a feral population, Richardson et al. (1995) found that goldfish is a benthic herbivore whose behavior often results in visible increases in turbidity and decreases in aquatic vegetation.

Remarks: The goldfish is thought to be the first foreign fish species introduced to North America (DeKay 1842; Courtenay et al. 1984). In the United States, large numbers are cultured as bait and as forage for sport fishes, as well as for the production of young fish that are then sold in the aquarium trade, mostly as live food (i.e., feeder fish) for carnivorous ornamental fishes. Although brightly-colored forms popular in the aquarium trade are occasionally taken in North American waters, the surviving progeny of these colorful individuals typically are the natural, cryptic olive-green coloration, partly as a result of selective predation by other animals. In nature, goldfish often hybridize with common carp Cyprinus carpio producing reproductively fertile offspring; cross fertilization and back-crossing is common in some areas, for instance polluted habitats, and in such places hybrid offspring may outnumber the parent species (Trautman 1981; Page and Burr 1991). Goldfish grows rapidly and thus is limited in their usefulness as a forage fish. The use of goldfish as baitfish is prohibited in some states. Detailed background information on the occurrence of this species in the United States was provided by Becker (1983). Knapp (1953) stated that this species is used as a hardy bait fish in many areas or crossed with carp for same purpose. He reported that a population of these hybrids was found in Buffalo Lake, Randall County, in the Texas panhandle. In their summary table, Bailey and Smith (1981) indicated that Carassius auratus is widely distributed in the Great Lakes basin.

Voucher specimens: Alabama (TU 16398, 51965, 52008, 52022, many others), Arkansas (TU 7071, 44838, 46903), California (USNM 4485, 38016), Georgia (UGAMNH, USNM 110111), Hawaii (BPBM 1803, 3623, specimens discarded in1969), Illinois (INHS 710, 726, many others including hybrids with carp), Maryland (USNM 85073, 85217, 85795, 238723, 271219, 271221), Massachusetts (USNM 020091, 77787), Michigan (TNHC 671), Nevada (TU 94343), New York (USNM 020271, TU 36678), Ohio (USNM 28416, TU 6566), Pennsylvania (USNM 335461), Rhode Island (USNM 21658), South Carolina (USNM 271220), Texas (TCWC 0455.01, 1045.01, 1030.01, TNHC 6969, many others), Virginia (USNM 37789, 85694, 283639), West Virginia (USNM 64464).

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Other Resources:
Distribution map in Illinois - Illinois Natural History Survey

Fishes of Wisconsin (by George C. Becker) - Wisconsin Sea Grant

Great Lakes Water Life Photo Gallery - Great Lakes Sea Grant

Global Invasive Species Database Factsheet

FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Nico, L.G., P.J. Schofield, J. Larson, T.H. Makled and A. Fusaro

Revision Date: 8/2/2013

Citation Information:
Nico, L.G., P.J. Schofield, J. Larson, T.H. Makled and A. Fusaro. 2017. Carassius auratus. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL. Revision Date: 8/2/2013

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/30/2017].

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