Nature Bulletin No. 390-A October 10, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
One day a big car stopped at Maple Lake in the Palos forest preserves
and an elderly lady carried a small fish bowl down to the water's edge
where she emptied it, explaining that she was leaving Chicago and
wanted to give her pet goldfish "a nice home". One more goldfish in
Maple Lake did not matter because, for years, there have been hundreds
of them there -- probably descended from fishermen's bait that escaped.
Little goldfish can live for years in a small aquarium without growing
much. Turned loose in a large body of water they multiply enormously
and often reach a foot in length. In a few generations, ordinarily, they
lose their bright colors and revert to the greenish bronze of their wild
The goldfish and the carp, both natives of eastern Asia, have become
naturalized in many other parts of the world and are so closely related
that they hybridize readily. The goldfish can be distinguished from the
carp by the fact that is has no barbels or "whiskers" at the corners of its
mouth. Very hardy, they can endure extremes of temperature and eat
almost any food, both plant material and animal life. They have the
same general habits as carp and join them in roiling the water.
destroying aquatic vegetation, and in crowding out our more desirable
In spring the mature males develop numerous small bumps, called
"pearl organs", on the head and gill covers; and the females become
heavy with eggs. The eggs are scattered among aquatic plants where,
being very sticky, they cling until they hatch a week or two later without
any further attention by the parents. In several fishing waters of the
Chicago region, as well as in many other parts of the country, their
control has become a serious problem.
Goldfish may have reached this country as early as 1850 but, in 1878,
Rear Admiral Daniel Amen brought a shipment of them to the U. S.
Fish Commission from Japan. They reached their greatest popularity
here in the 1920's and 1930's with fancy "show" specimens sometimes
sold for hundreds of dollars. Goldfish-farming became an important
industry and the Grassyfork Fisheries of Martinsville, Indiana, for
example, sold up to 20 million fish a year.
The Chinese began to breed goldfish a thousand years ago. Beginning
with wild fish that sometimes showed a golden tinge, by selective
breeding they produced dozens of different varieties with fantastic
shapes and glorious colors. Since the beginning of the 16th Century, the
Japanese have developed many other new and strange types. The solid
colors include yellow-gold, red-gold, red, white, and black, but
variegated fish with almost any combination of these colors are known.
Veiltails, Fringetails and Comets all have greatly enlarged or
distorted tails. Nymphs have stubby egg-shaped bodies. Telescopes
have bulging eyes, and Celestials have eyes that look straight up.
Perhaps the most famous goldfish in this country was the red, white and
blue specimen used in Liberty Loan drives during World War I.
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Update: June 2012