Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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 ancestors.

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 native fish.

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.

Fantails, 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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