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Buying the Right Koi

by Elmer Epistola

Posted: October 11, 2004




Raising a good koi costs as much as raising a bad koi, so why buy the latter?  Well, not everyone can afford a Momotaro Kohaku, so I guess we all agree that the purchase cost of the koi itself more or less sets the acquisition's upper limit.  What, then, sets the lower limit, if there really is one?  In my opinion, the lower limit should be set by the quality of koi in the store - don't buy something that you won't like in your pond someday, no matter how cheap it is.


I know the feeling of coming home empty-handed, after waiting for the weekend to arrive just so you can add another fish to your pond.   If what greets you in the store are emaciated, dull-colored koi, then you should resist the temptation of buying. Chances are you won't like them swimming with your prized Showas a couple of years down the road.   As they all say, build up your koi collection s-l-o-w-l-y.


Not all inexpensive koi are bad, you just have to know which ones to buy.  I've been able to acquire island-born koi in the past that are a fraction of the cost of Japan-import ones, yet you can't tell them apart once they swim side by side in the pond.  In fact, I've also seen koi that were imported from Japan that simply don't live up to expectations, by a wide margin at that.  When it comes to hobby-grade koi, it's all in the genes, not where they were born. 


So what must one look for when buying a koi?  I looked at what koi experts had to say in various articles, and collated the most frequently given tips, so here they are...


1)  Don't buy a koi that doesn't look healthy.  A lot of them are easy to spot - hanging upside down or at weird angles in the water, has one or more sores anywhere on its head, body, tail, or fins, swimming erratically, gasping for air, lethargic and possibly in self-isolation.  Some may be a bit in the gray area of what's healthy or not - swimming normally but lacking in appetite (which you can observe at feeding time), exhibiting dull skin color, or taking occasional rests with clamped fins.  These are all sick koi that must be avoided.  In fact, don't bother buying any koi that shares the same tank with them! For more symptoms of diseases, please see the page Koi Diseases.




Figure 1.  Healthy koi have voracious appetites.  Don't buy

a koi that doesn't join the frenzy at feeding time.



2)  Don't buy a koi with deformities. Deformities are there and they're there to stay.  Don't fool yourself into believing that you're just imagining them.  If something doesn't look right, then something's not right.  Crooked spine, missing fins, short body, gigantic fins, large head, split fins, parrot head, smashed mouth, elongated nose, flat back, gills that don't close flat: they're but some of the deformities you'll have to look out for.  Most  stores that I've gone to in the country have them to varying degrees, so be careful.    


3)  Don't buy a koi with parasites anywhere on its head, body, and fins.  Do we really still need to discuss this? Unless you're really getting a huge and once-in-a-lifetime bargain and you have a quarantine tank and you have the expertise to deal with parasites, don't ever think for one second that you can simply kill the parasites when you get home.   You'll end up exposing your healthy koi to these pesky microorganisms, and shelling out hundreds of dollars to bring them back to the way they were.


Believe me - I've been there, done that.  I saw this beautiful nidan Kohaku with great skin, color, and pattern that's being sold for only a hundred pesos ($2).  The only problem was, it shared the same tank with koi that clearly had fish lice on their body.  And wasn't there a dark green spot on its head when I bought it?  In a couple of weeks' time all the healthy fish in my pond had the same green spots on their heads.  I committed two novice mistakes in this situation - I bought infested fish and I didn't quarantine them.  Again, I recommend the page Koi Diseases if you want to know more about parasites. 


4)  Buy only koi with a good body shape.  Koi body is something that novice hobbyists tend to ignore in the selection of their first koi.  There are some valid explanations for this: a) they are often not aware that body conformation is such an important aspect of koi appreciation; b) they don't know what a 'good' body is; and c) they easily get more attracted to color.  If you're still planning to buy your first koi, don't do so until you are familiar with what the ideal koi body is.  


I myself hadn't listened to this advice when I got my first koi, which I regretted so much when the koi reached 16 inches in length at age 3.  The bright colors of the poorly-bodied koi were not enough to make up for the distracting eel-like appearance of the koi.  On the other hand, the less colorful but well-built koi in my pond have a commanding presence whenever they swim by. So always remember the basic tip: buy koi that are broad at the shoulders and torpedo-like in shape.



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