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What is a Lionchu? By Peter J Ponzio

This article first appeared in The Goldfish Report, the magazine of the Goldfish Society of America. What is a Lionchu? That’s a good question. A Lionchu is a cross between a Ranchu and Lionhead. While not yet recognized as a new variety by the GFSA or the American Goldfish Association (AGA), these fish are being produced in greater numbers, in good to excellent quantity specimens, and are appearing in numerous goldfish shows across the United States and Internationally. Before we get into the specifics of what these fish look like, it is probably helpful to review the existing Lionhead and Ranchu varieties, adopted by the GFSA and the AGA to understand the differences and similarities of the parent stock. The Lionhead originated in China, and was the first hooded, dorsal-less fish developed.

The Lionhead was originally derived from a natural mutation of an Egg-fish, which is one of the oldest varieties of goldfish. Please see the line drawing, done by Merlin Cunliffe for the GFSA, which shows the basic characteristics of this breed.

Lionhead article

The Lionhead is a large fish, with fully grown specimens reaching ten to twelve inches in length, and weighing several pounds. The breed is characterized by a straight back, with a tail fin that joins the caudal peduncle at an almost straight angle. The tail can be fully separated, partially separated, or webbed. The caudal peduncle (the area where the body joins the tail) should be broad, so that the tail is in an open position when the fish swims. The back of the fish is quite broad, and the area where the head joins the body should be broad as well, to support the placement of the hood. The hood is the prominent feature of the fish, and resembles as raspberry. The hood should be full, that is, it should cover the top of the head, gill plates, and cheeks. The Lionhead comes in all three scale types of goldfish: metallic, nacreous, and matte, and coloration runs the full gamut of acceptable colors in goldfish. Calico varieties are especially appealing in these fish, as are yellow-bodied fish with bright red hoods.

Lionhead article

The fish shown above is a traditional Lionhead, and is used with permission from the Tetra Book “Chinese Goldfish.” Please note the straight back, the broad caudal peduncle, and full hood covering exhibited by this fish.

The Lionhead was introduced to Japan from China in the 17th or 18th century. The Japanese were quite taken with the fish, and began to introduce a series of selective breeding programs to enhance the fish. The Japanese introduced a more rounded back profile, a modification of the tail as it joined the caudal peduncle, and diminished the size of the head growth, or “wen.” Please see the line illustration from Merlin Cunliffe to view the basic breed characteristics of the Ranchu.

Ranchu article

As you can see from this illustration, the Ranchu is modified from the original Lionhead variety in a number of ways. The Ranchu is generally shorter than the Lionhead, with lengths of eight to ten inches being common. The body is actually thicker than that of the Lionhead, and has a more rounded appearance. The back is definitely rounded, and the tail joins the caudal peduncle at an angle of greater than forty-five degrees. The caudal peduncle and back are generally broader than that of the Lionhead, so that the fish appears to have a very broad back, indeed. The head growth is definitely smaller than that of the Lionhead, but should cover all three areas of the head: top, cheeks, gill plates. The Ranchu occurs in all three scale varieties that appear in goldfish, and in virtually all colors known for goldfish.

The outline of the fish should appear to form a rectangle when viewed from above. Note also that the head, and wen, form a rectangular appearance when viewed from above. If the head does not form this rectangular shape, the fish is considered to be less than perfect. The Ranchu is considered the epitome of goldfish breeding in Japan, with fine examples costing in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Japanese Ranchu Societies are common in Japan, and are generally reserved for members only – non-members may attend meetings and shows by invitation only.


Shown above are two of my fish, both of which exhibit traditional Ranchu characteristics.

What then, is a Lionchu? Simply put, the Lionchu is a cross between established examples of Lionheads and Ranchus, combining aspects from both varieties in very specific ways. People generally like the curving back, broad back and tail placement of the Ranchu, and the large head growth of the Lionhead. Breeders have developed fish which combine these characteristics, and have done so very well. The number of Lionchus being entered in competition has skyrocketed, and many fish have taken Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion honors.

The GFSA and AGA have not officially recognized the Lionchu as a separate breed, but with more fish being shown in shows, will probably consider a special designation before long. Shown below are some recent examples of Lionchus, which have been entered in fish shows.


MAKC Show Entrant, picture from Carolyn Weise


Breeder’s Social entrant, picture by Gary Hater

Peter Ponzio is a certified goldfish judge, and one of the founding members of the American Goldfish Association (AGA). He has been raising goldfish for over forty years, and has been a judge for approximately fifteen years. He is also a candidate judge in the AKCA (Associated Koi Clubs of America). He is the author of hundreds of articles on goldfish and koi, and has written Spike’s Goldfish Guide, which is devoted to selecting and raising goldfish. The American Goldfish Association can be found at www.americangoldfish.org.

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