Goldfish Colours – Metallics

The normal metallic in goldfish colours, like my Veiltail above, is I guess instantly recognisable by us all. The normal metallic lustre comes from a substance underlying each scale called guanine. Metallics are produced in a range of colours including orange, yellow, black, copper,chocolate, blue and white/silver. I guess I must also include red in the list although I question whether the red fish we see are actually genetically red or are red as a result of husbandry including the use of colour enhancers including algae rich green water in pond culture. “Real” red, when it occurs is often confined to the head, usually on hood growth on varieties such as Ranchu, Oranda and Lionheads and most notably on the Red Cap versions of those varieties. We see yellow mainly on Common Goldfish and sometimes on Comets but is seldom seen on twin tailed varieties although from a genetic point of view there is no reason why we should not have yellow Veiltails, Fantails, etc. Perhaps that is hardly surprising as most, possibly all, breeders and exhibitors prefer their fish to be towards the “red” end of orange rather than the usually more insipid “yellow” end.

The number of black varieties has increased quite dramatically in recent years and apart from the varieties with telescopic eyes, Moors, etc., we now see jet black Orandas, Ranchu and occasionally black Bubble Eyes. The best blacks come mainly from Thailand and I was told by a Thai goldfish farmer that blacks require an abundance of intense sunshine to develop. He actually demonstrated this during one of my visits to Gary Hater’s home in Cincinnati when a group of bronze coloured Moors were transformed to jet black after exposure to four hours of intense Cincinnati sunshine.

Copper, chocolate and blue have few admirers for the copper and chocolate colours invariably appear as dirty orange whilst the blue could perhaps be more accurately described as steel grey. Some metallics do not change colour (our term is “decolour”) but retain their original wild colour which is usually described as a greeny bronze.

Metallics can be self coloured, that is one solid colour as displayed by the Veiltail (above), with the colour extending through to the tips of the finnage in the best examples, or they can be variegated. The most JP 2common variegation is orange and silver/white but black and white, blue and chocolate and red/orange and black are also seen but in the latter case the black is usually transient and will eventually disappear. In recent years, tri-coloured metallics as shown in the above photo have been produced in the Far East in increasing numbers. Initially these fish had telescopic eyes like the example (right) but normal eyed tri-coloured Ryukins are now being produced in large numbers; indeed Ian Mildon and I saw some outstanding examples when we were in China.



JP 3Matts are commonly called “Pinkie Matts” and one look at this photo explains why. Typically their bodies are white with pinkish overtones. They are usually devoid of colour except for small amounts of black which is often present in the tail as in the above specimen or in minute specks peppered on the body. Their gill plates are transparent, usually referred to as “soft gill plates” and their eyes are solid black, generally referred to as “button eyes”. Matts are the exact opposite to metallics in that as no guanine is present they have no “shine”; being described as transparent. Indeed when they are very young it is possible to see their internal organs. As a scale group they are invariably very weak and regardless of variety they generally die within their first year or need to be destroyed because they go heavy and have great difficulty in swimming; often lying on the bottom of the tank like this specimen.

Theoretically matt x matt spawnings produce 100% matt offspring but in reality as very few live to maturity the likelihood of having a spawning pair is remote. Occasionally a specimen will develop patches of colour and even a suggestion of nacreous sheen but even those examples are not strong and will die off like their all-white siblings


Historically these were called nacreous and still are by a few, mainly older, hobbyists but “calico” is now more commonly used. Calico is actually a mixture of metallic and transparent areas. Ideally, from a show perspective, calico fish, regardless of variety, should have a base body colour of blue with patches of other colours including red, orange, yellow, brown and violet with the whole peppered with black. Black streaks in the finnage as in the example below are generally favoured. Ideally no metallic areas should be present and the eyes should be normal as in metallics, that is not “button eyes”, and the gill covers should be transparent as in matts. However specimens with satisfactory colour (and other varietal characteristics) and normal eyes and transparent gill covers are very rare indeed. More often than not if the eyes are normal the gill covers are metallic as in the specimen below or fish have one clear gill cover and one metallic or one button eye and one normal eye.

As mention earlier, calico is a mixture of metallic and matt areas so it’s not surprising that they do not breed true. Calico x calico spawnings result in metallic, calico and pinkie matt offspring generally in the ratio of 1:2:1 that is 25% metallic, 50% calico and 25% matt.

A calico x metallic cross results in 50% calico and 50% metallic offspring

JP 4Recent Discoveries

Generally speaking identifying metallic, calico and matt scale groups poses few difficulties but in recent years we have expanded the scale groups as we have identified types referred to as Mock Metallics, Bluebellies, Pseudo-matts and yet another classification called coloured Matts which as far as I am aware are not available outside the USA.


Mock Metallics and Bluebellies

JP 5A group of baby mock metallics produced from a mock metallic x pseudo-matt spawning.

The mock metallic was “discovered” and named by Miss Daphne Morris in the 1950’s. She called them mock metallics because although they breed like metallics they have areas which lack guanine resulting in transparent areas resembling missing scales on their bodies and, their most obvious feature, clear gill covers. Whilst they do not have “button-eyes”, the iris is not as readily identifiable as it is on normal metallics. The mock metallic gene was found initially in Shubunkins and indeed is now widespread within our Bristol Shubunkin strains. It has also been present in Veiltails at least since the 1980’s and whilst the late Joe Linale wrote a paper on transferring this gene to Veiltails I am reasonably certain that it already existed in Bill Evan’s strain of Veils which was a “closed” strain originally dating back to Charlie Whitehead I believe.



JP 6One of Dave Mandley’s Bluebellies

The bluebelly is the American equivalent of “our” mock metallic. It enjoys the same external feature of transparent areas as the mock metallic; indeed this transparency in young fish makes the belly appear blue, hence its American name. The late Al Thomma insisted that the mock metallic and bluebelly genes were one and the same but Dave Mandley and I are not so certain. I had many discussions with Al but I thought his research was flawed, much to Al’s annoyance. One thing is certain however, or at least as certain as we can be, is that whether they are the same or not they appear to have come from different roots. The mock metallic has come from calico stock and seldom, almost never, decolour whereas bluebellies originate from metallic stock and most decolour like normal metallics. Interestingly the crosses I have done between mock metallic and bluebelly have resulted in a substantial proportion which did not decolour, or at least they did not decolour in over two years, a small number, less than 20% which decoloured during their second year (none decoloured in their first year), and a few specimens which started decolouring then stopped and are still orange and black four years later. Another difference between the two types is that bluebellies seem to retain the same amount of guanine all their lives whereas guanine increases on mock metallics as they get older and indeed I have had specimens which were totally indistinguishable from normal uncoloured metallics by the time they were two years old.
JP 7

A three year old mock metallic with guanine now covering most of the body and the gill covers.

From a breeding perspective mock metallic and bluebelly expectations are the same. Mock metallic x mock metallic produces 100% mock metallics and bluebelly x bluebelly produces 100% bluebelly.


JP 8The pseudo-matt is essentially the calico form of the mock metallic. Once again, as far as we know, Daphne Morris was the first to produce these fish through inbreeding and back crossing mock metallic x calico and she named them pseudo-matt because they look like matts as they have no guanine, clear gill covers and black button eyes but they breed like calicos. Interestingly they are equally as strong as calicos so there are no problems in breeding from them. A pseudo-matt x pseudo-matt spawning produces mock metallic, pseudo-matt and pinkie matt offspring in the ratio 1:2:1 that is 25% mock metallic, 50% pseudo-matt and 25% pinkie matt. I have not ascertained whether the pinkie matts produced from calico x calico spawnings are genetically the same as pinkie matts produced from pseudo-matt x pseudo-matt spawnings although I have established that both forms of pinkie matts are equally weak and die off in the same manner. A mock metallic x pseudo-matt spawning produces 50% mock metallics and 50% pseudo-matts.

It is important to note however that just because a calico coloured fish has clear gill covers, button eyes and no reflective tissue it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a pseudo-matt; it can still be a regular calico. When buying in such a fish it is wise to test mate it first for that is the only way its scale group can be identified with absolute certainty. The ideal test cross would involve using a mock metallic. If the fish is a pseudo-matt 50% of the young will be mock metallic and 50% will be pseudo-matts. If the fish was actually calico then normal metallics and calicos would be produced. If in addition to these some mock metallics (easily identifiable) were produced then the calico would be carrying the mock metallic/pseudo-matt gene recessively. If mock metallics were present in the spawning then some of the calico looking youngsters would be pseudo-matts but they would be difficult to identify positively.
JP 9

A group of baby pseudo-matts produced from a mock metallic x pseudo-matt spawning.

Pseudo-matts are produced and reproduce in exactly the same way if bluebellies are used instead of mock metallics and it was this fact alone which caused Al Thomma to insist that the mock metallic and bluebelly were the same gene.

Coloured Matt

jp 10A group of Dave Mandley’s Coloured Matts (freshly caught on rod and line from one of his lakes).

This is the name given to the scale group of Dave Mandley’s Camelot Shubunkins. As far as we are aware this gene is not presently available in the UK but the situation is somewhat clouded in that some UK hobbyists call pseudo-matts “coloured matts”. This gets increasingly complicated but briefly Dave has called these fish coloured matts because they breed like matts. Coloured matt x coloured matt produces 100% coloured matt offspring. They are in fact virtually the exact opposite of pseudo matts in that pseudo-matts look like matts but breed like calicos whereas coloured matts look like calicos but breed like matts! As can be seen from the photograph of a group of Dave’s coloured matts, notwithstanding their “matt” status most of the fish have guanine deposits and even metallic gill covers and normal iris eyes. They are totally hardy and Dave rears many of them in “wild” natural lakes and ponds. Dave and I have spent many a pleasant hour by the side of a lake with rod and line and bread paste endeavouring to catch some breeding stock!

John Parker