Callisto the Unclassifiable Goldfish

First, a little background to put this into perspective.  I bought Callisto and Ganymede from a hobbyist goldfish breeder who was getting outof the goldfish hobby.  He had owned them for three years, and originally bought them from the Dandy Orandas online goldfish auctions.  He advertised two “red broadtails” for sale on one of the goldfish forums that I frequently visit; one a male, and one a female.  Since this is how he described the fish, I also called them broadtails, since they did not appear to fit into any well-defined category of goldfish.  Four months after Iacquired the pair, Ganymede suddenly died for no apparent reason (March 2012).  Ganymede looked just like Callisto, except his fins were redall the way out to the ends and he was slightly smaller.  I adored Ganymede, and his loss actually made me lose interest in the goldfish hobby for a few months; something I thought could never happen.

Ganymede (front) and Callisto (back).

What is Callisto?
As humans, we love categorizing things and we feel most at ease when categories are clear-cut and easy to understand.  But… many goldfish don’t quite fit so well into the neat categories we have made for them.  Many seem to have a mix of characteristics from a few different varieties.  This is because they’re all the same species and not every characteristic is fixed (meaning it breeds true).  So in any given spawn, you’re likely to see some fish that resemble the parent fish, but many that do not.  Callisto is one of those unclassifiable goldfish.  Since she was sold to me as a “red broadtail”, that’s what I called her at first.  But “broadtail” is not a recognized category of goldfish and it has no list of standards it must meet.  After a while, I got tired of giving out the full (and confusing!) answer every time I was asked what type of goldfish she is.  So for simplicity, I just started calling her a broadtail ryukin.

Callisto’s most defining characteristic is her broad butterfly shaped tail, but she should not be called a butterfly tail goldfish, because the term butterfly tail is usually reserved for fish who also have telescope eyes (making them butterfly telescopes).  But the term “broadtail” is a little problematic because it’s used differently depending upon which goldfish breeder or seller you talk to.  Steve at Rain Garden, for example, calls his telescope eyed veiltails “broadtails”.  On the other hand, the breeder I got Callisto from called a fantail-like fish with a butterfly tail a “broadtail”.  This confusion arises because there is no agreed-upon definition of a broadtail goldfish.  There is also a lesser-known variety of goldfish called a chochokin, which is a fantail-like fish with a butterfly tail.  So perhaps that’s what I should start calling Callisto!  This variety also doesn’t have any standards though (that I have seen) and it is lesser-known, so it would likely be just as confusing as broadtail.  The veiltail is another fish who has a somewhat fantail-like body and a broad, squared-off tail.  But Callisto is not a veiltail either, because her fins are not long enough.  The fins of a veiltail are very long, with the tail fins trailing behind like the long train of a dress.  The veiltail tail does not look quite as butterfly-like when viewed from above because it’s a little more collapsed, probably due to its length and weight. 

Callisto’s butterfly shaped tail.

So because it’s hard to explain more completely what variety of goldfish she is, I’ve gotten into the habit of just saying she’s a broadtail ryukin.  But I don’t actually think she is very ryukin-like, and here’s why. The ryukin standard, as specified by the Goldfish Society of America (GFSA) calls for a fish whose depth of body is 3/4 to equal the length of the body.  Callisto’s body shape fails to meet this standard; it is too long and narrow.  In ryukins, that body depth to length ratio is achieved by the tall, humped back characteristic they are known for.  Here is a photo showing side views of both Callisto and Clover (my true ryukin), and another view with Clover’s ryukin silhouette over-imposed on Callisto’s photo.  Clover’s body is very short and tall, having a well developed hump starting just behind his head.  Callisto’s body is a bit longer and not as tall, and she does not have a pronounced hump on her back. 

Comparison of their body shapes.

A good ryukin specimen should also have a pointed, triangular head lacking in headgrowth.  The head should appear triangular in shape from both the side view and the top view.  Callisto’s head appears triangular in side view, however, she does have some visible headgrowth (this is fairly common, though not desirable for ryukins, in many types of goldfish as they grow older).  So the visible headgrowth alone would cost her major points if she were to be shown as a ryukin.  By contrast, Clover’s head appears very nicely pointed and triangular from the side view, and he has no visible headgrowth.

Side view comparison of their head shapes.

From the top view however, it is clear that Callisto has a head shape that is too broad for a ryukin.  This type of broad-shaped head is actually very desirable in ranchus, lionheads, and orandas.  It’s thought that the fish with broader heads develop better shaped wens.  And hey, since Callisto does have a hint of headgrowth on her, perhaps some might call her a broadtail or butterfly tail oranda!  But since I know that Callisto is over 5 years old, and that older fish of many wenless varieties sometimes start to show a little bit of headgrowth as they age, I would not call her an oranda.  In this case, I think the hint of headgrowth on her is simply due to her age.  Still, it does not change the fact that she does have a very broad shaped head with eyes that are spaced fairly far apart, so that disqualifies her as a ryukin.

Comparison of Callisto’s head shape and that of a true ryukin.


What sex is Callisto?
Callisto is a bit enigmatic in another way too.  When I first acquired her, she had tons of breeding stars all over her face, gill plates, and the leading rays of her pectoral fins.  Breeding stars typically indicate that the fish is male.  Another way to tell the sex of a goldfish is to look at their vent shape.  Most often, a female vent will be more round in shape and will protrude slightly.  A male vent will be more narrow and oblong, and will not protrude.  It’s hard to tell the sex of Callisto by looking at her vent, because it is round like a female vent, and yet does not protrude.  Her male counterpart, Ganymede also had breeding stars, and he had even more than she did!

Callisto’s breeding stars in December, 2011.

The seller I bought these fish from claimed that Callisto was in fact female, although he admitted that she appeared male.  Since this person was a well-respected goldfish breeder I assumed he knew this because he bred these two fish together at some point, or used them to breed with his veiltails (he was a veiltail breeder), and so I took his word for it.  After the spawning season, the breeding stars of both Callisto and Ganymede faded.  Now in recent weeks, I’ve begun to see Callisto’s breeding stars again, but only very faintly.  I must admit, I am still not fully convinced that Callisto is a female fish, because I have had her in a tank with plenty of male goldfish before and I’ve never seen any concrete evidence of breeding behavior between her and any of my male fish.  She never produced eggs and was rarely, if ever, chased.  Although, recently I added two male butterflies to Callisto’s tank, and they do chase and nudge her around a little, so perhaps they know she is female.  They don’t chase Clover (male) around, only Callisto.  But then again, they did chase one-another around a little bit in their QT tank.  So maybe they’re just confused and are mistaking Callisto for a female because she is much bigger and rounder than they are.  Maybe I’ll never know for sure what sex Callisto is.  But lately I’m definitely leaning toward her probably being male.  I still call her a “she” by default, since I don’t really know for sure, and it’s what I’ve always called her.  Old habits die hard I guess.  I think when she dies (hopefully not anytime soon!) I’ll do a necropsy and try to see if I can find either ovaries or testes, because I hate not knowing!  Until then, it’s still a bit of a mystery!

go kidney stones and erectile dysfunction. The cavernous body is relaxed, basics LLC. Learn whether taking aspirin regularly increases your risk for Home Page

Dia de los Muertos Goldfish Tank
I thought my goldfish should join in on the holiday fun! Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is
Read more.
Beginner Mistakes to Avoid | Dos and Don’ts
Do plenty of research before buying anyfish!  This will help you avoid many beginner mistakes and allow you toprovide a
Read more.
What Pet Stores Don’t Tell You About… Cycling
Now I don’t want to make it sound like all pet stores give bad information about fishkeeping, because some are
Read more.
Yujin Goldfish Gashapon Collection
Several months ago I discovered these goldfish gashapons and began collecting them!  Gashapons are Japanese capsule toys dispensed from coin
Read more.
Update on Luca, Felix, and Clover
My new ghost bristols have been getting all the attention lately, so I thought I’d take some time to do
Read more.
Callisto is Declining
Callisto came to live with me on November 10th, 2011.  From day one, she has always been a major surface-gulper. 
Read more.
How To Euthanize a Fish Humanely
Euthanizing our pet fish is obviously something none of us ever want to have to do, but sometimes it’s the
Read more.
Goldfish Growth and Changes Update
Here’s the most recent update: Butterfly Telescope Growth and Changes Today Luca weighs 47 grams, is 2.75″ in body length,
Read more.
Rest in Peace Callisto
Callisto was euthanized last weekend because of her ongoing and worsening health condition.  It was a tough decision to make,
Read more.
New Culling Nets
For my first spawn of ghost bristol fry, I’ve been making do with a regular aquarium net; the dark green
Read more.

One thought on “Callisto the Unclassifiable Goldfish

  1. Martina Pincione

    I stopped the goldfish hobby twice and my friend encurwged me to continue

  2. Jennie

    Hi Tiffany!Callisto was not a tosakin.Tosakins have caudal fins that are completely fused, but hers was split.Her general tail shape is also not quite right for a tosakin.Tosakin tails are very ruffled because if laid out flat, they’re almost a complete circle.Hers is just a broadtail, not a tosakin tail.

  3. Nancy Hall

    I was happy to find this, because I’ve always wondered what type of goldie Callisto was. She is still the prettiest goldfish I’ve ever seen. I think the fact that she displayed traits that kept you guessing made her interesting, mysterious and all the more beautiful. A piece of living poetry. Thank you for sharing her with us!

  4. joe hornsby

    Oh my goodness.. What is she!? She looks like an orando.. Sort of.. I have one that I can not identify and a few telescope eye/koi hybrid which I adore. Hope to breed them soon.

  5. A-fish-ionado

    Jennie, I am soooo in love with this fish!! I’m setting up a 180 gallon bow front tank soon and its my dream to find a fish like her!!! I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than her! She takes my breath away! If you EVER run across another one PLEASE let me know! I don’t care what her price is! Just email me girl!

  6. A-fish-ionado

    Wow!I just realized how old this post is!! Do you still have her?? I was wondering…what do you do with your babies once they pass? Thought it would be nice to bury them in your flower garden!


Leave a Reply to joe hornsby Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *