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All about Head Growth


This article is divided into three parts. The first part would bring us back to the birth place of goldfish - China, their original description of the different kind of head growth. The second part would cover the Thai description of the different kind of head growth. The article will try to link these two countries description to match each other. Finally the third part of the article we will take a look at some of the common varieties that should fall on which particular categories.


The following knowledge learned is contributed by a few graceful experts who were always readily and willing to share their perception.




Head growth development is abnormal growths of outer layer of skin, like the snake accumulating its shed skin. Basically, the Chinese have divided the kind of head growth into 3 types:

  • Goose Head
  • Lion Head
  • Tiger Head

Goose Head (it is also know as High Head)


Goose Head is goldfish with enlarged head growth limited within the top portion of the head (forehead or better known as hood), but no growth on the rest of the head (cheek, mouth, chin or gill cover). One of the best examples is the Red Cap Oranda (see photo Goose Head 1A/B).


The second example of a Goose Head would set everyone into debating mode. The photo (Goose Head 2A/B) shows a ranchu with a little head growth on the forehead (also known as crown) and hardly any growth on the sides of the head. It is said that this particular ranchu has the gene of a Goose Head, thus no matter how much effort the hobbyist try, the fish will grow in body size, but the head growth will remain as it is, within the top portion of the head. Such ranchu often gets hobbyists all confused, wondering all the time over their keeping skill as they see no improvement or sign of head growth on the side.


Hence to avoid disappointment, it is safety to select young ranchu with a clear indication of cheek growth, if a full head growth fish is what you are looking for. After saying so, of course, there is also an equal chance that it is not a genetic Goose Head, but an under nourishment fish. There is also the third case, which that particular goldfish is a late developing fish, but this possibility is very low.


The third example of a Goose Head can be easily spotted in a tank of oranda (see Goose Head 3A/B). They are usually identical to the Red Cap Oranda just that the colour pigment, red, does not limit within the top portion of the head growth. Recently in the market there are batches of tri-colours Goose Head oranda.


The fourth example of a Goose Head (see Goose Head 4A/B) is usually found in the Pearl Scale variety goldfish. Personally, I have not seen such Goose Head on other strain of goldfish beside Pearl Scale. But I would not be surprise to see some breeders successfully developing this fourth kind of Goose Head on a ranchu or oranda.


Lion Head


Lion Heads were bred in China to depict the image of the mythical Chinese lion. Lion head fish have head growth on top of the head and on the sides of the cheeks. The head growth is usually so well developed that it actually covers the entire head, joining the forehead and the cheeks growth together. Definition of a good Lion Head must able to see a distinct head growth on the top (like the Goose head) and side cheeks growth.


To the Chinese, Lion Head is generally referred as Oranda. (See photo – Lion Head1 to 4). However, many western hobbyists refers Lion Head as egg-fish (no dorsal strain) instead, which create more confusion, that including me!


Tiger Head


Tiger Head originally refer to egg-fish (no dorsal fin; ranchu strain) with moderate head growth. The main different between Tiger Head and Lion Head is that Tiger Head does not have a clear portion of top head growth and the cheeks growth, the head growth is simply evenly spread around the entire head. In fact, the head growth looks like a cauliflower. (See Tiger Head 2 and 3)


However, for the passed few years, some of the oranda exhibit the same head growth as the egg-fish. The head growth sometime spread as far down as to the chin (also call beard). The head growth is so massive, that at time it covers the eyes too. (See Tiger Head 1 and 4). In my opinion, we can no longer fix Tiger Head as egg-fish or Lion Head as oranda.




Now let us change our focus to Thai definition of head growth. Although this standard is very new compared to the long history of Chinese definition, it has won many followers.


The Thai have divided the kind of head growth into 3 types too:

  • Buffalo Head
  • Lionchu
  • Chinese Head

Buffalo Head


Buffalo Head has no doubt created a phenomenon to the new trend of head growth. A top quality Buffalo Head must have a clear denotation of a crown (a smaller vision of Goose Head) with an exaggerate cheek growth. By Thai definition, Buffalo Head is referring to their famous side view ranchu that have dominated many local competitions. (See photo Buffalo Head 1 to 4)


At one look, Buffalo Head is identical to Lion Head, but on a second observation one can notice a clear different in them. Buffalo Head has a forehead growth limited to the top portion of the head and does NOT extend to the eyes. There is no growth between the forehead growth and the cheeks growth, creating a small gap or a narrow opening between them. This is also the main different between Buffalo Head and Lion Head.


By now needless to further elaborate, one can associate Buffalo Head profile as the same as the Lion Head profile.




Being part of Singapore, I always thought Lionchu is a proud creation by Singaporean. However, recently I realised that this variety has been very establish in Thailand. They have regular competition for this particular variety.


The Thai breeder appreciate the Tiger Head, for its evenly spread of head growth covering the whole head, giving a golf ball (or cauliflower) effect. On the other hand, the Thai own strain, the side view ranchu has very prominent cheek growth which they adored. So the Thai came out with a creative idea of combining these two outstanding characteristic, resulting this new variety. Naturally, with the use of Tiger Head and Thai ranchu as parent fish, the name for this new variety should be Tigerchu. Unfortunately, it is a common misinterpretation that Tiger Head goldfish is address as Lion Head. As the result the name Lionchu is born.


If one is to relate Lionchu profile with the Chinese description, basically this new variety should fall under the Tiger Head category. See Lionchu 1 to 4, it is common to find the head growth spread all the way down to the chin. Despite the head growth is equally spread, the cheeks growth are still noticeable. This is an important factor.


Chinese Head


According to the Thai, Chinese Head fish usually coming from their Blackie - Thai famous black ranchu. Chinese Head has a very similar head growth as the Lionchu. Both have evenly spread of head growth covering the entire head.


The main different between Chinese Head and Lionchu is that Chinese Head does NOT have a well-defined cheek growth on the sides. Giving the overall head growth a more confining cauliflower effect. Photo Chinese Head 3 is a very good example of a Chinese Head. Photo Chinese Head 1 has very well developed growth in front of the mouth imparting a bit of the cheeks growth effect, thus, to differentiate between Chinese Head and Lionchu, it is not easy, especially for hobbyists that first introduced to these differences.


On the safely side, in Thailand, one can say that most Blackie has a Chinese Head or is a Chinese Head ranchu. Whereas, most colour ranchu is either a Lionchu or a Buffalo Head. Nonetheless, photo Chinese Head 2 and 4 are typically referred as Chinese Head by the Thai. This Chinese Head would also fall under the category of the Tiger Head, if base on Chinese description.


In the third part of this article, let us look at some of the popular head growth fish in the market and see where they fall under. They are the Japanese ranchu; Chinese ranchu; ShouXingGong; JuHua Head and finally the Boxer Head.


Japanese Ranchu


Despite the fact that originally most goldfish varieties might have been Chinese breeding, generally, the Japanese would rename the varieties after the place where they were bred for the first time. However, credit should be given to the Japanese too. Not all of the quality goldfish varieties originate from China. Many varieties from Japan are well known too like the Japanese Ranchu and the Tosakin.


The Japanese Ranchu (top view – photo Japanese Ranchu) has the head growth the same version of the Thai Buffalo Head and that means base on Chinese description, it falls under the Lion Head category.


Japanese Ranchu has smaller forehead growth (hood), more prominent dorsal curvature, massive body (especially the peduncle), and angular tail. When it was officially exhibited in 1885, the head growth was more like the Tiger Head.


Chinese Ranchu


Chinese ranchu has the head growth that is identical as the Thai description of the Chinese Head. They are the same fish with the same head growth. It will fall under the Tiger Head category. What complicate thing is that the modern Chinese ranchu are beginning to have the profile of the Buffalo Head, in fact, currently in the market, some quality Chinese ranchu can be found with having both attribute of Tiger Head and Buffalo Head (Lion Head).


For the moment, most Chinese ranchu still have lesser head growth compared others, see photo Chinese Ranchu 1 to 4. As mentioned in the earlier part of the article, the difference between these types of head growth could eventually disappear completely.


Shou Xing Gong


Chinese likes to name "newly" created variety of goldfish which often related to mythological persons or animals. This particular variety is named after a mythical person that symbolizes longevity – Shou Xing Gong.


This goldfish does not have an English name. Hence many would try to give it one. Both Asia and Western tend to call this fish “Lionhead”. Shou Xing Gong has the head growth of a Tiger Head. And the Thai breeders use this strain to produce the Lionchu.


Note: In term of body shape, the different between Chinese ranchu and Shou Xing Gong is that Shou Xing Gong has a straight back while the Chinese ranchu exhibits a very crooked dorsal curvature (back) and angular tail.


Ju Hua Head


Ju Hua head translated from Chinese is chrysanthemum head. It is said that the head growth looks like the swelling on a chrysanthemum stem consisting of overlapping immature petals.


Taking a close examination, one would notice that the head growth is more of a "solid lobed" as compared to the rest of the head growth mentioned above. In another words, it is NOT like the cauliflower at all. The head growth has a smooth surface instead. Due to the fact that this is not really appreciated by many hobbyists, such head growth is very unique. As a matter of fact, this is the ONLY head growth that does not belong to any of the above mentioned.


Boxer Head


Boxer Head are found in Blackie. They are actually Chinese Head according to the Thai, and Tiger Head according to the Chinese. The uniqueness about this fish is that it has a flat face, creating the edges effect on the sides of the head, which resulting a box-like head. Another way of seeing it, is that the head growth resemble the face of the dog – Boxer, a breed of stocky medium-sized short-haired dog with a brindled coat and square-jawed muzzle developed in Germany.


As on many goldfish farms in China and Thailand hybrids of the Lion Head and Tiger Head are bred. Hence constantly there are new strains of well developed head growth, and as time goes by, it is getting more and more difficult to clearly distinguish between the types of head growth covered in this article. It is fortunate for us hobbyists to able to witness this period that marked by distinctive development of head growth.


Key points to successful head growth... ...


For casual hobbyist:

  • Space - Keep the fish in large number but in a small tank, limit their swimming space.
  • Food - Heavy feeding of high protein stuff.

Result: A huge head growth, but small in body size


For experience hobbyist:

  • Water - Ensure the water condition is ok, keep below the safe ammonia level.
  • Sunlight - Ensure the fish gets proper sunlight or supplement with Metal-Halide light.

Result: Can achieve satisfactory head growth, but take time.


For competitive hobbyist:

  • Origin strain of the fish.
  • Food - Feed selective high protein stuff..
  • Water - The frequency of water change is important to excite the growth.
  • Sunlight - Expose to morning sun.
  • SECRET REVEAL - Oxygen plays a very important part to proper head growth.

Result: Can achieve satisfactory head growth, but take time.


In memory of Master Ma


For those who have not read about Master Ma in my previous article, Master Ma was known as one of the last masters in Chinese Goldfish Appreciation. He used to tell me stories of how his master had to hide the goldfish during the Cultural Revolution, in order to ensure the particular strain of goldfish does not go extinct. Although at his late eighty, when come to talking about goldfish, he would light up like a little kid. He was always in a kind of rush and stuffing me with so much information, but at that time, all I was interested was to sweet talk him to sell me some of his personal collection. Little did I know those were the last moments I had with him.


In 2005, I landed China with a heavy heart. Master Ma had at least 8 disciples/students, age ranging from late thirty to mid fifty, they were all there at his funeral. When they came over and shared some thing that they thought I should know, I broke down uncontrollably. They told me that during the last three weeks of Master Ma life, he was in delusion, kept calling out for me as if I am his first student and repeatedly asked if I have headed the China Agriculture Department to showcase the Chinese goldfish to the rest of the world… … and occasionally, Master Ma would shout: “where is he (referring to me), he has much more to learn, don’t go running around!!!!!!


It has been two years, always had difficulties putting this memory in words. I’m nobody and I did nothing for him. The least I can do now is in hope that whenever a day that you find yourself appreciating goldfish during a competition or choosing the next goldfish for your collection in the fish shop/farm or simply reading an article about goldfish… … with some inclination, you would remember me not, nor the club, BUT remember those masters whom had taken turns during their lifespan for the passed 100 years or more in selective breeding (causing the genetical change) which resulting the birth of so many different goldfish varieties. What we have at home or in our pond are traces of the success story of these masters.


Happy fish keeping!

Fynnmood President (Steven Tong)

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