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    Thread: Koi Skin Color and its Proper Care

    1. #1
      Carl's Avatar
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      Koi Skin Color and its Proper Care

      What gives koi their color? What can damage their color?

      My level of understanding is pretty simple, but this is what I have learned. Koi get their color from their genetic makeup, though it can be substantially influenced by environment.

      Skin color is created by pigments contained in their skin in cells called chromataphores. All the colors of koi are created from three basic colors: red; black, and; yellow. Of the colors of koi, the red pigment is probably the most volatile as it is similar to Vitamin A and Vitamin D. I have read that because the color red is similar in chemical structure to these vitamins, they behave in a similar way in skin. They are very volatile and unstable and easily effected by oxygen, heat and light.

      Fish are capable of producing some colors metabolically without necessarily having to consume something to manufacture it. For instance, black and brown pigments are produced in cells called melanocytes. However, koi are not capable of making carotenoid (reddish) and xanthophyll (yellowish) pigments without dietary assistance. Deprive them of carotenoids or otherwise traumatize the chromataphores responsible for making red, and the koi may not produce the color at all and may lose the ability forever.
      -- Carl --

      You are cordially invited to apply for membership in the WorldWide Koi Club,
      the parent club of Koiphen.


    2. #2
      Joey S's Avatar
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      I know the hardness of the water is either beneficial or detrimental to strong blacks and maintenance of Hi as well. I can change or modify what I feed, but to change my really hard water to soft is near impossible.
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    3. #3
      dick benbow's Avatar
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      A simple thing that all need to be aware of is how the skin of the koi feels.
      So next time you net and bowl a koi for whatever reason, feel it and see how it feels. It should feel smooth and slippery. I do lots of benching on shows.
      I like to touch the fish to calm them down. If they feel smooth, chances are I will find no open sores or leisons. If they feel rough and gritty, I take extra time to look as something is outa wack.

      One of the things that doesn't seem to get discussed but I have noticed over the years. If a fish is purchased from japan where it was born and raised in ph close to neutral. When it comes to hard water and higher PH
      ( low to mid 8's)
      we see dramatic changes. Shimis, weakening in the beni. Fish that come from Japanese parents yet have been born locally as domestics in similar water as the pond they are going into seem to make the change with fewer traumas.The longer a koi was raised in Japan (nisei,sansei,Yonsai) the more the change seems to influence them if the water parameters are dramatically different.

      I have found that adding a reverse osmosis machine to my input water with a trickle 24/7 has been a great reducer of transisition problems with my koi from japan as i attempt to minimize the difference between water specifications..

      Simple things like different types of algea being eaten off the walls of the pond can also infuence coloration. The more you observe, the better you begin to understand.
      Dick Benbow
      "The Koi Coach"
      member Team Purdin

    4. #4
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      Quote Originally Posted by dick benbow View Post
      ...
      One of the things that doesn't seem to get discussed but I have noticed over the years. If a fish is purchased from japan where it was born and raised in ph close to neutral. When it comes to hard water and higher PH (low to mid 8's) we see dramatic changes. Shimis, weakening in the beni. Fish that come from Japanese parents yet have been born locally as domestics in similar water as the pond they are going into seem to make the change with fewer traumas.The longer a koi was raised in Japan (nisei,sansei,Yonsai) the more the change seems to influence them if the water parameters are dramatically different....
      Dick, I shortened your quote to emphasize your points about hard water and high pH. You nailed my water. So, recognizing that fact, I have chosen to make the best of it with my fish selections. I want good looking fish and am more than willing to purchase high quality food and provide the best water I can. But, I just can't go the lengths necessary to soften the water and lowere the pH.

      So, what variety would do well or at least suffer the least in hard water and higher pH?
      For the love of Koi
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    5. #5
      Midorigoi's Avatar
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      My aunt's koi are in a mudpond (if you dig more than a foot in her yard water starts to come up) and they are so red and their white is fantastic. I always see them nibbling in the mud, along with all the water plants that are in there.
      A natural environment works wonders

    6. #6
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      Question if the basic colors are red black and yellow hoe do the asagi and goshiki get their blue ?

    7. #7
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      Come on folks. Help keep this thread alive. Talk to us Dick,Carl or anyone else that can help those of us struggling to learn.

      Bill

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      I don't quite understand how additional nutrition (color enhancing food) detracts or inhibits the 'finished' color...??? please enlighten me.

    9. #9
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      Cause finished color shouldn't be changed?

    10. #10
      BillJ is offline Senior Member
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      May not be right,but I lump color enhancers in with msg...why do they put it in koi food?

      Bill

    11. #11
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      Quote Originally Posted by mj_flatrock View Post
      I don't quite understand how additional nutrition (color enhancing food) detracts or inhibits the 'finished' color...??? please enlighten me.
      More later, but koi don't actually finish, they peak. When we say finish, we mean that they have gotten as good as they are going to get.

      The chromataphores that contain the red pigment have been likened to a leaky bucket. If you don't allow the koi to keep filling it, you end up with an empty or shallow bucket. It seems, though, that the better quality the koi, the less the bucket will empty. In other words, the hi on a good quality koi with strong genetics in regard to beni, will not diminish as much or as rapidly as it would in lesser quality koi when you deprive it of sufficient raw material to make the red pigment.

      Too much carotene, on the other hand, or a poor source of carotene may spill over into the white portions of the skin that cannot make red, which will make the whites yellowish or dingy. Hopefully, the koi will expel any excess carotene and not let it spill over, but that is a function of the koi's genetics and the nature of the source of carotene or xanthophyll (yellow).

      I've put together more info and hope to be able to add more this afternoon.
      -- Carl --

      You are cordially invited to apply for membership in the WorldWide Koi Club,
      the parent club of Koiphen.


    12. #12
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      Quote Originally Posted by BillJ View Post
      May not be right,but I lump color enhancers in with msg...why do they put it in koi food?

      Bill
      I think that all koi food that is meant to be used as a stand alone diet have color "enhancers," to some degree. That's why in another thread I posed some questions about the subject. The amount and the nature of the "enhancer" differs from food to food, but if they don't provide some source of some kind of carotene, the reds will suffer.

      The question I was hoping to get to in the other thread was how much is the right amount of enhancement, and what are the short and long term consequences of over doing it?
      -- Carl --

      You are cordially invited to apply for membership in the WorldWide Koi Club,
      the parent club of Koiphen.


    13. #13
      dick benbow's Avatar
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      Hard waters cause the colors to quickly finish especially those with black in the pattern. So it wouldn't hurt to consider males which tend to finish up sooner than the ladies. Sometimes genetics especially on some strains of kohaku will develop shimi because of hard water. So we go after showa and sanke if that turns out to be the case.

      If i was pushed for some kind of analogy to help understanding, I'd say it was like a food product with a shelf life date. But once opened the length of use is shortened. So in hard water we are just escalating and shortening the shelf life.

      What it means is that the folks who like to show will probably do best in the smaller sizes.

      Since we all seem to turn to japan and the show effort as our goal, by expediting the maturity process of the pattern the fish finish faster.The opposite effort with all the fancy RO machinery is to buy time and slow the finishing process to allow the koi to gain size. Add the female sex and that also buys you some time. But the pond has to be large enough to accomodate growth. Stocking levels and water change, High protein non color food all play a part of it. You'll have to decide if you want to get "hung up" on this criteria.

      So in truth if we shoot for baby or junior grand with beautifully finished koi in smaller sizes and gain a reputation as being competitive there. What's so bad with that? Do we all have to have GC in size 7?

      another analogy I might use for the ladies, is like purchasing a purse. We can buy an expensibe leather in classic style that will always be in style. OR we can buy a less expensive purse in more modern material that will last but a few years but has the current style and color to match the trends. Both purchases can
      be satisfying depending on what we ultimately wish to achieve. So what is it you wish to achieve with your koi. Once the destination is determined, the route to get there becomes a lot easier. There is so much to learn in either types of water that you'll be able to enjoy either goal. If things change ( you move or decide to invest in water management equipment) you can always use the knowledge you learned along the way ( pattern development) bloodlines to be sucessful in your next endeavor ( bigger ponds, females etc. )
      Dick Benbow
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    14. #14
      Carl's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by dick benbow View Post
      Hard waters cause the colors to quickly finish especially those with black in the pattern. So it wouldn't hurt to consider males which tend to finish up sooner than the ladies. Sometimes genetics especially on some strains of kohaku will develop shimi because of hard water. So we go after showa and sanke if that turns out to be the case.

      If i was pushed for some kind of analogy to help understanding, I'd say it was like a food product with a shelf life date. But once opened the length of use is shortened. So in hard water we are just escalating and shortening the shelf life.

      What it means is that the folks who like to show will probably do best in the smaller sizes.

      Since we all seem to turn to japan and the show effort as our goal, by expediting the maturity process of the pattern the fish finish faster.The opposite effort with all the fancy RO machinery is to buy time and slow the finishing process to allow the koi to gain size. Add the female sex and that also buys you some time. But the pond has to be large enough to accomodate growth. Stocking levels and water change, High protein non color food all play a part of it. You'll have to decide if you want to get "hung up" on this criteria.

      So in truth if we shoot for baby or junior grand with beautifully finished koi in smaller sizes and gain a reputation as being competitive there. What's so bad with that? Do we all have to have GC in size 7?

      another analogy I might use for the ladies, is like purchasing a purse. We can buy an expensibe leather in classic style that will always be in style. OR we can buy a less expensive purse in more modern material that will last but a few years but has the current style and color to match the trends. Both purchases can
      be satisfying depending on what we ultimately wish to achieve. So what is it you wish to achieve with your koi. Once the destination is determined, the route to get there becomes a lot easier. There is so much to learn in either types of water that you'll be able to enjoy either goal. If things change ( you move or decide to invest in water management equipment) you can always use the knowledge you learned along the way ( pattern development) bloodlines to be sucessful in your next endeavor ( bigger ponds, females etc. )

      I think you raise some wonderful points. The hobby is geared towards females because they get larger and finish later, and therefore do better at shows in the more prestigious categories. However, if we don't have the facilities to get them there, should we be focusing so hard on purchasing females and trying to bend our inadequate facilities to attain a goal we cannot realistically reach?
      -- Carl --

      You are cordially invited to apply for membership in the WorldWide Koi Club,
      the parent club of Koiphen.


    15. #15
      PapaBear is offline Senior Member
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      Avoiding color enhancers altogether is near impossible and not advisable unless you are wanting to specialize in purachina and shiro muji.

      The question is how much is too much.

      MOST of what Koi eat in a natural environment will have natural colorants in it. In a wild setting they would consume crustaceans, blood worms, algae, various green plants, etc... as a matter of course. In a mud pond it is common to find many small species that make up a portion of their diet that are natural color sources so even the relatively inexpensive food most of them get in the mud is low in colorant content, they still come out looking rich.

      What you want to avoid is typical cheap color enhancers that may tend to yellow the shiroji and turn the beni toward yellow at the same time. Food with spirulina, shellfish/shrimpmeal, krill, etc... will serve them well if not overdone.

      Good water is every bit as important as diet though. Without stirring up any controversy from a thread on another forum it is undeniable that water chemistry plays a large role in the way Koi are able to metabolize their food. With every breath they take via their gills they are passing their environment through their bodies and naturally micronutrients in the water column are injested along with the pellets we feed. Mineral content, both alkalinity and gh, play a role in the osmotic function of all cellular structures. Maintaining a healthy water column that promotes good osmotic function not only maintains good health and vitality of the fish internally, but in their skin and scales as well.

      This is observational speculation on my part, but here's my take on hard water...
      Harder water SEEMS to act as somewhat of a "fixative", which can cause color to become a bit like a one way street. The cell walls seem to allow color and nutrients in well enough, but the "used up" material seems to have a hard time getting out. Osmosis is a 2 way street that needs to be able to exhale as easily as it inhales. If the "worn out" material has a hard time being purged cellular degradation will begin to take place and the skin will become hard and old looking. "Brittle" might be a good word to describe it.

    16. #16
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      Quote Originally Posted by PapaBear View Post
      Avoiding color enhancers altogether is near impossible and not advisable unless you are wanting to specialize in purachina and shiro muji.

      The question is how much is too much.

      MOST of what Koi eat in a natural environment will have natural colorants in it. In a wild setting they would consume crustaceans, blood worms, algae, various green plants, etc... as a matter of course. In a mud pond it is common to find many small species that make up a portion of their diet that are natural color sources so even the relatively inexpensive food most of them get in the mud is low in colorant content, they still come out looking rich.

      What you want to avoid is typical cheap color enhancers that may tend to yellow the shiroji and turn the beni toward yellow at the same time. Food with spirulina, shellfish/shrimpmeal, krill, etc... will serve them well if not overdone.

      Good water is every bit as important as diet though. Without stirring up any controversy from a thread on another forum it is undeniable that water chemistry plays a large role in the way Koi are able to metabolize their food. With every breath they take via their gills they are passing their environment through their bodies and naturally micronutrients in the water column are injested along with the pellets we feed. Mineral content, both alkalinity and gh, play a role in the osmotic function of all cellular structures. Maintaining a healthy water column that promotes good osmotic function not only maintains good health and vitality of the fish internally, but in their skin and scales as well.

      This is observational speculation on my part, but here's my take on hard water...
      Harder water SEEMS to act as somewhat of a "fixative", which can cause color to become a bit like a one way street. The cell walls seem to allow color and nutrients in well enough, but the "used up" material seems to have a hard time getting out. Osmosis is a 2 way street that needs to be able to exhale as easily as it inhales. If the "worn out" material has a hard time being purged cellular degradation will begin to take place and the skin will become hard and old looking. "Brittle" might be a good word to describe it.
      I think your point about healthy water is well taken. The koi has to be healthy and his bodily functions have to be performing well for him to be able to use the nutrients to create color, particularly red. However, presuming that ph, gh and kh are all where they should be and the water has cycled, the ability to produce color, and particularly red, should be a function of genetics and giving them the appropriate food they need to do the job well.

      Beyond that, we would need to consider things that damage the the skin itself or the koi's metabolism, such as sunlight that could damage the former, and stress that can inhibit the latter.The creation of red in a koi is a delicate, but not a subtle process. It needs the genetic ability and the raw materials. With the right genetics and sufficient raw materials, red is produced. Give it too much raw material and the materials should pass thru their system or it might bleed into the shiro. Shock the system and you may lose the hi entirely.
      -- Carl --

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      the parent club of Koiphen.


    17. #17
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      An interesting color related morsel I ran across not long ago, I think it came from Dick B, is that a silica sand filter will help the sumi on showa. I did a quick search on this and found some additional positive discussion on it, but... it left me with a few lingering Qs.

      Silica is a component in gH, but is this the one or dominate gH component that effects sumi development? Is silica hard on beni? or is that a different component of gH? Why is the discussion on silica always showa and not sanke? I know that showa and sanke have different origins for their sumi, but can that make it include or exclude the effects of silica?

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    18. #18
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      I don't know that the Silica discussion is particularly exclusive to Showa. I've read and participated in a number of discussions on it relative to sanke/bekko type sumi as well and my personal "anecdotal" observations would indicate the effect on sanke/bekko is equally beneficial.

      Silica/silicates are one relatively small component of gh in most waters and the hardness numbers need to be broken down into their specific parts to get a good "scientific" read on how they influence color in general and sumi in particular. Unfortunately I'll have to leave it to those who have done more detailed research on those specifics to take it much further.

      One thing I have observed is that "Silicates" is a much broader word than "Sand", and the influence of many different forms of silicate play distinctive roles. One good example would be the use of bentonite in water and/or Koi food. Bentonite (smectite) clay is not something we would think of in the same way as sand, but the silicate content is one of the valuable components when used in our ponds and fish food.

    19. #19
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      The silica discussion addresses one of my questions. Please keep the info coming. My second question is,and I read this on another forum, that the nutrients that koi use to make hi is not in the food but absorbed from the water through the skin. True or false?

      Bill

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      Quote Originally Posted by BillJ View Post
      The silica discussion addresses one of my questions. Please keep the info coming. My second question is,and I read this on another forum, that the nutrients that koi use to make hi is not in the food but absorbed from the water through the skin. True or false?

      Bill
      If you are looking at the "other forum" thread I'm thinking of you completely misread it. Food and water go hand in hand with genetics to supply proper nutrient and color intake to color cells. You can have great water and genetics and feed pearl barley (colorant supply virtually nonexistent) year 'round and still lose color. If the water, food, and genetics aren't working in conjunction with each other things break down. "Balance" is the key.

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