Pond & Lake Orfe Facts Guide 2022 (Lifespan, Size, Eating & Breeding)
Orfes, specifically “Leuciscus idus“, also known as ides, belong to the family Cyprinidae, and are a freshwater fish native to the rivers, ponds, and lakes of Europe and Asia. The name “ide” is derived from Swedish roots and denotes the bright coloration of the fish, which is typically orange or gold, sometimes with black spots on its neck at the base of the head.
The most common kept variety in the pond hobby is the golden orfe (see picture below) due to its brighter colouration, as well as the much less common blue orfe fish. When they’re young, orfe typically display a sliver scale pattern with small black spots on the head, but as they mature, most varieties develop an overall orange sheen which can range from a subtle hue to brightly golden – similar to goldfish.
Can Orfe Be Kept With Koi & Goldfish?
Orfe are a pretty active shoaling fish (meaning they prefer to live and move about in groups or schools), and can grow two over 2 feet long. In addition, they are adept at and enjoy catching insects, so this in combination with their size and social nature means they’ll need a pretty large pond (at least 1,000 gallons is recommended) to allow them to move about and jump out of the water without escaping the pond.
If kept alone, it’s not unheard of for orfe to die since they are a social fish preferring to live in groups of at least three or more orfes. Long-lived, orfes can often live up to 20. They’re also pretty friendly, getting along with most other fish, goldfish and koi in particular, though they may eat some smaller fish or fry if they’re hungry! Their lively nature makes them an entertaining and friendly pond fish to have, and an interesting addition to larger pond communities.
What Do Golden Orfe Eat? Are They Hardy Fish?
Orfe are, in general, considered hardy, well-adapted fish, doing will in waters ranging from 50 to 77° (13-25° C) Fahrenheit and able to survive in waters that are just above freezing or as high as 90°f (so long as the water isn’t kept at either of these extremes for too long). They do best with a neutral to alkaline pH between 7 and 8. Their natural diet is composed of snails and insects, including mosquito larvae.
With voracious appetites, you’ll need to supplement their diet with things such as earthworms, bloodworms, and meat-based pellets or flakes with plenty of protein. They have been known to eat small fish fry as well, so perhaps keep them separate from smaller fish either permanently or until the other fish grow larger than a couple of inches in size.
Is It Legal To Keep Golden Orfe in Ponds?
In addition, orfes of all varieties are considered non-native in North America, and as such are illegal to have in some areas (such as Michigan, Oregon, and Washington) due to escaping from captivity and causing issues in natural areas where they become an invasive, nuisance species. In fact, these fish are such a threat in some areas that possessing one even in your personal garden pond may be grounds to be punished with a misdemeanor and serious legal fees! As such, make sure that having orfes is legal in your area, and also make sure to have safeguards in place so that they cannot escape your pond and get into natural waterways even if they’re legal to have where you live (remember, orfe are very good at jumping, to add strong nets or fences around the pond!).
Lifespan, Size, & Growth Rates of Golden Orfe
As mentioned previously, orfe can often live up to 20 years, though there are some reports of them reaching closer to 30 years of age. Their size is somewhat dependent upon the size of the water body they live in, but no matter what they are still a fairly large fish. When initially purchased, orfe are typically only two to three inches in size, and usually reach their minimum adult size (about a foot) within a year or so. In small ponds, they can easily reach a foot or more (though 1 to 1.5 feet is common in ponds), and if held in too small of a pond they will simply jump out, as they need plenty of space to move about and accommodate both their size and high energy levels. In larger ponds and lakes with plenty of food availability, it’s not uncommon for orfe to grow closer to 3 feet in size.
In captivity, they average a weight between 2 and 5 pounds, though they commonly grow larger in the wild. The largest wild orfe on record (referred to in the preceding link by its Latin name, Leuciscus idus) was caught by a fishermen in Latvia in 1989 and was over 12 pounds. There are some reports of them reaching as much as 18 pounds in the wild.
Below is a video displaying what could be considered an average adult size and natural browsing (feeding) behaviour:
For ponds, a good size is at least 1,000 gallons and at least a meter deep. A deeper pond will also enable golden orfes to overwinter, as they’re tolerant of temperature fluctuations so long as the water doesn’t drop below freezing and there’s plenty of dissolved oxygen present. In the wild, orfes can be found in waters ranging from fast flowing rivers only a couple of feet deep to still lakes over 15 meters in depth.
Common Golden Orfe Diseases & Pond Problems (Things To Consider)
1) Golden Orfe Can Jump!
Golden orfes don’t seem to fall prey to many of the diseases or parasites that affect other common pond fish like goldfish and koi, and are fairly resistant to disease and illness relative to most other fish. However, they are susceptible to some issues. Perhaps one of the most commonly reported issues is orfe jumping out of ponds and then being found dead on the ground the next day (again, you need a large pond at least a meter deep if you desire to have orfes!).
2) Orfe Require High Dissolved Oxygen
Another common issue is lack of oxygen, as golden orfe require high amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water as they’re large and quite active. In the summer, golden orfe can die since warm water uses up dissolved oxygen more quickly than cool water. To prevent these, keep a pump or aerator running in your pond at all times, and incorporate plenty of oxygenating pond plants (golden orfes don’t typically munch on plants, as they prefer a more meat-based diet). If your pond doesn’t have enough oxygen, you may notice orfe jumping out of the water more or coming to the surface appearing to “gasp” for air.
3) Orfe Require Good Water Quality
Orfe are very sensitive to water quality, making them excellent indicators of pollution or overall poor water quality. In fact, a test conducted by Germans utilized golden orfes specifically to measure water quality, and was found to be so useful and accurate that what has been deemed the “golden orfe toxicity test” has been used worldwide to assess water quality and the presence of toxins and help guide aquatic regulations. Because of the moral implications of this, many countries have sought out alternate methods of testing water quality without endangering orfes or other fish. Nonetheless, very generally speaking, if orfe are healthy, then chances are that the rest of your pond is, too.
You’ll need to make sure that you’re checking your water parameters on a daily basis to ensure the health and happiness of your orfes. If there is low oxygen, too many pollutants such as nitrates, ammonium, or fertilizers, orfes become much more susceptible to parasites, bacterial infections, and fungal infections that could potentially kill them. This seems to be more of an issue in the spring, when temperatures are shifting and thus altering the water chemistry of your pond.
4) Orfe Are Susceptible to Viruses & Parasites
One virus that golden orfe are susceptible to is Rhabdovirus carpio, or carp virus. Again, this is more common in the spring as water chemistry and temperature is changing and your orfe have likely been dormant, rendering them less able to fend off potential illnesses. It’s quite a contagious virus, and can result in abdominal swelling, skin lesions and hemorrhages, darkening of the skin, bulging eyes, and potentially death. Providing your orfe with a well-rounded, high quality diet (with lots of protein, as in the wild orfes are predatory fish that feed heavily on insects and aquatic macroinvertebrates like snails and mollusks), maintaining proper water quality and temperature, and quarantining any sick fish will help prevent the virus from occurring or spreading.
Golden Orfe Breeding Considerations
To begin, breeding any fish is complicated and has its challenges, though many pond owners know that orfe can be one of the most difficult types of fish to try to breed. In the wild, orfe are prolific breeders, with mature females laying thousands of eggs. However, conditions need to be just right and these can be tricky to replicate in a pond.
To begin, you’ll have a much greater chance of success if you have a large pond (several thousand gallons), as well as either a gravel/rocky pond bottom and/or plenty of plants where the orfes can lay their eggs amongst the substrate and roots. In addition, the fish will need to be about a foot long, as this size generally indicates sexual maturity for orfes. In the wild, orfes tend to reproduce in the spring in areas with thick vegetation and shallower water, so you may need to recreate these conditions for your orfes and incorporate a shallow area with plenty of plants for them to use in the spring.
They seem to also prefer water with some movement (and, again, plenty of oxygen!), so make sure that these elements are also present. Water temperatures should be between 46 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure optimum fertility and successful breeding.
If you notice that your orfes are a little extra energetic, are chasing each other about, and thrashing around in shallower areas of the pond, there’s a decent chance that they’re either breeding or are ready to. Just make sure that the environmental conditions are right when you notice this behaviour and perhaps before long you’ll see some golden orfe eggs in your pond!
34 thoughts on “Golden Orfe Facts & Care Guide (What Are Orfe?)”
My orfe is 30 years old it swims around the pond ok but when it settles it turns up side down is there any thing we can do to help him
That’s quite old for an orfe! It sounds like it could be a problem with the swim bladder, which may be age-related, but more likely an infection of some kind. You can find more info on this here, as well as other swimming problems – https://pondinformer.com/koi-swimming-upside-down-sideways/
However, as is always the case for these things, it’s often best to consult a veterinarian, as they’ll be able to actually observe/handle the fish and determine a more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
I have had Orfe in my pond for about 12 years. For the past 7 days my Orfe are not coming up to eat pellets. All of my other species of fish including carp, goldfish, tench, koi and Shubunkin are continuing to eat.
I have tested my pond water to find ammonia and nitrite at 0 ppm, nitrate at 10 ppm and pH at 8.0.
I have had the endoscope in the pond and the Orfe are active at the mid levels but there is no food for them down there.
I’m very concerned that my Orfe are going to starve to death. Any ideas why they would refuse to eat like this?
What type of behaviour are they showing when you see them? Are they just swimming around aimlessly, or are they also browsing (foraging) on the bottom? Have you used any new treatments or chemicals in the last few months?
In regards to them not eating, larger fish like orfe, tench and carp can survive many months without any food if they were previously eating healthily, so I wouldn’t be too worried right now. If they’re looking healthy (not too thin, no injuries, sores etc.), I’d say give them another week and see if the behaviour changes. I’ve had similar situations in the past where fish stopped eating suddenly, and after a whole lot of worry and research, they suddenly started to feed again and often I never found a cause.
I’ve used three orfes to control koi fry. Works like a charm.
Yep, orfe will happily eat pretty much anything that fits in their mouth, fish or not! They’re also really good at reducing larvae, which can help in summer with all the biting flies.
Thanks for sharing your experience!
I have a pond measuring 8 feet by 6 feet and 3feet deep to which I added 10 goldfish and 4 golden orfe in the spring. They all thrived and grew well over the last 6 months until last week when all of my orfes died and none of my goldfish died. I am at a loss to explain this. There are no oxigenators in the pond but I have 3 water lilies which are slowly filling the surface of the pond. I have now pulled out 1 of the lilies to allow an area where they can free swim and the remaining goldfish seem to be more active now. I don’t have a pond pump. Could the lily leaves covering the surface have reduced the surface oxygen exchange so much that it proved fatal to the orfes ? The pond is netted so no leaves can pollute the water.
Sorry to hear about your recent fish loss! Never an easy thing to deal with.
Since you don’t have a pump, can I also assume don’t have any dedicated filtration system in place? Orfe are much more sensitive to poor water quality in comparison with common goldfish, and both a gradual or sudden change in water quality will effect them much more severely. If your fish thrived in spring, but became sick over summer, my guess would be that is may have been caused by a combination of stagnant, low oxygen water with a gradual increase in waste substances due to lack of aeration, oxygen and dedicated filtration. Oxygen is naturally lower in warmer water, so without aeration from a pump/filter, these big fish likely would have struggled during the hottest months.
Moving forward, I’d certainly suggestion carrying out a broad range water quality test as a regular routine, looking at parameters such as ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, pH and KH (alkalinity). I’d also consider adding a pump, filter and aeration system in future if you decide again to take on larger fish or if you intend to increase your current goldfish stock. The more fish you add, the more they’ll negatively impact water quality, and the more aeration, filtration, and cleaning you’ll need to mange! I’m including some links below for further reading and some recommendations:
I have a tank with two golden orfe in. About 3.5″long. Today I noticed one chasing the other, relentlessly. He would wack her with his tail when she was against the plants. Then I could clearly see eggs floating around the tank. They must be spawning. But is this normal for such juvenile fish? Will the eggs be fertilised? Do I need to do anything? I imagine the filter will suck all the eggs up.
Thanks for your help.
Thanks for the excellent article! I have had happy orfe (they always look they they’re smiling!) for almost 10 years now. I initially got them for koi fry control but they have quickly become favorites. I have a 9000 gallon pond so they seem content. I often think a pond dedicated only to orfe would be very cheery! Perhaps one day. 😉 Thanks again for the excellent info.
I’m so glad that you enjoyed the article! Orfes are certainly energetic, fun fish!
I have 4 orfes approx 1ft that always keep together but just recently 1 has started going alone under a lily tuba and when I get closer it darts quite swiftly to the others, does this indicate anything
So long as your water quality is healthy and your fish isn’t displaying any other symptoms (such as flashing, ulcers, not eating, etc.), it’s likely just a natural behavioural change just as we experience sometimes. Check your water quality and keep a close eye on the fish for any signs of illness or stress.
Thank you for your reply, my pond is crystal clear and well airiated and fish look healthy, no mark’s or ulcers of any kind just noticed the same one that seems to be having a bit of alone time.
Glad to help!
Sometimes fish experience mood and behaviour changes like we do. It could just be that, since the fish isn’t displaying any other symptoms, it’s simply being more shy/reserved.
we have a freshly dug pond that is spring fed (underground well) the pond is 12mx9mx1m it fills in 24hours and we have a constant run off.
we have some iris and rushes and a few lilly at present – how long before we could put orfe into the pond and what over plants would you suggest.
One of my orfes is mostly static in the water…head down and tail up. I’m used to treating Koi for a variety of nowadays but I’m unsure what to do with this fellow. I don’t see any obvious ulcers or anything… Maybe some reddening on top of his left fin. I would appreciate any advice! Actually just noticed that my other one has one bulging eye. It has experienced this before and it went away a couple of years ago.
Nowadays/maladies. Brilliant autocorrect. Lol
Does your orfe ever swim normally or right itself? It sounds to me like it may be swim bladder disease, especially if it’s not really swimming and can’t get itself upright at all. The one with a bulging eye might have a condition called popeye – keep an eye on it (ha, sorry); if the eye improves in a day or two, it was likely just bumped or otherwise irritated. If not, consider quarantining the fish and treating with antibiotics. You may also consider consulting a vet that is knowledgeable with fish, if neither fish improves.
Best of luck!
Hi there, I really need some advice if you would be so kind!!!?
I have a golden orfe (about 40cms long) which I bought from a house clearance – and for the last 2 years, he’s been living in our pond with 3 koi and a very large shubunkin. The water quality is excellent, and we have a waterfall feature, filter, extra oxygen pumps and although it’s not big (around 700 gallons or 3200Litres).
In the last month, I’ve noticed the orfe has taken to lying on a favourite rock, which means his fins rest outside of the water. We’ve been getting freezing weather lately, and while we also have a pond heater for surface ice, I’ve been worried about his scales being exposed to the air!
He swims around fine in the day, and feeds, forages around the pond, but it tends to be at night and early morning where he’ll just ‘rest’. (He gets on with the other fish fine.) I’ve added some koi spawning brushes around the pond and he’s started wedging himself underneath these – but perhaps just his tail will stick out of the water.
There is a deep end, and a shallow end to the pond. Where the koi all seem to ‘sleep’ in the deep end – the orfe prefers the shallows and his new favourite rock! In fact, he’d be ok if he just slept on the floor – but by sleeping on this flat rock, it raises him higher and out of the pond.
I don’t know if this is normal for a golden orfe – or perhaps this is a particular character trait? I test the water regularly, he has plenty of oxygen and he looks very healthy. I just don’t know what to do… We have a cheeky heron that visits our goldfish pond sometimes and so I’m worried he’ll get fished!
I’m struggling to find any decent advice – can you please help?? 🙂 I’m hoping it’s just the winter weather.
My advice where the heron is concerned is get some pond netting to protect your fish we have an heron issue where we live we have lost 4 orfe to those pesky birds but since we have placed pond netting across our pond they tend to stay well clear and go fishing elsewhere
I placed 2 fake pink flamingo, one on each side of pond and the blue heron do not visit anymore.
I had 3 golden orfe and regretfully they have died. Can’t find a source to replace them. Do you know where I would be able to purchase?
We have a golden orfe in our pond that be bought when we first moved to Leeds in 1988…. Almost 33 years old.
Although recently has become very inactive with regards to swimming, no doubt due to old age.
Ah so what does he do? Just lie along the pond bottom or on rocks? I’ve noticed that ours is becoming more inactive each day…. He’s still feeding and swimming around with the others ok so he’s not struggling to swim. He just seems….tired? Maybe ours is old too then?
Hi Emma. That sounds like the beginning of a swim bladder issue to me.
Apologies if you already know about swim bladder problems in fish. Many fish with swim bladder problems can continue for years with a decent quality of life, so don’t panic.
A swim bladder is like an air pocket. Think of it like a balloon for bouyancy.
Healthy fish can inflate and deflate as they move through different water depths.
Some fish with swim bladder problems will struggle to inflate their SB, so they find it easier to remain at the bottom. They probably can get to the surface but it’s a lot more difficult than for healthy fish.
Conversely, some fish struggle to deflate their SB so they find it difficult to reach the bottom and stay at the surface of the pond.
It might not be that but that’s what I thought.
All the best.
Am going to add some 3inch koi to my pond I have 2 orfe about 12 inch do you think the orfe will eat them
Apologies for the delayed reply! 3 inches is likely too large for 12 inch orfe to really want to eat. They may try if they’re really hungry, but otherwise your new koi should be alright. You can also keep the koi in a separate tank for a month or so, as they can grow up to an inch per month when young, so that they’re a bit larger before being introduced to your pond if you’re really concerned with the orfe eating them.
Our Golden Orfe are 32 years old, still very active, we had 3 surviving babies pop up one day from the pond weed. They are now nearly 20. We got them when they were tiny for my youngest son as he wanted to make a pond. Well he did, its was huge, very deep with all the graduated ledges. They went in and they thrive as do the many goldfish given us by people who either had them from the fair or who downsized and couldn’t take their tank. All are thriving, the goldfish are huge, the latest additions hide away from the big fish. We have tons of frog and toad spawn every spring, some we leave in and some we segregate until they are tiny tadpoles. We don’t feed the fish all winter as the water drops below 10 as we are in Northern England. The tadpoles and spawn must keep them going. As well as the many natural additions the pond has over the years. Is this the right thing to do? It seems to be working. Do you know how old the oldest Orfe as ever been or have we got record breakers. Also we have a lot of slugs which end up in the pond from the banks, are they OK for Orfe to eat. Never had so many as now, tiny babies everywhere at night.
Great Article. Very very helpful, I learned from it even though I’ve had fish for 32 years plus. My son who dug out our pond was murdered when he was 22. I hope he can see his beautiful creation from Heaven.
I had an Orfe about 18 inches long and my wife thought it was lonely amongst the Koi so we bought three baby Orfes from a specialist shop.I soon noticed that two of the babies were unwell and swimming at all angles like they were drunk.The bodies looked normal.The two babies died and then the big one developed the same symptoms and died.
The remaining baby then stayed permanently in a pot at the bottom of the pond,Next season it left the pot and started to feed but then died.
None of my Koi got sick.I wonder what the disease was?
One of my smallest golden orfe hurt itself after trying to jump for a fly, it seems a little better now and is mixing again but not all the time occasional resting behind plants, it has a wonky tail, and not as quick as the others, will it always have wonky tail or will this get better, there are blue and golden orfes and shubunkins and one koi in the pond.
Hello One of my Orfes in the summer just swims around and around and around – its only stops to rest for a while -last winter caught it more than once hiding just on its side. – come spring/summer again back to non-stop swimming. However this week its taken to its side again more often than before. It is 16 years old and shares the pond with gold fish, Koi, Mirror carp, and other Orfes which are fine. Worried something is now wrong with this one any suggestion how we can help it? Thanks
Wondering if anyone can help, my Orfe laid eggs on Monday evening/Tuesday morning. It’s now Thursday and I have noticed that the eggs all have a white fuzz around them. Is this normal?
Hi all i have a 14′ 6″ x 5′ 5″ x 3′ pond with blue orfes and golden orfes with different types of Koi up until yesterday i had 2 very healthy sturgeon 1 at 3′ 5″ and the other one was 1′ 5″ i have two airation units both total 10 channels and have a waterfall feature and two 10,000 L/PH pumps and 6 extra large filtration boxes the water is crystal clear and was wondering why my sturgeon had died the pond has plenty of shade and the temp of the water is anywhere between 30 degrees and 56 degrees they fed well twice a day as one was an adult and the other was a juvenile.
I’ve been offered a 12” Orf, will he be happy on his own with similar size koi and goldfish??