Pond & Lake Orfe Facts Guide 2021 (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!