Best Fish to Keep With Goldfish in Ponds (Goldfish Pond Mates)

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Guide to the Best Fish to Keep With Goldfish (Best Goldfish Pond Mates)

Goldfish in an outdoor pond
Goldfish are an ideal choice if you have a small pond, as they reach a length of 4 – 12 inches when kept in captivity. Lawrencekhoo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A thriving goldfish community in an ecologically balanced pond is perhaps a dream come true for every pond enthusiast. The sheer variety of goldfish breeds is often enough to keep one occupied, yet the opportunity to grow these peaceful swimmers alongside other fish is certainly compelling.

On the size spectrum of popularly grown pond fish, goldfish are typically small. On average, these fish reach a length of just 4 – 12 inches (10 cm) when grown in captivity. In contrast, many other species, such as koi and catfish, grow to be much larger and take up more space and resources. This makes goldfish an ideal choice for you if you have a relatively small pond and wish to invest in smaller fish.

Due to their friendly disposition, goldfish can be reared alongside a wide variety of species without danger of aggression from their end. Unfortunately, larger carnivorous fish may be dangerous, particularly in crowded situations. Conversely, smaller fin-nipping fish (e.g., certain barbs and tetras) may also be detrimental.

When selecting species to keep with your goldfish community, it is important to take note of their general requirements. Goldfish need well-maintained oxygenation and adequate pond water filtration. They thrive best in water temperatures ranging from 65˚F (18˚C) to 70˚F (21˚C) and are thus incompatible with tropical fish. As they require fish food that is specifically made to suit their nutrient demands, it is likewise advisable to select species that can benefit from the same feed composition.

Why Keep Other Fish Species With Goldfish? (Pond Mate Benefits)

Goldfish in a pond with carp, koi, and a turtle
Keeping other non-aggressive fish with goldfish can provide many benefits, including the provision of ecosystem services for your pond. Lawrencekhoo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When surrounded by non-aggressive fish and provided with proper conditions, your goldfish community can live for more than a decade! An appropriate selection of species will not only be aesthetically pleasing, but may provide your pond with a host of ecosystem services as well. If you’re looking into finding new friends for your quirky goldies, here are some great options to consider.

List of the Best Goldfish Pond Mates

1) Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus)

Koi swimming in a pond
Koi are the most obvious choice as goldfish pond mates; they can co-exist happily and sometimes even breed with one another! Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to East Asia

As members of the carp family, ornamental koi are tranquil fish that will thrive in pond conditions suited to goldfish. They are the most obvious choice as goldfish pond mates, and may occasionally even school with their cousins. As species that can easily grow 5 – 10 times the length of goldfish, however, they will require a larger pond area and a depth of at least 3 – 4 feet. The size difference between koi and goldfish must also be balanced, as much larger individuals may occasionally be responsible for the disappearance of small goldfish.

So long as a pond is not overcrowded, instances of aggression from koi toward goldfish can effortlessly be prevented. You may also opt to select for larger goldfish varieties and smaller koi varieties so that the size difference between the two species is not too drastic. In case you do have jumbo koi varieties, you must provide your goldfish with hiding places. This may come in the form of macrophytes, such as water lilies, or ornamental structures, such as driftwood and plants along your pond’s margins.

In terms of pond requirements, koi and goldfish are very compatible. They can co-exist happily and will, at times, even breed with one another to produce sterile offspring! These hybrids are characterized by their small barbels and features with intermediate lengths (in between that of koi and goldfish). Occasionally, either species may consume the eggs and larvae of the other, but this is a normal occurrence in ponds and is oftentimes an effective means of population control.

2) Rosy red minnow (Pimephales promelas)

Adult male rosy red minnow
The rosy red minnow is an extremely hardy fish and can withstand low oxygen and high nutrient concentrations. Rankin1958, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North and Central America

The rosy red minnow, also known as the fathead minnow, is an extremely hardy freshwater fish. It can thrive in a variety of conditions and is typically found in ponds, streams, and lakes in the wild. This low-maintenance fish can withstand even low oxygen and high nutrient concentrations, and will undoubtedly find goldfish ponds luxurious in terms of their water clarity and aeration. Though their meager requirements leave a lot of room for error, try to treat them as you would your sensitive species as they, too, will live longer under optimal conditions.

Though they are referred to as “red”, these fish are actually more pinkish, peach, or orange in color. Their subtly varying hues make them an attractive addition to a small pond, and somewhat complementary in appearance to goldfish. Characterized by slender torpedo-shaped bodies, rosy minnows grow to around 2 – 3 inches (5 – 8 cm). Relatively small compared to most pond-reared species, they won’t at all be demanding in terms of resources and will be perfectly happy on a diet of a few goldfish flakes a day. They will also benefit from protein-rich treats such as frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms.

As minnows are quite social and like to school, it would be best to keep them in groups of at least 5 or 6 fish. To ensure that they are afforded protection from predation, provide them with structures for shelter. Plants, rocks, and driftwood along your pond margins and bottom will suffice. Interestingly, this species is capable of emitting an alarm substance, called “Schreckstoff”, to signal danger. This substance is released when the epidermis, or outermost skin layer, is damaged.

3) Orfe (Leuciscus idus)

Orfe fish underwater
Orfe fish can grow up to 2 feet long and live for up to 20 years. Piet Spaans, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to northern Europe and Asia

Unlike goldfish, orfes truly gravitate towards the water’s surface. These active fish will dart to and fro within the first few inches of the water column, and occasionally even break the surface by jumping. They are a fantastic addition to a goldfish pond, as they are non-aggressive and tend to travel in shoals. Note that they may require a larger open area for swimming, as they are known for whizzing across considerable distances.

The golden orfe is the most commonly available variety of this species, as it is the most appealing to customers in terms of color. A silver variety may also be available in fish shops and should likewise be an attractive species to rear alongside goldfish. Keep in mind that orfes are generally bigger than goldfish, and may thus be more demanding in terms of space and resources. Given ample space, they can grow to 2 feet long, reach a maximum weight of 4 kg, and live for up to 20 years!

In terms of temperature and water preferences, orfe are compatible with goldfish. They thrive best in cold water temperatures ranging from 13 – 25˚C (50 – 77˚F) and will require consistent aeration. In the wild, this species prefers to eat insect larvae, fish fry, and protein-rich snails. Their diet is best complemented with mealworms and meat-based pellets in ponds. Given optimal conditions, orfe will regularly show hyperactive behavior, and may even be adventurous enough to try to escape from your pond!

4) Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus cirrhosus)

Female bristlenose pleco in a fish tank
The bristlenose pleco, one of the smallest armored catfish species, is great at vacuuming up algae. Beckie / CC BY-SA

Native to the Amazon river basins

A catfish with an exceptionally bushy nose? Say no more. The bristlenose pleco is a fascinating species with a penchant for vacuuming up algae. This mustachioed janitor fish is quite peaceful and will gravitate towards your pond’s substrates. Fine gravel, sufficient water flow, and a strong filtration system will keep this pleco happy in your outdoor pond. It is generally more resistant to the cold than other plecos as it can withstand even a chilly 10˚C. Yet, it is more sensitive to cold temperatures than goldfish, and may require a pond heater to survive through winter.

In the wild, bristlenose plecos can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) and live up to 12 years. In the pond hobby industry, this fish is known for being one of the smallest armored catfish species as it seldom exceeds a length of 5 inches (12.7 cm) in ornamental set-ups. Characterized by appendages that arise from their snouts, this alien-looking fish ranges in color from black to olive. They typically have lighter colored dots that speckle the length of their backs, giving them a distinctly starry appearance!

Some pond hobbyists may shy away from rearing plecos alongside goldfish in ponds. When deprived of food, plecos can latch onto a goldfish’s slime coat in an attempt to gather whatever nutrients they can. You need not be concerned by this, however, as this behavior is fully preventable. Simply provide your bristlenose plecos with food that will sink to the pond bottom. If concerned about your goldfish gobbling up all the food, distract them with flakes on the opposite side of your pond. Drop sinking wafers, brine shrimp, and other protein-rich options for your plecos while the rest of the fish are occupied.

5) Weather loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)

Weather loach at the bottom of a fish tank
The weather loach is a fascinating bottom-dwelling fish that prefers cold water, making it a perfect choice for an outdoor pond. Manoel Jr., CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to East Asia

A fascinating bottom-dwelling fish that almost looks like an eel, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus is commonly known as weather loach, dojo loach, or pond loach. It is a durable species that prefers cold water, making it perfect for rearing in outdoor ponds. This modest loach has the unique ability to predict a storm. When it detects changes in barometric pressure, it becomes more active than usual by swimming frantically across the pond bottom and by occasionally standing erect!

This slender fish comes in several color varieties, though it is typically light yellow or olive green. If you’re lucky, you may find albino or peach-colored individuals that would be easier to spot against your pond bottom. Around their mouths, loaches have sets of barbels that serve as rakes for sifting through gravel. This adaptation allows them to actively search for food trapped in sediment. Amusingly, this fish is known for having fits of nervousness, during which they conceal themselves in sand as an attempt to hide.

Active yet peaceful, weather loaches are quite compatible with goldfish. They behave best when raised in groups, and they restrict themselves to scavenging for organic material. They can quickly become acclimatized to goldfish food as well. Generally, they are low-maintenance additions to a pond and can even tolerate poor water conditions. On average, they reach a length of 12 inches long and live for up to 10 years with just a little bit of love and care.


6) Longfin rosy barb (Pethia conchonius)

Rosy barbs swimming together underwater
Rosy barbs are known for their pink shimmery hue and are peaceful enough to be goldfish pond mates. Kkonstan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh

Though barbs are generally not recommended as pond mates for goldfish, a few species are peaceful enough to serve as friendly companions. The longfin rosy barb is less likely to nip the fins of goldfish, especially when provided with schooling companions. House more than a handful of this species in your pond. This way, they remain preoccupied with one another and will seldom venture out of their groups to bother the rest of your pond fish.

Rosy barbs are an undeniably attractive addition to a goldfish pond because of their shimmery pink hues. They are relatively small in size as outdoor pond fish, as they grow to just 6 inches long, but are quite eye-catching as they explore the pond in shoals. The longfin varieties are particularly beautiful, with their fins adding elements of grace and style. To maintain the color of these fish, feed them with carotenoid-rich foods and complement these with premium fish flakes.

To keep your rosy barbs comfortable, provide them with a set-up that imitates their natural habitat. They will thrive when surrounded by aquatic plants, ample swimming space, and a mild current. As this species is adapted to subtropical conditions in the wild, it will be more sensitive to cold temperatures compared to goldfish. They can, however, tolerate a lower limit of 16˚C (60˚F) so long as they are acclimatized properly. Do keep in mind that you may have to transfer these fish to an indoor set-up during the winter if you would like them to reach a lifespan of 5 years.

7) White Cloud Mountain minnow (Tanichthys albonubes)

Group of White Cloud Mountain minnows swimming together
White Cloud Mountain minnows look similar to neon tetras, but are hardier and cheaper. Nicklas Iversen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to China

With a beautiful common name that evokes serenity and all-things zen, White Cloud Mountain minnows are small yet tough additions to an outdoor pond. Also referred to as the Chinese danio, this species was once thought to be extinct in the wild. This delicate fish is now considered an endangered species, so all individuals sold through fish shops are captively bred. Some aquarium hobbyists may warn against rearing minnows with goldfish as they can often end up as goldfish chow. If provided with ample space and refuge in an outdoor pond, however, they are able to keep to themselves and effectively hide.

As shoaling fish, these minnows will appreciate being kept in schools of five or more individuals. When part of a social group, they are less stressed and less likely to nip the fins of other species. As small fish that grow to just 1.5 inches (4 cm), they feel safety in numbers. Moreover, they are undoubtedly more eye-catching as they navigate through the pond in shimmering schools.

White Cloud Mountain minnows are similar in appearance to neon tetras, but are hardier and generally cheaper than the latter. Like goldfish, these minnows grow best in cold temperatures between 14 – 22˚C (57 – 72˚F). Exposure to warmer temperatures can reduce their lifespan, which is 5 years on average. To ensure that your mountain minnows are comfortable, maintain an assortment of aquatic plants along your pond’s margins. If they feel safe enough, you may one day find several new juveniles playing hide and seek around your pond!

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