Butterfly Koi Fish

What is meant by butterfly koi fish? Butterfly koi and standard, traditional koi share some similarities and some differences. In this post, you’ll learn how to distinguish one from the other. The opinions vary on which koi is the most desirable one to have. 

The “Connoisseurs” Thoughts On Butterfly Koi

In certain circles, if you even mention butterfly koi people look at you like you just answered a phone call while in a meeting with your boss. You just don’t do it. Many koi “connoisseurs” don’t even see butterfly koi as koi, but refer to them with the derogatory term ”mutts”.

They don’t accept them as koi because in the traditional Japanese sense they don’t fall into what they define as koi because of extra traits that they have. Truth be told, the Japanese are very traditional and when a new color of koi comes along they view it as an abomination.

Butterfly koi are definitely different from the purist’s vision of what a koi should be. “Who cares if koi is in their name I still don’t accept them as koi. They break the mold too much for me”. I think they are still a very attractive koi. And I still call them koi because they are koi in all the ways that matter to me.

Traits That Make Butterfly koi Different From Standard Koi

Butterfly koi have these long, flowing fins that never stop growing. The fins of a regular koi stop growing once they reach a certain length, but this isn’t so with the butterfly koi. They will keep growing until the blood vessels can’t sustain them growing any longer.  A genetic aberration is a culprit behind this continual growth.

In fish, there is coding in the genes that tells the fins to stop once it achieves a certain length. For butterfly koi, this message to “stop growing” never goes through. This results in the high fin mutation continuing to grow and grow. 

One problem with this longfin growth is that the butterfly koi fish generally get handled in the same way as their regular cousins. This means that broken fins are a regular sight for their owners. It isn’t odd to see full-grown adult koi with bends in their fins as a result.

Their “Whiskers”

Butterfly Koi Fish Barbels

Another trait that is different is the butterfly koi whiskers, or barbels, length. Their genetics allows the whiskers to grow longer than their regular, show-worthy koi cousins. The combination of longer fins and whiskers results in an impressive looking fish that resembles a dragon swimming through your pond more than a fish. These long barbels sometimes grow long and form different shapes too.

Lastly, koi can get pretty large around the midsection. Females especially get large. They can also grow to be huge. Jumbo-size koi can reach 34 to 36 inches in length.  Butterfly koi usually can’t reach the same size as standard koi, but can reach lengths of around 24 inches regularly. Butterfly koi are a very graceful presence in your backyard pond. Whether they are more graceful than standard koi is debatable.

The pattern, which is another factor used to determine a koi fish’s value, is the coloring pattern and where the coloring features occur on the koi fish. There are over 100 different types of koi and their names often translate from the Japanese words that describe their colors and features.


Koi, if taken care of really well, generally live 20 or 30 years. Some magnificent koi live over 100 years. You may have already read in one of my other posts, but one koi was 226 years young at her time of passing.

 Hanako was her name and she died on July 7, 1977. That means she was born in 1751. To put that in perspective, The American Revolution didn’t start until 1765. For some fun trivia, I present to you:

Things that happened back in 1751


These are events that happened when infamous Hanako was born according to onthisday.com…


  • Feb 16 Thomas Gray’s poem “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” is published for the first time
  • Feb 25 1st performing monkey exhibited in America, NYC. Admission was 1 cent
  • Apr 5 Adolf Frederik of Holstein-Gottorp crowns himself king of Sweden, the Holstein-Gottorp dynasty ended in 1818
  • May 1 The New York Gazette carries the first public report of a cricket match played in New York
  • May 11 Pennsylvania Hospital is founded by Dr. Thomas Bond and a certain Benjamin Franklin
  • Jul 29 1st ever international world title prizefight: Jack Stack of England, beats challenger Jean Petit of France in 29 mins in England
  • Jul 31 Fire in Stockholm results in 1,000 houses destroyed
  • Aug 24 Thomas Colley executed in England for drowning a supposed witch
  • Aug 30 Composer George Frideric Handel completes oratorio “Jephtha”
  • Aug 31 British troops under Sir Robert Clive occupy Arcot, India
  • Sep 12 Amsterdam refuses the establishment of a Jewish ghetto
  • Sep 13 Great Britain signs the Austrian & Russian alliance
  • Oct 20 Royal ship Duc de Bourgogne is launched at Rochefort
  • Dec 14 The Theresian Military Academy, the first military academy in the world, is established in Austria
  • Dec 23 France sets plan to tax clergymen

The year she died….


  • Jan 1 Jacqueline Means is the 1st woman formally ordained an Episcopal priest 
  • Jan 1 63rd Rose Bowl: #3 Southern California defeats #2 Michigan, 14-6(I’m a football fan ok, and not the soccer type)
  • Jan 1 43rd Sugar Bowl: #1 Pittsburgh defeats #4 Georgia, 27-3; Tony Dorsett runs for a record 202 yards(again with the football)
  • Jan 1 43rd Orange Bowl: #11 Ohio State wins against #12 Colorado, 27-10(again lol)
  • Jan 2 Bowie Kuhn, the MLB Commissioner, suspends Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner for one year because of tampering charges in Gary Matthews’s free-agency signing.
  • Jan 3 For you nerds, The two Steves, Wozniak and Jobs, incorporate Apple Computer Inc.
  • Jan 6 And the last event I’ll mention, The Sex Pistols break up.

When Hanako was born people attended performing monkey exhibits for 1 cent as their entertainment. When she died, the first home computer systems were about to start entering schools and cause mass deaths from Dysentery on The Oregon Trail as entertainment.

O if Hanako just knew all the crazy things that happened between 1751 and 1977, but alas, she’s just a fish frolicking in her pond not knowing the terrors going on outside her watery koi fish existence. Such a sheltered life.

I think I adequately explained that koi can live a long time, wouldn’t you say. 

Butterfly koi live about the same as traditional koi-25 to 30 years in ideal conditions. Hanako was a traditional koi too though. So maybe your next koi will get to see your great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandchildren too. Who knows? Get a koi and find out.

So. To Recap

Butterfly koi got their name from a breeder at Blue Ridge Hatchery’s son making the remark that these excellent koi “look like butterflies”. The name stuck. They get the name from the long fins that net out infeed looking a little like butterflies. Standard traditional koi don’t have these long, flowing, and graceful looking fins. One thing that definitely distinguishes the two.types of koi.

The whiskers, or barbels, on butterfly koi fish, are also genetically mutated to grow longer than on regular koi. 

Hanako was born in the days before U.S. Presidents even existed and died in the days of Gerald Ford. How does that happen? Seriously, someone tell me.

What do you think they did to that fish to give her extra-long life?

Leave me a comment with your creative response. If you have any questions about the difference between butterfly koi and traditional koi I would like to hear those questions too. I think she was bitten by a vampire fish. Prove me wrong.

4 thoughts on “Butterfly Koi Fish”

  1. Hello Randall,

    You are really awesome for the content you have written here. It is solo comprehensive and it had really helped me to distinguish the two species.

    I have been finding hard times to differentiate between Butterfly Koi from the other, but this post has cleared out my doubts.

    This really happened to me when I mentioned Butterfly Koi and people looked at me as if I have answered a call in a meeting!!!

    Best article!

    • I’m glad you found my article awesome. Did that really happen to you about people looking at you like you’re nuts for mentioning butterfly koi? I don’t understand why some of the more sophisticated koi-crowd think so little of the butterfly koi fish. I actually like them more for their appearance. Thanks for your reply

  2. The butterfly koi fish is one of my favourite fish types…although i don’t have any of them yet as i have a fish with some species of koi fish, i want to get a separate pond for this particular type…thanks a lot this article has remembered me about my plans…

    • Hey David.

      I’m glad to see you getting back on track on the project. Butterfly koi sure are an attractive fish. You might not have to get yourself a different pond depending on what other fish are in your current pond. Koi blend well with large goldfish, not the fancy type though. Shubunkin are a good choice as long as they are large. Catfish can do well. Tenches and Golden Orfe are also good choices. Good luck


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