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The British lionhead is closer to the flat-backed Chinese lionhead than to
the ranchu, which has a dorsal contour that curves sharply down to
the caudal peduncle. The hood is the dominant feature and the fish should have
a nice clean back. This is a popular fish amongst BAS members.
There is a long-finned version of the lionhead known as the shukin in Japan.
The lionhead standard is as follows:
- Depth of body to be greater than 1/2 of body length
- Hood to be well developed
- Dorsal fin to be absent
- All other fins to be paired, caudal fin to be divided
- Caudal fin to be forked
- Extremities of fins to have a rounded appearance
- Minimum length of body to be 5.5 cm (2¼ inches)
The fish should be bright, alert and well balanced. The body should not be
elongated, with smooth contours and no sign of a dorsal fin. The caudal fin
should be well divided. The hood should be well developed in all three areas,
i.e. cranial, infra-orbital and opercular.
The colour may be metallic (self-coloured or variegated in a pleasing pattern
and similar on each side) or calico. Metallic colours should appear as burnished
metal, extending into the fins. Calico fish should have a blue background with
patches of violet, red, orange, yellow and brown, spotted with black.
Ideal profiles are illustrated below:
Mature adults, side view
Two self-coloured red metallic lionheads. The fish on the left could ideally
have a larger hood; that apart, both are very fine specimens. Notice the caudal
fin (tail), which is like that of the fantail, and the relatively flat dorsal
contours with no trace of a dorsal fin. The fish on the right was caught on-the-turn
by the camera.
Mature adults, frontal view
Self-coloured red metallic lionheads. Both fish have good hood growth, which
can sometimes give the fish an almost 'toy' facial appearance, as in the fish
on the left.
Mature adults, top view
The fish at top-right is a variegated red-and-white metallic fish and has slight
ranchu characters (see Other Varieties). In self-coloured red fish, it is common
to find greater colour intensity in the hood than in the rest of the body; the
fish on the left is unusual in having equal overall colour intensity.
Mature adult, calico colouration
A fine fish with a nice colour balance, shown at BAS 2001.
Some lionhead strains have been in the hands of individual breeders for 50
years, and these were passed on from uncles, grandfathers and other family members.
The starting quality of the stock was therefore very good. Strains kept are
mostly pure red, and some have a small amount of white in them. Breeding stocks
of up to 40 adult fish are kept, with about 150 babies being prepared for the
Outcrossing has featured fairly frequently, mostly in the form of swaps between
members; one breeder some time age incorporated a black lionhead into his red
stock which - perhaps unexpectedly - had a beneficial effect on overall colour.
No particular breeding scheme is followed; rather, the best adult fish are selected
for breeding. Sometimes a strain does not spawn in a particular year, the reason
for this remaining unknown.
It is not easy to improve lionheads. In good strains, out of 1,000 fry about
50 will be worth keeping; of these, about 5 will be up to show standard, which
is a ratio of 200:1; this return is compatible with ratios for other types such
as Bristol shubunkins and fantails. The most difficult characters to maintain
are the divided tail and the clean, smooth back with no dorsal fin. Good strains
seem to remain in a steady state, suggesting that outcrossing may be the only
way to improve stock for certain characters.
The fish start the spawning process in ponds, whereupon breeders bring them
into clean tanks in their fish houses and hand-strip chosen pairs to control
matches. Standard foods are fed to adults and fry. The most popular flakes are
Aquarian and King British. Daphnia are fed when available.
The first, major cull is for single tails, spiky dorsal contours, pinks and
bronzes; thereafter culling is progressive over the ensuing year.
young fish are brought on in ponds (like the one illustrated on the right) and
are hardy enough to overwinter outdoors. There is always some natural wastage
over the winter, and some owners lose a few females to over-amorous male frogs
in early spring. Fish are brought into fish houses only if a very cold spell
is forecast, and in some cases are routinely brought inside in January/February
to escape the frogs.
Few water problems are encountered in the area these days. Tap water is allowed
to stand and then used for both tanks and ponds without trouble.
As breeders do not generally buy fish from pet shops, few diseases are introduced.
Gill flukes can be troublesome, but early culling to reduce stock density and
regular water changes keep the problem down.
Lionheads are hardy fish in southwest Britain (Bristol, Gloucestershire and
Somerset) with its mild winters, and live for 7-8 years on average.
© Bristol Aquarists' Society