Known for their large size, vibrant colors, hefty price tag, and docile temperament, koi fish are unique in interacting with humans, showing a friendlier side of fish, seldom seen in other species. So why do koi fish fight each other?
Koi fish rarely fight each other; instead, their behavior is often mistaken for aggression when it is an expression of competitiveness during the spawning season. However, aggression can surface in koi that are stressed or uncomfortable.
Although it can be harrowing to see one’s friendly koi fish be aggressive with one another, rest assured this is most likely a sign of spawning season or other discomforts that can be easily rectified. Let’s explore them now!
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Why Do Koi Fish Fight Each Other?
Signs that koi fish may be fighting one another are if you see koi fish chasing each other, attempting to bite each other, you notice smaller koi dying or disappearing, and you see damage to your koi, such as cuts or scale damage.
While the above may be signs of other issues (which will be discussed below), given the cost of koi, their sensitive nature, and your duty to care for them, these signs need to be taken at face value as koi are fighting.
Let’s see below why your koi may be fighting and whether this is a cause for concern or action or just behavior that needs to be monitored in the long term.
Koi Fish Have Different Temperaments
While koi are generally docile, friendly creatures to both humans and other koi, their natural temperament is dependent on each koi in question. Not unlike other pets such as dogs or cats.
As a result of domestication through centuries of breeding, koi fish have been identified as having a myriad of different personalities, primarily due to their comparatively high intelligence compared to other fish.
Some critical factors to consider are the size of the koi, the age of the koi, whether the koi is friendlier with humans or other koi, whether the koi prefers to be solitary, paired, or grouped with other koi, and the breed of the koi.
The last factor may surprise you, as koi are often homogenized as a single species. Still, with over 100 breeds of koi, there are bound to be certain personality traits that carry over depending on the different breeds grouped within a pond.
Although it can be challenging to determine which koi fish in your pond are aggressive and which are not, it may be worth observing them over some time or your interaction with them to see if you can spot an aggressive koi.
Signs of aggressive koi usually mimic “bullying,” whereby a larger koi may chase smaller koi or try pushing other koi away during feeding time.
In this case, it may be worth separating specific koi from others and recording the results of increased or decreased damage to the koi and bullying behavior to determine if the problematic culprit was separated (see point one below).
Koi Chase Each Other During Spawning
The most common reason that koi may chase each other, which to a third party observer will look like they are fighting, is because it is the spawning season in your koi pond.
The spawning season typically occurs around spring, where the pond water has warmed up to a specific temperature which produces the results needed to bring about a hormonal change in female koi, which triggers the natures of male koi.
Koi fish are river fish, meaning that, unlike other fish which lay their eggs in a nest, koi females opt to scatter their eggs across a river while being pursued by males (in an enclosed pond space, this can get pretty chaotic!)
The purpose of male koi chasing female koi is to help them release their eggs, which she cannot do without the assistance of force to expel them from her body physically.
This means that the female koi may be exposed to mild abrasions and bites on their face or body as they are physically pursued and pushed by the males into obstacles around the pond.
While this may appear traumatic for female fish, it is a natural process whereby the damage sustained by the females (and some males) will heal within a few days of the end of the spawning season.
However, while rare, there may be instances where female koi are harassed to such a degree that they will become exhausted or sustain injuries that could prove very unpleasant and even critical. These include:
- Having too many male koi to female koi in a pond (an ideal ratio should be 2:1 female to male koi)
- If the water quality is poor, injuries will take longer to heal (this is particularly important as the spawning season usually reduces the water quality significantly).
Another consideration regarding the female to male ratio is the level of competition that may arise between males. While it is normal for males to compete and damage each other during competition, this needs to be monitored.
Namely, should the male to female ratio be skewered toward male koi, this will increase the competition between them and the need to show aggression toward each other.
This aggression can translate into fighting, mainly if smaller koi are bullied by larger, more aggressive koi.
Consequently, while the purpose of the spawning season is not to promote fighting between koi, it is possible that it can occur, and unintended harm can arise should the ratio of koi not be carefully monitored.
Koi Fish Get Bored And Stressed
Koi are difficult to fish to care for, as their physiology and psychology underpin intelligent, gentle creatures that need closely monitored environments to live and prosper.
Failure to properly care for koi can result in them becoming stressed and bored, which can manifest into aggression and fighting. Let’s find out some things that may upset koi, which would trigger aggressive behavior.
Koi are omnivorous, opportunistic fish that will take any opportunity given to them to ensure they can sustain themselves.
In the worst-case scenario, this may include consuming other smaller fish and other smaller koi. However, it typically results in koi becoming aggressive with each other due to heightened competition or stress.
Consequently, regular feeding times, the correct diet, and the opportunity for natural organic feeding are all needed to reduce the risk of stress and aggression emerging in koi fish due to inadequate food (see below for further details).
Koi fish can grow to be large, long-lived fish that, while originally river fish, have adapted to ponds through domestication. That being said, their ponds have to accurately mirror the natural environment, as not doing so can lead to stress and aggression.
The primary factors to consider are:
- Sufficient light,
- Sufficient warmth,
- Sufficient space,
- Sufficient oxygen levels,
- Good water quality,
- Sufficient stimulus (plants, rocks, algae, etc.)
It is essential to consider that environments are never static, meaning that as an owner, your duty of care extends to the different koi in a pond, how these koi grow and multiply, and the changing seasons and activities that can affect their environment.
Like other fish, koi fish have numerous predators in the wild that can cause them distress.
Common predators that may be frequenting your koi pond and causing your koi distress are cats, foxes, minks, weasels, and birds a variety of birds such as herons.
It is possible that while koi do have good relationships with people, excessive contact or unwanted actions by people such as loud noises, excessive pond cleaning, or unwanted touching may be causing them discomfort.
Illness and injury
Like most animals, illness and injury can severely hamper the enjoyment of koi fish and result in stress and anxiety that may manifest in aggression.
This is particularly true if the injuries sustained result from other koi fish harming the injured fish, which may result in continued fighting until the wound has healed or the conflict is resolved.
- Koi fish Cannot Live With Some Fish Species.
Although koi live happily among other koi, provided the pond isn’t crowded, they have tumultuous relationships with other fish.
While there is no rule as to which fish koi may or may not be comfortable sharing a pond, they typically don’t like being with fish that do not share their characteristics. Namely:
- Koi do not like being with fish that are aggressive or overly competitive,
- Koi like to be paired or seen in small groups. Consequently, schools of fish around them may make them feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic,
- Koi should not be paired with smaller fish, which could be mistaken for prey,
- Koi should not be paired with fish that would significantly alter their environment to their detriment (fish that eat excessive amounts of algae or fish that thrive in very different temperatures to koi).
Consequently, any fish inclusions to a pond should correlate to the environment that koi enjoy not to cause them distress or heighten their aggression by putting them with fish that may irritate them.
How To Stop Koi Fish Fighting?
Now that we know why koi fish fight or may find themselves whereby they accidentally cause harm to each other, let’s look at some methods to mitigate aggression in koi fish:
- Separate Different Koi And Fish
As outlined above, it may be necessary to separate koi fish from each other or other fish if:
- There are too many male koi fish competing for the attention of a female koi, which may be causing her unnecessary harm and resulting in conflict between male koi,
- Smaller koi are separated from larger koi that may harm them (this is particularly important for newborn koi, as they are not protected by their parents as seen with some animals),
- Different species of fish which may be causing harm or discomfort to koi should be separated.
While separating fish and koi should be the permanent removal of problematic fish and koi to another pond, this may not be feasible.
In this event, temporary removal or the sanctioning off of different pond areas (such as the use of fish shelters) may be the best alternative.
- Maintain Pond Quality And Monitor Activity
Consistent monitoring of koi behavior and their environment is essential to ensuring koi fish remain happy and stress-free not to trigger aggressive behavior.
Koi fish can grow to be huge, meaning that it is essential to have ample food distributed among the koi according to their sizes and which is served to them at consistent time intervals.
The food in question must be pellets that pack a complex combination of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, it is vital to speak to professionals when buying fish food for your koi.
As a result of koi activity (such as the spawning season), the changes to the weather, and other external factors. Koi fish ponds must be positioned in such a way as to receive ample sunlight and space while not being overexposed.
Consequently, the recycling of water, the regular cleaning of filters, and efficient cleaning all need to be implemented to ensure the water temperature, oxygen levels, PH levels, and water quality remain consistent.
Finally, koi ponds should be equipped with enough fauna and flora to provide stimulus while not infringing on their need for wide-open spaces.
Ensuring the koi pond is secure enough not to be exposed to predators is essential. Precautions can include covering and fencing to deter predators that may harass the koi.
It is also crucial to make sure that you, your friends, and your family do not excessively disturb the koi fish; this can mimic predatory behavior that koi fish may find distressing.
Illness and injuries
Finally, koi must be monitored closely to ensure they have not sustained injury or illness.
Should you suspect injury or illness in your koi fish, you must ensure their water is of high quality to facilitate recovery, any apparent threats are removed, and veterinary advice sought if needed.
Although koi are usually clam, docile, friendly animals, they can sometimes be prone to aggression in the wrong environment.
In conclusion, koi owners must learn to distinguish chasing from attacks and take steps to mitigate aggression and further harm from arising.