All About Koi Fish Whiskers

This article will teach you about koi fish whiskers. Although, if we get technical their whiskers are actually called “maxillary barbels”.

Most people think of catfish when they think of whiskers (PDF), but there are other fish species that have whiskers such as Sturgeon, Hagfish, Zebrafish, and more.

You’ll be surprised to learn that like other animals such as dogs, and cats, koi’s whiskers have specific beneficial functions.

Finding the Whiskers

Koi whiskers are pretty easy to spot. They are located on the top and bottom of their mouths.

They have been known to be different colors including brown, white, and black. Some pond-keepers get a little over-the-top and have actually dyed koi whiskers to match the rest of the fish. They also

How Many Whiskers do Koi Have

Koi actually have two sets of whiskers.

The first set is usually near the top of their lips. Typically smaller in size and could resemble growths more than whiskers.

The second set is usually around where their top and bottom lips meet. These are larger and typically what you see and think of. Can range in size from 1-3″ in length.

Sometimes the whiskers can actually grow too large and cause the koi trouble swimming. Therefore, when selecting a koi fish for a pond you want to look to make sure its whiskers are proportional to its head. If you’re not sure, you can compare them with the other fish to get an idea of how large they should be. A koi fish with long whiskers is not usually desired.

Why do Koi Have Whiskers

Whiskers help koi with a few different things: they koi sense and taste food, actually, by sensing the chemicals in the water.

Koi also use whiskers to communicate with other fish. Especially important when it comes time for spawning. Male koi’s will actually flare out their whiskers while courting females for breeding. And the females do the same thing when they’re about to release eggs.

Both males and females also flare their whiskers we defending territory.

When Koi Get Their Whiskers

Surprisingly, koi are actually born without whiskers.

When they are a few weeks old their first set of whiskers will grow in. But, they are only temperary and will actually fall off in a couple of months.

The next set of whiskers will grow in 1-2 years and be the larger set that grows near the bottom lip.

Interestingly, the first smaller set that fell off grows back.

When koi fish are young, they need to be fed high-quality fish food. They need the right amount of nutrients like amino acids to develop whiskers properly.

After about 3-4 years the whiskers are fully grown.

Are There Koi With No Whiskers

If you see a koi without whiskers there are some possible explanation:

  • Too young – as we stated above, koi are not born with whiskers. So if they’re only an inch or two long, they are most likely not developed yet. And it’s nothing to worry about.
  • Damaged – The whiskers can get injured and fall off. This usually happens while removing the fish from the pond with a net.
  • Inbreeding – Koi don’t think of family trees when they breed. And in some cases, there is a “flock spawning.” So, it’s not unusual to see some weird or missing whiskers.
  • Different fish – You might be confusing a goldfish with a koi fish. Goldfish don’t have the same whiskers. Actually, Goldfish don’t have whiskers at all. Which is an easy way to tell the difference.
  • Can see them – If a koi is young, it may actually have whiskers and be hard to see with the naked eye. If you were to use a magnifying lens you may be able to spot a tiny non-functional whisker developing. Read above to learn how they grow.

What Happens if Koi Lose Their Whiskers

If your koi is an adult and has lost its whiskers there is hope. The tissue can actually regenerate new whiskers if it has enough healthy tissue left. If not, it’s not a serious issue.

In nature, koi use their whiskers to find food on the bottom of ponds. If they lost them, it could be very tough for them to find food.

In backyard koi ponds, most pond-keepers feed their fish floating food. So in the rare case, a koi whisker falls off, they will still be able to eat the floating food without issue.

Protect the Injured Fish

It is a good idea to protect an injured fish that has had its whisker fall off. As sometimes koi can get stressed from the injury. Place them in a separate pond or tank until they can recover.


Koi are born without whiskers and grow two sets of them over time. One set is more prominent and used for finding food and communicating with other fish.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.