This is no garden-variety whodunit, even though that is the exact setting for this mysterious crime. A garden shop and nursery known as Waterford Gardens in Saddle River, New Jersey, is mourning the loss of four of its permanent residents; one of which is a 30-pound koi named Floyd, named after the hurricane whose terrible impact he survived. The nursery had been his home for more than twenty years.
The name, koi, translates into brocaded carp from the Japanese, where these vibrant fish were first bred for color back in the 1820s. They are also sometimes known as “Japanese carp”.
Koi originated on the northeastern coast of Japan’s Honshu Island and are considered to be a domesticated variety of the common carp, as are the ubiquitous goldfish (although their ancestors were the Prussian carp). By the 20th century, many color patterns of koi had been established, although the most prevalent was the red and white Kohaku.
Outside of the remote Japanese island, no one in Japan was aware of different colorations in these beautiful fish until the 1914 annual exposition in Tokyo when the Nigata Koi were prominently exhibited. Then they became enormously popular throughout Japan and eventually the hobby of keeping them spread throughout the world. Now they can be found in pet stores wherever higher quality fish are sold.
Goldfish and koi can interbreed, but their offspring are sterile. Although there are similarities between them, there are also many differences. Goldfish tend to be smaller and come in more diverse body shapes than koi, which tend to have one basic body configuration but come in a greater array of colorations and patterns.
Some goldfish varieties, such as the common goldfish and shubunkin, have body shapes and coloration that are similar to koi, and it can be difficult to tell them apart when they are not fully-grown. Koi also have prominent barbels on the lip that are not visible in goldfish, and they are very shy, often darting away when confronted even softly by admirers.
Katie Meeks, one of the owners of the Saddle River New Jersey nursery realized the koi were missing during feeding time a few weeks ago. The store has put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to the return of the fish. Meeks feels the fish won’t survive if put in an outdoor pond. In her own words:
“You don’t realize how attached you can get to a fish. They have personality. They greet us with their big mouths every morning saying, ‘Feed me, feed me,’ and weren’t shy at all.”
Perhaps famed detective, Columbo, will take pity and come out retirement to help solve this most perplexing mystery of the “ones who really got away.” Fish whodunits could be a challenge even for the master of detection himself.