The Gourami family, Osphronemidae, stems from the freshwater perciform fishes. They are native to Asia, from Pakistan and India to the Malay Archipelago and further north-easterly towards Korea. The name “gourami” is also used for fish of the families Helostomatidae and Anabantidae.
Just for interest sake, the plural “Gouramis” so commonly used among aquarists, is an example of a redundant plural. In its original language, ‘Gourami’ is already plural. Yet I suppose old habits die hard and we will probably keep on calling them gouramis!
As labyrinth fishes, gouramis have a lung-like labyrinth organ that allows them to gulp air and use atmospheric oxygen. This organ is a vital innovation for fishes that often inhabit warm, shallow, oxygen-poor water.
Many gouramis have an elongated ray at the front of their pelvic fins. Many species show parental care: some are mouth-brooders, and others, like the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), build bubble nests. Currently, about 90 species are recognised, placed in 4 subfamilies and about 15 genera. It can be confusing! And it becomes even more so when we come to know that certain gouramis are regularly consumed as food fish.
The ornamental gouramis, however, particularly the Three-spot and Dwarf gouramis, are popular in home aquariums, not only for their stately ways, but also for their colours. As labyrinth fish, they will often swim near the top of the tank. Generally regarded as peaceful, gouramis are still capable of harassing or killing smaller, or long-finned fish. Depending on the species, adult and juvenile males have also been known to spar with one another. However, aggression usually occurs as a result of a too small tank, not enough planting to delineate territories and, of course, overcrowding.
The Kissing Gourami, Helostoma temmincki, is perhaps the most popular Gourami species among aquarists. Everyone loves to get this fish because of the kissing trait, but novel though this may seem, the kissing action is not, as we may suppose, a sign of affection between male and female – it is a trial of strength between two males, and it forms part of a courtship ritual as they try to impress a suitable female. Be warned, though: Kissing Gouramis grow big! We are talking about 25 cm in length. And bigger fish of course means bigger tanks!
The so-called Talking Gourami, Trichopsis vittatus, may be a better choice if you have a smaller aquarium, since it will stay around 5 cm. The Talking Gourami is also called the Croaking Gourami, since the male fish produces a croaking sound when it surfaces during the night to breathe oxygen from the air. Sparkling gouramis are petite, and look like little gems, but they are very scarce. On the other hand, if you want a somewhat larger Gourami in your aquarium, it is hard to beat the celestial Moonlight Gourami (Trichogaster microlepis ). They are gorgeous in a sophisticated way, and are a good option if you love a relaxing, rather than an active tank. It is comparatively easy to care for and typically reaches a length of 15 cm. The Moonlight Gourami features threadlike ventral fins and derives its name from its silvery-bluegreen colouration.
Gouramis have been housed with many species, such as danios, mollies, silver dollars, and plecostomus catfish, but they often show aggression toward species with long, flowing fins like male guppies, goldfish, and bettas.
Gouramis are omnivores and must be kept on a varied diet to get all necessary nutrients – and as with all other tropical fish, it is quality food that promotes the development of those gorgeous colours. Gouramis are usually eager and happy eaters in the aquarium and will accept most food types. They are also quite sturdy and will often survive even on a less than optimal diet, but such a diet will make them more prone to illness and, more importantly – they will not look their best. Dry or frozen prepared foods are a good base that can be supplemented with live foods. Fresh vegetables are also a good addition, e.g. lettuce and peas. Gouramis love brine shrimp and all kinds of worms, like glass, black, or blood worms. When your gouramis are in a community setting, larger, quick-swimming fish can scare them away from their food, but they can generally hold their own, and they may in turn chase smaller fish from food.
While we normally at this stage offer some short detail on the ideal tank conditions, the individual requirements, the differences and the breeding of the relevant species, there are just too many variations with Gouramis. On the next page (see below), we look at the various magnificent Gouramis in greater detail.