So you love Gouramis, and now want to learn more about them. Well, it is not quite as simple as that. While many members of this family require the same kind of aquarium and have the same traits, the species do differ in subtle ways.
Yes, they are all omnivores. Yes, most of them are are bubble-nest builders, but then again, others are not. Some are said to be peaceful, others are aggressive and highly territorial. The only way, then, to tackle this task, is by treating the subject species by species.
Dwarf Gouramies (Colisa lalia) are small, as the name implies — reaching an average of only 4-5cm at maturity, although some have grown to as large as 8.8 centimeters. In the wild, male dwarf gouramis have diagonal stripes of alternating blue and red colors, while females are silvery in colour. In the trade they are usually found with diagonal turquoise blue stripes on reddish orange bodies. The males are larger and more colourful than the females. The male becomes especially brightly coloured at spawning time. But with continuing selective breeding, gouramis now are also available in solid colors, for instance a powder blue, neon blue or red flame variety.
Most dwarf gouramis live for about four years but with proper care they can live longer. They require a tank that is at least 40-50 litres, but a tank double that size would be much better. Since gouramis are labyrinth fish and often breathe at the surface, it is important that the gourami tank has the surface of its water exposed to fresh air. This is usually accomplished by using a hood that allows air ventilation.
The aquarium should be heavily planted and have at least part of the surface covered with floating plants. The planting should be done in a way that will provide the gouramis with definite, delineated territories, and each of these created territories should offer plenty hiding places. A darker substrate will help to show-off the gourami’s colors, and peat filtration is recommended.
Dwarf gouramis should not be kept with large, aggressive fish, but they are compatible with other small, peaceful fish as well as with fellow gouramis. Neither should they be kept with any breeding fish which provide parental care – such as Cichlids – as these will in all likelihood relentlessly badger the timid gouramis in defence of their young. In fact, dwarf gouramis are so docile that they will allow themselves to be bullied to death before fighting back! Male siamese fighting fish will attack dwarf gouramis and should be avoided as tank mates at all costs. Males of larger gouramis species may also bully the smaller dwarf gouramis – so be careful in your selection of species.
Yet, dwarf gouramis, despite their shy and docile nature, are aggressive towards fellow dwarf gouramis. Each fish tends to establish a territory, and hiding places are a must! This cannot be emphasised enough – it is the very reason why we need to plant their tanks so heavily! Loud noises often scare gouramis, so their tank should be situated in a quiet area. Impeccable water conditions and regular water changes are an absolute must, as dwarf gouramis can be susceptible to disease.
Dwarf gouramis are tolerant of fairly high temperatures. This can be used to eliminate fish diseases such as Ich from the aquarium. Temperatures of around 26-27 °C are easily tolerated.
A varied diet is very important to the dwarf gourami. They are omnivores that consume both algae-based and meaty foods. An algae-based flake food, along with regular portions of freeze-dried bloodworms, tubifex, and brine shrimp, will provide these fish with proper nutrition.
The Kissing Gourami (Helostomatidae) is named for its ‘kissing’ action. Everyone loves to get this fish because of this novel trait, but actually 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 forms part of a courtship ritual as they try to impress a suitable female.
The kissing gourami comes in two colours , the wild version is greyish-green with horizonal stripes, or pink to orangeish pink with transparent fins. Either way, they both have a flat elongated body. The pink one is usually easier to get, because it is a mutation that was propagated in captivity.
The Kissing Gourami gets quite large, so do not even attempt to house it in a small tank. You should also think carefully about the species mix, as you need to put these gouramis with larger fish, since they tend to become bullies with smaller fish.
Kissing gouramis are not bubble nest builders. Their eggs float to the top once they have spawned. They are therefore not easy to breed.
The Pearl Gourami (Trichogaster leerii) is one of the most beautiful of all the gouramis. The body and fins have lovely mosaic ‘pearls’ that seem to shine under aquarium lights. The length for females can reach 10cm, 12cm for males. These gouramis love shallow, warm and slowly flowing waters. Their best temperature is around 27°C. They are very calm fish and are easy to keep. They eat just about anything; however green flakes and a variety of worms are preferable.
The males of the Honey Gourami (Colisa sota) have beautiful bright orange-yellow colour. The females are plain, have slightly shaded brownish orange bodies with a silvery fluorescent glow. They prefer aquariums with some thickly planted areas and with some open swimming areas. They usually eat anything you provide them with. These fish are moderately easy to breed, though a little more difficult than the dwarf gourami. The breeding tank and procedure should be exactly the same as that for the dwarf and pearl gouramis.
Blue Paradise Gourami
The Paradise gourami (Macropodus opercularis) is a lesser known, brightly coloured member of the Labyrinth Fishes. The body of this fish has alternating turquoise blue and orange stripes that extend into the fins and tail. There is a spot on the gills, and a pattern of dark scaling on the head reaching over the back and fading as it goes down the back. The fins and tail have a feather-like appearance, a little like that of a Betta. The Blue Paradise is a good jumper, so a tight fitting lid is a must.
The Blue Paradise fish requires a larger aquarium, at least 120 litres, with lots of hiding places for the female. It will not eat plants, but because of the active courtship of this species, and the mock battles between tank mates, only very hardy vegetation is advised. The Blue Paradise gourami is a very territorial fish that will defend its area from its tank mates. For this reason, it should only be kept with other large, semi-aggressive fish. It will also eat smaller tank mates. Adult males should only be kept one per aquarium, as they fight as fiercely as Bettas.
The male Blue Paradise gourami has much longer fins than the female and is more brightly colored. To induce spawning, reduce the water level and increase the temperature. The male will build a bubble-nest beneath a large leaf where the eggs will be stored. Breeding is relatively easy, and spawning can result in up to 500 fry. When the fry are hatched they should be fed infusoria, and when older, brine shrimp.
The Blue Paradise gourami is an omnivore and requires both algae-based, as well as meaty foods. An algae-based flake food, along with freeze-dried bloodworms, tubifex, and brine shrimp will provide these fish with the proper nutrition.
The sparkling Gourami (Trichopsis pumila), or Pygmy Gourami as it sometimes is called, is quite rare. It is also one of the smallest members of the labyrinth fish family. The longest scientifically measured Sparkling Gourami was 4cm in length, but some aquarists have reported Sparklings of up to 5cm in length. The body of the Sparkling Gourami is arrowhead-shaped and not as deep as the body of other gourami species. It resembles that of a female or juvenile Betta and it is definitely smaller than we would expect in a Gourami. There is a lateral dark band or dark spots running through the mid line of the body, and the fish is also decorated with sparkling spots of blue and green. Just like the other gourami species, the Sparkling Gourami has a long and thread-like pelvic fin. Sexing Sparkling Gouramis is not easy, especially outside the breeding period.
The reason why this tiny anabantid is called “Sparkling” is because of its coloration; its body is decorated with red, green and blue shades. Under the correct lighting their bodies and eyes appear iridescent, and as they move, this iridenscence seems to constantly shift and reflect a rainbow of different colours. You thus need to choose your lights carefully if you want this fish to look its best in the aquarium.
The Sparkling makes a great addition to any successful, established and well cycled tank. It is, however a delicate fish and even though it is easy to keep, water parameters should be watched closely. This tiny fish is a good candidate for a small tank, preferably well planted and with plenty of hiding spaces. The Sparkling Gourami is a shy little fish, and should not be kept with aggressive, or considerably bigger tank mates. Contrary to the other types of gouramis, the Sparkling may be kept in multiple numbers in the aquarium with little aggression and does not require to be kept in schools.
Males are however territorial, especially during the breeding period. Ideally keep more females than males. As always with gouramis, planting with plenty of hiding spots in the aquarium is also important. Combining Sparkling Gourami with more assertive and aggressive tank mates can lead to their starvation, since the Sparkling Gourami does not compete well for food. Nippy fish species and notorious bullies must also be avoided.
Since the Sparkling Gourami inhabits standing or lazy water in the wild, strong currents should be avoided in the aquarium. Try to mimic the natural Sparkling Gourami habitat when you set up the aquarium and include a lot of aquatic plants, always arranging them with good hiding places in mind. Floating plants are also recommended, since they will subdue the lighting and make the Sparkling Gouramis less shy. Always leave space between the water’s edge and the aquarium lid, since the Sparkling Gouramis like all labs need to breathe oxygen directly from the air.
Sparkling Gouramis can be bred in captivity and thriving Sparkling Gouramis can spawn monthly. It is recommended to keep a group consisting of six or more Sparkling Gouramis together and let them form their own pairs. Distinguishing males form females is difficult, especially before the breeding period. During breeding, both sexes will display enhanced colours. You can coax your Sparkling Gouramis into breeding by increasing the water temperature and lowering the water level to no more than 15 centimetres.
From there on their breeding closely resembles that of all the other bubble nest builders.
Moonlight gouramis (Trichogaster microlepis) are simply and undeniably gorgeous. With a silver body so iridescent that it seemingly glows, this gourami makes the perfect choice for aquarists wishing to add a sense of the celestial to their tanks. Often overlooked by hobbyists and dealers and not always available in aquarium shops, the beautiful moonlight gourami can instantly transform your home aquarium into a wondrous scene. Their graceful swimming through the planted waters of a large tank makes for a truly awesome sight. Even in low lighting, the unique colour of the moonlight gourami allows it to shine above the rest.
A labyrinth fish like the rest of its kin, these gouramis can be found hanging out in the thickly vegetated, shallow-standing waters of ponds and swamps in their native habitat. Locals in these areas often eat moonlight gouramis as a regular part of their diet. Hobbyists have thankfully found a better use for this marvelous fish in the home aquarium. This species was first described by Günther in 1861 and is known by different names, including moonbeam and moonlight gourami.
It has a compressed, rather elongated body, and the concave slope of its head distinguishes it from other gourami species. It also is unlike most other gouramis in having a single body color without markings of any kind. Instead, the moonlight gourami has a silver-colored body that casts a slightly iridescent greenish hue, giving it the appearance of being under the soft glow of the moon. This green hue becomes increasingly iridescent as the fish matures to an overall length of about 12 cm. The young of this species lack the green and silver iridescent hues at first, but as they mature they too will reach their full, brilliant coloration.
The males of the species eventually develops an orange/red color in their pelvic and dorsal fin, which comes to a point near the end. The females have a light yellow tint in their pelvic fins, and their dorsal fin is rounder and shorter than the males. The anal fin that extends along the length of the belly to the base of the tail has a beautiful pastel green sheen in both sexes. Another interesting feature of the moonlight gourami is their conspicuous red or orange irises – they have an effect similar to those evoked by old paintings featuring eyes that seemingly follow your every movement.
The ventral fins are very long and shaped into narrow filaments. They are similar to those found in other gouramis, but are much longer. The fins contain sensory cells that help them navigate and locate food. These filaments give the moonlight gourami a unique, delicate appearance as they float gently in the current. During spawning, the ventral fins on the male will intensify in color and become a deep red that helps them impress and attract potential mates.
Moonlight gouramis are omnivorous and not picky, which make them very easy to feed. This species will readily accept flakes, frozen foods, and live foods. Favorite treats include bloodworms, brine shrimp, insects, and small crustaceans. Their diet should be varied to ensure that the fish remain in optimum health. If fed, cared for, and housed properly, this species can live for many years in a home aquarium.
Be sure to exclude tank mates that are fin nippers from their aquarium. Their long fins are just too tempting as targets. Good tank mates are medium size, peaceful fishes, but make sure they are not too small, or your gouramis will pick on them.
The moonlight gourami is a top- to middle-level dweller. The tank should be large because they need plenty of swimming room, and a dark substrate will help show off their amazing coloration.
Moonlight gouramis enjoy a very slow water current and warm water. They are quite adaptable about water chemistry, but the temperature should be warm, kept between 27 – 29°C. These fish are best displayed in subdued lighting.
Tank maintenance (including regular water changes) is very important for this species if you want to maintain their health over the long term. They are pretty hardy as far as fish go, but if you really want them to shine, keep the tank conditions perfect.
Like most other gouramis, these fish are best kept as a ménage a trois : a single male with two females. If you plan on keeping multiple males, the aquarium should be large enough so that each male will be able to establish his own territory and keep his own females. As gourami males age, the territoriality instinct tends to increase. The good news is that the females are usually more sedate than the males.
Moonlight gouramis should be kept in a large, heavily planted aquarium with floating plants, which is where the male will anchor his bubblenest. Live plants will also provide hiding places and a sense of security, and they show off the fish very well.
Unfortunately, this species will chew on most aquarium plants as a snack, and very fine-leaved plants will be damaged quickly. A good compromise for the moonlight gourami is to plant the aquarium heavily with thick-leaved, hardy plants, such as Java fern, Vallisneria, and Anubias. But if you are looking to maintain a prize-winning planted aquarium, this is not a good species to keep, as they will still nibble the greenery.
If you feed the breeding pair live foods before attempting the breed them, that will greatly increase your chances for success by encouraging them to spawn.
Besides the difference in color, the sex can be determined by the dorsal fin. The male’s dorsal fin is pointed, while the female’s is rounded or curved.
It is probably wise to set up a proper breeding tank, as quite a bit of to and fro is involved in breeding gouramis. For the smaller species, a 40-60litre tank is ideal. For larger species and for Pearl Gouramies, an 80 cm tank is better.
To start with, the water level should be reduced to 7–10 cm depth, in larger tanks with about 15-20cm of water, with no air or filtration during spawning. The temperature should be kept at approximately 28-30°C. In all cases bubble-nest builders require vegetation. This is essential, especially in the case of floating plants, as males build their bubble nests using plant material, to make them more cohesive and sturdy. These nests can be very elaborate, often reaching several centimetres across and often 3cm deep. Limnophila aquatica, Riccia fluitans, Ceratopteris thalictroides, and Vesicularia dubyana, are all good choices for the breeding tank. Peat fibre may also be offered as building material.
During this time, feed your gouramis well – perhaps adding the richness of freeze-dried Tubifex, Daphnia and some frozen brine shrimp. After a few days of these rich foods, the gouramis should really perk up. Even if they had always been lovely, they should soon become spectacular.
With Pearl Gouramis, the females will have nicely rounded bellies, and they should be colouring up to look like non-breeding males. The males should be showing bright red throats and truly pearly sides, should have silvery filaments on their anal fins.
If you need to do any water changes, do it now – not later, when the fish are ready to spawn or the fry have arrived! If condensation forms on the underside of the hood and drips back into the tank, you have close to ideal conditions for the fry. High humidity is beneficial to labyrinth fish fry. While their labyrinth organ is developing they are very susceptible to chilling and a tightly covered, warm tank with airspace above mimics their humid natural environment.
Once the nest has been built the male will begin courting the female, usually in the late afternoon or toward evening. He signals his intentions by swimming around the female with flared fins, attempting to draw her to the nest where he will continue his courting display. If the female accepts the male she will begin swimming in circles with the male beneath the bubble-nest. When she is ready to spawn she touches the male on either the back or the tail with her mouth. Upon this signal the male will embrace the female, turning her first on her side and finally on her back. At this point the female will release approximately five dozen clear eggs, which are immediately fertilized by the male.
Most of the eggs will float up into the bubble-nest. Eggs that stray are collected by the male and placed in the nest. Once all the eggs are secured in the nest, the pair will spawn again. If more than one female is present in the breeding tank, the male may spawn with all of them. The spawning sessions will continue for two to four hours, and produce between 300 and 800 eggs with Dwarf Gouramis. With Pearl Gouramis up to 2000 eggs can be laid in one spawning, while the tiny spaklin gourami release no more than 10-15 eggs at a time, but eventually reaches around 100 eggs in the nest.
Upon completion of the spawning, the male will then place a fine layer of bubbles beneath the eggs, assuring that they remain in the bubble-nest. The female should at this time be removed from the breeding tank. In nature, the mother is free to go about her own business after spawning, but in the aquarium she doesn’t have that option. You are thus responsible for protecting her!
The male will now take sole responsibility for the eggs, aggressively defending the nest and surrounding territory. In twelve to twenty-four hours, the fry will hatch and continue developing within the protection of the bubble-nest. If any of the fry fall out of the nest, the male will pick them up and tuck them back in.
It is fascinating to watch the fry develop in the bubble-nests. At first they manifest as tiny dark spots. Then, within two days, you should see tiny slivers of tails hanging from the underside of the nest — hundreds of them in each nest — Soon you should see the fry bouncing out of the nest and then floating back up into the mass.
The males will continue to tend the nests as well as catching displaced fry and blowing them back into the bubbles. This is the reason why we lower the water depth. In the wild, gouramis live in very shallow water thick with vegetation. When the fry fall out of the nest it’s a short trip for the father to scoop them up and return them to safety. The thick vegetation anchors the bubble-nest and helps keep the family together.
After three days the fry are sufficiently developed to be free swimming and will then begin leaving the nest in earnest. At this stage the male should also be removed, or he may consume the young. The tiny fry should then be fed infusoria, or liquid fry food and later, brine shrimp and finely ground flakes. Freeze-dried tablets may later be added to feed the older fry.
Initially, there may be hundreds of little slivers darting around in the tank. Be aware that within a short while, those numbers will diminish. In al likelihood, you will be left with perhaps 20 or so young gouramis.
Avoid water changing for the first month because these tiny fish are delicate and you don’t want to disturb the balance of the tank now. After they are a little bigger you could cover the end of your siphon hose with a piece of foam rubber to avoid siphoning the fry, and then change only 10% of the water per week.