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Choosing a Gourami

By: Dr. Greg Lewbart

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Gouramis come pretty close to being the perfect aquarium fish. Colorful, active, elegant, temperamentally suited to community tank living, easy to care for, beautiful to look at, and even easy to breed, this group of fishes should be high on anyone's list of aquarium firsts.

What makes these natives of freshwater ponds, streams and paddy fields of Asia and Africa so well suited for aquarium life is their tolerance for a great range of conditions. They do well in temperatures from 68 to 85 degrees, they are happy with a diet of fish flakes, and they tolerate water that is somewhat depleted in oxygen.

This last talent is due to a special organ, the labyrinth, located in the head just behind the gills. The labyrinth is a maze of folded flesh that traps air from which oxygen can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Gouramis will regularly drift to the surface of the tank and release an air bubble or swallow air. While in other fishes this would be a danger signal that something is awry with the tank, for gouramis it's just another fascinating part of their behavior.

Red, Blue, Gold, Neon, Sunset

Gouramis are one of the few groups of freshwater fish that can match saltwater tropicals for color. Most display an iridescence that shimmers when struck with light. They will be by far the showiest fish in the tank. Stores usually sell several species. While new hybrids seem to always appear – along with some invented names for familiar species – here are the major ones to look for.

  • The blue gourami (also known as the three spot) – one of the first of the species to become popular. A shimmering cobalt blue, it grows to up to eight inches.

  • The gold gourami – a hybrid of the blue and the color of golden honey.

  • The opaline gourami – another blue hybrid, a pale pearl-colored fish.

  • The dwarf gouramis – the smallest, they grow only to about two inches but make up for their size with their coloration. Males display red stripes against an iridescent silver-blue body. Females are silver-blue. These fish, natives of northern India and Bangladesh, can be paired in the aquarium. All the dwarf species can be timid and appreciate vegetation in the aquarium.

  • Neon blue dwarf gouramis show a bit more blue than the standard dwarf gourami.

  • The red flames – the smallest of the dwarf gouramis, they have a honey-colored body with dark shadows on the belly and a blue dorsal fin. They grow to only 1 3/4 inches long.

  • Snake-skin gouramis – silver fish with a dark stripe running along the side of the body from head to tail.

  • Kissing gouramis – they grow up to eight inches. Their name comes from the way they pucker their mouths to signal other fish and to take algae off plants.

  • The balloon kissing gourami – a hybrid of the kissing gourami.

  • The pearl gourami – perhaps the most beautiful of all the gouramis, a deep-bodied, silvery fish speckled with iridescent pear-toned spots, veil-like fins and long filamentous rays. A peaceful fish that grows to five inches, it is an astonishing beauty.

  • Other species and hybrids include sunset gouramis, Indian thick-lipped gouramis, and Indian-banded gouramis.

    Care and Feeding

    Gouramis, despite their exotic colorations, make caretaking easy. They live quite well on a high quality flake food. If you want to add a treat once in a while, try brine shrimp or blood worms. Gouramis do well in water from 68 to 85 degrees, which makes them good fish for a natural tank, even one without extra filtration or aeration. Water quality should be a pH of between 6 and 8.8 and a hardness of 5 to 35 dGH. The range is such that these should not be of much concern.

    Tank Interactions

    Unlike some fish that keep to certain areas of the tank, some at the top, some at the bottom, and some in the middle, gouramis will drift throughout the tank. They get along with most fish although the larger species, such as the blue, can become aggressive. Often, two of the same species of gourami will fight and pull at each other's fins, so it's best to have one of a kind. They are not schooling fish.

    Breeding

    These are one of the easiest and most interesting fish to breed in an aquarium. Set up a five- to 10-gallon breeding tank and let a plant float on top. (Breeders in Asia use a banana leaf.) The male (except the blue gourami) will begin building a bubble nest beneath the leaf, rising to the surface and exhaling a bubble that sticks to the underside of the leaf. Once enough bubbles have been amassed, the male and female will mate beneath the leaf, the male bending his body around the female's while she releases eggs. The fertilized eggs float up into the bubble nest.
    Once the mating is done, remove the female since it is the male gouramis's job to protect the nest and the young. Within a couple of days the larvae will become apparent and will eat the yolk sac. After that, move the young to a nursery tank and feed the fry cooked egg pressed through a piece of cheesecloth to make pieces small enough for them to eat.

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