Chocolate Gourami

Characteristics, Origin, and Information for Hobbyists

Fish
Noa Táboas

Chocolate gouramis originate from Borneo, Malacca, the Malaysian Peninsula, and Sumatra. Known for their gentle, shy nature, they should only be kept if the owner is willing to provide the special care this species requires. For those who want to take on the challenge, this fish is a beautiful and interesting species to keep.

Characteristics

Scientific Name

Sphaerichthys osphromenoides

Synonym

Sphaerichthys vaillanti, Sphaerichthys acrostoma, Sphaerichthys selatanensis

Common NamesFour-eyed fish, largescale foureyes, stargazer, cuatro-ojos, and striped foureyed fish
FamilyAnablepidae
OriginBorneo, Malacca, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra
Adult Size2.5 inches 
SocialPeaceful
Lifespan5 to 8 years
Tank LevelAll areas
Minimum Tank Size30 gallon
DietOmnivore
BreedingMaternal mouthbrooder
CareDifficult
pH6.0–7.6
Hardness0.5-6 dGH
Temperature75-86 F

Origin and Distribution

Chocolate gourami are mainly found in the blackwater peat swamps and adjacent streams of their range, and sometimes in clear water areas that are tannin-stained a dark brown color by the decomposition of leaves, brush, and other organic materials. They have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe atmospheric air to survive in oxygen-depleted water that might kill most other species.

Colors and Markings

Like many gourami species, these fish have a flat oval-shaped body, small head, and pointed mouth. Its common name refers to the dark chocolate brown color of this gourami, which can vary slightly from reddish-brown to greenish-brown. Three to five yellow-white stripes run vertically through the body. The fins are long and edged in yellow, with the caudal fin slightly forked. 

Tankmates

This species is slow-moving and will easily be intimidated or outcompeted for food by larger or more boisterous tankmates.

Possible tankmates include peaceful cyprinids such as danios, smaller rasboras like the harlequin rasbora and eye-spot rasbora, or some loaches, such as the kuhli or mini royal loach. Some owners have found them to be good companions for discus, which require similar water conditions and care.

Gouramis can be very aggressive with each other, and larger tanks are recommended to keep groups of six or more.

Generally, these fish do best in pairs or schools of their own kind. They usually live in family groups, and outsiders may not be accepted. They are peaceful towards other small gentle fish.

Chocolate Gourami Habitat and Care

Chocolate gouramis can be sensitive to water conditions. Their native habitats are peat swamps and blackwater streams. Such habitats have a very low mineral content which results in an extremely low pH, sometimes below 4.0. The water is very soft and usually dark from decayed organic material.

Ideally, the chocolate gourami habitat should be well planted with live plants, including floating plants to maintain partial light. The water should be conditioned with peat extract, or filtered through peat. Filtration should not produce strong currents within the tank. Therefore, a sponge filter is ideal for this species.

Water should be changed often, but only in small amounts (10 percent or less) to avoid major changes in the water chemistry. Cleanliness should be carefully maintained, as the chocolate gourami is prone to parasites, as well as fungal and bacterial infections. Keep water temperatures warm, preferably at least 80 F. Leave a few inches of space above the water surface and the top of the tank, and keep the lid closed tightly.

This will produce a layer of humid air near the water surface, which this species thrives on.

Chocolate Gourami Diet

As omnivores, the chocolate gourami will accept most foods. However, they require a well-balanced diet to remain healthy. Algae-based flake foods are essential, as well as meaty foods. Feed them small live foods when possible. Freeze-dried or frozen brine shrimp, daphnia, or mosquito larvae are good alternatives to live foods.

It is important to feed the female well before attempting to spawn, as she will go for up to two weeks without food while she holds the eggs. For breeder conditioning, live foods are recommended, as well as high-quality algae-based flake or pellet food.

Sexual Differences

Male chocolate gouramis are generally larger overall and have larger more developed fins than females.

The dorsal fins of males are more pointed, and their anal and caudal fins have a more defined yellow edge than females do. Males also tend to exhibit more reddish-brown coloration.

The throat of the male is straighter, while females have a more rounded throat and head, presumably to facilitate mouthbrooding. Females will sometimes develop a black spot on the caudal fin.

Breeding of the Chocolate Gourami

Breeding should only be attempted in a species tank, never in a community tank. Owners should be aware that breeding is difficult and water conditions must be carefully adhered to. Always condition the breeder pair with high-quality foods, particularly the female.

The chocolate gourami is a mouthbrooder, but on rare occasions will create a bubble nest. Spawning begins with the female laying a small number of eggs on the bottom of the tank. The male fertilizes the eggs, followed by the female collecting them in her mouth. Males will sometimes assist with this process by picking up fertilized eggs and spitting them toward the female.

Once the eggs are collected, the female will incubate them in her mouth for up to two weeks, while the male protects her from predators. After the fry are fully formed, the female will spit them out. Newly released fry should be fed frequently on cyclops, rotifers, and freshly hatched brine shrimp. Ideally, the fry should be reared in a separate tank to ensure optimum conditions. However, if the breeding tank is well prepared, with plenty of cover for the fry, they can be reared there.

Fry are slow-growing and very susceptible to water changes. Some breeders will use plastic wrap around open spaces at the top of the tank to ensure that humidity is high above the water surface. It is believed that the lack of warm humid air can result in failure of the labyrinth organ to develop properly. Daily small water changes are a must.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If chocolate gouramis appeal to you, and you are interested in similar fish for your aquarium, check out:

Check out additional fish breed profiles for more information on other freshwater or saltwater fish.