Care and Breeding of Gourami Fish

Opaline Gourami fish
 Maksim Lobanov

Native to Southern Asia from Pakistan to Korea, several species of the tropical freshwater Gourami are popular aquarium fish. It is also one of the easier egg laying fish to breed in an aquarium.

Gourami care and breeding (spawning) requirements vary slightly from species to species, but most Gouramis have the same basic needs. If you are considering spawning your Gourami, learn the basic requirements, and then check the profile for your species to see if they have specific needs.

Aquarium Setup and Tankmates

Gouramis are relatively undemanding, and therefore are well suited for most community aquariums. Choose non-aggressive tankmates of similar size. Dwarf Cichlids are suitable, as are characins and other labyrinth fish. Because the males may be territorial, keep only one male Gourami in a tank. If space is large enough to allow each to claim its own territory, two may be tried.

Fine to medium size substrate of neutral color is preferable. Optimum water temperature for most gourami species is 74–79 degrees Fahrenheit (24–26 degrees Celsius). The water pH should be neutral to slightly acidic, with low hardness. Plant the aquarium well with Cryptocoryne, Java Fern, Vallisneria or other sturdy aquatic vegetation.

Diet

Gouramis will eat almost any food; however, it's important to vary the diet to ensure balanced nutrition. A combination of dry flake food as well as frozen and fresh/live foods will provide a well-rounded diet. When conditioning fish prior to breeding, offer fresh vegetables such as lettuce, cooked peas, and spinach, as well as live foods such as blackworms, brine shrimp, and glass worms. All breeding specimens must be well-fed and healthy before moving them to a breeding tank. 

Breeding Tank

The water level in the breeding tank should be six inches deep for breeding most gouramis. For larger species of gouramis, it may need to be slightly deeper. Lighting should be subdued, and the water temperature should be slowly increased for several days prior to spawning until it reaches 82-85 degrees. The water movement should be minimal so the bubble nest is not disturbed. A sponge filter is good to use for breeding tanks, as it won't suck up the baby fish.

All gourami fish are egg layers that build bubble nests for spawning and raising their young. Place some floating plants or other floating objects in the tank as most species of Gourami build bubble nests that are attached to these floating objects. Some experts use pieces of styrofoam as the floating platforms in the breeding tank.

Carefully monitor all conditions of your tank, such as water temperature and pH, both before and after breeding. Also, make sure the tank has a lid. While the adult fish do not require this, the young fry are very sensitive to any temperature shifts. 

Selecting a Male and Female

If you don't already know the gender of your gouramis, examine them closely. Females usually have more rounded dorsal and anal fins while the male's fins are more pointed at the rear edge. Females will often swell in width when they are carrying eggs. In some species, there may be distinct color differences between males and females. In any case, it is important to choose a healthy pair with a female that is clearly carrying eggs.

Transferring a Breeding Pair

Move your selected female to the breeding tank first, providing the fish a chance to acclimate and locate various hiding spots. After a day or so, you can move the male to the tank. Watch to make sure the female has places to hide, as this will be needed during the egg-laying process. If the male harasses the female to the point of causing scrapes or preventing the female's hiding and seclusion, try adding a second female to the tank to distract the male.

Breeding Process

It may take several days for the fish to breed. In the meantime, if your species is one that builds a bubble nest, the male may be constructing it among the floating plants or objects. The male may even use a corner of the tank as an anchor for the bubble nest. When the nest is built and the female is ready to spawn, the male will wrap his body around hers under the nest and fertilize the eggs as she lays them.

After the female lays eggs, which number in the hundreds or even thousands, the male will catch them in his mouth as they fall and the bring each egg individually to the bubble nest. If the species is not a bubble nest builder, the eggs will remain randomly distributed around the tank. 

The female should be removed very soon after laying as she may begin eating the eggs. The male should be left in the breeding tank, as it is the male's duty to care for the nest and fry until they can swim freely. Once the fry are free-swimming, the male also can be removed. For species that do not form bubble nests, remove both parents immediately after spawning to prevent egg predation. 

Caring for Fry

Initially, the fry will absorb their egg yolk sac for nutrition, but as soon as they are free swimming, you will need to begin providing nutrients. Begin by feeding specialized foods that are small enough for the tiny fry to consume. Options include liquid fish food, rotifers, or infusoria, all of which are available at aquarium stores. Feed the fry often, six times a day or more. Once the fish are larger, at about four to seven days, begin feeding baby brine shrimp. It will take several weeks for them to grow large enough to move to a normal aquarium.

Make sure to keep the water clean. Just as you would in a normal aquarium, make partial water changes, but be careful not to scoop out the tiny fry by mistake. You will almost certainly end up with more surviving fish than you can keep yourself, so seek out people to buy or adopt. After a few weeks, when they appear able to eat standard fish food, you can move the young gourami to their larger home.

Popular Gourami Species

There are roughly a dozen species of gourami that are commonly seen in the aquarium trade. Several of them have more than one color morph, but are still the same species. Common gourami species include: