Care and Breeding of Gourami Aquarium Fish

Gourami fish
 Maksim Lobanov

Several species of the tropical freshwater Gourami are popular aquarium fish that owners often would like to breed.

Gourami care and breeding vary slightly from species to species, but most Gourami have the same basic needs. If you are seriously considering spawning your Gourami, read the general info found here, then check the profile for the specific species you are spawning to see if they have special needs. Profile links are in the last section.

Aquarium Setup and Tankmates

Gouramis are relatively undemanding, and therefore are well suited to 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 rather territorial, it is wise to not keep more than one male Gourami in the same tank, unless the space is large enough to allow each to claim his own territory.

A fine- to medium -size neutral colored substrate is preferable. Optimum water temperature for most species is 74-79 F, (24-26 C.). The water should be neutral to slightly acidic and relatively soft. Plant the tank well with Cryptocoryne, or sturdy vegetation such as Java Fern and Vallisneria.


Gouramis will eat almost any food; however, it's important to vary the diet to ensure balanced nutrition. A combination of dry as well as frozen and fresh/live foods will provide a well-rounded diet. When conditioning prior to breeding, fresh vegetables such as lettuce, cooked peas, and spinach may also be offered, as well as live foods such as black worms, brine shrimp, and glass worms. It is important that the male and feel male specimen you choose are well-fed and healthy before you move them to a breeding tank. 

The Breeding Tank

All Gourami are egg layers and build bubble nests for spawning and raising their young. The water level in the breeding tank should be low--six inches is plenty. Lighting should be subdued, and the water temperature should be slowly increased for several days prior to spawning until it reaches the mid-80s. Water movement should be kept minimal so the bubble nest is not disturbed. In all other ways, the tank should be set up exactly like a standard tank. Also, place some floating plants or other floating objects in the tank. Most species of Gourami build that form bubble nests that will be adhered to these floating plants or objects. Some expert use pieces of styrofoam coffee cups as the floating platforms in the breeding tank. Monitor the conditions of your tank, such as temperature and pH level, carefully both before and after breeding. 

Also, make sure the tank has a lid. While the adult fish do not require this, the young fry, after they hatch, will be very sensitive to temperature shifts. 

Selecting the Male and Female

Obviously, it's important to have one male and one female to breed. If you don't already know the sex of your fish, examine them closely. Females usually have a more rounded dorsal and anal fins (the ones that run along the spine and along the bottom, while males have more pointed fins. Females will often swell up in shape when they are carrying eggs. And depending on species, there may be distinct color differences between males and females (see the links below). In any case, it is important to pick a male that appears healthy and a female that is healthy and clearly carrying eggs.

Transfer the Breeding Pair to the Tank

Move your selected female to the breeding tank first, to give her a chance to acclimate and locate various hiding spots. After several hours or a day or so, you can move the male to the tank. Watch them for a while to make sure the female has places to hide at times. This will be needed for the egg-laying process. 

If the male harasses the female to the point of scraping her sides or preventing her from finding some seclusion, some experts recommend adding a second female to the tank to distract the male.

The Breeding Process

It may take several days for the fish to breed, an act that you may see if you're watching closely. In the meantime, if your species is one that builds a bubble nest, the male may be doing this at this time, constructing it among the floating plants or to the bottom of floating objects. Sometimes he might do this in a corner of the tank. 

After the female lays eggs, which number in the hundreds or even thousands, the male will bring the eggs 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 she lays eggs, since she may begin eating the eggs. The male should be left in the breeding tank, as it is his duty to care for the nest and fry until they can swim freely. Once that happens, he can be removed from the tank. 

NOTE: for species that do not form bubble nests, remove both parents immediately after spawning. 

Caring for the Fry

After the tiny Gourami fry are free-swimming on their own, it will take several weeks for them to grow large enough to move to a larger tank. Initially, the fry will eat the egg yolks, 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 them often, six times a day or more. Once the fish are larger, after four to seven days, begin feeding them baby brine shrimp. 

Make sure to keep the water clean. Just as you would in a normal tank, make partial water changes, but be careful not to scoop out the tiny fry when you do this. Now is also the time to look for buyers for your fish. You will almost certainly end up with more surviving fish than you can use yourself, so seek people to buy or adopt your extras. As the fish become larger, you will begin to spot some with defects. It's best to remove and dispose of these. 

After a few weeks, you can move the young gourami to a larger tank. This signal for this is when they appear able to eat standard fish food. 

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. Some research may be necessary to learn about their specific spawning habits and care practices. Common gourami species (with their scientific names) include: