Kissing Gourami (Kisser Fish) Species Profile

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Helostoma temminckii - Kissing Gourami

Green Yoshi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The name kissing gourami (or kisser fish) is derived from what appears to be kissing between fish; however, scientists still are not sure of the true purpose of the behavior. It is believed to be a harmless territory-challenging behavior that generally occurs between two males. This conjecture is supported by the fact that aging seems to diminish the need to challenge one another. Also with age, the desire for mating territories diminishes.

Species Overview

Common Names: Kissing fish, pink kissing gourami, green kisser

Scientific Name: Helostoma temminkii

Adult Size: 12 inches

Life Expectancy: Average of 7 years; can be long-lived, up to 25 years


Family Helostomatidae
Origin Thailand, Vietnam, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula, and possibly in eastern Myanmar
Social Moderately Aggressive
Tank Level Top to mid-dweller
Minimum Tank Size 75 gallon
Diet Omnivore
Breeding Egg scatterer
Care Easy to intermediate
pH 6 to 8
Hardness 5 to 20 dGH
Temperature 72 to 82 F (22 to 27 C)

Origin and Distribution

The popular kissing gourami, commonly called a kisser, originates from the Indonesian island of Java and is also found in Borneo, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is commonly cultivated in the southern Indochina region as a food fish. Today, virtually all specimens sold in the United States are commercially bred in Florida. Additionally, Thailand and Singapore commercially breed this species for the aquarium trade as well as for food consumption.

Colors and Markings

There are three color variations of this fish: a pink or flesh-colored form; a silver-green form often referred to as the "green kisser;" and a mottled or piebald variety. The pink variation does not occur as frequently in nature and is the result of a reduction in pigmentation known as leucism. This trait has been selectively bred for the aquarium trade, due to the color preference by owners.

The green specimen sports the naturally occurring coloration. It has a dark bar bordering the dorsal and anal fins. Both pink and green have at times been described as separate species, but this is not the case. A mottled or piebald variation is also sometimes seen in the hobby, however, it is less popular than the pink variety.

A second mutation that has been selectively bred in the aquarium trade is a fish that is shorter and rounder, giving it a balloon-like appearance. This mutated strain is not as hardy as the naturally occurring varieties, and it has a shorter lifespan.


Kissing gouramis have been known to be quarrelsome with some species of fish and should not be kept with smaller fish. Although they can be kept in a community tank with medium size fish, owners should observe them closely to ensure they are not bullying others. Potential tankmates may include loaches, barbs, large tetras, some types of cichlids, and some catfish.


Kissing gouramis will sometimes ram the sides of other fish, stripping them of their slime coat, and may potentially damage their skin. If this occurs, it is wise to separate the fish.

Kissing Gourami Habitat and Care

In nature, kissers are usually found in slow-moving, heavily vegetated ponds or marshes. They are a hardy fish that will tolerate a range of water conditions. These fish have a hidden structure called the labyrinth organ. It enables them to take oxygen from the air, allowing them to survive in waters with low oxygen levels.

In fact, the gills of labyrinth fish are usually not even capable of obtaining enough oxygen from the water to survive. Therefore, they must satisfy most of their oxygen requirements by gulping air at the surface of the water. For this reason, it's essential to provide them with access to the water surface in all tank zones.

Kissers need warm water, and they need to consume plenty of plant matter. As a habitat, use artificial plants or sturdy live plants such as Java fern or Java moss. Tender live plants are likely to be eaten down to the stem.

In nature, kissers grow to a size of a foot or more, but in captivity, they generally remain about half that size. However, even a small kisser will grow too large for an aquarium smaller than 30 gallons, so this species should not be kept in mini-tanks. With proper care, it is not unusual for these fish to live well over a decade.

Kissing Gourami Diet and Feeding

Kissing gouramis are omnivorous fish. On the inside surface of the kisser's obvious lips are rows of fine teeth which are used to graze on algae and vegetable matter. Periodically provide fresh romaine lettuce, cooked zucchini, or peas to keep your kissers in optimal health. But take care when providing fresh vegetables, as uneaten portions will quickly foul the water.

They should be provided with plenty of spirulina-based foods as well as fresh vegetables when possible. Kissers also accept a variety of protein foods, including flake, frozen, freeze-dried, and small live foods, such as tubifex and brine shrimp.

Gender Differences

Both sexes of kissing gourami look almost identical, from their oval shape to their thick fleshy lips. It is almost impossible to determine the sex of these fish until they spawn. At the mating period, the body of the female becomes round as it fills with eggs.  

Breeding the Kissing Gourami

Potential breeders should be conditioned with live foods and provided with a large tank with soft, warm water (80 degrees F). Unlike other labyrinth fish, kissers do not build elaborate bubble nests, although the male may blow bubbles randomly at the surface.

Spawning begins by circling which progresses to nudging and dancing. This is followed by an intense beating of tails. Eventually, the male wraps his body around the female, turning her upside down. The female will release hundreds or even thousands of eggs which are fertilized by the male as they rise to the surface.

If floating plants or lettuce are placed on the surface before spawning, the eggs will adhere to them and the fry can feast upon the infusoria that grows on the vegetation. Remove the parent fish following spawning, as they may eat their own young.

Eggs will hatch in approximately one day, and in another two days, the fry will be free swimming. Feed them very fine flake foods or small live foods such as freshly hatched brine shrimp.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

If kissing gouramis appeal to you, and you are interested in some compatible fish for your aquarium, read up on:

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