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A prominent group of fishes historically, in the realms of ornamental aquatics as well as human consumption, the Goramis/Gouramis and kin are an eminently desirable group of Asian and African fishes united by their possession of a "suprabranchial organ"... A specialization of anatomy, located up and behind their gills that allows them to live in waters lacking oxygen. Indeed, some members of the "Walking Perches" spend more time out of the water than in it!
Most of the hobbyist literature identifies these fishes suprabranchial organ as a "Labyrinth", an apt designation as it shape implies. Aerial respiration is accomplished by gulping in atmospheric air, passing it back to the labyrinth organ which is suffused with capillary beds.
Another common name for most of these fishes is "Bubble Nest Builders", alluding to their mode of male nest building of floating bubbles and mucus, spawning and parental care.
Good parts of sub-Saharan Africa and most of Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago, Indonesia.
Some species top out at barely an inch in total length... the true Gouramis (from which the most common name for the group is derived) exceed two feet in length in the wild.
Classification, Relation to Other Groups & Favorite/Example Species:
Depending on who's scheme you favor (I'll stick as usual with Joe Nelson's), the monotypic Pikehead is included or not with the Gouramis... If so, there are some five families all total of Anabantoids, two sub-families, eighteen genera, about 81 species. See his most recent "Fishes of the World" for discerning the various higher taxa of Anabantoids by morphological characters.
Family Luciocephalidae: the Pikehead. Sometimes offered in the trade as a pet-fish. Found in a few places along the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago. One species.
Family Anabantidae: Climbing Gouramis/Perches, Africa, India to the Philippines. Three genera (Anabas, Ctenopoma, Sandelia) with about thirty species. Take care in netting, handling these spiny-finned fishes. Also, beware of placing small enough to fit in their mouths fishes with the anabantids... they will. Reciprocally, no large, fast-moving tankmates either, as these will easily outcompete these fishes for food.
Genus Sandellia: 2 species found in southern Africa. To eight and ten inches in length. Almost never imported, seen in the trade.
Family Belontiidae (Polyacanthidae): Gouramis. Pakistan, India, the Malay Archipelago and Korea. Twelve genera of about 46 species. Three subfamilies:
Subfamily Belontinae: Combtail Gouramis. One genus (Belontia) with two species. Tough, mid-size (to five inches) fishes that display wide ranges of tolerance to thermal and chemical conditions.
Subfamily Macropodinae: Siamese Fighting Fish and Paradisefishes. Seven Genera (Betta, Ctenops, Macropodus, Malpulatta, Parosphromenus, Pseudosphronemus, and Trichopsis) of about 32 species (Betta with 20). Most oral brooders, others bubble nest builders.
Genus Parosphromenus: The Licorice Gouramis. 12 species. Gorgeous small (about an inch and a half) Gouramis, native to Malaysia, Indonesia. Unfortunately delicate as the group goes, requiring softer acidic water.
Subfamily Trichogastrinae: Gouramis. Four genera (Colisa, Parasphaerichthys, Sphaerichthys, Trichogaster), twelve species.
Genus Colisa: Two species.
Genus Sphaerichthys: Four species; one used in the ornamental interest. Difficult to keep without close attention to water chemistry, live foods... A challenge to breed, rear the young. Mouthbrooders.
Genus Trichogaster: Seven species, all wonderful aquarium fishes.
Genus Trichopsis: Pygmy Gouramis. Three species. All Southeast Asian, Indonesian in distribution, all used in the aquarium interest. Mid-water bubble nest builders.
Family Helostomatidae: the Kissing Gourami. Thailand to the Malay Archipelago. No teeth on primary bones of the mouth... Use numerous specialized gill rakers (extensions of the structural supports of their gills) to filter feed along with rasping horny teeth on their lips. One species.
Family Osphronemidae: Giant Gouramis. Southeast Asia. One genus of three species. Blue, Red-fin, and albino sports available. All eager eaters of plants, smaller tankmates... Suitable for species tanks and rough and tumble community settings only.
Time on hand is a very important consideration when shopping for Gouramis and kin... not just the ones you're looking at, but ALL that are in the shops systems at the time... Unfortunately these fishes suffer from what are termed "total wipe-outs" from time to time, shipment to shipment, somewhat seasonally... Particularly the species of the genus Colisa (see below under "Disease")... with whole batches being lost, with few exceptions once they start to "break down"... Not to inspire paranoia here, but do check out the entire stock at the location... including other tanks if they are all on the same "system" of water-sharing. The best specimens are ones that have "stood the test of time" at a dealers for a few weeks...
Broken skin is a very bad sign with the Anabantoids, opening the fish to existing or new infectious and parasitic disease and/or evidence of rough handling. In any case, do not buy these fishes if there are any obvious markings, missing scales... ON ANY OF THEM.
Behavior, or lack thereof: Most Anabantoids are not terribly active... preferring to "hang out" during most all the time... but they should be aware of your presence, interacting, albeit slowly, with their tankmates and environment. Spaced-out whole-tank-fulls that are just sitting on the bottom (which some species do), or facing dead corners... and nothing else... are not good candidates for purchase.
A bit variable as you might guess with such a large group of fishes, but all Anabantoids do better with habitat about them. Driftwood, live plants, shady areas to stalk, hide in... Do look about and study the areas your particular species hail from and the plant life from those geographies as well, and make the effort to match these. Ferns and mosses from Africa for instance, like Bolbitis heudelotti and Fontinelis antipyretica are regular offerings at serious livestock fish shops and e-tailers. For Asian varieties Cryptocoryne species are readily available, and for all the fast growing surface plants like Water Sprite (Ceratopteris spp.) Duckweeds, Riccia, and rooted Vallisnerias are great for providing shade.
Barring investigation into their specific natural ranges of water conditions, most all species can be kept in near neutral pH water on the not too-hard side (dH of 15 or so), in the mid seventies F. temperature. What they do not care for, particularly when young are cool to cold air drafts above their aquarium water. A good fitting top will do fine for juveniles to adults. A close fitting cover must be utilized for developing fry.
Regular feedings, frequent partial water changes (with pre-conditioned water) on a regular (weekly) basis, along with gravel vacuuming... a regular light/dark period. This is about all the Anabantoids require for regular upkeep.
Many of the popular Gouramis will accept any/all kinds of prepared foods; flake, small pellets, frozen/defrosted, fresh and meaty live foods... with exceptions like the anabantids (Climbing Perch, Ctenopomas...), Betta species, and Giant Gouramis which must need have live foods (though they may be trained to take meaty non-live foods). Most Anabantoids require algae or plant material in their diets on a regular basis, some, like the Kisser (Helostoma) should have greens available on a continuous basis.
All prepared foods should be kept from exposure to air to retain food value (the better flake foods like Tetra's products are packaged in all-nitrogen environments, and Aquarian in a good vacuum)... and some live foods offered to all fishes at least periodically.
Wild caught Anabantoids and cultured ones that have been exposed to the same water are often infested with parasites... which may/not show symptoms unless/until sufficiently stressed otherwise. Of particular concern is the protozoan Trichodina which often manifests itself in a "rocking motion" of its fish hosts. Wholesaler/importers ought to routinely run new batches through a bath of formaldehyde (one ml.), ten drops of standard Malachite Solution, and five tablespoons of salt per ten gallons for about four hours, change 80% of the water, and repeat this process daily till there are no signs of disease.
The popular Gouramis are all too susceptible to common fish parasites like Costia, velvet and white-spot/ich. Happily they are just as easily cured of these complaints with stock aquarium remedies and environmental manipulation. Infectious agents like bacteria and funguses, as well as larger external parasites like Anchor Worm (actually a crustacean, Lernaea) and Fish Lice (Argulus, another crustacean) are best avoided by picking out clean livestock and housing in optimized environments.
Many species have been spawned, reared in captivity, some with considerably more ease than others. As stated above, some are bubble-nest builders others more egg scatterers... displaying the widest range of parental care (rapt to none)... Much has been recorded on these fishes captive breeding and production of young. Most all hobby magazines cover some of the Anabantoids on a regular basis, and you are referred to the citations below in the Bibliography/Further Reading section as a start.
Though they can, often do spawn in community tank settings, concerted measures must be taken for successful hatching and rearing of young. Typically breeders are separated by sex (males are often much more colorful, with longer, more pointed unpaired fins), and fed meaty, or all live foods a few times daily to condition them. Egg laden females are easy to spot as they become very plump. Males greatly color up during spawning time... spawners are cloistered in a separate system, generally with elevated temperature... a nest is made or not, spawn squeezed out from the female/fertilized/placed, pressed out and mouth-brooded or simply floated... females or both parents removed... as per species. For nesters two days is about the time it takes to hatch out, the males are then removed, and another three till the young are free-living and must then be fed regularly on very fine foods.
What more could you ask for/from a given group of aquarium fishes? Amongst the hardiest and touchiest aquarium species, the Anabantoids have something for everyone. From small, almost-too-shy to keep Chocolate gouramis to great peaceful aquarium types like the genus Colisa and some Trichogasters, to the "mid-levels" of easygoingness with most of the species available (good to go with Angels, larger livebearers, barbs, rasboras, danios, mid-size tetras), to the eat-all "true" Goramis... For folks looking to support their "pet-fish habit" this is a winning group from simple "production" species to those rarely to never seen in commercial numbers.
Anon. 1953. Paradise Fish, Macropodus opercularis (Linnaeus). TFH 1:4/53.
Anon. 1973. First successful spawning of Kingsley's Ctenopoma. Aquarium Digest Intl. #4, Winter 72-73.
Anon. 1975. A new Labyrinth Fish in aquaria (Belontia hasselti). ADI 2(1)/75.
Anon. 1975. What is a Labyrinth Fish? Aquarium Digest International 3:2/75.
Anon. 1975. Bushfish of Africa (genus Ctenopoma). Aquarium Digest Intl. 3:3/75.
Belanger, H. Mark. 1982. Spawning the elusive Dwarf Gourami. FAMA 5/82.
Boruchowitz, David E. 1999. Four variations on a good theme. The genus Colisa. TFH 11/99.
Burgess, Warren E. 1995. Licorice Gouramis (genus Parosphronemus): An overview. TFH 9/95.
Castro, Alfred D. 2001. A look at the Anabantoids. A new series on these versatile fishes. AFM 1//01.
Clark, Stephen. 1988. A comprehensive guide to the genus Anabas. FAMA 9/88.
Clark, Stephen. 1992. The fish of paradise (genus Macropodus). FAMA 8/92.
Clark, Stephen. 1992. The fish of paradise (genus Pseudosphronemus). FAMA 9/92.
Craves-Erlich, Julie. 1985. Thread-fin obsession: Observations on the Chocolate Gourami, Sphaerichthys osphromenoides. FAMA 5/85.
Falcione, Peter. 1991. Gouramis build business. Pets Supplies Marketing 1/91.
Gibbs, Max. 1993. Gouramis of the genus Colisa. FAMA 11/93.
Goldstein, Robert J. 1990. Anabantoids. Hobbyists maintain a strong interest in Bettas, Gouramis and other varieties. Pet Age. 11/90.
Hellweg, Mike. 2000. Care and breeding notes of the Chocolate Gourami, Sphaerichthys osphromenoides. TFH 11/2000.
Hunziker, Raymond E. 1986. Gouramis. TFH 5/86.
Lewis, Linda. 1998. The Kissing Gourami. Not much on color, but oh those lips. AFM 2/98.
Lewis, Linda. 1998. Coming up for air- the Labyrinth Fishes. AFM 12/98.
Liebetrau, Sue. 1978. Peaceful Gouramis; jewels of the aquarium. FAMA 9/78.
Linke, Horst. 1991. Labyrinth Fish- The Bubble-Nest Builders. Tetra-Press, Melle Germany. 174pp.
Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 600pp.
Pinter, Helmut. 1984. Labyrinth Fish. A Comprehensive Guide to the Care and Breeding of Exotic Tropical Fish. Barrons, NY, London, Toronto, Sydney. 144pp.
Pohl, Achim. 1979. The Kissing Gourami (Helostoma temmincki). Aquarium Digest International 1(1979) #23.
Richter, Hans Joachim. 1978. The Mottled Pointed-Tail Gourami- Malpulatta kretseri. TFH 1/78.
Riehl, Rudiger & Hans A. Baensch. 1996, 5th rev. ed. Aquarium Atlas, v.1. MERGUS, Germany. 992pp.
Tavares, Iggy. 1996. Popular freshwater fishes (genus Colisa). FAMA 1/96.
Tavares, Iggy. 1998. Paradisefish. FAMA 2/98.
Tomey, William A. 1969. Trichopsis schalleri. The Aquarium 1/69.
Vierke, Joerg & K.H. Lueling. 1972. Aquatic archery and the Dwarf Gourami. Aquatic Digest Intl. 1(2)/72.
White, Jim & Nancy. 1988. Meet the big guy and baby (Osphronemus). Pet Business 11/88.
White, Steve. 1996. Out of deepest Africa. A new genus for bubblenesting Ctenopoma. TFH 8/96.
Anon. 1956. Fightingfish. TFH IV-4/56
Bender, Nat. 1992. Healthy fish mean Betta sales in your store. Pet Dealer 12/92.
Benn, John. 1993. Bettas- Custody, care and controls. An expert tells you how to do it. AFM 1/93.
Bertholdt, Walter. 1953. Breeding the Fighting Fish. TFH 2:2/53.
Cypher, Ronald L. & Patrick C. McCarthy. 1976. A new approach to the old problem of fish classification: Electrophoretic studies of Betta. TFH 7/76.
Falcione, Peter. 1990. Setting up a Betta corner. 1/90.
Gordon, Myron. 1953. The legendary Albino Fighting Fish. TFH 2:2/53.
Lucas, Gene A. 1978 on. Series on "Bettas... and More" in FAMA.... especially:
Lucas, Gene A. 1980. On the history of Bettas. FAMA 9/80.
Lucas, Gene A. 1986. The literature of Bettas: books and monographs. FAMA 1/86.
Maurus, Walt. 1978. Bettas, a truly splendid fish. FAMA 1/78.
Maurus, Walt. 1986. Reminiscing about the future. FAMA 3/86.
Ostermoeller, Wolfgang. 1972. Peaceful coexistence among Siamese Fighting Fishes. Aquarium Digest International 1(2)/72.
Rainey, Arthur D. 1990. Soldiers of fortune. Betta sales can soar. Pet Age 2/90.
Saunders, Steve. 1988. The Betta revealed. Bettas come in a rainbow of colors, are easy to care for and require very little space. AFM 12/88.
Other Bettas Bibliography:
Boggs, Sallie S. 1981. Mouthbrooding Bettas (Betta pugnans, B. picta, B. taeniata, B. brederi). FAMA 9/81.
Burgess, Warren E. 1982. Betta- one genus of two? TFH 4/82.
Burgess, Warren E. 1995. A new look at some Betta species. TFH 2/95.
Howe, Jeffrey C. 1992. Original Descriptions (column): Betta rutilans. FAMA 6/92.
Howe, Jeffrey C. 1993. Original Descriptions (column): Betta brownorum. FAMA 3/93.
Kirtley, Paul. 1988. Breeding the Crescent Betta- Betta imbellis. TFH 1/88.
Liebetrau, Sue. 1978, Wild Bettas are fun! FAMA 8/78.
Liebetrau, Sue. 1982. The wild Bettas: a series in six parts: FAMA 1,2,3,4,5,7/82.
Lucas, Gene A. 1985. Betta fasciata (Betta bellica?), the better bigger Betta. FAMA 9/85.
Lucas, Gene A. 1987. Betta pugnax: Observations on a large mouthbrooding Betta. FAMA 3/87.
Pinto, Tony. 1997. The quest for Betta livida. TFH 7/98.
Pinto, Tony. 1998. Betta foerschi- a jewel form Kalimantan. TFH 9/98.
Pinto, Tony. 1998. The Painted Betta (B. picta). TFH 10/98.
Vierke, Jorg. 1986. The Bubblenest Bettas: An alternative viewpoint. FAMA 7/86.