The dwarf gourami – Trichogaster lalius (more better known as Colisa lalia) is a popular and beautiful little fish. It belongs to the sub-order Anabantoidei. Anabantoids are known as labyrinth fishes because they possess a special breathing organ called a labyrinth. This allows them to breathe air directly and means they can survive out of the water for short periods. Other well-known anabantoids are the pearl gourami – Trichopodus leerii and Siamese fighting fish – Betta splendens.
Distribution & Availability
Dwarf gourami are found in northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh although they have been introduced elsewhere. They live in well vegetated still water such as slow-moving streams, ditches and ponds. Rightly popular with aquarists they are familiar and widespread in the trade.
Males – up to 5.5cm. Highly laterally compressed body with a base colour of metallic blue. Numerous blood-red vertical stripes. The fishes pelvic fins are modified into long “feelers”.
Females – slightly smaller than males. Mostly silvery-white although females in good condition have a gold sheen. Mature specimens can show some colour on their unpaired fins.
A very hardy fish which is easy care for and suitable for a planted community tank of peaceful fish. Males will quarrel so keep only one per tank.
- Tank size: 60cm minimum
- Decoration: tank should be well planted and floating plants are advisable as the fish spends most of its time near the surface.
- Temperature: 22 – 28oC
- pH: 6 – 8
- Hardness: not critical, 2 – 12odH
Will eat almost anything as long as it can fit in its mouth. Feed a variety of flake and frozen food. A treat of live food once or twice a week will help to maintain your fish in good condition.
Dwarf gourami breed very easily and will breed in a community tank given the opportunity. For best results condition on live and frozen foods and give them their own 60cm tank. Make sure the surface is still and provide plenty of floating plants as the male will use bits of plants to build a bubble nest. Males in breeding condition develop a dark chest area whilst females are noticeably heavier when full of eggs. Females can be difficult to source as shops can have difficulty selling them.
When the female is ready she will peck the male on his side and they will embrace under the nest. The male will quickly gather up the eggs and spit them into the nest whilst the female beats a hasty retreat. After a short while the female will return and they will embrace once more. The process is repeated until the female is exhausted. At this point she should be removed for her own safety. Several hundred eggs can be laid in this manner.
The male will guard the nest and will keep it maintained by adding bubbles and bits of plants. The eggs hatch in a couple of days and the fry will hang underneath the nest for three or four days after that. When they start to wander away, about a week after spawning, the male can be removed.
Dwarf gourami fry are very small and will need infusoria to start with. A thick covering of floating plants will provide enough food for most of the fry or you can cultivate your own infusoria if you prefer. After another week start to feed vinegar eels or the smallest grade of ZM fry food. It will be another week yet before they can eat newly hatched brine shrimp.
At this point the fry should be culled. Culling is never a pleasant job but unless the aquarist has facilities to raise upwards of six hundred fish to adulthood it is unavoidable. I cull my very small fry by feeding them to adult fish. Larger fry can be given to friends to grow on, divided off into several tanks or can be humanely euthanised.
Dwarf gourami are remarkable for both their slow rate of growth and the variable growth rates within the same group of fry. How many should be kept depends on the facilities available but if a 60cm tank is used then no more than 100 fry should be kept initially. Weekly 30% culls of the smallest fish are then required until around twenty fish remain.
Water changes should be done twice weekly with water of the same temperature. Gourami fry seem to be very susceptible to temperature shock and require stable conditions especially when they are very young. Many fish-keepers keep the water level deliberately low in order to provide a layer of warm moist air. This is said to help in the development of the labyrinth organ. I’ve raised numerous gourami fry without doing this however.
The young fish can eat crushed flake at about one month old at which time the growth rate will increase markedly. The males will start to show colour at about four months old and the young fish will be a sellable size in about six months.
USA Show standards
- Size: 4.5cm
- Breeding category: C
- Show class: GM
Dwarf gourami are small, colourful, peaceful and easy to breed. They are deservedly popular. Avoid the line bred cultivated strains and keep your aquarium warm and free from strong currents. Only keep a pair if you plan to breed them otherwise a single male is fine.