Dwarf Gourami are a very popular and colorful species in freshwater fish-keeping. Their striking coloration and docile nature make them an alluring centerpiece fish in community tanks for aquarists of all skill levels.
This complete guide will cover everything you need to know about keeping, caring for, and breeding several Dwarf Gourami species. They are a truly fascinating fish, so let’s get started!
About Dwarf Gourami
- Scientific Name: Trichogaster, Trichopsis, Colisa, Trichopodus
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Care Level: Easy
- Origin: Southeast Asia
- Common Names: Dwarf Gourami
In terms of temperament, Dwarf Gourami are generally very peaceful and a great addition to community aquariums. However, Dwarf Gourami can become aggressive with other Anabantoids, such as bettas. Aggression will also break out if multiple males, especially if they are different species, are kept in a small aquarium. Aside from these exceptions, Dwarf Gourami display a docile nature when kept with other peaceful tank mates.
Dwarf Gourami have an endearing, puppy-like temperament towards their owner. This, coupled with their wide variety of colors, make them a “must have” fish for every aquarist. They each have a unique personality, so no two Dwarf Gourami are the same.
Dwarf Gourami hail from sluggish, large rivers across Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and surrounding areas. Their natural habitat is lush in vegetation, so they love heavily planted aquariums with slow flow.
Many references claim that Dwarf Gourami only live 4 years. Even though the term “Dwarf Gourami” refers to multiple species, they can achieve a life span of 10 years given the right conditions, though 5-7 years is more common.
Dwarf Gourami are a smaller fish species, especially when compared to their other gourami cousins who can reach over two feet in length! Depending on the species, Dwarf Gourami reach between 1.5 and 4 inches.
Dwarf Gourami Care
These are essential things you should know before attempting to keep Dwarf Gourami:
Dwarf Gourami are an easy fish to care for, and don’t require large tanks. They are also a hardy species, and relatively forgiving of water quality. They get along perfectly with other peaceful species, which makes them the perfect centerpiece to a beginner community tank.
- Tank Size: The tank size for the majority of Dwarf Gourami should be 20-30 gallons, which gives them enough space to swim around. Some of the smaller species, such as the sparkling gourami which only reach 1.5 inch, can be kept in Nano tanks as small as 5 gallons.
- Water Flow: Dwarf Gourami are Anabantoids, which means they possess a labyrinth organ which allows them to extract oxygen from the atmosphere, not just the water. Dwarf Gourami must be able to access the atmosphere, and they cannot do so in turbulent water. Slow flow is the best kind of flow for these fish.
Dwarf Gourami come from low pH, soft water rivers. However, these fish have been in captivity for over 50 years and are now adaptable to varying pH and hardness. Even though they can adapt to normal water parameters, they still prefer softer water with a lower pH.
These are basic guidelines for Dwarf Gourami water parameters:
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- Temperature: 75-82°F
- Alkalinity: 4°-10° dGH
While many may strive to reach the perfect pH and hardness, Dwarf Gourami prefer stability over exact parameters. If the parameters are just a few degrees off, it isn’t worth worrying about – stability is much more important.
Dwarf Gourami are sensitive to ammonia and nitrite, and nitrates. Any measurable amount of ammonia or nitrite will be toxic to your fish. Make sure to properly cycle your aquarium before adding Dwarf Gourami, or any other fish.
Nitrates tend to be a bit sneakier. They build up in the aquarium over time in clean, properly cycled aquariums. Bi-weekly water changes help keep nitrate levels down and keep your fish healthier. It is extremely important to test your water, and the API freshwater master test kit is the most accurate test kit on the market, and cheapest per test.
Dwarf Gourami are omnivores and need a varied diet between algae-based foods and meat-based foods. They will readily accept any flake, tablet, frozen or freeze-dried food, and are not picky eaters. Make sure the food you get is from a reputable brand with minimal fillers, such as Hikari.
Since overfeeding can lead to excess ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, it is important to feed several small meals per day. Feeding a Dwarf Gourami a pinch of food slightly larger than its eye 2-3 times per day is ideal, as their stomachs are not very large.
Dwarf Gourami are not schooling fish, but some of the species can be kept with others of their own kind, if given enough room. They are territorial with other Anabantoids but will coexist peacefully if they each have enough room for a territory. The space needed varies with each species.
Types of Gourami
There are approximately 133 species of Gourami, and quite a few species of Dwarf Gourami. Here, we cover the more popular species and color morphs of Dwarf Gourami:
These Dwarf Gourami are the most popular and available species of Dwarf Gourami and come in many different color varieties. Their primary color variations are the Neon Blue Dwarf Gourami, Powder Blue Dwarf Gourami, and Flame Dwarf Gourami. They are characterized by their body shape and striking coloration. Their color varies with each morph, from a vibrant blue with red stripes to a red and orange body like a red melon discus. They will all reach about the same size of approximately 3.5”, since those sold in chain pet stores are all male. If you do manage to find a female and successfully breed these fish, you can expect between 400 and 800 eggs.
- Scientific Name: Trichogaster lalia
- Size: 3.5″
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- Temperature: 77-82°F
Sparkling Gourami are one of the smallest species of gourami and are an amazing nano tank fish. Most keep them in a species only aquarium, though this is not necessary, as long as they are kept with peaceful tank mates. While most gourami species sold are only male, this species will be sold as a mix of males and females, as both sexes have lovely iridescent patterning across their fins and body. For a gourami, these fish lay very few eggs, only 40-80 in one spawn, while other gourami can achieve over 800 in one spawn. These gourami in particular appreciate very low flow and can easily be kept in groups of males and females, or single sex groups.
- Scientific Name: Trichopsis pumila
- Size: 1.5″
- pH: 5.0-7.5
- Temperature: 73-82F
Honey Gourami are also called Red Honey Gourami, Golden Gourami, and Golden Honey Gourami. These gourami display a color range from golden yellow to a deep orange. It is possible to keep multiple males of the same species in a 20 long or 29-gallon tank. They are one of the most peaceful gourami and are considered a social species.
- Scientific Name: Colisa chuna
- Size: 1.5-2″
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- Temperature: 74-82°F
Three Spot Gourami
This gourami is also called the Opaline gourami, Golden Gourami, and Blue Gourami. It is one of the largest Dwarf Gourami, reaching up to 5” in length. It typically has a light blue body with dark blue striping and spotting, with two dark circles across the body in line with the eye – which is the third spot. The fins are dark blue with light blue spots, the reverse of the body. The Golden variant has the same patterning, but in yellow, orange, and light brown hues.
- Scientific Name: Trichogaster trichopterus
- Size: 5″
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- Temperature: 72-82°F
Pearl Gourami are also called the Lace Gourami, Mosaic Gourami, and Diamond Gourami. This gourami has a light brown to cream color with white iridescent spots across the body in a geometric pattern. It also has a brown stripe that begins at the eye and tapers off around the middle of the body. This species of Dwarf Gourami is well known for living past 5 years of age and are hardier than most others.
- Scientific Name: Trichopodus leerii
- Size: 3-4″
- pH: 6.0-8.0
- Temperature: 74-82°F
Thick Lipped Gourami
Also called the Sunset Thick Lipped Gourami, these gourami have rust red and blue striping across their body and fins. They can also be brown and orange. These gourami normally get a bit over 3” and look stunning against plants. Brightly colored schooling fish are often selected as tankmates in order to create an aquarium full of color. If bred, these fish can produce 500-600 eggs in one spawn.
- Scientific Name: Trichogaster labiosa
- Size: 3.5″
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- Temperature: 72-82°F
Dwarf Gourami Tank Mates
Species only tanks look stunning, especially when they include a school of honey gourami or sparkling gourami, but most aquarists like more variety in their aquariums. Fortunately, gourami are a peaceful fish that get along with a wide assortment of other community fish.
Suitable Tank Mates
- Fancy Guppies
- Cory Catfish
- Small loaches (e.g. Rosy loach)
- Small plecos
- Large shrimp
Tank Mates to Avoid
Here are a few species you should not keep with Dwarf Gourami:
- Cichlids: Cichlids are extremely aggressive and can harm Dwarf Gouramis. Not all cichlids are unsuitable, but larger ones such as Oscars and Jack Dempsey cichlids may try to eat the Dwarf Gourami.
- Small shrimp: Small shrimp, such as neocaridina and caridina are not recommended to be kept with Dwarf Gourami, as the Dwarf Gourami may attempt to eat them. Larger shrimp like Amano shrimp are perfectly fine to house with Dwarf Gourami
- Anabantoids: Dwarf Gourami will behave very aggressively towards other Anabantoids, or labyrinth fish, and the other Anabantoids will likely respond in the same manner. For example, if a Betta and a Dwarf Gourami were placed in the same tank, there is no doubt that they would fight.
If you’re one of the few who want a species-only Dwarf Gourami tank, then this section is for you!
Setting up a Gourami Tank
Thinking about keeping Dwarf Gourami? Here are a few things that you will need to consider:
- Tank: The tank size will depend on the gourami, but most will be best suited for a 29-gallon tank. The Three Spot Gourami will appreciate a larger tank, such as a 40-gallon tank, and a group of 5-8 Sparkling Gourami can happily live in a 10-gallon tank.
- Filtration: Filtration is a personal choice, but make sure the tank has an overall low flow. Canister filters are considered the best of the best, though also unnecessary if you want a 10 gallon with Sparkling Gourami. Hang-on-back (HOB) filters are also a good option, especially for the larger species. However, the Sparkling Gourami and Honey Gourami may prefer a sponge filter, which is powered by an air pump and creates a low flow. HOB and canister filters may need to be baffled in order to keep a low flow throughout the aquarium.
- Lighting: Since Dwarf Gourami appreciate a heavily planted tank, LED lighting would be the best for plant growth.
- Heater: A heater is essential to keeping Gourami, as without a heater, the temperature will fluctuate often and stress the fish. We recommend the Cobalt Aquatics Neo-Therm – there isn’t a more consistent heater on the market!
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Choosing a Substrate
For Dwarf Gourami, substrate is not extremely important. They can be kept on gravel or sand without any behavioral changes. However, if you want to keep bottom dwelling species such as Cory Catfish with your Dwarf Gourami, a sand substrate would be best.
If you have no plans on keeping bottom dwelling fish species, then you may want to go with a substrate geared towards plant growth. Sand has extremely low nutrient absorption, so root tabs are necessary if you wish to have any plants aside from floating plants.
Root tabs are easy to use; they are tablets that are placed under the substrate below or near the roots of plants. Gravel traps old food and waste particles, which plants can feed off, so unless you wish to keep very demanding plants, this will suffice.
Adding Live Plants
Dwarf Gourami are not overly demanding in their plant choices, but they do prefer stem plants and floating plants which provide cover. Here are some beginner plants that are low-tech and undemanding:
- Brazilian Water Weed (Anacharis)
- Red Root Floaters
- Java Fern
- Amazon Sword
- Java Moss
Dwarf Gourami love all kinds of hiding places, including driftwood and rock formations. This leaves the aquascaping options wide open – let your creativity run wild!
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Dwarf Gourami are extremely sensitive to ammonia and nitrite, so it is essential to completely cycle your aquarium before introducing any fish.
Even though you must wait to add fish, there is no need to wait to add plants or the hardscape. This is your time to set up the aquascape exactly to your liking before adding fish.
Plants also help absorb nitrogen compounds such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and can carry in small colonies of bacteria that convert these harmful compounds to less harmful ones. This speeds up the cycling process, sine the bacterial colonies are already established, and the only thing left to do is to build up their numbers.
This essential cycling time not only allows you to set up your perfect hardscape, but it also allows you to research everything you need to know about your planned pet. Additionally, it allows other types of bacteria and biofilm to establish, which leads to an overall healthier tank.
For more information about cycling you aquarium, check out our complete step-by-step fishless cycle guide.
Breeding Dwarf Gourami
Most Dwarf Gourami owners wish to breed their fish after keeping them for a period. Unfortunately, the females are extremely difficult to find, unless you wish to breed Sparkling Gourami. Since Sparkling Gourami can be kept together in groups, it is possible you may simply find a bubble nest full of fry in your Sparkling Gourami tank, especially if it is species-only.
For the other Gourami, males are generally the only sex sold, since the females are very dull in color. While it is not impossible to find females, it is extremely difficult – both in stores and online.
If you do find a female to match your male, you will want to set up a different tank for breeding. This section will go over how to set up the breeding tank, how to get them to spawn, and how to raise the fry.
The Breeding Setup
The best place to start when considering a new tank is the size. For all gourami mentioned except the Sparkling and Honey Gourami, a 20-gallon aquarium should be the minimum tank size considered.
- Strategy #1 – Dedicated Breeding Tank: Setting up a tank aside from the “main” or “display” tank is the best option when breeding labyrinth fish such as the Dwarf Gourami. Dwarf Gourami build bubble nests which float on the top of the aquarium, and they typically need something else floating to build the nest around. Most anything can be used, from floating plants to a Styrofoam cup. Substrate should be avoided when it comes to Dwarf Gourami breeding, as the fry can fall from the bubble nest, and substrate may prevent the male from finding them and bringing them back to safety. Once finished spawning, the female should be removed from the breeding tank and three to seven days later, the male should be removed.
- Strategy #2 – Dedicated Fry Tank: It is possible to spawn Dwarf Gourami in the “main” tank, but the survival rate of the fry will decrease dramatically if substrate is present. Since the parents may already be housed in separate tanks, at least one parent will already go through the stress of moving from tank to tank. Breeding is a stressful process for labyrinth fish, with elaborate mating behaviors and often some aggression.
For Dwarf Gourami, the best option is the first one.
If the Dwarf Gourami are in a community tank, it is very likely that all the fry will die. They may be eaten by tank mates, or the presence of tank mates could stress out the parents enough to eat their fry. Creating a dedicated breeding tank is one of the best ways to ensure the survival of most of the fry.
Setting up a Fry Tank
Since breeding Dwarf Gourami is often a planned process, setting up a fry grow-out tank at the beginning is essential. It must have time to cycle and create a layer of biofilm before the fry are moved into it.
This tank should also be bare bottom, though the use of some floating plants as cover and to provide infusoria is acceptable. Other than that, the tank should be simple and bare, with only a sponge filter and heater.
The size of the grow-out tank will vary depending on the type of Dwarf Gourami you attempt to breed, since 800 fry need a much larger space than 40 or 50 fry. Since the fry start out extremely small, a 40 to 60-gallon tank is a good start. Using established filter media will instantly cycle the tank and promote bacteria and biofilm growth.
A sponge filter is the best type of filter to use for a fry tank and the breeding tank. This type of filter will not be able to damage the fry, while other filters such as Hang On Back filters and Canister filters may grind up fry in the impeller or coarse sponges.
The only difference between maintaining the fry tank and the adult tank is that the nitrate levels should be as low as possible, ideally between 0 and 10ppm. Any trace amounts of ammonia or nitrite could wipe out a whole batch of fry, so this must be avoided.
For most species of Dwarf Gourami, the females will appear brown with some light striping and minimal color, very distinguishable from the flamboyantly colored males.
The Sparkling Gourami is the most difficult of the listed Gourami to sex. They can be sexed by shining a flashlight, or other bright light source, towards the front of the Gourami. If the Gourami is a female, the ovaries will become visible near the tail. They will look like a yellow triangle, with one of the three points of the triangle extending towards the tail.
Conditioning Your Fish
The typical conditioning period for fish is 1-2 weeks, and the best results are achieved using live food such as blackworms, white worms, fairy shrimp, daphnia, and other protein rich options. Frozen food is also commonly used during conditioning.
During this period, the male and female should be separated, fed 3-5 times daily, then introduced to one another in the breeding tank.
Change often induces spawning in fish, so the move from their normal tank to a breeding one may assist in the spawning process.
The temperature should be raised to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and a secure lid is a must. There must be a thick layer of moisture on top of the water, otherwise the bubble nest will pop, and the fry will fall. The lid doesn’t have to be anything special – even some saran wrap with holes in it works!
Caring for the Eggs
The best part of labyrinth fish is that the males have good parental skills – at least for the first week. For the first 3-7 days, the male will care for the eggs and fry, but he will also try to take free swimming fry back to the nest, which can stress the male and fry. The fry are free swimming between the third and fifth day, and it is recommended to remove the male at this point.
Once the fry reach the free-swimming stage (approximately three days after being laid), they will have absorbed their egg sacks and will be needing some live food. I strongly recommend always feeding at least two different types of food during a fry’s life, in order to make sure it is receiving enough nutrition.
To start the fry off, a mix of infusoria and microworms are some of the best foods for the first week of their life. Vinegar eels are a viable alternative to microworms, though microworm cultures are easier to maintain.
After the first week, microworms can still be fed, but it will not be enough to sustain their growth. One to two days before the end of the first free-swimming week, you should set up a brine shrimp hatchery.
Brine shrimp are very easy to hatch and feed; all you need is some pickling salt (or aquarium salt), a light, an old soda bottle, brine shrimp eggs, and a brine shrimp net. Hatch the eggs according to the directions, scoop up the brine shrimp in the net, rinse them in freshwater, and feed them to your fish.
Brine shrimp can sustain them for a few weeks, but once they start growing more, you should add grindal worms, white worms, and even blackworms to their diet. In most cases, once they reach ½” to ¾”, they should begin to accept powdered fry food. Once they begin eating processed food, you will notice an extreme increase in their growth.
Since each species grows at different rates and is sold at different sizes, there is no set size at which they should be sold, but 1- 1½” is a good rule of thumb.