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Dwarf Gourami Care | Shimmer & Shine In Your Tank

If your aquarium is lacking color in the top water layer, a gourami might be the perfect solution. There are many species out there, but one of the smallest and most popular is Trichogaster lalius, also known as the dwarf gourami. This metallic blue and orange fish is a real stunner, but it does come with some care requirements.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping dwarf gouramis in your home aquarium!

Name (common, scientific)Dwarf gourami, Trichogaster lalius (formerly Colisa lalia)
Minimum tank size15 gallons (long)
Minimum group size1M 1F
Temperature72-82 °F
pH6-7.5
Difficulty levelIntermediate

What is a Dwarf Gourami?

Natural habitat

Dwarf gouramis are naturally found in South Asia. Here, the species inhabits calm habitats with plenty of vegetation such as swamps, ditches and small streams. They also pop up in agricultural land, like rice paddies.

Basically, any slow-moving body of water with plenty of aquatic and marginal vegetation is perfect for dwarf gouramis!

Description

Formerly known as Colisa lalia and still sometimes referred to as such, the dwarf gourami the dwarf gourami’s current scientific name isTrichogaster lalius. This is the most popular species in the genus Osphronemidae, the gouramis.

Gouramis, including the dwarf gourami, are labyrinth fish. This means they dwell in the upper water layers and have evolved to supplement the oxygen their gills take up from the water with oxygen from the air. This comes in handy during the dry season or if their habitat becomes deprived of oxygen for some other reason.

The common name “dwarf gourami” is a little misleading, as Trichogaster lalius isn’t actually the smallest species in the genus. That honor goes to the tiny T. chuna, better known as the honey gourami. Still, at a maximum length of around 3″, today’s subject is indeed pretty small!

You can recognize a (dwarf) gourami by its oval, laterally compressed body shape and upturned mouth. Another typical characteristic are the antennae: modified pelvic fin rays that, according to research, allow gouramis to feel the world around them. This comes in handy in murky waters.

Did you know? The IUCN Red List considers Trichogaster lalius to be a species of Least Concern, meaning it’s not threatened in the wild.

Color morphs

Dwarf gouramis are among the most colorful fish in the freshwater aquarium hobby. And as with most species, it’s the males that are the real lookers! Whereas the girls are mostly a metallic silver in color, possibly with faint yellowish striping, the boys sport flaming red vertical barring on an iridescent powder blue base.

Thanks to the practice of selective breeding for color, you can now find a few different dwarf gourami color morphs for sale. The most common are:

  • Powder blue dwarf gourami: very limited amount of red, usually just a smidge on the tail fin.
  • Flame dwarf gourami: blue coloration limited to part of the dorsal fin. Flame red to yellowish color gradient running from the tail to the head.
  • Neon blue dwarf gourami: blue coloration is more pronounced, while also maintaining most of the reddish pattern.
Front-view of a neon blue dwarf gourami.

Dwarf gourami male vs female

As with most labyrinth fish, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a male vs female dwarf gourami. First off, as mentioned, the boys’ colors are much more pronounced. Additionally, they’re larger than the girls.

Other differences include:

  • Labyrinth fish, including this one, build nests for their eggs. It’s the boys that are in charge of construction, so if you see your dwarf gourami working on a pile of bubbles, it’s a male.
  • The back ends of the males’ dorsal and pelvic fins are pointed. They’re rounded in the females.
  • Males will have a flat belly unless they’ve just eaten. Females will have a more rounded belly, especially when they’re gravid with eggs.
  • The males are more territorial and aggressive than the females.

Dwarf gourami iridovirus

In recent years, dwarf gourami stock in the aquarium trade is increasingly affected by a deadly disease with no cure: dwarf gourami iridovirus. Causing necrosis in the spleen and kidneys, the spread of this virus has been shown to be associated with the aquarium trade and inbreeding.

A significant percentage of dwarf gouramis from Asia is now affected by this virus (22% in a study conducted in Sydney aquarium stores in 2006). Symptoms include loss of color, refusal to eat, and lethargy. If the fish in your local aquarium store don’t look lively and colorful, DON’T BUY THEM!

If you think your gourami has iridovirus, you should separate it immediately to prevent it from infecting your other fish. Unfortunately, the most humane course of action is euthanasia, as there’s no cure. Disinfect any equipment and keep an eye on the gourami’s tankmates, if any.

Did you know? Despite it commonly being called “dwarf gourami iridovirus”, this disease does affect other species as well. One study found it in African lampeye fish, which are common in the aquarium trade. There’s concern in some countries about the virus spreading to their wild fish populations, like in Australia.

Dwarf gourami fish in the aquarium.
A male dwarf gourami.

Dwarf Gourami Aquarium

If you’re interested in setting up a dwarf gourami aquarium, keep in mind that like most labyrinth fish, this species is quite shy. It has evolved to survive in very densely vegetated areas that receive little light and may be stained a dark color by decomposing plant matter.

Dwarf gouramis will not appreciate being stuck in an environment that is bare, light, or has strong water flow. The stress can affect their lifespan and make them vulnerable to disease. The best environment for them is a sort of aquatic “zen garden”!

To make your dwarf gouramis feel at home, consider dimming the tank lights and providing cover using floating plants. The more vegetation, the better; there are a good few species that don’t mind low-light conditions, such as the ones on our list of low-light plants.

Additionally, you can turn your aquarium ‘blackwater’ using leaf litter, which you can buy at most aquarium stores or even collect yourself. The leaves stain the water a tea-like yellowish color. This can spook beginning aquarists, but don’t worry: the tank is not dirty. In fact, the tannins that are released during the decomposition process are beneficial to the health of your fish, and the biofilm that forms is a welcome extra source of food.

Water parameters

Aquarists commonly complain that dwarf gouramis used to be hardy fish, but are now pretty fragile. This is usually blamed on poor quality mass-bred fish and a reduced gene pool (inbreeding) as a result of selective breeding for certain colors.

We’re inclined to agree with this sentiment: the species definitely seems less forgiving of small beginner mistakes nowadays. Although dwarf gourami lifespan is technically 5+ years, a lot of them don’t make it past their second birthday. The iridovirus situation we discussed earlier doesn’t help either.

In any case, all this makes it all the more important to stay on top of water quality in order to prevent stress in your fish. Never introduce any livestock into an uncycled aquarium; keep up with weekly water changes and other regular tank maintenance.

The exact water parameters aren’t as important as long as they’re stable. Relatively soft, acidic water (pH max. 7.5) works best, though.

Tankmates

Dwarf gouramis’ need for peace and quiet extends to their tankmates. They really are very timid, and yours won’t do well if you surround it with boisterous and hyperactive fish. On the other hand, they can also be nippy and somewhat, so long-finned or vulnerable tankmates are out as well.

What does that leave us with? Here at FantaSEA, we like to give our gouramis free reign of the top water layer, choosing tankmates that do well in the same water parameters and inhabit the bottom or middle area of the tank.

You could consider:

As for their own kind, don’t keep two male dwarf gouramis together. They’re highly territorial. It’s best to keep your fish alone (in smaller tanks), or go for a pair or harem (in larger tanks).

Dwarf Gourami Diet

As mentioned earlier, dwarf gouramis are omnivores. In the aquarium, they’re not picky at all when it comes to food. They will do perfectly well on a fine, floating staple food. Do keep in mind that as with most fish, it’s a good idea to switch things up from time to time, which you can do with frozen or even live foods.

As a little tip, try regularly feeding fish food that contains astaxanthin. This carotenoid can help enhance your gourami’s coloration, especially the red and orange tones.

Did you know? Dwarf gouramis have evolved the ability to spit water up to 2″ in order to shoot terrestrial bugs so they fall in the water, allowing the gourami to eat them. This cool adaptation is called “ballistic predation” and is normally associated with archerfish.

Short-range hunters: exploring the function and constraints of water shooting in dwarf gouramis
Powder blue dwarf gourami (Trichogaster lalius) fish close-up
Powder blue color morph.

Breeding Dwarf Gouramis

If you’ve found a healthy pair of dwarf gouramis that show no signs of iridovirus or other defects, you could consider trying your hand at breeding them. It’s not that difficult (similar to breeding Betta fish), and it’s an absolutely fascinating process.

Most aquarists prefer to set up a separate breeding tank. It doesn’t have to be fancy: just add a sponge filter, some moss, and floating plants, plus maybe a few Indian almond leaves. Keep the water level low (up to 6″) and use a tight-fitting aquarium hood to keep in warm, moist air.

Once you’ve got the breeding tank ready, here’s what you should do:

  • Select a healthy pair of at least 9 months in age. Feed them plenty of live foods until you see the female swelling with eggs.
  • Introduce the female into the breeding tank first. The male can get aggressive, so it’s best to let the female establish herself for a day or so before introducing him.
  • Pay attention, because this part is pretty cool: the male will start constructing a nest using bubbles made using his saliva, as well as plants.
  • Typically for labyrinth fish, the male will wrap around the female in a tight “embrace”. The female releases the eggs and they are fertilized immediately.
  • The male will carefully pick up any eggs that have fallen to the bottom of the tank, placing them in the bubble nest while the female rests.
  • You should remove the female now, as the male will become so protective of the bubble nest that he’ll attack her relentlessly.
  • The eggs hatch in 1.5-2 days. Once the fry are free-swimming, you can remove the male and start feeding the tiny fry. You’ll have to use infusoria at first.
  • When the fry are about a week old, they’re large enough to start eating newly hatched brine shrimp.
  • The fry don’t grow at the same rate. Larger fish should be separated from smaller ones, as cannibalism among siblings isn’t unusual in this species!

Need help?

Setting up and maintaining an aquarium takes time, dedication and plenty of research. Too busy to spend hours reading up on fish care? FantaSEA Aquariums is here to make sure you can enjoy the beauty of a fish tank in your own home without any of the hassle.

We’ll set up and maintain your aquarium so all you have to do is feed the fish. Contact us for more information or a quote!

Sources & further reading

Go, J., Lancaster, M., Deece, K., Dhungyel, O., & Whittington, R. (2006). The molecular epidemiology of iridovirus in Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) and dwarf gourami (Colisa lalia) from distant biogeographical regions suggests a link between trade in ornamental fish and emerging iridoviral diseases. Molecular and cellular probes, 20(3-4), 212-222.

Jones, N. A., Klump, B. C., Abaurrea, T. M., Harrower, S., Marr, C., Scott, L., … & Webster, M. M. (2021). Short-range hunters: exploring the function and constraints of water shooting in dwarf gouramis. Journal of Experimental Biology, 224(24), jeb243477.

Kasumyan, A. O., Mikhailova, E. S., & Marusov, E. A. (2014). Role of tactile sense and other sensory systems in control of feeding behavior in gourami of the genus Trichopodus. In Doklady Biological Sciences (Vol. 454, No. 1, p. 46). Springer Nature BV.

Rimmer, A. E., Becker, J. A., Tweedie, A., Lintermans, M., Landos, M., Stephens, F., & Whittington, R. J. (2015). Detection of dwarf gourami iridovirus (Infectious spleen and kidney necrosis virus) in populations of ornamental fish prior to and after importation into Australia, with the first evidence of infection in domestically farmed Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus). Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 122(1-2), 181-194.

Sudthongkong, C., Miyata, M., & Miyazaki, T. (2002). Iridovirus disease in two ornamental tropical fresh-water fishes: African lampeye and dwarf gourami. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 48(3), 163-173.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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