The kissing gourami is a very interesting freshwater fish that stands out no matter what. With their large lips and bright colors, you really can’t miss them!
But it’s very important to have a firm grasp on their temperament and care requirements before you consider owning one. While they’re not an “expert-only” fish, they’re not a piece of cake either.
This guide will teach you the essentials of kissing gourami care. Tank mates, size, food, and more are all included!
By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know what to expect.
Table of Contents
Despite its romantic moniker, the kissing gourami (scientific name: Helostoma temminkii) is not named for its sweet disposition! This species gets its trade name from its distinct mouth and somewhat aggressive tendencies.
Also known as kissers or kissing fish, this species can make a very unique addition to your aquarium. They are gorgeous medium-sized freshwater fish with some anatomical features you don’t see very often in the fish trade.
The species is endemic to the island of Java in Indonesia. However, they’re also native to slow-moving ponds throughout Borneo, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. In many regions, these fish are actually a valuable source of food for locals.
Most of the fish you see in the trade today are commercially bred. Not as common as other fish in the Gourami family, kissing fish are a truly special species to care for!
The most identifying feature of the kissing gourami is its mouth. Rather than a forward-facing or upward-facing mouth, kisser fish have a mouth that protrudes forward.
These fish are equipped with additional joints in their jaw. The joints provide greater dexterity and movement. The joints let the fish open its mouth wide to take in more food and nutrients.
When eating or fighting, the lips look like they’re puckered up for a kiss!
Beyond that signature physical trait, kissing gouramis have a typical gourami profile. The body is tall, deep, and slender. Laterally, this species is quite slim, which makes them very agile swimmers (and fun to observe).
The dorsal and anal fins stretch along most of the body. All of the fins, including the pectoral and caudal fins, have spinous rays.
These are very colorful fish, with a few different variations that are commonly seen.
The natural coloration is silvery green. The muted color is accompanied by some subtle banding on the dorsal and anal fin.
Next, there’s the mottled kisser. It features the same base coloration as the natural variety. But, it has flecks of darker green or black to create the mottled look.
The last variation takes on a silvery pink color. It’s a result of genetic mutation. Selective breeding has made this color very popular and widespread in the aquarist trade.
Author Note: There are no major physical differences between males and females. The only real way to identify the sexes is by observing the female as she plumps up with eggs around the spawning season.
The average kissing gourami lifespan is around 7 years in captivity. However, they’re fully capable of living up to 25 years.
As you can see, kissing gouramis can be long-lived pets in the right conditions. However, there’s no way to know for sure how long your fish will live. Regardless, your goal should be to do your part in maximizing their lifespan as much as possible.
In pristine aquarium conditions, these fish will thrive. They respond negatively to fluctuation water parameters and excess ammonia in the tank. Because of this, you must keep the water clean and stay on top of conditions to keep them in good shape.
Average Kissing Gourami Size
The typical size of kissing gouramis is around 6 inches in length. These fish will rarely exceed this length in captivity, but usually reach the 12 inch mark in the wild.
Author Note: The reason for this difference is that the confined environment of a tank stunts their growth. Sure, it’s possible to see these fish grow beyond the six-inch average. However, this pretty much only happens in massive freshwater aquariums.
Kissing gourami care really isn’t too difficult. As long as you address their needs and do your part to keep the environment stable, you shouldn’t have any problems.
That said, these freshwater fish do have distinct personalities and some quirky behaviors. The unique lifestyle of this species can present a challenge if you’re not prepared.
Luckily, we have some care guidelines to help you out.
We recommend a tank size of no less than 50 gallons for a kissing gourami.
However keeping them in a larger aquarium of 75 gallons or more is even better if you have the ability to do so. You may see success keeping a single kisser in a tank as small as 30 gallons, but you would need to keep the habitat pretty empty (which is unfair to the fish).
Larger tanks provide ample space for this active species. Not only that, but it reduces the chances of territorial disputes. This is particularly important if you plan on keeping a pair or small group (more on that later).
As with any fish, the best course of action in terms of water parameters is to replicate the natural environment. Kissing gouramis inhabit slow-moving ponds and marshes that are filled with plant life.
Kissing gouramis are quite hardy when it comes to water conditions. They even do well in low-oxygen environments.
This is because they are one of the unique fish species that have a labyrinth organ. They use it to pull as much oxygen from the water as possible. This fish can even suck in air from the surface!
Overall, the kissing gourami is very adaptable. As long as you stick with the following parameters, your fish can live a healthy life.
- Water temperature: 72°F to 82°F
- pH levels: 6.8 to 8.5 (aim for neutral water)
- Water hardness: 5 to 20 dGH
Author Note: When you’re first getting their aquarium set up, it’s important to test the water fairly frequently. You can reduce the frequency of the tests once water parameter consistency has been established.
Setting Up The Rest Of Their Tank
Plants and thick vegetation are the most important thing you’ll need for the kissing gourami. However, you have to be careful about the types of plants you use.
This species is notorious for eating delicate plants down to the stem. Plastic plants are good for providing shelter and security if you don’t want to worry about damage.
Also, make sure to leave plenty of open space. You don’t want to crowd the tank with plants so much that the fish can’t swim.
For the substrate, you can use fine sand or large gravel. Fine sand is safer than gravel. But, the fish can easily ingest sand while they’re feeding. Large rocks and chunky gravel can prevent accidental sand ingestion. Rocks can also prevent the fish from pushing too much sand around.
Scatter some rocks and driftwood throughout the tank, too. Kissing gouramis have fine teeth inside their puckering lips. They use the teeth to scrape algae off smooth surfaces!
Finally, the last thing you need to add is a layer of air! Don’t fill the tank all the way to the rim of the aquarium. The fish needs access to the surface so that they can suck in air. Leave an inch or two of open air space above the waterline to accommodate this behavior.
Kissing gouramis are at risk for all of the common freshwater diseases. They can encounter Ich and fungal problems just like any other species.
This species is also at risk for “hole in the head disease”. Caused by protozoan parasites, this disease manifests itself through little pits on the surface of the skin. These holes can become an entry point for bacteria and other pathogens, so it’s important to address the disease quickly.
Another common health concern is parasitic algae. Kissing fish can host the parasites under the skin, resulting in a spotted appearance. While not life-threatening, host fish are usually weaker and have poor health.
There’s no way to guarantee that your fish won’t encounter diseases. However, top-notch care can do a lot to avoid health issues.
Monitor tank conditions closely and always quarantine new fish before adding them to an established ecosystem. This might seem like a pain, but it’s a very effective way to prevent unwanted diseases from entering a healthy aquarium.
Food & Diet
The kissing gourami is an opportunistic omnivore. It eats a lot and constantly searches for new sources of sustenance.
Oftentimes, you can observe these fish using their lips to consume different types of algae off of glass, rocks, and driftwood. Kissing fish also have gill rakers to filter plankton and other microorganisms.
Even with their habit of eating around the clock, you need to provide balanced food sources. You can give them dry flakes or pellets as the base of their diet. Blanched vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and zucchini are appreciated, too.
For protein, the occasional live or frozen food is beneficial. They will help provide variety and valuable nutrients to their diet, and also some good enrichment! Brine shrimp, bloodworms, and tubifex worms are all good options.
Behavior & Temperament
This species is usually categorized as semi-aggressive. They can bully others and exhibit territorial behaviors.
When more than one male is in the same tank, expect to see some fighting. However, it doesn’t look like traditional fighting.
The fish will use their lips to “kiss” each other. It’s more of a pushing motion than anything else.
Typically, this behavior doesn’t result in serious injury. One fish will eventually back down. But, constant fighting will lead to increased stress levels and disease.
Kissing gouramis will sometimes bully smaller or similarly sized fish, too. Using their puckered lips once again, the fish can ram others and push them around.
Author Note: This species is also known to attack the sides of vulnerable fish. It doesn’t look serious at first, but this ramming action is actually the kissing gourami eating the slime coat of the victim fish!
Without this mucus layer, fish are vulnerable to disease and parasites. So, it’s important to remove the aggressor if attacks become a regular thing.
Kissing Gourami Tank Mates
Thanks to their semi-aggressive nature, you can’t just pair these fish up with any other species. You must choose tank mates carefully.
Avoid small and weak species. Tank mates have to defend themselves from the kisser’s aggressive tendencies.
You should also steer clear of other gourami species. Kissing gouramis will show more aggression towards fish that look similar to them.
They can deal with other kissing gouramis, but you need to limit the number of males in the tank as much as possible. If you do have more than one male, the tank must be large and well-planted.
Here are some good kissing gourami tank mates to consider:
- Yoyo Loach
- Tiger Barb
- Chinese Algae Eaters
- Congo Tetra
- Rosy Barb
- Pictus Catfish
- Smaller Cichlids
It’s not hard to breed bonded pairs of kissing gouramis. You can see success as long as you have a controlled environment with some conditioning.
First, set up a breeding tank.
The temperature should be higher to mimic the fish’s natural spawning season, which is from May to October. Aim for temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the water on the softer side, too.
Next, add your adult fish and condition them with live foods.
Kissing gouramis are egg-scatterers. The eggs are slightly buoyant, so they float to the surface of the water. To capture them, place a large lettuce leaf on the surface of the water.
The lettuce will shelter the eggs. The vegetable will also attract beneficial bacteria and infusoria, which will act as a food source for hatchlings.
When the couple is ready, they’ll perform the mating ritual. The female will eventually turn over and lay her eggs. Males follow and fertilize the eggs as they rise to the surface.
Take the adults out of the breeding tank once they are done. They will try to eat eggs if you don’t.
The eggs will hatch in as little as a day. The fry will then consume the egg sac and feed on infusoria around the lettuce leaf. Once they are free-swimming, you can provide powdered foods or newly hatched brine shrimp.
Kissing gourami care is all about managing their feisty temperament. If you know how to navigate that, owning these fish won’t be a huge challenge.
And honestly, it’s definitely worth it. This species is incredibly unique and fun to own. With their beautiful colors and high activity level, you’ll be glad you gave them a chance!