Kissing gourami care guide

Kissing gourami (lat. Helostoma temminckii) isn’t a very bright colored fish, but it has a very interesting behavior. So, why was this kind named as kissing gourami? They stand in front of each other and swim slowly for some period of time and then for a short time their mouths meet. For observers it looks like kissing.

Habitat in the wild

Kissing gourami is widespread in freshwater ponds of South-East Asia: in most counties of Indochina and on some islands of Malay Archipelago (Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan). Besides the kissing gourami was introduced to Sri Lanka, Philippines and New Guinea and in Colombia as well.

This species dwell in shallow areas of waters with thickly growing aquatic plants and slow water flow; lives in lakes, backwaters, ponds, bogs.

Like other climbing perches species combines gill breathing and breathing with atmospheric air, due to which it can dwell in oxygen-deficient waters and the fish is bred for pond aquaculture. Comparatively low aggressiveness allows breeding together with other species.

The diet consists of both plant and protein food. By means of developed gill apparatus fish can filter off zooplankton from water and small teeth on its lips allow the fish to rasp algae from objects that are under water as well as to feed on aquatic plants.

Except all above mentioned the Kissing gourami can catch aquatic insects near water surface.

Scientific NameHelostoma temminckii
Common NamesKissing gouramis; kissing fish; kissers
Range and habitatSouth-East Asia
Sizeup to 30 cm (12 in)
Lifespan10 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size100 liters (22 gallons) and more
Temperature21–27 °C (70–81 °F)
Water hardness5-20 dGH


Popular name of this fish kind is connected with characteristic movements of the lips, that it makes when feeding, demonstrating aggression and to establish hierarchy as well as during mating season.

Latin name was formed from Greek word ἧλος — ‘a nail’ and στόμα — ‘a mouth’, specific epitet temminkii was given in the name of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

The fish is large, up to 30 cm (12 in) long; when keeping in a tank usually it doesn’t grow larger than 10—15 cm (4-6 in). The kissing gourami lifespan is from 8 to 10 years (some sources mention 25 years).

The proportions are similar to Osphronemidae fish kind related to it: the body is flattened from sides and at that it is rather tall. Natural coloring of this fish kind representatives is foliage green with opaque brown fins and black vertical stripe where its tail fin begins; sometimes it has dark lateral stripes on the sides.

In tanks the fish usually have rose to orange pink body coloring with silvery scales and transparent fins. These fish have solid dim pink coloring with pearly lustre on their sides. These species almost have no pigmentation and but for their black iris, they could have been considered albino species.

There is also an artificially bred species of kissing gourami with a shortened body (it is called balloon pink or dwarf). As a rule these species have shorter lifespan.

The pectoral fins are comparably large and low set. Front rays of the abdominal fins are elongated. The dorsal and anal fins are set at approximately one level; the dorsal is formed by 16—18 coarse and 13—16 soft rays, the anal fin — is formed correspondingly by 13—15 and 17—19 rays.

Close to the tail the dorsal and anal fin are extended due to their longer soft rays. The tail fin is rounded with a notch. The lateral line is divided into two parts: front one is longer and it ends a bit higher than the shorter back one begins. There are about 43-38 scales located along the lateral line.

One of the most distinctive peculiarities of kissing gourami is their sharply defined flexible lips, that have hundreds of tiny horny teeth set in rows along the lip edge. There are no other teeth inside the mouth.

Kissing gourami just like other representatives of climbing perches suborder have a labyrinth organ located in suprabranchial chamber and that ensures the fish is capable of breathing with atmospheric air.

Though the nuchal opening peculiar to most of climbing perches species is absent. Gill arches with numerous well developed gill rakers function as a filtration apparatus.

Difficulties in keeping

The kissing gourami are undemanding, but they need a roomy tank. Besides they become blusterous and territory dependent as they grow. Due to this the fish is recommended to aquarists who already have some experience in fish keeping.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

Due to the large size it requires spacious tanks which capacity should be larger than 100 liters (22 gallons). Usually in home aquaria they keep the juveniles or a couple of adult fish.

Adult fishes demonstrate territory dependence and if there is a lack of space in a tank they may fight for territory. That’s why a tank to keep a group of this species must be very large, therefore public exhibition tanks will be the best for this purpose. Kissing gourami feel more comfortable when kept in a group of 2-3 females and one male (if the group is larger, the ratio should be the same).

Water parameters

Tank water temperature may be 22 and 28 °C (72 and 82 °F), though the adult healthy fish species easily stand the temperature decrease up to 15 °C or rise up to 30 °C.

The kissing gourami isn’t demanding in terms of tank water composition. The water hardness and acidity are not of high importance, though the fish prefers soft and a bit acidic water. Recommended water hardness is up to 12°, acidity pH 6-7.5.

Tank decor

Since kissing gourami is capable of feeding on fouling in a tank, it is recommend to put large grained bottom substrate into the tank – pebbles or large gravels. They have larger surface for bacteria and algae to grow; also for the same reason it is not recommended to clean the back wall of the tank.

The kissing gourami will show its best coloring against dark colored substrate from small pebbles. To avoid digging the substrate too much by the fish, put not large flat stones, plates with smooth edges.

It is recommended to use snags, roots or some artificial objects as shelters for the fish – there should be a shelter for each fish in a tank. For example, if there are two species in a tank, it’s better to make two shelters there. It’d be good to have lots of tank plants in a tank as well; put them along the tank walls and around snags, floating plants will do as well, since they are part of the natural diet in the wild.

There is a prevailing notion that climbing perches species can successfully dwell in oxygen-deficient waters. However, they can live at such conditions just for some period of time, which gives them competitive advantage in the wild.

But in a tank, in isolated system lack of oxygen leads to problems with organic remnants rotting and thus toxins concentration rises and they poison the water and its dwellers.

Closing the tank lid is of high importance, since humid environment with elevated temperature is formed under it, which in its turn reduces chances of damaging of the labyrinth organ to minimum while breathing with atmospheric air due to the temperatures difference.


Efficient filtration and aeration is a must in a tank, but at that the equipment shouldn’t create any excessive water flow, since the fish prefers slow or lentic waters. Otherwise, the fish will definitely get stressed.


This species is considered as herbivorous one, though its diet isn’t limited to just plant food. Kissing gourami almost all the time filtrates water through its gills and this way gathers plankton food. The fish also can catch insects that come close to water surface.

Although it tanks the kissing gourami eat almost everything you give to them. They eagerly eat tubifex, daphnia, cyclops, can feed on mussels and shrimps. As for the bloodworm, the fish doesn’t like it much.

However, when feeding with plant food you also should give it some vegetable food as supplementary component. This can be algae, scalded and chopped lettuce, cabbage leaves.

Don’t feed with large sized food, since despite its size, kissing gourami has relatively small mouth and may not be able to eat such food. In general, the fish prefers plankton food. It also eagerly scrapes fouling from tank plants and walls.

Tank mates

It’s better to get several young species for keeping in a tank; never buy just two of them, since the strongest one will definitely intimidate the weaker fish constantly.

Kissing gourami behaves quite tolerant towards the fishes of equal size, except the cases when there isn’t enough space in the tank. The adult species tend to show aggression towards small tank mates, they will attack them and can even feed on them.

Kissing gourami aggressiveness to a high extent depends on a specific species, because some of them co-exist with others and some fight with their tank mates till their death. You can keep the fish with the species of its kind, but the tank has to be roomy enough and it’s important not to put too many fish in it.

For example:

  1. Yoyo Loach
  2. Swordtail
  3. Tiger barb
  4. Siamese Algae Eater (SAE)
  5. Angelfish
  6. Congo Tetra
  7. Rosy Barb
  8. Odessa barb
  9. Pictus Catfish
  10. Hoplo catfish

Kissing gourami have strict hierarchy system and thus both genders will continuously compete with each other by ‘kissing’ and pushing each other. These actions themselves don’t lead to the death, but less dominating species will be very stressed and it’s critical that they have a place to hide in a tank.

Gender differences: male vs female

Nowadays it isn’t clear how to tell between kissing gourami male and female. They have quite weekly shown gender dimorphism. The male has protruding forehead and its body is more flattened from sides, than that of females.

Female may also have longer body. Though all the above mentioned distinctive features are very unreliable. Only during the fish spawning period the female abdomen becomes noticeably larger and fatter, which can be easily seen when looking at the fish from above.

During the mating season the male coloring becomes brighter and darker, sometimes with violet tint (this is true for the fish with foliage green body coloring). Except this the male also changes its behavior during this time – he becomes more active and aggressive, he haunts the female all the time.


Kissing gourami don’t demonstrate any signs of parental instincts and unlike most of other climbing perch species they don’t build nests from bubbles.

The fish becomes reproductive at the age of about 2 years old. They spawn in couples. Before this you should put the fish into separate volumes for two weeks and feed them well and with vegetable food also.

A tank of about 150 liters capacity can be used as a spawning one. River sand is good as a bottom substrate. Tank plants should be the same as those that are in the initial tank, plus you have to put some floating plants into it (like riccia or duckweed).

Water in a spawning tank should be soft with hardness less than 10°. Water acidity must be neutral (pH 7).

Spawning as a rule starts in the morning and lasts for several hours. Mating ceremony starts from ‘kisses’, that may last quite long. After this the fish start to spawn.

During the spawning the kissing gourami male holds the female from bottom and turns it upside down a little. The female lays from 20 to 200 eggs at one time. In general the female lays 5000-6000 eggs, though young females lay only 300-1000 eggs. Eggs are transparent and amber colored. They are lighter than water and they bob up to the water surface and stay near the floating plants.

The fish don’t build eggs from bubbles, don’t take care of eggs and kissing gourami larvae and they don’t eat them though. The egg stage lasts for 15-20 hours. On the third day after the larvae hatches the juveniles come to the tank bottom. Since that time you should start to feed them. You may use infusorian as a start food.