The paradise fish, or “gourami” is one of the most popular species on the market today, second only perhaps to the goldfish.
From their origins in the warm, shallow waters of Southeast Asia to the worldwide aquarium market, the many varieties of paradise gourami have captivated home aquarists for years.
Whether you’re just getting started with a paradise fish or simply looking for more information about these beautiful animals, read on to see just what is to love about the Macropodus opercularis.
The Labyrinth Fish Family
Both bettas and paradise fish are members of the Anabanthodei, or labyrinth fish family. These fish have adapted a fascinating organ known as the labyrinth in order to breathe surface air for short periods of time.
At the surface of the water, they are able to gulp in air. The gills are supported by the blood vessel-rich labyrinth organ above them, and they can extract oxygen.
The Labyrinth Organ
The specialized labyrinth organ is oftentimes the key to survival for a wild paradise gourami. These remarkable animals are able to survive in, out of, or even in oxygen poor or polluted waters with dense vegetation thanks to the ability to breathe above the surface.
The natural adaptability of these fish allows them to survive in a wide variety of novel and sometimes even invasive ways. From a local park to the waterways of towns, paradise fish are an incredibly tenacious, curious animal that can have a place in your home, with careful consideration.
NOTEWhen first setting up a paradise fish tank, do keep in mind that this jumping tendency can even happen in the home! Consider the use of a lid for keeping any jumpy species safe and sound in their aquarium.
In their natural habitat, these fish have been able to survive for hundreds, if not thousands of years by moving from one shallow water source to another. They may even hop between puddles, striving to find the most comfortable place to eventually settle down and build a nice bubble nest.
Although initially remarked upon by Linnaeus in the 1700s, paradise fish have been known in the waters of Hong Kong to northern Vietnam and Taiwan for many generations. These warm water fish spread rapidly on their own, hopping from one body to the next in search of territory and mates.
The paradise gourami followed the goldfish to the western markets in the 1800s, during a major surge in the new hobby of aquarium keeping. These popular fish moved from France to Berlin, and onwards to the rest of the Western world and the annals of fish keeping history.
These beautiful tropical fish are notable for their bright colors, intriguing behaviors, and generally easy level of care.
They have a less outwardly aggressive nature than its cousin the betta, you are much less likely to find paradise gourami attacking the other members of your tank. That being said, they have been known to harass other fish on occasion.
How Big Do Paradise Fish Get?
Males will generally reach a maximum length of 4 inches not including the trailing tail, and females are typically around 3 inches in length. The overall average paradise fish size can be said to be around 3-3.9 inches in length.
Coming in a range of orange, red, and blue, paradise fish present an astounding motley of colors for the eyes. Paradise gouramis in particular have a series of 7-11 darker blue stripes running vertically from front to back, and a small bar over the eye.
This attractive fish, with its dark blue lateral lines has a sweeping set of fin tips that are much more noticeable in the male fish than in the females, who tend towards a stubbier tip end. Other varieties of paradise fish may have different color patterns, such as the M. concolor.
NOTEAlbino paradise fish have also been known, with an equally beautiful pattern of whites and reds along their body and a red coloration to the eye. This variety was introduced from a European stock in the early 1930s, and is generally a bit more even-tempered than other gourami species.
Care and thought needs to go into ensuring that all the fish in the tank with your paradise fish are large enough to fend for themselves.
In general, the paradise gourami will tend to pick on other smaller fish in the tank in order to assert dominance.
This can lead to chewed fin tips and lost scales if unchecked, and is best if your other freshwater fish species are larger fish.
When it comes to keeping paradise fish together, it can be done but takes some planning.
When attempting to keep male paradise fish, it may be best to stick with a single paradise fish.
Multiple female paradise fish can live together without much incident, seeing as it is primarily the males who vie for territory and mates.
NOTEKeeping multiple male paradise fish in the same tank is not something that I would recommend. While these smaller fish may not seem capable, they are more than able to inflict damage on one another, from ripped fins which can lead to fin rot to lost scales or even eyes.
What If I Want to Breed?
When planning to breed, it should be noted that the males will become especially aggressive, even towards females of their own species. As bubble nest builders, the job of the male is to protect the young for their first few weeks of development, and he will vigilantly chase away all comers!
If you have a male and a female in the same tank when breeding has occurred, it is best to remove the female to prevent injury.
If you don’t have a separate tank, A good, simple way to do this while avoiding excess agitation and stress is to place a glass divider between them and net the female out and into its own tank. This doesn’t need to be permanent, merely until the fry are matured enough to swim on their own.
Possible Tank Mates
When thinking of potential paradise fish tank mates, it’s important that the other species will at least match the paradise gourami in terms of size and isn’t itself an aggressive or territorial animal.
Good examples of compatible tank mates for paradise gourami include giant danios, loaches, cichlids, catfish and cyprinids.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for a variety of neutral but mixed personalities to avoid conflict.
Incompatible Tank Mates
A large population of more aggressive fish or territorial fish may lead to increased incidences of aggression, whereas too peaceful of tank mates may seem themselves picked on.
How To Take Care Of A Paradise Fish
When it comes to building a long relationship with your paradise fish, what at first can seem complicated or even intimidating can be made simple and easy with a good routine.
Scheduling yourself basic maintenance for your tank, cleaning, and feeding is a great way to start when caring for any fish, let alone your paradise gourami.
An important factor in tank size is not just the minimum requirements for the fish you’re looking at (in this case paradise gouramis) but how many and what variety of fish you plan on having in your tank.
A larger tank is always a better option for territorial fish like these, with plenty of room to hide and break line of sight.
Minimum Tank Size
The minimum tank size I’d recommend for keeping this ornamental fish is 20 gallons. This ensures that they have an adequate amount of space to swim without encountering your other freshwater fish too often.
A single male can make do with a smaller tank, but I still recommend a minimum of 20 for comfort. If you’re looking to keep a male and female along with several neighbors, look at the 30+ gallon range to make sure everyone has enough space.
Being a survivalist in its natural habitat, the paradise fish lends itself well to a range of habitats. Given their capacity to breathe air on the surface they can even handle dirty or low-oxygen water, but in general we should probably avoid those in our home aquarium.
As a warm water fish, the paradise gourami thrives best on the higher end of the water temperature range but can do quite well anywhere from 61 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes them an ideal neighbor for other species anywhere in that range, from medium or large goldfish to plecos and catfish.
These freshwater fish can even tolerate swings to as low as 50 degrees, meaning that they can work in an outdoor setting if so desired. That being said, if you’re considering breeding paradise fish you’ll want to keep things on the warmer side to make your newly developing fry as comfortable as possible.
Many tank heaters on the market today come with handy features such as built-in on and off switches, thermometers for the inside and outside of the tank, and reflective design for minimal obstruction in your tank.
NOTEIf you live in a colder area and have difficulty maintaining a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in your tank, a heater may be a good option for you.
Speaking to the adaptability of the species, paradise gouramis can do well in anywhere from 5.9 to 8 pH. This range of basic to acidic allows them to survive in relatively polluted waters out in the wilds, but in the home settings means they can work with a variety of tank set ups.
Hardness is the measure of dissolved calcium carbonate in a supply of water. This is typically measured in milligrams of carbonate per liter (mg 1ca1cO3/L), with a range of 0-71 being classified as soft and above 150 mg/L being hard. For paradise fish, a soft range of 5-31 mg/L is preferred.
As with any fish, your tank should have some sort of filtration system. The natural bacteria already present in your tank will do a great job at reducing ammonia into nitrates and nitrites, but you’ll need some chemical and mechanical filtration to get the job done right.
Pairing something like an air stone which passively generates water movement with an air-pump based canister filter and undergravel system can be a great start.
This will ensure that there is enough water movement within your tank to keep particles from settling and depositing on the bottom, while allowing your filter to capture them for later removal.
Paradise fish do well with moderate or normal light ranges. This means that while direct sunlight can be an option, they do best with a mix of light and dark throughout the day.
NOTEA normal day-night cycle is essential for any diurnal fish such as this one in establishing a healthy sleep schedule.
Any substrate, from sand to soil to gravel or pebbles can work for this hardy aquarium fish. As long as they are clean and don’t affect the water quality, you can use whichever substrates suits your freshwater fish tank best.
Paradise fish are omnivores, meaning that they will eat either plant or meat options. They are natural predators, and will eat mosquito larvae, small fish, and brine shrimp that they find in whatever small body of water they occupy from rice paddies to puddles.
What should I feed paradise fish?
A good base line of pellets or flakes designed specifically for paradise fish is the best place to start.
This will ensure that they receive a proper balanced amount of nutrition, which you can then supplement with exciting treats like white worms, blood worms, baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and even bits of certain fruits and vegetables.
NOTEA good rule of thumb for preventing feeding from interfering with your water quality is to remove any uneaten food within a half an hour of feeding. This will ensure that leftover food doesn’t have time to break down, meaning your fish can remain healthy and happy without swimming through dirty water.
Live foods can be a great way to exercise their predatory instinct as well. They will chase prey foods around in the tank, allowing you to incorporate a bit more natural activity in your paradise fish care routine.
Can you breed paradise fish?
Breeding fish like gouramis can be challenging, but very rewarding keeping in mind the aggressive behavior of the male.
He both initiates the courtship ritual and is responsible for egg care after fertilization, and will act aggressively towards other fish during the process. Even the mother is not exempt, in fact she is often the first victim of the male’s overprotection.
The Bubble Nest
The male constructs what is known as a bubble nest by coming to the surface and mixing a bit of gulped air with a form of saliva, which then creates a small bubble. He will repeat this process hundreds of times, until a small raft of bubbles has formed on the surface.
The male and the female perform what can best be described as a dance, with the male rolling over the female and fertilizing her eggs as he goes.
After fertilization has occurred, the male will carry all the eggs in his mouth and deposit them in the nest. During a single event, a female can lay as many as 500 eggs and most if not all will make it to the nest.
NOTEImmediately after placing all of the eggs, the male will chase the female across the tank, keeping her as far away as possible. After this point is the best time to remove the female for the duration of the growth of the eggs, as the male will continually target her and nip at her dorsal and anal fins.
Following a period of three days, during which the father will continually catch babies falling from the nest and replacing them within, the fry will be ready to emerge.
The father will continue to watch over his young for another week or so, after which he will return to competing with his young, sometimes even consuming them if they get too close!
For more paradise fish breeding tips, watch this video below.
How long do paradise fish live?
The average lifespan for a paradise fish in captivity is around 6 years. However, with proper care, feeding, and tank maintenance they can live upwards of 8.
Is the paradise fish for you?
From beginners to advanced aquarists, this hardy species can make for a great option for fish keepers looking for a beautiful alternative to the common betta or fancy goldfish.
If you don’t mind keeping an eye on the interactions between different fish in your tank, these fish can survive just about any conditions and even work in outdoor pond setups.
Can paradise fish live in a bowl?
Provided that the bowl is of the minimum size of at least 20 gallons, your fish should do just fine. Anything smaller than this and you may see adverse health effects due to crowding and stress.
Are paradise fish aggressive?
Paradise fish are a somewhat aggressive species, but will generally not go after fish that do not enter their space or compete for resources. That being said, slow moving species or those with long flowing fin tips may find themselves the target of nips and aggression.
NOTEKeep in mind that although at first, paradise fish care can seem intimidating and challenging, it is ultimately a rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The best way to respond is to curb the need for aggression before it becomes a major issue. If you notice that your paradise fish isn’t getting along with another fish in your community tank, it’s time to think about moving one or the other to its own enclosure.
Can paradise fish live alone?
Paradise fish can do just fine in a tank on their own, and may even thrive compared to a community tank with poorly-planned neighbors. As long as the basic water parameters (ie temperature, oxygen content, ammonia levels) are kept in check, your paradise fish should be more than happy.
How many paradise fish should you keep together?
The answer to this particular question depends primarily on the ratio of fish you’d like to keep. When keeping males and females, a ratio of one male to three females can be ideal.
This keeps the male from spending too much time harassing one female in particular, and the females will get along just fine with one another.
Are paradise fish easy to keep?
For a tropical fish, paradise fish can indeed be quite simple. This especially when compared to other, more complicated fish such as bettas or saltwater reef fish like tangs.
In general, as long as your initial tank layout sets your fish up for success with lots of room and neutral neighbors, your paradise fish should be easy to take care of.
Female only tanks can work with up to around 5 or 6 female paradise fish. These will be much more even-tempered than the males and will not jostle for superiority but may still show the same predator instinct towards other slow moving fish.
As for juveniles, you can keep as many as will fit at one time in a tank until they reach their adult size of 3 inches. They won’t show aggression towards one another prior to this, but after will need to be separated out as they become more territorial and individualistic.
Throughout today’s article, we’ve looked at the many facets of the paradise fish. We’ve examined possible tank mates, paradise fish diet, breeding, and tank set up.
If you have any specific question regarding the health of your paradise fish, consulting with a trained veterinarian or your local pet store can be a great place to start!
Feel Free To Share
As always I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s post and that it has answered all of your paradise fish care questions. Feel free to share this information with any other fish fanatics you may know, and I wish you the best of luck on your continued aquarium adventures!
(1) “File:Macropodus opercularis aquarium.jpg” by Matthias Kloszczyk is marked with CC BY 3.0
(2) “Paradise fish” by Mean and Pinchy is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0
(3) “Paradise fish male” by Daniella Vereeken is marked with CC BY 2.0
(4) “File:DV Paradise fish male 05.jpg” by Daniella Vereeken is marked with CC BY 2.0.
(5) “paradise fish” by Daniella Vereeken is marked with CC BY 2.0.