Sparkling Gourami Care, Breeding, & Tank Mates

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The Sparkling Gourami is a small fish that shares many of the same traits as its larger cousins within the Anabantidae family. They’re hardy, tolerant fish that thrives in a specialized environment. You’ll be able to keep one alive with basic aquarium skills, but will it truly thrive?

Let’s dive in with some quick facts, and then we’ll go more in-depth about Sparkling Gourami care.

sparkling gourami

Sparkling Gourami Quick Care Sheet

  • Common Name: Sparkling Gourami
  • Alternate Common Name(s): Pygmy Gourami, Dwarf Croaking Gourami
  • Latin Name: Trichopsis pumila
  • Care Level: Easy to Medium
  • Tank Size: 5 Gallons+
  • Size: 1 ⅔”
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Behavior: Peaceful Top Dweller
  • Lifespan: 4-6 years
  • Reproduction Type: Bubble nest 
  • Water Temperature:  77-83 °F(25-28°C )
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 5-19dH

Origins of the Sparkling Gourami

The Sparkling Gourami, or Trichopsis pumila, is a small member of the Anabantid family. This family includes all gourami, as well as fish like the Betta splendens. 

Their defining characteristic is the labyrinth organ. This is an organ that allows the fish to take in air, which is then absorbed slowly into the organ. They still breathe using gills, but this extra adaptation is essential in their native climes.

The labyrinth organ allows the fish to live in standing water. It’s not quite stagnant but when water sits for too long it begins to lose oxygen to surface gas exchange with the atmosphere. Most fish will die if the oxygen levels in their water get too low, but the labyrinth organ means the fish can breathe even in an anoxic environment.

This environment is typical for gourami species, from large to small.

Trichopsis pumila is a very small fish, usually measuring 1 ½” to 1 ⅔”. A few specimens may reach 1 ¾” but they’re practically giants compared to those of normal size. They can be found in slow-moving rivers, ponds, and rice paddies spread across their native range.

They’re primarily located in the Mekong River Basin, which puts them in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam although the river extends far northward into China as well. The specific areas they inhabit have some curious characteristics that you’ll want to take advantage of.

The water that gourami inhabit is generally low in oxygen and flow, with a large amount of vegetation. Thick vegetation is essential for these fish’s health, keeping them stress-free since they have many places to hide in the wild… and hopefully in your tank.

The only real caveat to the care of Sparkling Gourami is that they must be kept with plants or they’ll become stressed. I have some suggestions below for those who are just beginning or don’t have an aquatic green thumb. As a general rule, the plants are more demanding than these fish.

Sparkling Gouramis have no trouble eating… well, anything. You can feed them flakes or pellets without any issues, but the fry will have some specialized needs due to their small size. A varied diet is always best and the fish will take frozen foods with no issue. Some bloodworms or brine shrimp once or twice a week should be enough to make them thrive.

These fish tend to be quite peaceful, which is a nice change of pace from some of the mid-to-large sized fish in the same order. Compared to the only other small gourami I’ve kept, the Dwarf Gourami, they’re very shy and not outgoing. Due to their small size and peaceful nature, you’ll want to be careful about tankmates.

Species tanks are preferred for the Sparkling Gourami. There are certainly some exceptions, it’s not a hard rule. One thing to keep in mind is that these beautiful little fish are safe to keep with dwarf shrimp like Neocardinia, and they’re always a great option for planted tanks.

You don’t have to worry about infighting as long as you have a reasonably sized tank. Two or three should be fine in a well-filtered 5-gallon tank, while a 10-gallon can house five to six.

Sparkling Gouramis are one of the few fish that make noise as well. They make both a chirping/chittering noise and a sound that comes out more like a purr that the female uses to initiate mating.

These noises are produced through a specialized adaptation in their pectoral fins. Their tendons and muscles are arranged in a way that the tendon can be tightened and then “plucked.” It’s similar to the way a guitar works.

Chirping Sparkling Gourami is a great sign for their health. It means they’ve adapted well to the tank and are thriving instead of just surviving!

Ideal Tank Setup

You don’t need to be an aquarium wizard to keep these fish. Check out the following guidelines to make sure, but keeping Sparkling Gourami is suited for even a beginner as long as they’re willing to learn more about aquatic plants.

Required Equipment and Materials

You’ll want to make sure that you have the usual equipment for your tank. The following will all be necessary:

  • Hang-on-Back Filter– We’re not going to run an air pump, so you want a HOB to create some surface air exchange through the falling water.
  • Heater- Just get one sized appropriately for the aquarium.
  • Tank- I recommend at least 10 gallons but you can use a 5-gallon tank if you have experience with managing nano aquarium systems.
  • Light- A moderate lighting system is a good idea, since it will allow you to grow a wider range of plants.
  • Hardscape- Rocks and driftwood are ideal, but you can use whatever you’d like.
  • Substrate- Should be capable of supporting plants. Otherwise, you’ll need to provide root tabs from the beginning, and some gravels can be a pain to keep plants in.

You may also want to look into the basics of CO₂ systems. This will lower the pH so be careful to use buffers if you normally use RO or distilled water for your tanks. pH should stay above 6.0 during the day in almost all cases. We’re not quite going to blackwater tank levels of acidity.

You’ll also need a test kit if you don’t already have one. Specifically, you want tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrates, and pH to keep parameters in the right place.

Cycling the Tank

The nitrogen cycle, for those unaware, is a critical part of keeping a healthy aquarium. It’s simple enough on our end since all we have to do is prime the water and then take measurements until the job is done.

I recommend a fishless cycle in this case. While Sparkling Gourami are very tolerant of differing conditions, they can still suffer harm during the initial parts of setup. The good news is that you won’t have a bare, ugly tank during this time since it will be heavily planted.

For those new to fishkeeping, here’s the basic way to cycle an aquarium:

  1. Set up the aquarium including decorations, plants, and water. Add a very small pinch of fish flake or a few small sinking pellets after you’re done and the equipment is running.
  2. Test the water for ammonia 1-2x per day and continue to feed a very small amount when you do so. Ammonia should show up within 72 hours.
  3. Keep measuring ammonia daily until you reach undetectable levels.
  4. Begin measuring nitrite. Nitrite levels should show within 4-5 days, and then fade off over another 2. This isn’t always the case, just keep measuring 1-2x daily until the nitrite is undetectable.
  5. Measure nitrates. Anything >30ppm is too much, aim for <15ppm for a clean tank. Anything under 20ppm is a great start.
  6. If nitrates are taking too long to drop then perform a 25% daily water change. RO water is preferred for this.

Nitrates are a strange measurement in our tanks. I’ve used the above guidelines for a decade and haven’t had any problems yet.

If your nitrates stay consistently high with daily water changes then they may be coming from your tap water. Test a bit from the sink. Anything above 10ppm should be replaced with RO water.

Fortunately, we usually keep Sparkling Gourami in smaller tanks so you probably won’t need a full setup to make consistent water changes in the future.

Plants, Plants, Plants

Plants are the only “hard” part of keeping Sparkling Gourami happy. You can take a few different approaches, but the goal is to cram a whole bunch of plant life into the tank in order to create a “jungle” environment.

You can go with whatever you’d like in the bottom of the tank, but I suggest something like Dwarf Saggitaria or Cryptocoryne wenditii to fill in the bottom. Lower growing ground covers like HC aren’t ideal but they can be used if you have a portion of the tank filled with taller plants.

Both of these plants are easy to keep, especially if you got the right substrate from the start. They’ll create a cover 3-4” tall along the bottom of the tank if your fish decide to head down there.

Use Anubias sp. or Java Fern to decorate your hardscape. They can both be tied down easily with either string or fishing line. The latter is stronger but will need manual removal once the plants are established on the rocks and driftwood.

The rest is up to your floating plants. Giant Duckweed is by far the easiest to grow, but it can become a problem as well. You’ll need to regularly dip a net in and remove portions or it will prevent light from reaching the bottom of the tank.

Water Sprite, Anacharis, and Hornwort are all great floating plants. Trim them just above the growth nodes and they’ll split, allowing you to create enormous masses from just a few plants. While they can be planted in the substrate they’ll do best floating in the tank.

You want something like Seachem Flourish, which can be added on a weekly basis in the recommended dose. This keeps nutrients in the water for your floating plants and prevents problems.

After a year, or if you started with an inert substrate, you’ll want to begin adding root tabs for your cover plants. Otherwise, they may begin to fade and have problems with growth due to a lack of iron or magnesium.

The bottom line is that the more plants are in the tank, the happier these fish will be. All of the above plants are very easy to care for, and we have a list of floating plants for those who may want to take it a bit further.

Spacing the Hood

Any tank with gourami of any species in it needs a hood. Gouramis are intelligent fish, but they have a tendency to try and fly once in a while.

Normally a full hood will prevent this, but with Sparkling Gourami we have a problem. They need to be able to breathe atmospheric air in order to remain healthy, so you’ll need to give them some room.

Leave ¼” to ½” at the top of the tank so they can breathe from the surface. I’d usually leave a ½” gap at the top for tanks that house labyrinth fish. This comes down to just below the surface of the plastic bracing on most tanks.

It doesn’t take a lot but it’s easy to miss this key requirement if you’re not paying attention during the tank’s setup.

Understanding Sparkling Gourami Behavior

These gouramis are easy to understand if you pay attention to them inside the tank. For new keepers, however, some explanations may be necessary.

Overcoming Shyness

The reason for so much emphasis on planting the tanks is simple. These tiny fish will hide as often as possible and remain incredibly shy if they don’t feel secure.

There are a few ways that you can overcome this. The main way to overcome hiding behavior in Sparkling Gourami is always to plant the tank. You may also want to keep an eye on the flow of the tank, too much and they’ll be disconcerted due to their origin in slow-moving streams and tributaries of the Mekong.

If your fish remain shy after a prolonged period in a planted tank, then dither fish can be used. Dither fish are meant to assure the Gourami that everything is safe. Due to their small size, most of the fish used as dithers are out.

Instead, you’ll want to add a few Endler’s Livebearer, Chili Rasbora, or other very small and peaceful fish. This can sometimes overcome their shy nature when nothing else will do the task. Just make sure you have room for them in the tank, a higher bioload without adequate filtration will just make things worse.

Staking Out Territory

These small fish aren’t nearly as shy when it comes to them fighting with each other. The males, in particular, can be territorial and may fight over choice hiding spots and other features in the tank.

The best thing to do is ensure there are multiple hiding places with shelter in the tank. The Sparkling Gourami doesn’t need an enormous turf, just a place to call home.

If you have excessive fighting you may need to separate the fish, but I’ve yet to see it happen. For the most part they’re content if they’ve got a little bit of a “cave” to call their own.

Social, Not Schooling

When you can, you should keep a few of these fish together. Two or three is a good enough number in a smaller tank, leaving room for other creatures to be put in.

These fish are social but they don’t actually school. You’ll see them interact very often, poking at each other with their feelers or chasing each other. This is normal and unless one of the fish starts to take damage you don’t need to interfere.

Fish without other Sparkling Gouramis in the tank will tend to be shyer. You may still be able to encourage them to swim in the open but you’ll be missing out on the varied world of gourami communication.

Just keep two or three together and they’ll have the social enrichment they need.

Gourami “Tentacles”

Like all gourami species, the Sparkling Gourami has modified pectoral fins. These can be seen as long “tentacles” on the bottom of the fish. They’ll occasionally swim around and poke things with these fins.

These fins are used like hands. They’ll poke and prod things, including other gouramis, with them. They’ll poke at the glass, plants, and everything in the tank at one point or another.. It’s thought their modified pelvic fins are a result of murky water. In their native regions the water can often be clouded with silt and mud

In the aquarium, it’s just a quirk but they will continue doing it.

A gourami that’s wandering the tank at random poking things with their tentacles is one that’s thriving. When they don’t feel secure you’ll rarely see one of these fish checking things out, preferring to hide inside their cave and dart quickly when they have to leave.

If one of your gouramis has damaged or lost one of their feelers it’s not a cause for worry. Find out what caused it (usually another fish), and remove the problem. In most cases the feeler will grow back over time.

Lots of Chirping Means Happy Gourami

Keeping these fish alive is easy. Making them thrive will take a little bit more effort. Sparkling Gourami are a croaking species, as mentioned above, but they only make the noise in certain situations.

The males will chirp at each other during territorial fighting, and they’ll chirp at females when they’re getting ready to mate. At least if they’re secure.

Encouraging chirping takes the same measures you’re already taking to make the fish thrive. 

Chirping is the sound of your hard work paying off!

Suitable Tankmates

Nano tank fish selection is always a bit of a pain. They’re too small for many of the common community fish to inhabit the same tank, they’ll just get eaten. While the Sparkling Gourami doesn’t have the same issues as fish under an inch in length, they’re still small enough that you need to be careful who goes in the tank with them.

Once the size is considered, you also need to consider the aggression level of the other fish. Sparkling Gouramis are very shy and will become borderline reclusive if they are constantly being attacked by other fish. You want to avoid anything more serious than the occasional fin nipping.

Great companions include smaller fish like Endler’s Livebearer and the Chili Rasbora. Endlers are my preferred breed since they’re peaceful, tiny, and quite colorful. The other fish I keep with them are Otocinclus Catfish, a staple in all of my smaller planted tanks. Otos should not be added until the tank has been running for at least six months due to their specialized diet.

Other good fish include:

Be careful with Dwarf Gourami, I’ve found them to have a wide range of personalities and some are very aggressive. The other schooling fish will all be fine, just make sure you have the right amount of room in the tank to add them.

Sparkling Gouramis are shrimp-safe, at least to the adults. The babies are simply too tempting, but I haven’t found a fish that doesn’t love to eat baby dwarf shrimp yet.

Cherry Shrimp are the better option for those who are beginners. On the other hand, they can be kept in similar conditions to Crystal Red Shrimp which are harder to keep.

Keep big, predatory arthropods like crayfish out of the tank, but they’ll be fine with something like a Bamboo Shrimp. Crabs are a no-go, with the exception of the rare Thai Micro-crab they’re all too dangerous to house with these fish. Red Claws and the others will tear apart any they catch.

Do not keep these fish with Betta. Despite the lack of similarity in appearance, you’ll find most male Betta treat Sparkling Gouramis like they treat other males of their own species. This will lead to endless harassment and isn’t good for the more peaceful Sparkling Gourami.

Breeding Sparkling Gouramis

Breeding Sparkling Gouramis is a little bit more complicated than just keeping them. Similar to Betta, these fish form bubble nests where they house the eggs.

If you’re planning on breeding these charming little labyrinth fish, you’ll need to know the following.

Sexing Sparkling Gouramis

These fish aren’t heavily dimorphic, but you can tell them apart by sight once you get the hang of it. The problem is getting there.

As a general rule, the females will have fins that are a bit smaller and less of the iridescent coloration that gives the fish its name. It’s hard to tell unless they’re side-by-side.

You can also spotlight the fish in order to check their sex. This is a good trick to know if you’re keeping fish, although you’ll have to apply it differently in every case.

Spotlighting is simple: place the fish in a clear cup full of tank water and hit it from behind with a strong flashlight. You should be able to see the internal organs of the fish after doing this. With the Sparkling Gourami, you’re looking for a small triangular area behind the gut.

It’s easy to miss, especially if you’ve never seen it, but this forum thread does a fantastic job of showing the internal differences.

Courtship and Spawning

Courtship should begin soon in any tank that keeps these fish happy. You’ll hear the noise they make and see the male intertwining around the female. This is their spawning, afterward, the male will build a bubble nest at the surface as somewhere to place the eggs.

If you know that you have a male and a female and they’re not spawning there are a few things you can do to trigger it.

The most straightforward is simply increasing the good protein in their diet. It takes a lot of amino acids to make up the eggs and baby fish, so feeding well will help. Bloodworms or brine shrimp fed 4-5 times per week is a good mark to shoot for if you’re having trouble.

You may also be able to trigger them by simulating the rainy season. This is easier than it sounds, all you need to do is begin making water changes frequently. A 10-15% water change once per day is usually enough to convince these fish that it’s the breeding season.

Once they’ve spawned and laid the eggs, you’re into the harder part of keeping these fish.

Caring for Your Sparkling Gourami Fry

The fry of the Sparkling Gouramis is very fragile and very small. This creates a few problems.

However, we can keep the parents in the same tank. No other fish should be present at this point, but gouramis aren’t known to eat their own fry. This removes my least favorite part of breeding, which is having to make separate dedicated tanks to house everyone in a safe area.

The fry are too small to eat baby brine shrimp or the other usual foods. Instead, you’ll need to feed them infusoria. Java Moss and other floating mosses can help as well, you just need to leave them in the tank. They tend to collect microscopic crustaceans and arthropods which can act as a supplemental food source.

Afterward, baby brine shrimp and then standard fish food will work well to grow them out.

Culturing Infusoria

Infusoria is a catch-all term for a number of very small critters in our tanks. They’re always there, whether you see them or not, but you want to make a preparation that has more of them in the long term.

I recommend starting a culture right now, the second best time is when your Sparkling Gourami come home with you. Infusoria takes a few days to grow, so you’ll want it on hand when the fry show up.

It’s a pretty easy task. You need a big jar, some tank water, and something for the microscopic fauna to eat. You can use almost anything, but discarded vegetable bits have always been my go-to source of food for them. I’ve even seen people use grass clippings.

After you have everything together all you need to do is drop the food into the tank water, close it, and leave it somewhere that it will get sunlight on a regular basis. The water will begin to cloud within a couple of days.

I use the following procedure which is only a little bit more complex:

  1. Fill the jar ¼ to ⅓ full with vegetable matter.’
  2. Boil water on the stove and pour it into the jar. You want to just cover the vegetables. This sterilizes the food and begins to break it down without the aerobic bacteria that will make the food rot.
  3. Allow the jar to cool to room temperature.
  4. Pour in enough tank water to top things off, then close the jar.
  5. Place the jar somewhere it will get sunlight.
  6. Wait 2-3 day for the culture to develop.
  7. Siphon off part of the mixture to prepare another infusoria culture in dechlorinated tap water.
  8. Discard the mixture when you smell rot, usually about 2 days after the culture is ready to be fed to the fish.

Store your infusoria at room temperature and out of the sun. The sunlight helps kickstart the process but at some point, the bacteria are going to get out of hand. 

If you prep a new jar or two from the first jar you’ll have an easy cycle ahead of you. Roughly every 4-5 days you can prep a new jar in just a few moments, ensuring that you have infusoria on hand. I generally keep one culture going at a time, just to have it, but run 2-3 when I’m breeding fish.

Finding Homes for the Fry

While Sparkling Gourami are small, they also produce a lot of babies. More than most people will be prepared for.

They usually have 100+ offspring, and a third to half of them will make it to adulthood in a normal breeding environment. That’s 30-50 Sparkling Gouramis that need to find proper homes. Not an easy task if you’re not running a fish store.

Talk to your LFS, they’ll sometimes give credit for fish that you’ve raised and it’s the best bet in most cases. On other occasions, you may need to try the internet. Shipping fish is always a risk and I prefer to find local keepers who want them.

That said, you’ll have to do what you can to make sure they’re housed properly. A larger tank (ie: 55+ gallons) can make a decent temporary location for these fish but they’re likely to begin fighting if they’re kept there for too long.

Nano Gourami for Nano Tanks

Sparking Gourami care is easier than it appears. All you need to do to keep them happy is make sure that you have a solid hardscape design with caves and a ton of plants for them to hide in. Do it right and you’ll be able to enjoy their charming chirp and bold colors for a long time to come.

So, how are you going to set up your new Sparkling Gourami tank?