The Kissing Gourami is one of the most popular gouramis with its fascinating lip sucking action!
The Kissing Gourami is a long time favorite of aquarists and an age old fish. It became a popular aquarium fish when it was first introduced to the hobby in about 1950 from commercial breeders in Florida. But it was described almost two centuries ago by the French zoologist Cuvier in 1829. It was named after a Dutch doctor, Temminck. Its valid scientific name is Helostoma temminkii. The synonyms Helostoma temmincki or Helostoma temminckii are also original descriptions for this species and are found in much of the earlier literature, however they are no longer considered valid.
Every aquarist who gets interested in gouramis eventually gets a Kissing Gourami because of their unusual “kissing” action. They are truly one of the most intriguing of the gouramis and quite distinct; so distinct in fact that the Helostomais genus is monotypic, meaning it contains only this one species. This gourami originates in Asia, from Thailand at the north of its range and south into Indonesia. It is also commonly known as the Kisser Fish or just Kisser.
This gourami has two naturally occurring color forms, a grayish-green and a pink. The grayish- green form originates from Thailand and is known as the Green Kisser or Green Kissing Gourami. Its body is usually a gray tone but with some being greener, thus its common name. It has horizontal stripes and fins that are dark brown and opaque. The pink form is found to the south from Indonesia and is known as the Pink Kisser or Pink Kissing Gourami. This form is rose to orangish-pink with silvery scales and has fins that are pinkish and transparent. The pink color form is heavily propagated in captivity and is the form most often seen in the aquarium trade. A mutation of the pink form that is also being bred in captivity is a “dwarf” variety. It is smaller and rounder than its progenitor and known as the Balloon Pink Kissing Gourami, Balloon Kissing Gourami, or Dwarf Kissing Fish.
What intrigues aquarists is the kissing action where these fish lock lips. They will face each other and swim slowly together. When they look like they “kiss” the lips are pressed into contact and quickly released. Both sexes will display this mouth contact, pushing each other through the water. Experts don’t really know why they do this, but the action is thought to be some form of social testing of strength or status. This “kissing” action is never fatal by itself, but it can cause great stress to its tankmates.
The mouth is one of its most distinctive characteristics. It is actually named for the unusual shape of its mouth when eating or sucking debris. The lips are thick and fleshy with fine teeth on the inner surface. These fish will press their lips against the aquarium rocks, glass, and plants to feed on algae and debris. They not only use their lips and teeth to feed from surfaces in the aquarium, they will also suck on the sides of other fish to ingest the slime that covers them.
The Kissing Gouramis are quite hardy and have a great appetite. But these are relatively large fish and require as large a tank as possible. If they get overcrowded their growth can become stunted. In their native environment they can get up to almost 12 inches (30 cm) in length but in the aquarium they usually reach only 5 – 6 inches (12 – 15 cm). For the best results when keeping them provide an aquarium that is at least 75 gallons, and a larger tank is even better. A favorable decor can be provided with artificial plants and some driftwood, which will provide places for hiding and retreat. They like real plants in the aquarium but they enjoy snacking on them.
These gouramis are generally considered good community fish when they are juveniles, but as they grow they can become bullies. They are not as peaceful as the other gouramis and as they grow, personalities may vary from one individual to the next. There are some that will be tolerant of like sized tankmates while others can become quite aggressive. Because they can get belligerent or territorial as adults it is best to keep them with other neutral temperament large fish or in a species only tank.
These are very pretty and durable fish. They are also moderately easy to breed. But due to their size and temperament they are suggested for an aquarist with some experience. They are a lot of fun to watch and make a good display in a large roomy tank.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Helostomatidae
- Genus: Helostoma
- Species: temminkii
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
- Size of fish – inches: 11.8 inches (30.00 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Kissing Gourami Helostoma temminkii was first described by Cuvier in 1829 and named after a Dutch doctor, Temminck. They are found in the tropical Asia from Thailand into Indonesia in Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula, and possibly in eastern Myanmar (Burma). This is a monotypic genus that contains only this single species.The synonyms Helostoma temmincki and Helostoma temminckii have also previously been used for this fish. These terms are also original descriptions for this species and although they can be found used throughout earlier literature, they are no longer considered valid.
Other common names it is known by include Kisser Fish and Kisser. There are two natural color forms, grayish-green and pink. The grayish- green form originates from Thailand and is known as the Green Kisser or Green Kissing Gourami. The pink form is found to the south from Indonesia and is known as the Pink Kisser or Pink Kissing Gourami.
This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). The occurrence of this species is very wide, it is common throughout its range and any population declines are not considered significant. This species is farmed in its native countries as a popular food fish, and also for the aquarium trade. The pink form is heavily propagated in captivity and is the one most often seen by hobbyists. While still juveniles they are exported in large quantities to Japan, Europe, North America, Australia, and other parts of the world
In nature these fish occur in lakes and rivers as well as canals, ponds, and marshes. They inhabit shallow, slow moving waters with a lot of vegetation. They are omnivorous in nature and feed on a benthic algae, a variety of plants, zooplankton, and aquatic insects near the surface of the water.
- Scientific Name: Helostoma temminkii
- Social Grouping: Groups – In nature this species lives communally with other species.
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The body of the Kissing Gourami is strongly compressed and deep. It’s pectoral fins are large, rounded and low-slung and the tail fin is rounded to concave. This fish also has a labyrinth organ, which is a respiratory organ that allows it to absorb atmospheric oxygen directly into the bloodstream. The most distinctive characteristic of this fish is its mouth. The mouth has lips that are thick and fleshy with fine teeth on the inner surface. The name ‘Kissing” was actually derived from the action of its mouth where it uses it lips and teeth to rasp algae from the surface of rocks or from the glass in the aquarium. They have an average lifespan of 6 – 8 years but can live longer, over 20 years, if provided proper care.
These fish have two naturally occurring wild color forms, grayish-green and pink. The green form is a gray to green color with horizontal stripes and dark fins. The other form is pinkish to orangish pink with transparent fins. A mutation of the pink form is also being bred in captivity. It is a “dwarf” variety that is smaller and rounder and is known as the Balloon Pink Kissing Gourami, Balloon Kissing Gourami, and Dwarf Kissing Fish.
- Size of fish – inches: 11.8 inches (30.00 cm) – In the wild they can reach almost 12″ (30 cm), but are usually about 5 – 6″ (12 – 15 cm) in the aquarium.
- Lifespan: 6 years – On average they have a lifespan of 6 – 8 years, though have been known to lived over 20 years with good care.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
These are hardy fish but need at least a 75 gallon tank and can get belligerent or territorial as adults. They are best kept with other large fish or in a species only tank. Due to their size and temperament they are suggested for an aquarist with a moderate amount of experience.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Foods and Feeding
The Kissing Gouramis are omnivorous, in the wild they feed on on benthic algae, a variety of plants, zooplankton, and aquatic insects. In the aquarium these fish will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. A quality flake or pellet food makes a good base to the diet but it is important to supplement this with meaty foods. Supplementation can include white worms, blood worms, brine shrimp, or any other suitable substitute. Fresh vegetables or vegetable tablets, such as spirulina algae wafers, can be offered as well. Generally feed once or twice a day.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Flake Food: Yes
- Tablet / Pellet: Yes
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Some of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Daily – Generally feed once or twice a day.
These gouramis are extremely hardy fish. Although the labyrinth organ allows the fish to survive in oxygen depleted water, it is a common misconception that this makes water changes unnecessary. This is hardly the case as these fish will suffer the same tissue damage from built up toxins as any other fish. Regular water changes are a must with 25% weekly being recommended. When cleaning algae from the sides of the tank, the back glass should be left alone as these fish will feed on the algae there.
- Water Changes: Weekly – Weekly water changes of 25% are recommended.
The Kissing Gourami will swim in all areas, but especially likes the middle and top portions of the aquarium. As a small fish they can be housed in smaller aquariums, but as adults they will need at least a 75 gallon tank or larger. They gulp water at the surface to insure adequate oxygen intake so must have access to plenty of unobstructed surface area. It is desirable to keep the tank in a room with a temperature as close as possible to the tank water, or risk damaging the labyrinth organ. The tank should have an efficient filtration system but it should not to create too much of a current. This fish will be bothered by too much water movement and it can cause these fish to stress, especially if the tank is small.
These gouramis will show their colors best on a dark substrate. A large gravel substrate with some river rocks work great to prevent digging and to provide surface areas for algae growth. The tank should be decorated in a way which allows for some areas of retreat, some driftwood and rocks can work for this. Plants are not necessary but are appreciated. Keep in mind however, that plants are a natural part of their diet and these fish have been known to snack on them. Java Fern or Java Moss are great choices as they are hardy species and difficult to eat, basically inedible, and artificial plants can make a handy substitute. They will appreciates the cover of floating plants as well, but they regularly breath air at the surface so its important to have some areas unencumbered, and again they may nibble at them.
- Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) – Juveniles can be kept in a smaller aquarium but adults need a lot more space, with 75 gallons or more suggested.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Large Gravel
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C) – Keep the surrounding room temperature consistent with the water temperature to avoid causing trauma to the labyrinth organ.
- Breeding Temperature: – They will breed with normal water temperatures.
- Range ph: 6.0-8.8
- Hardness Range: 5 – 35 dGH
- Brackish: No
- Water Movement: Moderate – This fish doesn’t like a strong current in the tank, especially if the tank is small.
- Water Region: Top – These gouramis primarily inhabit the top and middle areas of the aquarium.
The Kissing Gourami is generally considered a good community fish when small, but they are not as peaceful as adults. They have been known to attack smaller fish and sometimes even large tankmates. When they get older only keep them with fish their own size or in a species tank. Individuals will show varying degrees of aggression. Some will be tolerant of tankmates while others will be very belligerent and will handle their companions quite roughly.
They can be kept with their own kind but should not be crowded Still bullying between gouramis is a likely scenario. These fish, as typical of the family, are fixated on constantly working out the details of the hierarchy. Both sexes of Kissing Fish will often spar with a “kissing” action where they connect with their lips, push, and then quickly release. This “kissing” action is never fatal by itself, but it can cause great stress to less dominant tankmates.
A mix of large neutral personalities is an ideal goal for the range of tank mates. You should not include fish which will provoke this species into aggression as they are often passionate fighters. Fin nippers should absolutely never be mixed with gouramis. The trailing pelvic fins and generally slower movement of this fish make it the perfect target. The Kissing Gourami is also a skilled hunter and extremely small fish or fish fry rarely last long.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive – They are generally peaceful as juveniles but as adults they are territorial, some are tolerant towards fish of similar size while others will become belligerent towards tankmates.
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – These fish will tussle amongst themselves, and males are territorial and aggressive when breeding.
- Peaceful fish (): Monitor
- Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Monitor – Gouramis can be quick at feeding time. Make sure any fish that are not so quick get fed if you are keeping them with gouramis.
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
- Plants: Threat
Sex: Sexual differences
There are no visible differences, though at breeding time females will have much rounder bellies when full of eggs.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Kissing Gourami is somewhat more difficult to breed than other gouramis. They need a large tank to spawn in and it is impossible to determine the sexes except when females are full of eggs. Unlike most of the labyrinth fish, they are not bubble nest builders. They are open-water egg scatters but they will deposit the eggs under a leaf, if available at the time of spawning. Their eggs as well as the fry are lighter than water and float to the top. Once they have spawned, there is no parental care and the eggs are forgotten.
A pair will be most likely to spawn if the breeding tank is quite large and there is a good sized surface with a fair amount of leaf cover, along with some open areas. It’s best to try to get pairs by raising several fish to breeding size, approximately 4 3/4″ (12 cm) in length. They should be well conditioned with small offerings of live and frozen foods several times a day. When well fed and ready to spawn both sexes will darken. Females should begin filling out with eggs, with the belly becoming rounded. These females won’t be as round as other gourami species, but enough to differentiate them from males. From this group you can select your pairs.
The breeding tank needs to be at least 24″ (60 cm) deep and at least 36″ (91 cm) long or more. The water should be soft and slightly acidic to neutral with a pH of 6.8 – 8.5. Normal water temperatures between 72.0 to 82.0° F (22 – 28° C) are fine. You can add a small gently air-powered sponge filter or some peat filtration, but the tank current should be minimal. Float some plant material on the surface for the eggs to adhere too. Fine leaved plants such as Water Wisteria, Hornwort, Milfoil, or Giant Ambulia can be used. But you can use lettuce leaves too, as these will quickly start to deteriorate and then will host bacteria and infusoria for the newly hatched fry to feed on.
A healthy pair of adults should be introduced into the breeding tank. The male will begin a courtship display, swimming around the female with spread fins, but she will drive him off until she is ready. When the female is ready she will become active and instigate the spawn by pushing the male in the belly several times. At this time they will both begin beating their tails progressively faster, until they end up mouth to mouth. The male then takes the female into a body embrace and turns her upside down. The spawning follows with the male shivering and the female will release some eggs which will float to the surface. Each spawn becomes progressively larger, initially about 20 eggs are released, increasing to as many as 200. They will continue to spawn until thousands of eggs are released, up to 10,000 eggs is not unusual.
Although the parents usually ignore the eggs, they have been known to start eating them after the spawning period is over, so it’s best to remove them at this time. The eggs will hatch in about 17 or so hours, and the fry will be free swimming another 2 1/2 to 3 days. Free swimming fry can be fed infusoria or a liquid fry food until they are large enough to eat baby brine shrimp. See the description of breeding techniques in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Anabantoids. Also see Fish Food for Fry for information about types of foods for raising the young.
- Ease of Breeding: Moderate
Kissing Gouramis are very hardy so disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. Some diseases they are prone to are bacterial infections, constipation and Hole in the Head if good water quality, nutrition, and maintenance is not provided. With any additions to a tank such as new fish, plants, substrates, and decorations there is a risk of introducing disease. It’s advisable to properly clean or quarantine anything that you want add to an established tank prior to introduction, so as not to upset the balance.
These fish are very resilient but knowing the signs of illness, and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. An outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish will is more likely to acquire disease. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Kissing Gourami is readily available both in stores and online and is moderately priced.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Helostoma temminkii (Cuvier, 1829) Kissing gourami, Fishbase.org
- Helostoma temminkii, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Dr. Rudiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 1, Publisher Hans A. Baensch, 1991
- Joseph S. Nelson, Fishes of the World, Wiley, 2006.
- Greg Jennings (Editor), 500 Freshwater Aquarium Fish, Firefly Books Ltd, 2006.
- David Alderton, Encyclopedia of Aquarium and Pond Fish , DK Publishing, Inc., 2005.
- Hans-Joachim Richter, Gouramis and Other Anabantoids, T.F.H Publications, Inc., 1988
- Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod, Aquarium Fishes of the World, TFH Publications, 1998