Elegant and beautiful, pearl gouramis could be seen as a pearl in the crown of the gourami family. But while their good looks make them popular, are pearl gouramis the ideal fish for a community tank?
In this care guide, I’d like to dispel the myth that pearl gouramis are model community fish. Although some people have been fortunate to keep peaceful pearl gouramis, many others have had significant problems with them attacking other tank mates.
In my experience, even the more peaceful gourami species can be aggressive, and I’d always advise caution when adding them to a community aquarium.
Pearl Gourami Species Overview
|Pearl Gourami Info|
|Scientific Name||Trichopodus leerii|
|Common Names||Pearl Gourami, White Pearl Gourami|
|Origin||Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, and Thailand|
|Maximum Size||4-5 inches|
|Temperament||Peaceful, but males may be territorial|
|Tank Level||Top, mid-dweller|
|Minimum Tank Size||30 gallons|
|Breeding||Bubble nest builder|
|pH||5.5 to 7.5|
|Hardness||2 to 30 dH|
|Temperature||77 F to 82 F (25 C to 28 C)|
Origin and Background
Pearl Gouramis hail from Southeast Asia, where they inhabit swamps and slow-moving rivers and streams in Thailand, Malaysia, and the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. They’ve also been introduced to parts of South America.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has listed the pearl gourami as ‘Near Threatened’. Because of the damming and harvesting of their wild population, their numbers have become depleted.
Thankfully, almost all pearl gouramis on the aquarium market today come from captive breeding programs.
Pearl gouramis are one of the most beautiful of all gourami species. Their name refers to the hundreds of white spots or ‘pearls’ that cover their bodies from their gills to their tail.
Both sexes can have red-orange coloration on their chests, but this is normally much brighter in males, especially at breeding time. Pearl gouramis also possess a distinctive horizontal black band that runs from their mouth to their tail.
These medium-sized gouramis typically grow up to 4.5 inches from tip to tail, but large males may reach 5 inches long.
Apart from having brighter red breasts than females, male pearl gouramis are larger and have thinner, more angular bodies. In particular, their dorsal fin is more pointed than those of the females.
Males also tend to be more aggressive than females, but females can become aggressive, too, particularly around spawning time when their bodies become swollen with eggs.
Pearl Gourami Care Guide
Because pearl gouramis can reach 5 inches in length, I’d recommend keeping them in a tank of at least 30 gallons.
Smaller tanks and higher stocking density can stimulate aggression in these fish, so you could try a larger tank if aggression becomes a problem.
In their native habitat, pearl gouramis swim among densely planted swamps and slow-moving, weedy water courses. You can help them feel at home by providing a similar environment in your fish tank.
Tall, fast-growing plants like Blue Water Hyssop, Hornwort, and Amazon Sword are good choices, as are Java fern, Crypts, and Anacharis.
You can also replicate the subdued lighting effect that would often be a part of the pearl gourami’s natural habitat by adding floating plants like Amazon frogbit and Water sprite (Ceratopteris cornuta). It’s said that floating plants also help gouramis to define their territories, and could, therefore curb aggression.
Driftwood and Tannins
In the heavily planted tanks that gouramis love, pieces of driftwood will look especially stunning. Hardwood driftwood pieces can also tip the water chemistry in favor of your gouramis by releasing tannins. Tannins, which are also present in peat and Indian almond leaves, make the water more acidic and stain it a pale amber color that some aquarists enjoy.
Rocks and Caves
While pearl gouramis are surface-dwellers and are unlikely to inhabit caves, rocky hollows may be useful when it comes to helping other fish feel at home, and also provide a hiding place should your gouramis become aggressive.
In the wild, pearl gouramis live in soft, acidic water that is often stained an amber color by the presence of dissolved tannins.
This means that an acidic to neutral pH of 5.5 – 7 is their preferred choice, but they are quite adaptable, and can even tolerate water that’s slightly alkaline.
Pearl Gourami are equatorial fish that definitely require an aquarium heater. They need water that’s warmer than some other types of tropical fish, with a temperature of 77-81°F.
Like most fish, pearl gouramis are sensitive to sudden changes in water temperature, so acclimatizing them properly in a new tank is essential to avoid thermal shock.
As for most medium-large tropical aquariums, hang-on-back filters, internal power filters, or a canister filter are all good options for pearl gouramis.
But because they come from still bodies of water or slow-moving rivers, pearl gouramis can get stressed by strong filter flow.
Some filters allow you to manually adjust the flow rate. On other models, you can reduce the water current by attaching an aquarium spray bar, or lily pipe to the filter outlet.
Scientists found that pearl gouramis like to test out their food before eating it by grasping it in their lips while making curious clicking noises. They’ll only consume an item once they’re sure it has the right nutrients for them!
Once they recognize food items, however, pearl gouramis will gulp down food very swiftly, making your main concern that they don’t get overfed and that your other fish get enough to eat!
Dried foods like flake foods and fish pellets are readily accepted, but dried fish foods should be supplemented with fresh and frozen foods such as bloodworms, tubifex worms, daphnia, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and vegetable supplements.
If you’re planning to breed pearl gouramis, live foods like brine shrimp, black worms, and glass worms are especially good for conditioning them and inducing spawning.
As usual, feed your fish twice a day, with no more than they can eat in 2 minutes. Overfeeding is one of the biggest causes of poor water quality and health problems in aquarium fish, so even if your gouramis seem hungry, be careful not to feed too much!
Now for the questions on everyone’s lips: Can you keep pearl gouramis in a community tank, and which types of fish can you keep pearl gouramis with? Are pearl gouramis aggressive?
While most care guides list pearl gouramis as “peaceful fish”, I’m going to be on the cautious side and describe them as ‘semi-aggressive fish’.
The reason that pearl gourami temperament is so hard to classify is that individuals vary wildly in their level of aggression.
While some people have kept male pearl gouramis in a community tank with guppies and tetras for years without problems, others have found that even females will chase other tank members, nipping their fins and harassing them.
Because pearl gouramis mostly swim in the upper water layers, they can be especially aggressive towards other fish swimming in the same region. Livebearers like guppies, platies, and mollies are particularly prone to being attacked, and gouramis are famous for fighting with other members of their family.
In particular, male gouramis of any species are notorious for fighting with one another.
Compatible Tank Mates
Because pearl gourami temperament is so difficult to guess, it can be challenging to plan other tank members before finding out how aggressive they’ll be. You’ll also want to make sure that other tank mates are not in danger of bullying your gouramis.
As already discussed, other fish that frequent the water’s surface such as livebearers and other gourami species are best avoided. Betta fish in particular should never be kept with any type of gourami!
Hardy schooling fish like neon tetra, black skirt tetra, bloodfin tetra, harlequin rasbora, and danios make better choices for smaller fish but note that smaller fish can still be attacked or even eaten by aggressive pearl gouramis.
Slightly larger fish such as peaceful barbs, scissor tail rasboras, larger rainbow fish, and semi-peaceful cichlids like angelfish, ram cichlids, kribensis, and blue acaras should also work well and be a safer bet.
Pearl gouramis are less likely to disturb bottom-dwelling fish species such as corydoras catfish (aka. cories), plecos, kuhli loaches, clown loaches, etc.
Health and Disease
Of all the common tropical fish diseases, pearl gouramis are noted as being particularly prone to fin rot. Fin rot usually starts as a bacterial infection of the fins, which can cause them to deteriorate and become ragged. If left untreated, fungal infections can follow up.
Fin rot is best prevented and treated with good tank management and clean water. Improve your water quality by vacuuming your tank and performing 10-20% water changes every week. Also, test your water frequently with a reliable test kit to ensure ammonia and nitrites are kept at zero, and nitrates are kept below 20 ppm.
Fin rot may also get started from wounds in your gouramis fins inflicted by each other or other fish. Keep a close eye on your fish and take action if you need to remove the troublemaker.
Other possible diseases include parasites like ich, velvet, and flukes that can lie dormant in an aquarium for years until a weakened fish or very poor water quality offers them a chance to attack.
Similarly, bacterial and fungal infections like columnaris and water molds only tend to affect fish that are already in a vulnerable condition.
In summary, good tank management is the key to preventing all manner of diseases and is much more effective than treating health conditions once they’ve set in.
Breeding Pearl Gouramis
Pearl gouramis are bubble nest builders, meaning that the male builds a mass of floating bubbles stuck together with saliva among floating plants. Once completed, he will display himself to the female. If she accepts his approach, you may see the pair touching one another with their feelers.
Thereafter, spawning takes place under the bubble nest. The male will wrap himself around the female who then releases hundreds of eggs. Most of the eggs will float up into the nest, but the male will collect up any others that have gone astray and place them in the nest.
After spawning, the male guards the nest fiercely, so the female needs to be removed for her safety.
Raising Pearl Gourami Fry
Once the fry starts to hatch, the male’s protective instincts fade, meaning he also needs to be removed to preserve the hatchlings! After 2-4 days, all of the fry will be free swimming.
For the fry to grow up strong and healthy, the water level should be reduced by 6 inches to create a humid atmosphere above the water for them to start breathing air with their labyrinth organ.
Feed the baby fry with liquid fry food, or infusoria several times a day. After two weeks you can begin feeding them baby brine shrimp, and from one month they can be fed on finely ground flake foods.
To retain decent water quality, water changes need to be performed every 2-3 days. The tank also requires a filter, but the fry must be protected from being sucked into the filter intake. For this reason, many fish keepers choose to install one or more gentle sponge filters in their breeding tanks rather than a power filter.
When kept in optimum conditions, pearl gouramis can live for up to 4-5 years.
For them to reach their maximum lifespan, their diet, water quality, and quality of care must be of the highest order.
Some top tips for keeping your pearl gourami in tip-top condition!
- Feed pearl gouramis a diverse, healthy diet that includes regular additions of live or frozen foods. Avoid overfeeding!
- Get yourself a good filter and clean it every 2-3 weeks.
- Vacuum your substrate and make partial water changes of 15-30% every 1-2 weeks, with treated water of matching temperature.
- Get yourself a reliable heater and thermometer. Make daily checks to ensure the temperature is within the ideal range for all of your fish.
- Observe your fish closely every day to ensure they are in good health and interacting peacefully with each other.
- Test your aquarium’s water at least once a month, or any time your fish seem unwell.
Pearl gouramis are popular aquarium fish and are readily available from pet stores. Always insist on choosing fish with the brightest colors, glossy scales, shiny eyes, and healthy-looking, intact fins.
Individual pearl gouramis typically cost anywhere between $5-20.
Pearl gouramis are one the most beautiful members of the gourami family and are understandably one of the most popular.
But while pearl gouramis are typically more peaceful than many gourami species, some individuals can still be aggressive towards their tank mates.
You can increase your chances of establishing a peaceful setup by giving your gouramis plenty of free swimming space and by avoiding other fish that inhabit the upper water layers. Good luck!