How to Tell if Gourami is Male or Female?

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Gouramis are notorious freshwater fish that are highly popular thanks to their hardiness, affordability, adaptability, and, most importantly, impressive variation in terms of size and coloring.

Gouramis also vary in temperament; while most are peaceful and fit for community setups, others are more temperamental and won’t play nice with others.

But the fish’s ease of reproduction makes the gourami so appreciated in the aquatic trade.

The gourami doesn’t need much to start mating, which is where the most important question comes to mind: How do you separate males from females?

This has to be your luckiest day because this is exactly what we will discuss today.

Male vs Female Gourami – What is the Difference?

Fortunately, gouramis showcase a distinct sexual dimorphism via:

Size Difference

Male gouramis are smaller than females, generally speaking. Not by much, but you should be able to tell the difference.

This point raises 2 interesting…points:

  • Age difference – You can easily confuse male and female gouramis if you compare adult males with juvenile females. In this case, the male will be the larger one, but that’s only because the female isn’t properly developed yet. So, always compare gouramis similar in age.
  • Species difference – You have approximately 90 species of gouramis to choose from, all different in size and overall appearance. However, some are quite similar in coloring and patterns, so it’s easy for an inexperienced aquarist to mistake one species for another. This means you can compare a small female gourami from one species to a larger male gourami from another species.

So, the size difference isn’t a good indicator on its own, but it’s not useless, either.

Body Shape

This feature is also most noticeable among adult gouramis. Males are more slender-bodies, while females are plumper, especially when the mating season is closing in.

Just make sure you don’t mistake an overfed male for an egg-filled female.

Dorsal Fin Shape

I would say that this is the most obvious difference to discuss. Females have shorter and rounder dorsal fins, while males have them longer and pointier.

This feature also becomes more noticeable in adult fish, as juveniles don’t have fully developed fins anyway.

Coloration

Pretty much all gourami species showcase a distinct color variation between males and females. While males and females belonging to the same species showcase similar coloring, the males up the intensity a bit.

The male gourami’s coloring becomes even more distinct during mating when males use their coloration to attract the female’s attention.

Behavior

This is another distinctive feature worth mentioning. Gourami males are more aggressive in general, although gouramis are considered a peaceful species.

This doesn’t prevent males from fighting over territory, females, food, and even hierarchical dominance.

These fights can start at an early age before the males reach adulthood. Once they do, the violence can increase significantly, especially if there isn’t sufficient space available.

The intensity can increase even further during the mating season when hormones take over, drastically influencing the fish’s behavior.

I would recommend only having 1 male gourami per tank for these very reasons.

At What Age Can You Sex Gouramis?

You’ll most likely have to wait for the gourami to reach 3-months of age before sexing it properly.

This is the age when the fish gains most of its gender-specific characteristics, although some can be sexed even earlier than that.

It all depends on the fish’s diet and environmental conditions. Well-fed gouramis that are kept in optimal habitats will grow faster and mature sooner than those housed in suboptimal conditions.

Is it Better to Keep Male or Female Gouramis?

Female gouramis are infinitely more likely to live in peace than males, so it is better to keep female gouramis if you want to choose between males and females.

Males are extremely combative towards one another, even if they’re otherwise peaceful towards other tankmates.

The violence will get turned up a notch during mating and in situations where the fish are overstocked or underfed.

The problem is that the males will remain intolerant of one another even in ideal conditions.

I only recommend having more than 1 male gourami per tank if:

  • You have sufficient space for both of them
  • You have plenty of females to keep the males’ hormones in check
  • You have a variety of hiding spots and live plants to function as diversion

Even so, you’re unlikely to eliminate the prospect of male-on-male violence anytime soon.

In my opinion, the best gourami setup consists of one male and 4-5 females, depending on the available space.

Will Gouramis Breed in a Community Tank?

They can, but that’s rather difficult for 2 reasons:

  1. The need for special conditions – Gouramis require specific conditions to get into the breeding mood. These include stable temperatures, clean waters, and even loose plant leaves at the water’s surface. The male will use these to form the trademark bubble meant to house the eggs.
  2. The bubble nest behavior – The bubble nest itself makes it very difficult for gouramis to breed in a normal community tank. There are 2 reasons for that. First is that the fish requires space to create its bubble. The presence of other fish will interfere with the male’s work. The second problem is that male gouramis will protect and guard the eggs until they hatch. They will attack anything swimming nearby, whether it’s other gouramis or any other tankmate.

If you do want to breed your gouramis properly, invest in a nursing tank. You can relocate your gouramis there during the breeding season and move them back into the main tank once they’re done.

This allows for increased control over the breeding process and provides the fry with safety and better living conditions.

Best Tank Setup for Breeding Gouramis

You don’t need much to set up the perfect breeding habitat for your gouramis.

Consider the following:

  • Adequate size – You need at least 20 gallons of space for your gouramis. This is the minimum necessary for a 4-5-inch gourami, but the values change for larger species. You need 20 gallons for smaller gourami species because you can’t breed gouramis in pairs. These fish breed in groups, with one male having an entire harem at its disposal.
  • The proper setup – Add live plants, including floating ones, to mimic the fish’s natural habitat. Make sure there’s sufficient open space at the water surface for the fish to breathe properly. Gouramis are labyrinth fish, so they tend to breathe atmospheric air occasionally, especially if water oxygenation is lower than it should be.
  • Avoid filtration – Gouramis prefer still waters when breeding, which makes sense, given the presence of the bubble nest. Moving waters can destroy the nest’s integrity, sabotaging the fish’s breeding efforts in the process. It’s why gouramis always look for calmer waters when the breeding season approaches. You should avoid air stones for the same reason.

Plus, provide your gouramis with plenty of vegetation, as the male will incorporate any floating plant matter into the nest’s structure.

How do Gouramis Breed?

The breeding process is a bit different for gouramis than it is for your normal egg spawners. The male does all the work, as it builds the nest first and attempts to mate afterward.

This is why you can’t really have more than one male per tank. The 2 males will fight to the death for the chance to build the nest to attract the females.

The behavior may seem excessive, but it guarantees the male the opportunity to spread his genes, so it makes sense from an evolutionary optic.

So, if you notice your male working on a surface bubble nest, you know that the breeding season has begun.

After the nest is complete, the male gourami will begin to chase the female in what you can call the mating dance. The mating behavior looks more like sexual harassment than a dance, but what can you do?

The male gourami’s goal is to force the female to inspect the bubble nest, at which point the female may or may not accept the male’s efforts.

If it does, the female will release the eggs into the nest, where the mucus produced by the male will keep them in place. The male can then fertilize the eggs and begin its job as a sentinel, protecting the eggs from anything it deems a danger to the fry’s future. Including the female that produced the eggs.

It’s not uncommon for the male gourami to kill the female gourami if it gets too close to the nest.

So, it’s wise to remove all fish from the environment, except for the male, until the fry hatch.

Then you should remove the male as well to prevent it from eating the fry. So much for the male’s parental instincts before the eggs hatching, right?

Once the fry are out, you can feed them infusoria and some chopped live food like brine shrimp and bloodworms once they’re big enough to accept it.

Conclusion

Gouramis are always eager to breed, but you need special conditions to ensure the procedure’s success.

I recommend a nursing tank so that you can accommodate the fry post-hatching and provide them with a safe and comfortable dwelling environment.

The nursing tank also increases the success of the breeding process, so it’s a win either way.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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