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Macropodus opercularis (LINNAEUS, 1758)

Paradise Fish

SynonymsTop ↑

Labrus opercularis Linnaeus, 1758; Labrus operculatus Gmelin, 1789; Chaetodon chinensis Bloch, 1790; Macropodus chinensis (Bloch, 1790); Macropodus viridi-auratus La Cepède, 1801; Macropodus venustus Cuvier, in Cuvier & Valenciennes, 1831; Macropodus filamentosus Oshima, 1919; ? Macropodus baviensis Nguyen [H. D.] & Nguyen [V. H.], in Nguyen [V. H.], 2005


Macropodus: from the Ancient Greek μακρός ‎(makrós), meaning ‘long’, and ποδός ‎(podós), meaning ‘foot, leg’, in reference to the long pelvic fins in members of the genus.

opercularis: presumably in reference to the dark opercular spot present in this species.


Order: Perciformes Family: Osphronemidae


Occurs naturally in China, south of the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) River system, including Taiwan and Hainan Island, northern and central Vietnam, and northeastern Laos.

Type locality is ‘Asia’, possibly close to Guangdong in southern China.

Introduced populations exist in a number of countries including South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and the U. S. A, mostly as a result of the ornamental trade.


This species can survive in a wide range of habitat types and ecological conditions. It can be found in many types of lowland habitat, from streams, river backwaters, and natural ponds to irrigation canals, rice paddies, and artificial reservoirs. In some areas it also inhabits upland hill streams.

Maximum Standard Length

70 – 80 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

An aquarium with base dimensions measuring 80 ∗ 30 cm or equivalent should be the minimum considered for a single pair.


Can be maintained in a fully-decorated aquarium although many breeders prefer not to use a substrate for ease of maintenance.

Driftwood roots and branches can be used and placed such a way that a few shady spots are formed, while some floating or surface vegetation should be included if the aim is to breed the fish (see ‘Reproduction’).

The addition of dried leaf litter further emphasises the natural feel and as well as offering additional cover brings with it development of microbe colonies which can provide a valuable early food source for fry.

This species can be maintained in an unheated aquarium in most cases, and there is evidence to suggest that it actively benefits from a cool period during winter months.

Water Conditions

Temperature10 – 22 °C

pH6.0 – 8.0

Hardness90 – 357 ppm


Likely to prey on insect larvae and suchlike in nature, and should be offered small live or frozen Daphnia, Artemia, white worm, grindal worm, etc., in captivity. Some high quality dried products may also be accepted, particularly in the case of commercial strains (see ‘Notes’).

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Similarly-shaped fishes should be avoided, but can be maintained alongside peaceful schooling species with comparable environmental requirements.

Males are territorially aggressive, this behaviour becoming more pronounced during reproductive periods, and should not be housed together unless the aquarium is very large. It is also advisable to provide two or more females per male in order to disperse male attention.

Sexual Dimorphism

Males are larger than females and possess extended soft rays in the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins.


Bubble nester. Soft water with a slightly raised temperature is said to induce reproductive behaviour.

The aquarium should have the tightest-fitting cover possible (some breeders use clingfilm/plastic wrap) because the fry need access to a layer of warm, humid air, without which development of the labyrinth organ can be impaired.

The pair need not be separated prior to spawning. The male tends to construct his nest within a raft of surface vegetation, and the female(s) are usually tolerated during this period. Once the nest is complete, the male displays to potential mates using his elongated dorsal, anal, and caudal fins.

The nuptial female becomes paler in colour. Spawning normally occurs beneath the nest in an ’embrace’ typical of osphronemids, with the male wrapped around the female.

At the point of climax milt and a few eggs are released. The latter contain a globule of oil and are lighter than water, therefore they float upwards to the nest, often assisted by the male. The process is then repeated until the female is spent, with several hundred eggs typically deposited.

Post-spawning the adults can normally be left in situ, although cover should be provided for the female. Often the nest becomes broken up and the eggs are instead gathered together into a ‘clump’.

Once the eggs hatch, typically in 3-4 days, they remain in the nest until the yolk sac is fully-absorbed. When the fry begin to swim freely the male will lose interest and the adults are best removed at this stage.

The require an infusoria-grade food for the first few days, after which they can accept motile foods such as microworm and Artemia nauplii. Water changes should be small and regular rather than large and intermittent.

NotesTop ↑

M. opercularis is a classic aquarium fish, having been introduced to the hobby by a French soldier named Gerault in 1869. Of the initial 100 specimens shipped, 22 survived and were successfully bred later that same year by another Frenchman, the Parisian Pierre Carbonnier. This gives the species the distinction of being one of the very first ornamental fish imported to Europe. It is also known as ‘Chinese fighting fish’, ‘paradise gourami’, and ‘blue paradise fish’.

Wild examples are uncommon in the aquarium hobby, since the species is farmed on an extensive basis. There also exist a number of selectively-bred ornamental strains including xanthic, albino, red, blue, and stripeless forms.

It can be distinguished from congeners by the following combination of characters: caudal-fin forked; dark brownish opercular spot with reddish posterior margin in life; 7-11 blue body bars on red background in life; eye stripe connecting spot on posterior projection of opercle with eye; dorsal surface of head and predorsal region with dark spots; posterior margins of body scales not darker than scales.

Like others in the suborder Anabantoidei this species possesses an accessory breathing organ known as the labyrinth, which permits the fish to breathe atmospheric air to a certain extent. Comprising paired suprabranchial organs formed via expansion of the epibranchial (upper) section of the first gill arch and housed in a chamber above the gills, it contains many highly-vascularised, folded flaps of skin which function as a large respiratory surface. Its structure varies in complexity between species, tending to be more developed in those inhabiting harsher environments.


  1. Linnaeus, C., 1758 - Holmiae. v. 1: i-ii + 1-824
    Systema Naturae, Ed. X. (Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.).
  2. Freyhof, J. and F. Herder , 2002 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 13(2): 147-167
    Review of the paradise fishes of the genus Macropodus in Vietnam, with description of two new species from Vietnam and southern China (Perciformes: Osphronemidae).
  3. Ho, H.-C. and K.-T. Shao, 2011 - Zootaxa 2957: 1-74
    Annotated checklist and type catalog of fish genera and species described from Taiwan.
  4. Knight, J. D. M. and S. Balasubramanian, 2015 - Journal of Threatened Taxa 7(3): 7044-7046
    On a Record of Two Alien Fish Species (Teleostei: Osphronemidae) from the Natural Waters of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
  5. Kottelat, M., 2001 - WHT Publications, Colombo: 1-198
    Fishes of Laos.
  6. Kottelat, M., 2013 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 27: 1-663
    The fishes of the inland waters of southeast Asia: a catalogue and core bibiography of the fishes known to occur in freshwaters, mangroves and estuaries.
  7. Kottelat, M., 2001 - Environment and Social Development Unit, East Asia and Pacific Region. The World Bank: i-iii + 1-123 + 1-18
    Freshwater fishes of northern Vietnam. A preliminary check-list of the fishes known or expected to occur in northern Vietnam with comments on systematics and nomenclature.
  8. Paepke, H-J., 1994 - Neue Brehm Bücherei 616, Westarp Wissenschaften, Magdeburg: 1-144
    Die Paradiesfische.
  9. Schindler, I., 2009 - Der Makropode 31(1): 9-12
    News on the taxonomy and distribution of Macropodus species.
  10. Wang, T-Z., C-S. Tzeng and S-C- Shen, 1999 - Acta Zoologica Taiwanica 10(2): 121-134
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  11. Winstanley, T. and K. D. Clements, 2008 - Zootaxa 1908: 1-27
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One Response to “Macropodus opercularis – Paradise Fish (Macropodus chinensis, Labrus opercularis)”

  • Rey

    I have kept this fish in a community tank (a 75 gallon long, I find this fish is either aggressive towards fish that are similar looking e.g. Bettas (can be crossbred with) and Dwarf Gouramis (They have the stripe pattern)and towards fish smaller than itself. Some individuals only become aggressive defenselessly.
    However,I found this species does well with big fast Danios and Barbs. I have also kept them for years with Spotted and Snakeskin gouramis, with the males of the two mentioned species dominating Paradise Fish in territorial disputes.
    Furthermore good sized bottom dwellers like Cory Cats seem to be ignored. I think you have overstated the aggressiveness of this species towards tank-mates. I found some individuals to be completely passive while other are much more territoriality aggressive. Most of the Paradise Fish I have kept have been mildly aggressive. I would also suggest adding photos of the blue color morph and female fish. Thank you for your time.

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