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Trichopsis pumila (ARNOLD, 1936)

Sparkling Gourami

SynonymsTop ↑

Ctenops pumilus Arnold, 1936; Trichopsis pumilus var. siamensis Herms, 1953


Trichopsis: from the Ancient Greek θρίξ (thriks), meaning ‘hair’, and ὄψις (opsis), meaning ‘aspect, appearance’.

pumila: from the Latin pumilus, meaning ‘dwarf’.


Order: Perciformes Family: Osphronemidae


Distributed throughout the lower Mekong River basin in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, and in watersheds across central and southern (peninsular) Thailand.

Type locality is ‘Saigon, southern Vietnam’.


Found in all types of still to slow-moving, predominantly lowland habitat, including swamp forest, peat swamps, floodplains, river tributaries, irrigation canals, paddy fields, and roadside ditches. Displays a distinct preference for sluggish to still environments with dense growths of aquatic or riparian vegetation.

Sympatric fish species include Trichopsis vittataT. schalleriTrichopodus trichopterus, Betta siamorientalisAnabas testudineusLepidocephalichthys hasseltiPangio anguillarisMacrognathus siamensis and Monopterus albus.

Maximum Standard Length

35 – 40 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

An  aquarium with base measurements of 45 ∗ 30 cm or equivalent is large enough to house a pair or small group.


This species fares best in a well-planted, shady aquarium with plenty of surface cover in the form of tall stem plants, floating varieties, or tropical lilies. Cryptocoryne spp. are also a good choice.

Driftwood can also be used and other plants such as Microsorum or Taxiphyllum spp. may be attached to it. Small clay plant pots, lengths of plastic piping or empty camera film cases can also be included to provide further shelter.

The addition of dried leaf litter offers additional cover and brings with it the growth of microbe colonies as decomposition occurs. These can provide a valuable secondary food source for fry, while tannins and other chemicals released by the decaying leaves are considered beneficial.

As it naturally inhabits sluggish environments strong water movement should be avoided, with an air-powered sponge filter set to turn over gently adequate. Keep the aquarium well-covered and do not fill it to the top since it requires occasional access to the layer of humid air that will form above the water surface, and is an excellent jumper.

Water Conditions

Temperature22 – 28 °C

pH5.0 – 7.5

Hardness18 – 215 ppm


Likely to feed on insects and other small invertebrates in the wild.

Captive fish will normally accept dried products once they are recognised as edible, but should be offered plenty of small live or frozen foods such as Daphnia, Artemia or chironomid larvae (bloodworm) to ensure development of optimal colour and condition.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Best maintained in a pair or small group, either alone or with very peaceful, similarly-sized species, since much bigger or more vigorous tankmates are likely to both intimidate and outcompete it. Small, schooling cyprinids such as Microdevario, Boraras, or Trigonostigma spp. make good choices, as do diminutive loaches such as Pangio or Petruichthys.

Some aquarists have reported that this species preys on small freshwater shrimp from genera such as Caridina and Neocaridina.

Sexual Dimorphism

Can be tricky to sex, but sexually mature males are normally exhibit a more intense colour pattern and develop longer ventral, anal, dorsal, and caudal fins than females. Sexually mature individuals can also be sexed by placing a strong light behind the fish, with the ovaries in females clearly visible below the swim bladder.


Bubble-nester. Organise a separate tank for breeding purposes unless the fish are already being maintained alone, setting this up as suggested above.

It should have the tightest-fitting cover you can find (some breeders use clingfilm instead to ensure no gaps) as 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 may construct the nest in a tube or canister, under a broad plant leaf or among fine-leaved surface vegetation, and will not usually tolerate the female in the vicinity until it is complete.

Spawning normally occurrs beneath the nest in an ‘embrace’ typical of osphronemids, with the male wrapping himself around the female. At the point of climax milt and a few eggs are released in a cluster or ‘packet’, which the male collects and transports to the nest. This cycle is then repeated until the female is spent of eggs.

Post-spawning the adults can normally be left in situ, although the female is no longer actively involved with the male assuming sole responsibility for guarding and tending the nest. The eggs hatch in 24-48 hours, remaining in the nest for a further 2-3 days until the yolk sac is fully-absorbed, while the male continues to collect and return any that fall.

Once the fry begin to swim freely the male will lose interest, but the adults do not usually eat their offspring. They 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 ↑

This species is also known as ‘pygmy gourami’ and ‘dwarf croaking gourami’. It is a popular aquarium fish, with the majority of fish traded produced on a commercial basis.

It can be distinguished from congeners by its small adult size and presence of a single solid dark midlateral stripe on the body, above which is a series of dark blotches forming a second stripe. In the similar but larger, T. schalleri the upper stripe is more variable depending on the mood of the fish, sometimes fading entirely.

Trichopsis species are able to produce audible sounds via a specialised pectoral mechanism which is unique within the family Osphronemidae. The structure comprises modified pectoral-fin tendons and muscles which are stretched and plucked by the basal portion of the anterior fin rays in a similar way to guitar strings. The pectoral-fins beat alternately, each able to generate short or long bursts of sound. These sounds are produced by both sexes, predominantly during agnostic and nuptial interactions, and they differ in temporal parameters, frequency, and pressure between the species. Studies suggest that Trichopsis species are able to settle conflicts without damaging each other physically by assessing factors such as body weight and length, which are transmitted by both visual and acoustic ‘croaking’ signals. During courtship the female produces ‘purring’ sounds in order to initiate spawning, and they are the only fishes in which this is known to occur.

Following Rainboth (1996), the genus Trichopsis can be diagnosed as follows: dorsal-fin origin markedly posterior to pectoral-fin base; pelvic-fin with a single spinous ray with a filamentous extension, and 4 branched rays; 2-4 spinous dorsal-fin rays; 4-8 spinous anal-fin rays; lateral line absent. Its closest relatives are considered to be the genera Betta and Pseudosphromenus.

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. Arnold, J. P., 1936 - Wochenschrift für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde 33(11): Brief description appears on inside of back cover
    Ctenops pumilus Arnold, 1936.
  2. 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.
  3. Ladich, F., 1998 - Ethology 104: 517-529
    Sound Characteristics and Outcome of Contests in Male Croaking Gouramis (Teleostei).
  4. Ladich, F. and G. Schleinzer, 2015 - Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A 182: 8-13
    Effect of temperature on acoustic communication: Sound production in the croaking gourami (labyrinth fishes).
  5. Linke, H., 1991 - Tetra Press: 176 pp.
    Labyrinth Fish. The Bubble-Nest-Builders.
  6. Rainboth, W. J., 1996 - Rome, FAO: 1-265
    FAO species identification field guide for fishery purposes. Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong.
  7. Rüber L., R. Britz and R. Zardoya, 2006 - Systematic Biology 55(3): 374-397
    Molecular phylogenetics and evolutionary diversification of labyrinth fishes (Perciformes: Anabantoidei).

16 Responses to “Trichopsis pumila – Sparkling Gourami (Ctenops pumilus, Trichopsis pumilus var. siamensis)”

  • Troi

    This species is anything but timid, it is very capable of holding its own. But more importantly it is not just a micropredator, it has a taste for shrimp. It will quite happily take on mature shrimp twice its size, especially cherry shrimp, which will either eventually be eaten or chased out of the tank (if it is open top). It also hunts in packs, which increases its effectiveness no end. It is in actual fact a born shrimp killer.

  • Hi Troi, interesting! Do you mind if I raise this on our forum to see if anyone else has had the same experience?

  • Troi

    Hi sure, I’d be interested to find out myself. So far my research has proven somewhat inconclusive, others on similar forums have experienced the same sort of predatory behavior. Other aquarists haven’t and the inconsistencies have been attributed to similar but different species, individual personality?, and various environmental factors. But it’s not until you search Trichopsis pumila (Sparkling Gourami) along with cherry shrimp that it all comes to light.

    They were in my planted tank for 5 days before thy were bagged up and taken back to to the LFS. During that period I lost 2 adult cherry shrimps and half a dozen or so of there half sized off spring. I watched as they shredded a juvenile cherry just post molt. Curiously, they left the amanos alone, I think that the combination of cherry red and movement proved to difficult to resist.

    One fish in particular would stalk the adult cherries and hover almost nose to nose for an age until eventually the shrimp moved and then it would be chased around and out of the tank, all the while being nipped.

  • Rüdiger

    Hi guys. I keep a group of 6 Trichopsis pumila together with Carinotetraodon travancoricus and Boraras maculatus and there are also a few shrimp in the tank. So far they didn´t touch the shrimp or the B. maculatus offspring, which looked more like bloodworm with a fat head! As far as hunting in a pack is concerned, that I can very well imagine. When I feed live or frozen bloodworm from a pipette, they appear grouped like a flying squadron. The first in line picks up his worm and falls in at the end of the formation while the others strike. Everyone waiting for their turn! Quite fascinating!!

  • BigTom

    I’ve kept a pair in a 25l tank with a few adult cherries without issue. However, when I had Caridinia simoni simoni in with them, they would predate the eggs while the females were still carrying them, and I never had a single shrimplet survive.

  • Sparkling Gourami are a beautiful, little iridescent species. In doing the initial research on this species to determine suitability for my well-planted community tank (65-Gallon), I discovered some inaccurate and inconsistent information including the caution against keeping unless live food is an option which lead to my initial decision not to keep them.

    Over the last several months, I have kept seven of them in a community tank and, with a little initial effort to help them adjustment to prepared foods, have found them to be good community fish, fairly easy to keep, pretty hardy, and reasonably outgoing. With regard to tank mates, I have observed no difficulties with various community members who are or have been tank mates (i.e., Corydoras False Julii & Habrosus; Dianos Celestial & Zebra; Diasy’s Ricefish, Endler’s Pure & Tiger; Otocinclus; Swordtails; Tetras Cardinals, Flame, & HY511; Tiger Hillstream Loaches; and White Clouds). It should be noted that I tend to maintain a somewhat higher bio-load. While I cannot claim to be an expert or exhaustive studies, I will share my observations and experience to add to the knowledge base.


    Good community fish, fairly easy to keep, pretty hardy, and reasonably outgoing. In my experience, I have found variability in their behavior (personalities) ranging from active exploration of the environment to keeping close and weaving in-and-out of the hard scape and plants. As I have not tagged them, I cannot say whether specific individuals are shy and others are outgoing or specific individuals exhibit the full range of behavior.

    In their interactions, I have observed that they were shy and timid following their initial introduction to the community though after adjustment their behavior changed to what was just described. In short, I have observed their movement to be graceful and slow purposeful (not unlike other kinds of gourami) with the ability to dart to strike at food, not overly aggressive or timid, and generally peaceful though occasionally they chase and are chased by their own and other species.

    Overall, I do not find them timid or shy in aquariums with a fairly high bio-load and plenty of scape in which to hide (i.e., plenty of plants and hardscape).


    Active hunters and micropredators. In my experience, the species does not school and sometimes appears to be a little territorial especially with own species. In addition, I observe that their ‘group attack’ on prey is more akin to sharks swarming prey as it does not appear to me to be a coordinated hunting pack akin to wolves.

    With regard to feeding with live and prepared foods, I have found this species adapted to prepared foods without a great deal of difficulty. At this time, I find the species eats prepared food without any issues including flakes (see below).

    With regard to fish fry and Amano and Red Cherry Shrimp, I observed the disappearance of my small, long-standing colony of red cherry shrimp with the inclusion of this species in the first few weeks (including juveniles and adults). Over last several months, I observed that the micro-sized fry of the Daisy’s Ricefish did not last the day; whereas, the larger fry of both the Endler’s and Swordstails survive in the community setting for days and weeks. As a result, I cannot conclude this species is partially or solely responsible for the demise of ricefish though within my aquarium they did not hunt down the larger fry.

    Recommendations for Feeding with Prepared Foods:

  • joostlodder

    I have also once tried to keep these fish together with cherry shrimps. They were soon returned to the shop after I witnessed the beforementioned pack hunting behaviour. The three of them seemed to single out a particular shrimp and kill it by gradually damaging it. Sometimes the shrimp chosen were rather too big too eat and were left dead. Fascinating and seemingly intelligent fish they are but they assasinate shrimp!

  • Trail_Mix

    There are so many cool little gouramis that aren’t big in the trade, I guess the blackwater requirements are a little specific, but it seems strange that people keep such tiny fish in such large aquariums! Does anybody breed these guys and other such gouramis in smaller tanks, say like 20 gallons or so? If so, what sorta tank set-up do you use and what other fish do you keep with it?

  • Rey

    It is possible to sex individual Sparkling Gourami by placing them in a jar and shining bright light onto the body. The bright light will make the females yellow ovaries visible.

  • circling_skies

    I just put in an online bid for 10 of these fish and I was really excited to get them, now I’m not so sure.. I have a 30 Gal planted tank with corys, otos, pearl gourami, Kuhli loaches, neon tetra, variatus, and lots of breeding dwarf crayfish. Will they kill the dwarf crayfish (cambarellus shufeldti)?

  • Carnivora

    My LFS purchased a few of these for me. When I went to go purchase them today, they informed me that the little guys hunted down all the cherry shrimp. The few that survived were found above the water line hiding, according to the LFS owner.

  • Thiefsie

    These guys definitely go after shrimp. They massacred my Ghost/Glass shrimp (Paratya Australiensis). Even the full adult shrimp which are about the same length as the Gouramis. They also tried to have a go at my small (young) snails, which I believe are Nerites.

    Otherwise they are fantastic little fish. I have 6 in a Fluval Edge 23L with no problems at all – and quite high water/filter flow rate which doesn’t appear to cause them any problems.

  • tiran

    Had a few of these guys – little ones – eat every single limb of some large Amano Shrimp.

    Still one of my favorite fish. You really can hear them sometimes.

  • MollyMalone

    To share personal experience:This is a gorgeous little fish, not timid,fine in a community aquarium, given the space which a 20 long affords. Tankmates: DWARF Corydoras habrosus (Dwarf Salt and Pepper Cory), Microdevario kubotai (Neon Green Rasbora),Poecilia Wingei (Endlers), Epiplatys Annulatus (Clown Killifish) and a few stragglers, a Barbus gelius (dwarf golden barb), an Otocinclus, 2 Amano Shrimp.

    Had 5 in a 20 long and the odd one out was beat up so much by the 2 pairs that it had it’s tail eaten off and went fungal before I could notice and died. So, be wary.In my situ, I had to place them in a different tank than planned and the flow was very high. I have had no problems with them and high flow. I have an Aquaclear 50 and an Aqueon 10 both towards the left side of the 20 long, so that if it was a problem, the right side of the tank had less flow. pH is 8.

    There were multiple spawning caves in the tank, which were taken up fairly quickly and spawning in the community tank described occurred and produced fry that I noticed during pwcs.Because of the voracious appetites of the Endlers I moved 2 fry I spotted into another tank. And am now attempting to determine the best size they should be for moving back (aside from not fitting in anyone’s mouth). The surviving fry is about 1/4 inch.

  • Celox

    In my experience mature fish are not quite as hard to sex as it sounds. Once you recognize the ovary (yellowish organ extending past the belly) you can spot it even without a backlight, and the spots above the lateral stripe are faint to absent in females, at least the ones I’ve kept.

    I have a trio (two males, one female; I had another female but it seemed to be bullied the most, and I failed to realize how bad the problem was before it died) in a 10g with Boraras maculatus. They just spawned for the second time in the past few months. I kept the first set of fry in the tank, and had a few growing but haven’t seen any sign of them in quite some time. This time I have separated some into a breeder box and will try offering infusoria and vinegar eels. I’m not sure when it will be safe to return them to the main tank, if I don’t have success I’ll try setting up a growout tank.

  • wingless__

    I finally was able to add one of these beauties to my 20 high with my school of Otocinclus two days ago. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

    1. Really aggressive towards Nerite snails. He (as far as I can tell) tried to bite off the antennae of my two nerites and wouldn’t quit harassing them for a good hour or so. I ended up removing the snails and putting them in my other tank. I’ll try adding one back in a breeder box where they can see each other in a few days, and see if he still is exhibiting the same behaviors.

    2. Doesn’t like to take food at the surface. I’m attributing this to being new to the tank and still getting settled in, but I’ve had the most success feeding him via soaking food in tap water, then squirting it down into the water column with a pipette. He’s really enjoyed freeze dried daphnia and Fluval Bug Bites so far. Doesn’t really seem to have an appetite for bloodworms. He’s also pretty much decimated my planaria infestation, and I often find him patrolling the glass and substrate looking for more.

    3. Really, really wanted to murder my Cherry shrimp at first. Even when I was floating his bag, I noticed him following the shrimp swimming by. When I released him into the tank, he immediately started trying to hunt them. Curiously, he won’t chase them. Just hyper focuses on one, stares it down, and then nips at it. The shrimp will then bolt away and he loses interest. Now he really doesn’t actively hunt them at all. If they get to close, he will kinda flare up / stare it down and then nip at it, but never chases.

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