All that sparkles... Notes on creating a "Sparkling Gourami" aquarium...

Okay, year's almost over, and I pretty much haven't gotten to most of the "speciality tanks" I had in my head to create in 2019...or maybe that was 2018. Not enough time, indeed! Yeah, my goal was to create specific botanical-style habitats for certain fishes on a small scale. I was hoping to hit most of my "wish list" fishes, but of course, time was precious and getting them all done wasn't in the cards!

It always happens like that! More ideas for tanks than time to execute on them!

I receive a lot of those "What botanicals do I use for an environment featuing______________________?" questions, so I figure there is a lot of value in featuring a fish and the  botanicals which can be used to recreate aspects of their habitat. The idea behind this was to give you some inspiration and ideas for utilizing our botanicals in species-specific setups, for breeding, education, and enjoyment.

One of the fishes I fully intended to devote a tank to this year, but just didn't get to, is the "Sparkling Gourami", Trichopsis pumila, and the habitat where it comes from. I've kept this little guy a bunch of times I the past, and I fully intend to do it in a small botanical-style tank in 2020.

So, why don't I simply share my ideas for creating this specialized aquarium?

Keep in mind, this is more of a "distillation" of my notes on my plans for this aquarium...more of a "dossier" of sorts, as opposed to  a comprehensive guide to the selection, care, maintenance and breeding of them. 

Image by Zikamoi (used under CC BY SA 3.0)

First off, let's take a look at where the fish comes from.

This species is found throughout the lower Mekong River basin in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, and in watersheds all over Central and Southern (peninsular) Thailand. It's a really small fish, reaching only about 1.5" (3.84cm), which lends itself well to being kept in small aquariums, ranging in size from 2.5 to 10 gallons (9.46- 37.85L). I have always found these small fish to be rather "inactive", and they don't seem to utilize lots of space- and indeed, actually "disappear" a bit in larger tanks, so this is one of those fishes where small tanks actually work better!

One word of warning, from the "Don't-say-we-didn't-tell-you-so" Department: They make noises! Huh? Yeah, they "croak", which is a bit weird until you realize that they are also known in the trade as the "Dwarf Croaking Gourami!" I can remember at least two occasions being in another room in my house and wondering where the hell the "crickets" were- only to ultimately find it was these little fishes doing their thing!

This fish typically inhabits slow-moving, sometimes even semi-stagnant habitats, including swamps, tributaries of rivers, flood plains, rice paddies, irrigation channels, and even roadside ditches. T. pumila seems to favor sluggish and still environments, with a lot of vegetation, roots, leaf litter, branches, and other matter. I think we have some experience in creating that type of look, right?

Since the fish likes access to humid air, you'd be well advised to not fill up the aquarium completely to the top, leaving some humid air-water interface. Being Anabantoides, they can breathe atmospheric air to a certain extent. For this reason, the Sparkling Gourami would be a good subject fish for a riparium type display. IN fact, I think recreating the water/land interface aspect of their habitat is the way to go, particularly in a small tank where you could really go crazy!

Swamps with dark. organic-rich water and riparium plants are not an uncommon biotope in which to find T. pumila. And I wouldn't overthink it too much.

 Of course, the other interesting habitats in which these fishes are found are the abundant rice paddies of Southeast Asia- habitats in which water is a sort of transient aspect.

Recreating a rice paddy is one of those interesting ideas that I've dabbled with during my "Urban Igapo" experimentation; ideas like actually growing rice seeds in rich, terrestrial soils.

I think that this is an interesting and highly achievable type of display; one which would be extremely unique, in that we typically don't utilize rice plants in our aquatic displays! And add into the equation that rice isn't all that hard to grow in an aquarium, and it's kind of an irresistible option, IMHO! 

And then, there are the "roadside ditches" which are not uncommon in these regions of high precipitation. The fact that this fish is so undemanding and is found in several rather diverse habitats makes it a gem (no pun intended!) of a specimen to play with!

If you're trying to represent its natural environment, you'd do well to utilize a number of leaves and leaf-litter "substitutes...For leaves, I'd tend to use smaller ones. So, stuff like Yellow Mangrove leaves, Texas Live Oak leaf litter, and Nano catappa leaves come to mind here.

Of course, the substrate is an important component of the Sparkling Gourami's habitat, and I'm thinking of supplementing a thin layer of sand and planted aquarium substrate with materials like "Fundo Tropical" or "Subtrato Fino" to create that dark, rich look and tinted water.

 And of course, the water conditions that these fishes seem happiest with are the "typical" soft, acidic type. We all know both the caveats and procedures on how to create these types of conditions, and we've covered this topic many times, so I won't really go into that part here. 

What botanicals would I use? I mean, this is like the most common question I get when it comes to creating aquariums for specific fishes, so here goes! 

Well, it's totally subjective, of course, but I'm thinking about some combination of the following materials as "anchor" components:

"Nano" Lotus Seed pods.

Banana Stem Pieces.

Fishtail Palm Stems

Selatan Catappa Bark.

Coco Palm bracts.

And again, my vision for a realistic Sparkling Gourami habitat has lots of "stuff" in the substrate- like "Mixed Leaf Media"- to create a rich, tannin-and-humic-substance-packed medium.

These fishes are rather sociable, so you can keep them in small groups or pairs. Being the peaceful type, you want to keep them with similar-sized tank mates which have very peaceful dispositions themselves. The reality is that your best off keeping these little gems in their own, species-specific display. This will encourage more natural behaviors, which can lead to spawning!

                                     A bubble nest- a very encouraging sign!

One of the best things about this endearing little fish is that you can house it quite successfully in a relatively small aquarium. This gives you both great control over the environment, as well as the ability to observe the fishes closely.

Again, the idea of using a small tank to play with this species is, in my opinion, a perfect way to go. Such setups come together easily and quickly, and can be a lot of fun to work with! You can easily create a very realistic, "functionally aesthetic" version of their habitat in the aquarium.

In my years of keeping this fish, the most surprising thing was that they are much easier to keep than "the books" say that they are...And I think that this is in a large part because I elected to keep them in a dedicated aquarium, as opposed to trying to integrate them into a larger community of diverse fishes. In my opinion, with many smaller, more "tricky" fishes, you're almost always going to have a better outcome keeping them alone in a small tank.

So, will I create a Sparkling Gourami tank to share with you and apply some of these ideas? I'm pretty sure that I will in 2020! It's a fish from an irresistible and fascinating niche habitat...the kind which I simply love!

I hope this very brief little review of the Sparkling Gourami and my approach and some botanical suggestions gives you a little inspiration to try something with this cool fish! At the very least, perhaps it'll get a discussion going... If you have pics and ideas of setups for this little Gourami, feel free to share them with us. Let's give this little fish- and many other little guys- the attention that they deserve!

Stay excited. Stay engaged. Stay curious. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aqutics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


4 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

December 03, 2019

Hi Jules,

Thanks for the feedback! I always worry when writing these kinds of pieces, because it’s easy to leave out all sorts of information! That being said, with my notes and personal experience, it’s fun to share what I have! I think I’ll keep opening up the notebook and sharing my ideas and experiences with different fishes.



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

December 03, 2019

Hey Sue-Judith,

There ARE a lot of ways to keep these fish…It’s fun to experiment with a more realistic simulation of their natural habitat. Glad to see you’re interested in that!



December 02, 2019

I really enjoyed your article! I started with 2 sparkling gouramies and now I have about 4 generations of them. They are in heavily planted nano aquariums with peaceful tank mates. I like the ideas you presented for making a more idealistic habitat. I do utilize botanicals but not as much as you recommend. This will be something I can look forward to!! 💕


December 02, 2019

Really like this kind of "speciality-tank topic.
The year has enough days left do a few more….. Well, at least I would love to read at least a few more dedicated ones

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