The appeal of chocolate...Gouramis, that is!

Of all of the fishes we keep in our blackwater aquariums, perhaps some of the most alluring, yet somewhat under-appreciated, are the Gouramis.

With over 130 species, four sub-families, and well over a dozen genera, the gouramis are a pretty broad family, part of the Osphronemidae, which includes the ridiculously popular Bettas.

Of particular interest to me of late has been the so-called Chocolate Gourami (Sphaerichthys osphromenoides). I love this species not only because of it's relatively small size- I love it because of it's subtle, "tan on brown" coloration, relatively passive demeanor, and their perfect appropriateness for a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium.

This fish has a fairly wide range, but is well-known to come from Malaysian state of Sarawak and Indonesian province of West Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat). They tend to be found in highly acidic, blackwater habitats, such as the endangered peat swamps and blackwater streams in rain forests. 

(Peat swamp forest by Jeremiah Harris- used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The swamps are particularly interesting to me, because they are associated with the rainforest floor and all of the botanical materials which accumulate there!

The accumulating peat in these swamps can be many feet deep, and the water layer above it can have a ph as low as 4- or less! The forest floors, much like those in South America, are seasonally inundated with the water, of course taking on that dark brown tannin-stained color that we're all fairly familiar with around here!

This obviously lends them to being replicated in some unique aquarium presentations, doesn't it?

And of course, we can replicate this habitat quite effectively with a mix of interesting botanicals, leaves, relatively dim lighting, and some appropriate aquatic plants! Tai Strietman's new aquarium (which we're going to feature soon in our "Inspiration" section!) was inspired by the environment of these unique fish and the others that inhabit this habitat.

These little gouramis, although not known to be specifically "gregarious" in nature, are interesting when kept in groups, displaying unique behavior and color. And they like relatively warm water, too! Like 75-82°F./24-28ºC- so you need to keep this in mind when selecting tank mates for them!

I think a nice mix of botanical on the substrate, with particular emphasis towards leaves and smaller palm-oriented materials, will really create a unique look for your aquarium!

We're really liking materials like "Cutch Tree Bark" and "Fundo Tropical", which can be mixed into the substrate to similar the spongy, peat-bottomed habitats of the Chocolate Gourami!


When skillfully blended with a mixture of plants and careful illumination, a unique biotope-style system can be created, including fishes like Rasbora and such, to compliment the shy, yet endearing gouramis.

This habitat might be a really good choice for replicating with a blackwater palladium, with shallow water, a densely planted "shoreline", and interesting diversity of botanical materials!

As we've learned with so many fishes in our blackwater journeys, providing them with specialized habitats designed to meet their unique needs generally seems to lead to better long-term outcomes than when we "force-fit" them into conditions that suit our own needs!

The endearing Chocolate Gourami is no different, and we've love to see more hobbyists working with these wonderful, often described as "touchy" fish under the proper conditions! What secrets will we unlock about this fish when we keep pushing in this direction? It gets me excited pondering the possibilities!

Yes, there is most definitely something appealing about Chocolate!

Stay adventurous. Stay intrigued. Stay Excited...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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