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Licorice Gourami – Parosphromenus

Licorice Gourami Male with Cave

Image of p.nagyi Copyright © Helene Schoubye – The Parosphromenus Project

Gouramis originate in Asia and have a form of lung which enables them to breathe air and make nests from bubbles.

Is the Licorice Gourami a good community fish? The Licorice Gourami is a shy little fish and, as well as being endangered in the wild, it also has very particular care needs so should be kept in a single-species tank set up for its particular needs.

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Licorice (Liquorice) Gourami
Scientific nameParosphromenus
Originate fromPeat swamps of southeast Asia – endangered in wild
Care requiredSpecialist care required
TemperamentSingle species tank preferred but can be kept with Chocolate Gourami
Colour & Form20+ species identified. Can change colour quickly, difficult to sex unless in breeding mode
LifespanApproximately 5 years
Adult size1.8 inches
DietOmnivorous but prefer small, live food preferred
Aquarium size20 gallon minimum, 40 gallons for adults recommended
Compatible withChocolate Gouramis
Avoid keeping withEverything else
BreedingCave-breeder – builds bubble-nest at bottom of tank on underside of cave roof
Water temp75 – 80 Fahrenheit
Water pH3.5 to 5.5
Water hardness (dGH or dH)Up to 5 dGH

Origins of the Licorice Gourami

The Licorice Gourami originates from the peat swamps of southeast Asia. There are currently around 20 distinct species of the Licorice Gourami known to science. The deforestation of the rainforests of southeast Asia means that the natural habitat of these tiny peat swamp dwellers is fast disappearing but if you have the necessary skills and desire to create an aquarium environment suited to their particular needs then you can help to preserve the species.

Characteristics of the Licorice Gourami

As you can see, the Licorice Gourami, is a beautiful little fish. It will grow to only around 1.8 inches in size. The Licorice Gourami is omnivorous but favours small insects and zooplankton.

The Licorice Gourami requires very soft water ranging from a pH value of around 5.5 to as low as 3.5. This means that the fishes require a tank that includes peat filtration and careful, regular measurements of that PH value to ensure that the water is suitable for the fishes.

Bearing in mind that the Licorice Gourami lives in swampy water, it prefers a low level of lighting and a well-planted aquarium, preferably with some broad leaves (e.g. dried almond leaves) on the surface, perhaps some driftwood as well as some cover (e.g. rock caves) under which the fish can take cover.

Use a dark-coloured substrate and consider using a dark brown tank background to help to make this special little fish feel more at home.

Licorice Gouramis are not shoaling fish but are happy to live as a group of, say, six to eight fishes. On that basis, you don’t need a large tank because the fishes are small and, as mentioned, are best suited to being kept as a single species. A tank of 5 gallons would work but I think that a tank of 10-20 gallons would be better suited to a small group of Licorice Gouramis.

The Licorice Gourami prefers a diet of tiny, live food. It has a very small mouth so cannot tackle food that most species can handle so small brine shrimp and micro worms (live or freeze-dried) are appropriate. 

Dependant on the subspecies of Licorice Gourami you may find it difficult to distinguish the sex of a fish until a female becomes gravid and/or a male is ready to breed.

Licorice Gourami – Video

How do Licorice Gouramis breed?

Licorice Gouramis are labyrinth bubble-nesters which provides an excellent clue as to how they breed. Before you can breed Licorice Gouramis, however, first you need to know whether or not you have a male and female fish.

The sex of this species is more difficult to ascertain than it is for most other Gouramis, as males and females can be quite similar when not in breeding “mode”. The female, if gravid (carrying eggs) will have a significantly rounder belly than her male counterpart. This more rounded body is usually particularly obvious around the belly area between the pectoral and anal fins. The male will tend to display a darker body colouring and more spectacular finnage colouring during breeding times.

The Licorice Gourami is, as previously stated a bubble-nester but it is a bubble-nester with a difference. This difference is that it doesn’t build its nest under a leaf or driftwood on the surface of the water; rather it builds its nest of bubbles in a cave on the floor of your aquarium.

An excellent “cave” can be fashioned by securing half a coconut shell (which has an entrance hole cut into it) to the substrate. The cave should be secured to the bottom with stones. These stone anchors are important because the male will build his bubble-nest under the roof of the cave and this could make the coconut shell too buoyant unless it is firmly anchored and this would obviously cause the “cave” to flip and the nest would be destroyed.

Note that the differences in young Licorice Gouramis may not be obvious so it may be that you must wait for the fishes to become more mature before you can determine their sex with certainty.

The male Licorice Gourami is generally the dominant fish and it will be the male Gourami who ensures that the eggs hatch into fry.

Breeding tank for Gouramis

You should prepare a tank of around 5 to 10 gallons in size with mature, still water. Remember that in nature, Licorice Gouramis thrive in still water. Ensure that there is plenty of floating vegetation in the tank but further ensure that there is clear water surface where the Gouramis can take their gulps of air.

Licorice Gouramis require slow-moving water so take this important fact into consideration when preparing their tank. The water surface needs to be reasonably still and with only limited currents within. In general, these little fishes prefer fairly still water (not stagnant) rather than faster flowing water.

The male Licorice Gourami will start to build a nest of bubbles in the cave that you have fashioned into which he wants the female to lay her eggs.

Once he has built a substantial nest he will then entice the female to lay her eggs by performing a ritual dance which includes wrapping his body around hers and rolling her so that she deposits her eggs into his nest. Typically, the female will lay eggs in batches of up to twenty eggs, which the male will transfer into the bubble-nest and this will be repeated until the female is spent of her eggs – which could be up to 400 eggs.

The male Licorice Gourami will then protect the eggs by remaining inside the cave whilst the female will guard the entrance to the cave. That said, with some of the subspecies, the male will, in almost typical Gourami fashion, drive away the female.

If you are keeping a small group of Licorice Gouramis in a 10-20 gallon tank then you may wish to have several caves prepared in different locations on the floor of the tank in the event that more than one breeding pair are actively breeding at the same time. In any event, these caves are ideal hiding places when the fishes are not breeding.

The eggs start to hatch usually after one to three days and the fry become free-swimming after around seven days.

There is significant evidence that at least some subspecies of Licorice Gouramis will devour their young, which is one of the reasons why I have indicated a well-planted tank of 10-20 gallons despite the small size of the adults. There is a good chance than many of the fry will be consumed by the adults but a few could survive until they are too big for the adults to devour them and thus they will reach adulthood.

This suggests that to ensure the survival of the majority of the fry that if you have identified a male and female then you should move them to a dedicated breeding tank, remove the female once her eggs are in the nest and then move the male when the eggs start to hatch, placing them both back with the remaining group of Licorice Gouramis.

Assuming that the breeding tank is a mature tank with a good collection of mature plants then the natural cycle of life in the tank will have produced the infusoria (a collective term for the microorganisms that help with the decomposition of plant material) that the fry (baby fishes) will consume once they are hatched. If in doubt, add infusoria at least daily for the first week after hatching.

After around one week you may wish to add some small, live brine shrimp, as the fry will probably have grown sufficiently to catch and consume them.

Should your Licorice Gouramis have a special diet for breeding?

This is a much-discussed topic amongst aquarists. My personal belief is that all fishes should enjoy a rich and varied diet at all times including flake food, vegetable matter, live food and dried, live food. The fishes will themselves determine what they prefer to eat. In a community tank, fishes should be fed, as a general rule, once or twice each day and any food placed in the tank should be consumed within three minutes. The only exception to this is live food which the fishes will hunt down and devour.

Having decomposing food lying at the bottom of the tank is bad for the tank and bad for the fishes and, if you have catfish in the tank, they are not there as vacuum cleaners and should be treated with the same thoughtfulness as your other fishes.

If your fish are always maintained in the best possible condition then there is no reason whatsoever why any fishes should require a special diet to induce them to breed. You could make a point of feeding more than the usual amount of live food if you make any changes at all.

Should you wish to find more detailed information about the subspecies of the Licorice Gourami, then I recommend that you visit the website of the Parosphromenus Project, which is dedicated to the scientific study of this species endangered in the wild.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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