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Samurai Gourami – Sphaerichthys vaillanti

Samurai Gourami

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

The Samurai Gourami is, however different in several respects from most other Gouramis. Because this is quite an uncommon fish (semi-endangered) and requires an unusual environment it is not recommended for novice aquarists. In any event, the Samurai Gourami is not commonly available to purchase and is relatively expensive.

  • It thrives only is quite acidic water (as low as pH 3.0 to 5.0)
  • The water needs to be filtered through peat or conditioned with peat extract
  • This Gourami is a Mouthbreeder, not a bubble-nester
  • The male will hold the eggs in his mouth for 7 to 21 days
  • The male will not eat whilst he is caring for the eggs 
  • The fry are born live from the mouth of the male
  • The female is the more colourful and dominant of the species
  • This Gourami prefers live food (or frozen, live food) and tends to reject flakes
  • It is a very small and timid fish.

Key Facts

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Samurai Gourami
Scientific nameSphaerichthys vaillanti
Originate fromBorneo; specifically in an area around a village named Nangah Sebroeang
Care requiredVery specialized care required – rare species.
TemperamentVery placid species – the female is the dominant of the two
Colour & FormRed and green vertical stripes on flank of female with leaf-like body shape; male is the less colourful of the sexes
LifespanApproximately 8 years
Adult size2 inches
DietOmnivorous but prefers live or freeze-dried live food
Aquarium size30 gallon minimum
Compatible withSmall rasboras, danios, loaches (such as the Kuhli)
Avoid keeping withShould not be kept with boisterous species of any kind
BreedingFemale lays eggs on substrate of aquarium, male fertilizes them then mouth-broods them (without eating anything) until fry are free-swimming (7 to 21 days)
Water temp70 – 78 Fahrenheit
Water pH3.0 to 5.0 filtered through aquatic peat (or peat extract)
Water hardness (dGH or dH)0 to 3.2 dGH

Origins of the Samurai Gourami

The Samurai Gourami originates in a very specific area of Borneo; specifically in an area around a village named Nangah Sebroeang. This village is in the south of Borneo

Characteristics of the Samurai Gourami

As you can see, the Samurai Gourami is quite a dainty fish which can only grow to around 2 inches in size but can live for up to eight years. The Samurai Gourami is not hugely omnivorous; unlike its cousins, as it prefers a diet of live food but will accept freeze-dried live food and tends to reject flake food if other food is available but it will browse on algae.

The colouring and shape of the Samurai Gourami gives a clue to its natural habitat where it lives in blackwater peat swamps and pools in which there is plenty of decaying vegetation. It resembles a leaf and has evolved to be able to hide in plain sight by remaining still and moving with the currents in the water.

The Samurai Gourami is a very timid fish which will not thrive in any aquarium where it can be outcompeted for food. Tankmates (if any) should include peaceful fish such as small rasboras, danios, loaches (such as the Kuhli) and should not be kept with boisterous species of any kind.

That said, some aquarists advise that the Samurai Gourami is kept as the only breed of fish in the tank. Despite being such a small fish, a tank size of 30 gallons or greater is recommended for the Samurai Gourami and it is recommended that a group of 6 to 8 fishes be kept, rather than a single pair. Samurai Gouramis will live for 5 to 8 years.

Please note that Samurai Gouramis are a most uncommon fish and can usually only be sourced from specialist suppliers at the time of writing.

The Samurai Gourami likes a well-planted aquarium and, being a timid fish, it will use plant cover if there are aggressive fish in the tank.

As is true of all Gouramis, Samurai Gouramis are extremely fascinating to watch. They tend to occupy all of the tank. The timidity of this particular species means that in a well-planted aquarium it will conceal itself amongst the plants, mimicking dead leaves.

Much of the time, Samurai Gouramis tend to move slowly and purposefully, avoiding contact with other species in the tank. In nature, they can survive in very low-oxygenated water, as their labyrinth enables them to take in air from above the water surface.

It is recommended that Indian Almond leaves are placed on the surface of the water (leaving a gap for the Samurai Gourami to surface and gulp air) because the natural decay of these leaves helps to condition the water and Samurai Gouramis prefer a low level of light as, in their natural habitat, they live under the canopy of the rainforest in swampy “blackwater” conditions.

The correct pH level should be maintained using an aquatic peat filter.

Samurai Gourami – Video

How do Samurai Gouramis breed?

Samurai Gouramis are labyrinth fishes but do not breed using a bubble-nest. Before you can breed Samurai Gouramis, however, first you need to know whether or not you have a male and female fish.

Sexing the fish can be difficult. The female has a straight jawline and the mouth comes to a point resembling a leaf (acuminate) whereas the jawline of the male is evolved so that he can take and care of the eggs until they hatch and the fry are released when they are capable of free-swimming. The female can display a pattern of deep red and green stripes, especially at breeding times: it is, unusually, the female which is the most striking fish.

The male Samurai Gourami tends to have a slimmer, less rounded body whilst the female has a more rounded body (in profile) which is greater in girth when she is gravid. The male has a more rounded “chin” area which is an adaptation related to the fact that he is a mouthbrooder.

Spawning is initiated by the female, rather than the male and the characteristic mating ritual of other Gouramis is not present with Samurai Gouramis. The female will lay her eggs on the substrate of the aquarium or on a dead leaf at the bottom of the aquarium. The male will fertilize the eggs and gather them up into his mouth where he will protect them (without eating) until the fry are hatched and capable of free-swimming (from 7 to 21 days later). A typical brood will range from between 10 to 40 fry.

The female is the more dominant of the species and she will defend the male whilst he is caring for the brood.

It is advised that, if using a dedicated breeding tank for the breeding pair, the male is removed once the fry are released.

Assuming that the tank contains decaying leaf material (from, say, Indian Almond leaves as suggested above) then the tank will be rich in infusoria on which the fry will feed initially as well as being introduced to baby brine shrimp and micro-worms.

Breeding tank for Samurai Gouramis

You should prepare a tank of around 30 gallons in size with mature, still water. Remember that in nature, Samurai Gouramis thrive in still, swampy 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.

It is also recommended that, with Samurai Gouramis, the tank temperature is raised slowly to between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the tank contains an air block then turn it off or the Samurai Gouramis may not breed, as they require the water to be still.

Some aquarists suggest that the tank should be almost covered in cling film (above the waterline in order to create a high level of humidity in the air above the water. It is believed that this high humidity assists in the development of the labyrinth organ of the young fishes. Ensure that there is space for the carbon dioxide to be replaced with oxygenated air, else the fishes will suffocate.

Should your Samurai 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.

The Samurai Gourami is, however different in several respects from most other Gouramis. Because this is quite an uncommon fish (semi-endangered) and requires an unusual environment it is not recommended for novice aquarists. In any event, the Samurai Gourami is not commonly available to purchase and is relatively expensive.

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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