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My experiences with the rarest Chocolate gourami! Sphaerichthys selatanensis.

Some fish that can sometimes be found in specialist shops are a little more interesting than the common, standard community fish; this can be for a number of reasons including behaviour, rarity or maybe a interesting history! The fish in question here, Sphaerichthys selatanensis is interesting to me for the above reasons and a few more as well! Ive been intrigued by this group of ‘Chocolate gouramis’, for many years.

I am a big reader and collector of aquatic literature and this group of fish has one of the most confusing histories of all tropical fish.

There are 4 described species of ‘Chocolate gourami’ The first and type species is Sphaerichthys osphromenoides 1860, Sphaerichthys vaillanti 1930, Sphaerichthys acrostoma 1979, and finally Sphaerichthys Selatanensis 1979. .

Non of these fish have ever reached the trade in ‘commercial’ numbers, small imports of S.osphromenoides and S.vaillanti occasionally appear in specialist shops but not with regularity, the remaining two species are even harder to find and are imported by interested wholesalers maybe once or twice every few years. None of the species are bred commercially and we rely solely on wild imports for our aquarium fish.

A look through the history books reveals that this fish has caused a great deal of confusion to aquarists over the years, in the early years it was thought that the chocolate gourami was a live bearing fish, infact in 1909 a article was published titled ‘Osphronemus malayanus, live bearing gourami from the Malayan peninsula and from Sumatra’. In this article the author reported that on the long sea voyage to bring these fish to Hamburg from Singapore the dying females delivered 25-40 colourful fry, the author had not seen the fish being born and simply assumed that he was dealing with a livebearer.

Other reports over the years have reported that this gourami was a bubble nesting species and more recently several reports have been made and verified that they are indeed mouth brooding breeders.

The first accurate and most detailed article complete with spawning photographs came from the famous breeding expert Hans Joachim Richter of Leipzig in former East Germany and was published by TFH in 1972. This report proved without doubt that Sphaerichthys osphromenoides was a mouth brooding species, however this excellent and groundbreaking article was also incomplete as Richter never photographed the released fry, his adults ate the eggs and the story still remained incomplete! Despite this, Richter was the first to publish spawning photographs with clear pictures of the bright yellow large eggs.

The next detailed information on the breeding of this group of fish was found in Horst Linke’s excellent Labyrinth fish book(1991) he quotes Richter’s success and go’s on to describe the fry that he managed to get from his Sphaerichthys osphromenoides, however once again no photographs were produced to show the world what a chocolate gourami fry looks like!

While I have never kept or bred Sphaerichthys osphromenoides I have experience keeping and breeding the rarer and very closely related Sphaerichthys Selatanensis, it is this fish that features in the breeding account and article below.

Keeping and breeding Sphaerichthys Selatanensis 1979

This article is finally being written over 2 years since I owned and started breeding this fish, the spawning notes have been hanging on a pin board in my fishroom waiting patiently for me to finally sit down and put these scribbles into something eligible and useful for future aquarists. Finally noticing the roughly written notes getting torn and damaged has finally prompted me to write this article.

The account below is an accurate and complete account of a rare spawning of Sphaerichthys Selatanensis, also known as the crossband chocolate gourami.

In early September 2008 I was browsing through a large tropical fish wholesaler/retailer in Bolton, UK. This large and tatty aquatic superstore has a good reputation for sourcing rare and unusual fish, the quality of these fish are sometimes in question but with some fish it’s a case of grab them while you can, that’s the situation with the Sphaerichthys Selatanensis I found! I came across a tank containing eight small cross-band chocolate gourami, I purchased all 8 of these fish and brought them home to my small fishroom. The fish were in poor condition when purchased and needed very good care and food in the following weeks! I placed the fish into a small 18x18x12 tank containing a inert sand substrate, pieces of bogwood, lots of sinking and floating beech leaves and also a pair of the dwarf cichlid Pelvicachromis subocellatus that already owned this tank, the gouramis were simply placed into this mature tank to be conditioned for a serious breeding attempt in the following months. The water was my very soft tap water, PH was around 6.5, TDS 65ppm and the temperature was around 79f, the tank was situated on the bottom shelf of the three tier rack.

Almost straight away I lost two of the emaciated fish, the remaining 6 fed well on live foods such as newly hatched baby Brine shrimp, Grindal worm and even micro worm. They soon put on weight and size and began to show interesting behaviour and colours.

Sexual differences were difficult to detect although the males behaviour allowed me a fair guess at which was which, the males always seemed to be sparring and arguing over available territory, they showed no fear, even when the large sized P.subocellatus interrupted their sparing, on many occasions I have witnessed the male gourami chase the larger cichlid away. Females remained slightly smaller, were only a little deeper in the body and showed virtually the same colouration as the males, one previous report that males show more colour in the leading edge of the dorsal fin, in my specimens of S. Selatanensis I could not notice these differences except for males having a longer and more pointed dorsal fin. This is only recognisable when the fins are out stretched, unfortunately this rarely happens and the dorsal is usually folded back, when in this state both sexes look very similar. Future breeders should take note of this and purchase a large a group as possible for best results and as a guarantee of getting both sexes.

For me there was no long term build-up to spawning, the fish were checked daily and regular feeding and water changes performed, my original notes from 2008 show that I performed a large water change on Wednesday Oct 1st, by large I would guess at 75% of the 60 litre tank, my water changing is usually 20% daily and then a 75%(large) change every month or so. This water change was obviously a trigger in this spawning. Going back to the spawning notes I had made, I know that spawning behaviour was witnessed late in the evening of Friday 3rd Oct 2008.

I can remember it well and luckily for me the fish were right at the front of the tank and chose a clear spot over a couple of sinking beech leaves. Over the course of several hours the fish circled each other just above the substrate and several times embraced in the typical anabantid embrace with no eggs produced, I managed to photograph this behaviour and watched intently for several hours, nothing had happened by 1am on the morning of Saturday 4th Oct so I placed a small nightlight over the tank. After falling asleep on the fishroom floor in front of the tank I went to bed eager to wake up and witness what, if anything had happened.

On the morning of the 4th I went straight to the gourami tank to find the female in the upper rear corner holding a obvious clutch of eggs in her mouth, although delighted I was extremely disappointed in myself for going to bed “early” and missing this rare spawning, I wanted a full set of spawning pictures of this fish and this remains my only real regret in 18 years of keeping and breeding tropical fish! The water parameters recorded from the spawning tank on the night of spawning were PH6.4, TDS 64ppm and the temperature 76f. The water was slightly affected with tannins from the leaves and had a light amber tint.

Pair circling each other prior to spawning embrace

The male/female breeding pair remained in the upper levels of the tank, in this particular tank were some water logged but floating beech leaves, this made the ideal natural habitat and the fish utilised this cover to remain out of the way of the other fish, the male was very protective of his female and patrolled the corner, not allowing any other fish within reach of the holding female. The female was a obvious brooding fish, her thought was obviously extended and due to this her gills were visible, giving her cheeks a red tint.

Female holding eggs in her mouth, the male was rarely far from his mate.

It is obvious that this fish is carrying eggs in her mouth!

At this time I was on my own, Richters fish were reported to eat every clutch after 3 days so I was nervous to see if my fish would do the same, after reaching this 3 day period with the female still holding I debated what to do next, it was decided to wait for several more days until the eggs had definitely hatched and then to move her to her own space. I wanted to move her after the eggs had hatched as I reasoned that the female would be less likely to eat wriggling larvae than inert eggs if she was severly stressed with the move!

The container I chose to move her into was a very small 5 litre plastic container, this was filled with water from the breeding aquarium and several handfuls of Java moss covering the bottom half and some floating leaves covering the surface, I hoped that the female would find this peaceful and well covered container to her liking. She was moved very carefully on Thusday 9th Oct by placing a plastic container under her and removing her still under water in this cup, at no time did she come out of water as I didn’t want her to suffer any stress or damage. She quickly hid amongst the java moss and seemed to be contented in her new home. She was left undisturbed apart from a few photographs and at no time was she fed in this container(Or in the tank! Adding food only encourages her to either spit the fry or eat them so she can eat!)

On the evening of Friday 17th 14 days after spawning the female began to spit the fry, I first noticed 5 baby gourami at 7.30pm and kept my eye on the container, at no time did I see the release of any fry despite regular observations, by 9.10pm I could count 16 fry and by 10pm all fry were released and 27 fry could be found on the surface of the water. The female was removed the same night and given her own aquarium so that she could eat in peace and recover from her two week fast, she did so quickly and within a week she was placed back in the shoal of crossband chocolate gourami.

Newly released fry.

My attention was now focused on recording the fry and their development, unfortunately my notes on this have been lost and the loss of these notes prompted me to write this spawning record so that the data can be recorded in a more permanent way!

The fry when born are large and very colourful, sizes of S.osphromenoides fry measured by H.Linke were between 6.5mm and 6.9mm, I did not measure my fish but would agree with this sizing for my fish. The fry are a mottled dark brown colour with a cream band across the rear quarter of the body, they except live foods straight away and mine fed on newly hatched baby brineshrimp and microworm, they were removed to a smaller 3lt plastic container as I like to keep small fry very close to their food for the first few weeks, obviously in such a small volume of water careful feeding and daily waterchanges are essential, I removed 95% of the water daily and replaced with pre conditioned and warmed tap water, I also wipe down the base and sides of these plastic containers to cut down on dirt and bacteria build up.

Under these conditions the fry grow very quickly and within 3 weeks had developed the body shape of the adult gourami’s and were removed to a larger, sponge filtered 18x10x10 tank holding aprox 20 litres of water. Again they continued to grow and develop and within a month were miniature versions of the parents complete with colouration and body patterns.

Within 3 months the fish were large and healthy, we moved house at this stage and the only fish to be lost during a day long fish house move were most of the chocolate gourami and my Taenaicara candidi, two of my favourite fish in my fish house!! I kept a few chocolate gourami but the stress of the move and associated problems of a complete move of a fish house were too much and I lost the remaining fish over the next few weeks!

Young fish, approximately 6 weeks old

Unfortunately I have never seen this species imported again. As soon as I do I will buy them again and try to breed them once again. I hope that this article can encourage more breeders of this fish, its been 150 years since Sphaerichthys osphromenoides was first discovered, it took 40 years to prove 100% how they spawned and another 40 years for pictures of the fry to emerge. I hope that you enjoy the article and pictures as much as I enjoyed writing it and taking them. I enjoyed every minute of keeping this fish and I am still immensely proud of being able to contribute to the limited accurate information surrounding these beautiful fish.

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1 Comment

Chris Hilton
Chris Hilton
Nov 20, 2022

Good stuff Ste. More of these would be very much appreciated. Especially if you have anything on A. abacaxis and A. ortegai

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