The Licorice Gourami has made its way from the slow-flowing blackwater rivers of Bangka in Indonesia into the care of aquarists who are fond of the unique and often docile fish.
Licorice Gourami (Parosphoromenus deissner) are named after military health officer, F.H. Deissner, who had sent the specimen to Dutch ichthyologist Pieter Bleeker who discovered the fish in 1859. The fish is small in size and difficult to sex when not in mating season. Both males and females have tan or silver scales with black lines running from their tail to the front of their head. However, during mating season the males develop green, blue, and red coloration along their caudal fins. The females may become more plump as they prepare to lay eggs.
Though their temperament is relatively docile and shy, the male Licorice Gourami can exhibit aggressive behavior during mating season. The aggression is expressed towards other males of the same species.
Licorice Gourami refers to fish in the genus Parosphromenus. This genus includes approximately 20 different species. While these fish are not extinct, many of these fish are endangered due to habitat destruction. While there a 20 different species in the genus Parosphromenus, this article will focus on Parosphromenus deissneri.
Licorice Gourami Care
As a blackwater fish, Licorice Gourami prefer tanks with heavy vegetation, including floating plants. The dense plant life and slow water flow help create the tannins that give blackwater its name and are integral for the species’ survival. In addition, Licorice Gourami need small rocky caves and other forms of shelter for hiding, especially during mating season.
The ideal tank temperature for the Licorice Gourami is between 72°-82°F (22°-28°C) and has a pH range between 3 and 6.5. Including driftwood, aqua soil, and leaf litter in the tank can help maintain the pH level that allows the species to thrive. It’s important to have an adequate tank that will accommodate the Licorice Gourami and its required habitat. The species can vary between one to two and a half inches, but the average size for the species found in pet stores is around one inch.
To guarantee a healthy habitat, it is recommended to have ample space and not crowd the species with dense population. The well-being of the Licorice Gourami is mostly done by housing only pairs or small communities. Due to mating behaviors, it’s also recommended to not overwhelm the tank with too many males. A 20-gallon tank is the minimum size recommended for a couple of Licorice Gourami, but for larger communities a 35-gallon tank or larger is key for well-kept fish.
Much like their living quarters, Licorice Gourami also have preferences for the daily menu. Often, they prefer fresh foods such as bloodworms or brine shrimp which are required due to their nutritional value, but the occasional frozen foods such as bloodworms, daphnia and tubifex worms are also accepted. Dry flakes are outright ignored.
The Licorice Gourami lives 3-5 years and having a well-maintained tank will ensure their longevity. Once the tank has been selected, stocking it with the correct plants and floor materials, like gravel, is integral to keeping them happy. Because they were found in the blackwaters of Indonesia, utilizing leaf litter helps create a similar blackwater effect by creating tannins, which hinder bacterial and fungal infections, while also contributing to making the water more acidic for ideal conditions. The natural habitats of this species are stocked with dense vegetation as should their tanks; hardy stem plants, such as anubias species, Bacopa australis, and cryptocryne parva are suggested.
It’s also important to include lots of floating plants, such as Salvinia natans, that help create a natural cover and block too much light. These plants also provide breeding grounds as do leaf litter like cattapa, which has the added benefit of acting as an additional food source. Speaking of cover, caves, rocks, java moss and driftwood settled at the bottom also create great hidey-holes for the shy fish and will later be used for breeding purposes.
While dense vegetation and cover are integral for their overall well-being, Licorice Gourami also require considerations for lighting and adequate filtration. In addition to using floating plants that block out the light (they can only do so much), it’s recommended to use a subdued lighting system to keep the tank relatively dim, similar to their natural oases. This unfortunately, can appear unappealing in combination with tannin-rich water, which creates a tea-like tinge, but having a high-quality filtration system will ensure a healthy habitat. The best filtration systems for this fish will be capable of adjusting to produce a lower water movement, while keeping it well oxygenated.
Licorice Gourami are a type of Labyrinth fish that are capable of surviving in levels of low-oxygenation through the use of an organ located just above the gills that allow the fish to take in oxygen through their mouths at the surface of the water. This is part of the reason the Licorice Gourami are often found swimming around the middle and upper levels of the tank, where the water is rich with oxygen. However, the gills are their main source for oxygen intake and are really put to work when mating season begins.
Breeding Licorice Gourami
During the mating season, the male takes charge by finding cover in a cave or amongst leaf litter to create a bubble nest as a place to maintain the fertilized eggs. Once that process is complete, the color show begins and mating rituals commence; the male will develop blue, green, and red stripes and approach a potential mate in a vertical position (head down) while the females will become more dull in color and select the most impressive mate.
After fertilization, the male typically scares off the female and will watch over the brood in a territorial-like fashion. The male will remain this way until the eggs hatch between 24-72 hours later and up until the fry become free-swimming approximately 5-7 days later. Because of their size, the fry are able to eat brine shrimp after hatching.
Despite having just been cared for by the male, once the fry become free-swimming, the competition becomes fierce and it’s recommended to remove them and place them into their own environment to avoid the male or other species from killing them.
While the Licorice Gourami are a generally hardy fish, they are susceptible to infection if water conditions are not maintained. Aside from the possibility of bacterial and fungal infections if the water is not acidic enough, the Licorice Gourami could also be exposed to Oodinium, a type of velvet disease. Oodinium is a parasitic infection caused by a dinospore attaching itself to the fish’s body and feeding on its scale cells. The parasite creates a hard shell around itself for protection as it feeds before dropping to the tank and releasing more spores to keep the infestation going. Symptoms of Oodinium include a dust-like appearance on the head, fins and body of the infected fish. However, changes in behavior can also be indicative of an infection; if the fish is rubbing itself against hard surfaces, it is possible the fish is already infected and action should be taken.
To reduce the risk of the tank being infected, it’s important to remove the infected fish to treat them in a separate environment; it’s optimal to ensure the new environment has the preferred water conditions. It’s also important to regularly clean the infected tank (once a week should do) to minimize the exposure of infection. For parasitic infections, veterinarians will have medicinal recommendations that will help kill off the parasite of an infected fish.
Even if water conditions are well-maintained, bacterial infections can still occur by entering open wounds, which is why it’s important to make sure the correct tank mates are selected.
Many may disagree whether Licorice Gourami can cohabit well with others. One camp suggests there are optional tank mates for the species, but the other stands staunchly against this due to the general survivability of these fish amongst competition as they could be bullied away from food or even eaten by larger and more aggressive tank mates. For this reason, even though they are roughly the same size, betta fish are not recommended tank mates as they are an aggressive and territorial breed. Parosphromenus spp. Are also not suggested tank mates as the females can be difficult to differentiate and can result in hybridising.
If one were to consider tank mates, having docile and slow-moving fish helps maintain the ideal environment for their survival as the Licorice Gourami is also a slow swimmer and may be agitated by fish that are noted for their frantic swimming patterns. It’s important that these roommates are also small and thrive in acidic conditions. Tank mates such as Boraras spp., eirmotus octozona, Kuhli loaches, Sundadanio spp., or Trigonostigma spp. Are potential bunkmates if looking for a variety in tank life. Other species to consider are guppy, corydoras catfish and other peaceful tetra species. There is some disagreement whether shrimp and snails are good matches for tank mates because they can be considered a food source for the Licorice Gourami.
Where to Find Licorice Gourami for Sale
In spite of their conservation status, Licorice Gourami are available for purchase through online retailers and well-stocked aquariums. They can be purchased for anywhere between $5 – $10 depending on the location and retailer.