Samurai Gourami Care: Diet, Tank Size, Breeding & Disease

Scientific NameSphaerichthys Vaillanti
Common NameSamurai Gourami, Samurai Zebra
OriginRiver in Borneo
Temperature Range75 – 80°F
Adult Size1.8 – 2.2 inches
DietOmnivorous but prefers carnivorous diet

Samurai Gourami (Sphaerichthys Vaillanti) are not particularly common fish in the aquarium hobby and they can be difficult to obtain. These fish come up for sale occasionally from international breeders and online retailers. They are usually expensive when they are for sale.

Wild Habitat of Samurai Gourami

Even in their native habitat, they are not a common fish. When present, they can be found swimming very slowly, which mimics the movement of dead leaves on the river bottoms. This makes them very difficult to spot.

Samurai Gourami are often found in stagnant bodies of water that is full of dead leaves and other vegetation. While many fish species would not be able to survive in such conditions, Samurai Gourami have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe oxygen directly from the surface of the water. This allows them to survive in oxygen depleted environments, and other less than ideal conditions.

Samurai Gourami (Sphaerichthys Vaillanti)

Male and Female Samurai Gourami

It is possible to distinguish between male and female Samurai Gourami since they do display traits of sexual dimorphism.

Female Samurai Gourami are more colorful than the males. They have a vibrant iridescent green coloration that is truly unique. The females can be identified through their distinctive markings as well. They have red and green vertical bars on their sides. In addition, they have a straighter lower jaw, and a more prominent head shape than the males. Lastly, the females have a reddish tail area.

Male Samurai Gourami are plain looking in comparison to the females. They usually have a pale brown or greyish color to them. Mature males have distended skin around their mouths. This is because they are mouth brooding species, and the extra skin on the mouth of the male can be stretched out so that he can hold eggs during spawning.

The display of sexual dimorphism in Samurai Gourami is interesting because in most other species of fish, the males are usually more brightly colored than the females. However, with the Samurai Gourami, the females are more colorful than the males.

Keep in mind that it is very difficult to distinguish between male and female Samurai Gourami when they are young. Juvenile specimen do not always display all of the mentioned coloration, patterns, and shapes. Once they mature, the differences between the male and female fish become more obvious.

Food & Diet

Samurai Gourami are omnivorous feeders. In their natural habitat they feed on small crustaceans, zooplankton, and insect larvae.

In an aquarium, it is advisable to mimic their natural diet to some extent. Especially while they are acclimating to the new environment, they may not willingly accept dry foods. While there are many types of fish food available, one of the best fish food for picky eaters are live fish food. This can include mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, daphnia, moina, and bloodworms.

Once the fish is well-acclimated to the new environment, you may try to adjust their diet slowly. Instead of feeding live food, you may be able to convince them to eat frozen food or freeze dried version of the same food. Eventually, your Samurai Gourami may be acclimated enough to accept dry flake food. However, this can be a slow process, and some fish may never accept dry flake food.

Whether your fish accepts dry flake food or not, keep in mind that a varied diet is important. Even if your fish consumes dry food, it is still recommended to provide some live or frozen food to supplement their diet.

Size & Lifespan

When properly cared for, the Samurai Gourami have a lifespan of 5 to 8 years. They can grow from 1.8 to 2.2 inches at full maturity.

In order for them to reach for full potential in terms of their lifespan and adult size, it is important to provide a proper environment for them to thrive in.

Tank Size & Tank Setup

Samurai Gourami is a freshwater fish that require a minimum tank size of 20 to 30 gallons. They are kept best in a group of 6 to 8 fish.

In general, they are recommended for experienced fishkeepers since they have specific and unique requirements.

Their tank setup should be a blackwater tank. Samurai Gourami need to be kept at a pH level of 4.0 to 5.0. This is most likely more acidic than your average tap water. In order to bring the pH level down, the tank water can be filtered through aquarium peat. In addition to maintaining low pH levels, it is also important to keep the nitrate levels low, and the tannin levels elevated.

In their native habitat, Samurai Gourami live in soft, acidic, tannin filled, peat swamps. They live in slow moving river systems among the leaf litter and debris. They are also sheltered by the dense canopy of trees and leaves. Likewise, their aquarium setup should consist of dim lighting, and plenty of vegetation and driftwood for cover.

They can survive in a temperature range of 75 to 80°F, but it is a good idea to keep it in the higher range. This is especially true if you have males holding onto their fry. However, it has also been reported that higher temperatures can cause more aggression in these fish.

When it comes to aquarium decor, the Samurai Gourami are not very picky. Flower pots, plastic tubing, and other plastic decor can be used. The important thing is that plenty of shelter is provided. Make sure that there is a dark area within the tank that will allow the fish to hide in. If you wish to setup a natural aquascape, choose a sandy substrate with driftwood and live plants.

Indian Almond Leaves can be added to the tank as well. They are highly beneficial to your Samurai Gourami because they release beneficial tannins into the water as they decompose. This creates the blackwater environment that the Samurai Gourami needs to survive and thrive. The decomposing leaves are also a great food source for small aquatic organisms that the Samurai Gourami fry can feed on. These leaves can be removed and replaced every few weeks or so. They can also be left in the aquarium until they break down naturally.

These fish live in still water environments, and they should be kept in a setup that has very low water flow. If your aquarium filter has a strong outflow, dampen the flow with a baffle. Some aquarium filters are equipped with an adjustable outflow as well.

In regards to the water change, avoid large water changes that may change the water parameters drastically. Instead, make smaller water changes of 10 to 15 percent on a weekly basis. If more water changes are required for any reason, increase the frequency of the water changes rather than the amount of water changed each time.

Tank Mates & Temperament

Samurai Gourami are very timid fish. They are small fish that move slowly. They can be easily intimidated by other fish that are larger or more active. For this reason, it is important to choose their tankmates with care. While they generally do best in a single species tank set up, but they can be housed with other peaceful fish of similar size. Bottom dwelling fish such as Corydoras would be a great tank mate.

Breeding Samurai Gourami

Unlike other species of Gourami, the Samurai Gourami are mouth brooders. The females will defend the territory while the males brood the eggs. During spawning time, their colors will be brighter, but the females will always remain brighter than the males. Another unusual thing about Samurai Gourami is that the female fish is the one to initiate the breeding process. During this time, the fish will remain upright, and stay this way for several hours. The female will then lay 10 to 40 eggs somewhere in the substrate or other available surface in their tank where the male will then fertilize them. Once this has occurred, the male will then gather the eggs into his mouth and hold them there anywhere from 7 to 21 days. The skin around the mouth of the male Samurai Gourami fish is expandable, and allows them to fit all of their eggs.

The male will not eat during this time, he will remain calm and in a quiet spot of the breeding tank, and because of this, he may require a recovery time afterwards. Once the male releases the fry, they will be fully formed and free swimming. The fry are large enough at this stage to accept baby brine shrimp or microworms. Once the male has released the fry, he should be removed so that he doesn’t eat them. It is a good idea to have a separate, dedicated, and established breeding tank with the same requirements as their regular tank setup.

It is important to have a tank with a tight fitting lid that keeps their air warm and humid for proper development of their labyrinth organ. Their labyrinth organ is the organ which allows them to survive in oxygen depleted environments, and in deteriorated water conditions that would have otherwise killed other species.


Samurai Gourami are susceptible to the same diseases that all tropical freshwater fish are. These include bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. They can also get sick if the pH is off in their tank. They are also susceptible to illness due to unhygienic conditions or contamination.

Since these fish are difficult to obtain, if you do by chance get lucky enough to find one of these fish for sale, it is important to know that when they are imported and acclimated in water that has a higher pH than normal. They are extremely susceptible to fungal infections at this pH, so it is important to return them to their normal pH level as soon as possible.