Kissing Fish
2019-07-19   Freshwater Fish


The name kissing gourami (kisser fish) is derived from what appears to be kissing between fish; however, scientists still are not sure of the true purpose of the behavior. It is believed to be a harmless territory challenging behavior which generally occurs between two males. This conjecture is supported by the fact that aging seems to diminish the need to challenge one another. Also with age, the desire for mating territories diminishes.


COMMON NAMES: Kissing fish, pink kissing gourami, green kisser

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Helostoma temminkii

ADULT SIZE: 12 inches

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Average of 7 years; can be long-lived, up to 25 years







Thailand, Vietnam, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula, and possibly in eastern Myanmar

Tank Level

Top to mid-dweller

Minimum Tank Size

75 gallon




Egg scatterer


Easy to intermediate


6 to 8


5 to 20 dGH


72 to 82 F (22 to 27 C)


Origin and Distribution

The popular kissing fish, commonly called a kisser, originates from the Indonesian island of Java and is also found in Borneo, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is commonly cultivated in the southern Indochina region as a food fish. Today, virtually all specimens sold in the U.S. are commercially bred in Florida. Also, Thailand and Singapore commercially breed this species for the aquarium trade as well as for food consumption.


Colors and Markings

There are three colors variations of this fish: a pink or flesh-colored form; a silver-green form often referred to as the "green kisser;" and a mottled or piebald variety. The pink variation does not occur as frequently in nature and is the result of a reduction in pigmentation known as leucism. This trait has been selectively bred for the aquarium trade, due to the color preference by owners.

    The green species is the naturally occurring coloration. It has a dark bar bordering the dorsal and anal fins. The pink and green have at times been described as separate species, but they are both a single species. A mottled or piebald variation is also sometimes seen for sale, however, it is less

    popular than the pink variety.

A mutation that has been bred for the aquarium trade is to make the fish shorter and rounder, giving it a balloon-like appearance. This mutated strain is not as hardy as the naturally occurring varieties, and it has a shorter lifespan.



Kissing gouramis have been known to be quarrelsome with some species of fish and should not be kept with smaller fish. Although they can be kept in a community tank with medium to large size fish, owners should observe them closely to ensure they are not bullying other fish. Potential tankmates may include loaches, barbs, larger tetras, a couple of types of cichlids, and some catfish.

Kissing gouramis will sometimes ram the sides of other fish, stripping them of their slime coat, and may potentially damage their skin. If this occurs, it is wise to separate the fish.


Habitat and Care

In nature, kissers are usually found in slow-moving, heavily vegetated ponds or marshes. They are a hardy fish that will tolerate a range of water conditions. A hidden structure in these fish is the labyrinth organ. This organ enables them to take oxygen from the air, allowing them to survive in waters with low oxygen levels. In fact, the gills of labyrinth fish are usually not capable of obtaining enough oxygen from the water to survive. Therefore, they must satisfy some of their oxygen requirement by gulping air at the surface of the water. For this reason, it's essential to provide them with access to the water surface.

However, they need a lot of space with access to the surface, warm water, and plenty of vegetation. Because they are fond of plant matter in their diet, use artificial plants or sturdy live plants such as Java fern or Java moss. Tender plants are likely to be eaten down to the stem.

In nature, kissers grow to a size of a foot or more, but in captivity, they generally remain about half that size. However, even a small kisser will grow too large for an aquarium smaller than 30 gallons and should not be kept in mini-tanks. With proper care, it is not unusual for these fish to live well over a decade.


You can't seem to miss the kisser on this fish, but what you cannot see are the rows of fine teeth on the inside surface of those lips, which are used to graze on algae and vegetable matter.

Kissers accept a variety of foods, including flake, frozen, freeze-dried, and small live foods, such as tubifex and brine shrimp. They also will accept any kind of vegetable matter and should be provided with plenty of spirulina-based foods as well as fresh vegetables when possible.

Periodically provide fresh romaine lettuce, cooked zucchini, or peas to keep your kissers in optimal health. Take care when providing fresh vegetables, as uneaten portions will quickly foul the water.

Sexual Differences

Both sexes of kissing gourami look almost identical, from their oval shape to their thick fleshy lips. It is almost impossible to determine the sex of these fish until they spawn. At the mating period, the body of the female becomes round as it fills with eggs.  


Potential breeders should be conditioned with live foods and provided with a large tank with soft, warm water (80 F). Unlike other labyrinth fish, kissers do not build elaborate bubble nests, although the male may blow bubbles randomly at the surface.

Spawning begins by circling, progressing to nudging and dancing, followed by an intense beating of tails and finally kissing. Eventually, the male wraps his body around the female, turning her upside down. The female will release hundreds or even thousands of eggs which are fertilized by the male as they rise to the surface.

If floating plants or lettuce are placed on the surface before spawning, the eggs will adhere to them and the fry can feast upon the infusoria that grows on the vegetation. Remove the parent fish following spawning, as they may eat their own young.

Eggs will hatch in approximately one day, and in another two days, the fry will be free swimming. Feed them very fine flake foods or small live foods such as freshly hatched brine shrimp.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      By Shirlie Shape