Helostoma temminkiiGreen kisser(Also: Pink kisser)

Geographic Range

Helostoma temminkii, also known as the kissing gourami, is naturally found in Southeast Asia in Thailand, Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo, and Java. Due to tropical fish breeding for the aquarium trade, it has also been reported in Florida but is not yet established. (Christensen, 1992; Courtenay and Stauffer, 1991)


Helostoma temminkii is a freshwater fish that prefers the sluggish or standing water of tropical lakes, canals, swamps, and ponds, and water temperatures between 22 and 30˚C. During the rainy season these fish migrate through rivers to shallow lakes and floodplains to spawn. They are usually found near the surface of the water because of their ability to breathe air. (Christensen, 1992; Rainboth, 1996)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Average depth
    2 m
    6.56 ft

Physical Description

Helostoma temminkii has a rounded caudal fin and a dorsal fin that is longer than the anal fin. It has an interrupted lateral line and a smooth-edged operculum and sub operculum. In the wild its typical length is around 20 cm but it can reach a maximum length of 30 cm. The most notable feature of kissing gourami are mouths with very strong, fleshy lips that can be stretched forward to "kiss" things like rocks, plants, food, and each other. They have no teeth on the palate or jaws, but they do have hundreds of small rust colored mucous membrane teeth that are covered with enamel. Fish sold for aquariums are usually an artificially produced pink color. Wild forms are gray to green with a dark bar along the base of the caudal fin. (Axelrod, et al., 1971; Garant, 1969; Sakurai, et al., 1993; Sterba, 1983; Trapani, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    17 to 30 cm
    6.69 to 11.81 in
  • Average length
    20 cm
    7.87 in


Fertilized eggs attach to the underside of vegetation and take approximately a day to develop into fry. The larvae are free swimming in two days and stay in the floodplains for only a short time. When juveniles reach about 5 to 7 cm they migrate back through rivers to slower water where they spend the majority of their lives. (Christensen, 1992; Pethiyagoda, 1991)


Kissing gourami spawn once a year. Females initiate matings and only mate with one male per spawn. They do not seem to show any mate choice and do not keep the same mate for future spawnings. (Christensen, 1992; Pethiyagoda, 1991)

Helostoma temminkii are oviparous and dioecious and demonstrate external fertilization. They spawn once a year at the beginning of the rainy season. Adults migrate through rivers into shallow lakes or flooded forests to spawn. A female initiates mating and she and the male fish turn almost upside down before simultaneously releasing the eggs and sperm. Females release on average 1000 eggs. Eggs are usually small compared to other freshwater species and have an oil droplet to increase buoyancy. Fertilized eggs float to the surface and usually attach to floating vegetation. The eggs develop into fry that become free swimming after two days. Kissing gourami reach sexual maturity at three to five years of age. (Christensen, 1992; Davis, 1959; Pethiyagoda, 1991)

  • Breeding interval
    Kissing gourami breed once yearly
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is the beginning of the rainy season (May)
  • Range number of offspring
    900 to 1900
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range time to hatching
    1 to 2 days
  • Average time to hatching
    1 days
  • Average time to independence
    3 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

Besides the investment of energy that goes into spawning, Helostoma temminkii do not invest in their offspring. Unlike closely related species, kissing gourami do not build nests or care for their young. (Riehl and Baensch, 1991; Sterba, 1983)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


In captivity and in the wild the average lifespan is 5 to 7 years, but they can live much longer. (Axelrod, et al., 1971; Sterba, 1983)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 7 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5 to 7 years


Helostoma temminkii is able to derive oxygen from water and air. It is able to get oxygen out of the air with paired suprabranchial chambers that have a bony element inside covered with a highly vascularized layer of tissue called the labyrinth apparatus. It gulps air at the surface and holds it in these chambers. It also expels air from its mouth while it is above water. Air breathing allows H. temminkii to survive in very oxygen-poor water.

The characteristic “kissing” behavior that gives the fish its name occurs frequently, especially during feeding and also sometimes during courtship and combat. It is caused by contraction of the epaxial muscles and the most commonly accepted explanation for the behavior is that it is a ritualized form of aggression. In general, kissing gourami are a relatively non-aggressive species. (Liem, 1967; Riehl and Baensch, 1991; Sakurai, et al., 1993; Skobe, et al., 1970)

Home Range

There is no information on the home range of H. temminkii. (Randle and Chapman, 2005)

Communication and Perception

Kissing gourami have very acute hearing due to a suprabranchial air-breathing chamber located close to the inner ear. The air bubbles in the suprabranchial chamber modulate and enhance their ability to hear. Kissing gourami frequently emit sounds that are associated with social behavior and this sound is achieved by grinding their pharyngeal teeth. (Ladich and Yan, 1998; Sakai, et al., 1995; Yan, 1998)

Food Habits

Kissing gourami are omnivorous. They feed on phytoplankton, zooplankton, and aquatic insects, supplemented by plant material. They are considered to be the most highly specialized freshwater filter-feeder of southeast Asia with very intricate gill rakers. (Liem, 1967; Rainboth, 1996; Roberts, 1989)


Kissing gourami are eaten by humans in some areas of Southeast Asia. (Edwards, et al., 1997; Rainboth, 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

Helostoma temminkii can be host to parasitic algal species that live under their skin and look like color spots. Fish with the algal growth are somewhat emaciated and generally less healthy than fish without the algae. The algae possibly receive some of the requirements for photosynthesis and protein synthesis from the fishes’ bodies. (Nigrelli, et al., 1958; Nigrelli, et al., 1958)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Stigeoclonium
  • Chlorococcales

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Kissing gourami are very popular aquarium fish, and are collected in their native habitat to sell and are also bred and sold out of Florida. They are popular fish in the aquarium trade in part because of their high tolerance to crowding. They are also an important food fish in Southeast Asia and are desirable because they can be kept alive for prolonged periods in markets. (Edwards, et al., 1997; Ng and Tan, 1997; Rainboth, 1996)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of Helostoma temminkii on humans. Although there are many theoretically adverse affects that could be associated with their accidental release outside of their natural habitat, there have not been any well-documented cases. (Courtenay and Stauffer, 1991)

Conservation Status

Kissing gourami are not on the IUCN Red List, and although they are heavily fished in their natural habitat, they are still one of the most common fish in the area. (Christensen, 1992)


Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Megan Coughlin (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kevin Wehrly (editor, instructor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


a method of feeding where small food particles are filtered from the surrounding water by various mechanisms. Used mainly by aquatic invertebrates, especially plankton, but also by baleen whales.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Axelrod, H., C. Emmens, D. Sculthorpe, W. Winkler, N. Pronek. 1971. Exotic Tropical Fishes. Jersey City, NJ: TFH Productions, Inc..

Christensen, M. 1992. Investigations on the Ecology and Fish Fauna of the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. Internationale Revue der Gesamten Hydrobiologie, 77(4): 593-608.

Courtenay, W., J. Stauffer. 1991. The introduced fish problem and the aquarium fish industry. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 21(3): 145-159.

Davis, C. 1959. A Planktonic Fish Egg from Fresh Water. Limnology and Oceanography, 4(3): 352-355. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Edwards, P., D. Little, A. Yakupitiyage. 1997. A comparison of traditional and modified inland artisanal aquculture system. Aquaculture Research, 28: 777-788. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Garant, P. 1969. Observations on the Ultrastructure of the Ectodermal Component during Odontogenesis in Helostoma temmincki. Journal of Anatomical Research, 166: 167-188. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Ladich, F., H. Yan. 1998. Correlation between auditory sensitivity and vocalization in anabantoid fishes. Journal of Comparative Physiology, vol 182 iss 6: 737-746.

Liem, K. 1967. Functional Morphology of the Head of the Anabantoid Teleost Fish Helostoma temmincki. Journal of Morphology, vol 121: 135-158. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Motta, P. 1984. Mechanics and Functions of Jaw Protrusion in Teleost Fishes: A Review. Copeia, vol 1984 iss 1: 1-18. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Ng, P., H. Tan. 1997. Freshwater fishes of Southeast Asia: potential for the aquarium fish trade and conservation issues. Aquarium Sciences and Conservation, vol 1: 79-90. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Nigrelli, R., J. McLaughlin, S. Jakowska. 1958. Histozoic Algal Growth in Fish. Copeia, vol 1958 iss 4: 331-333. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Pethiyagoda, R. 1991. Freshwater Fishes of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The Wildlife Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka. Accessed October 10, 2005 at http://fishbase.org/.

Rainboth, W. 1996. Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Randle, A., L. Chapman. 2005. Air-breathing behavior of the African anabantoid fish Ctenopoma muriei. Journal of Fish Biology, vol 67: 292-298.

Riehl, R., H. Baensch. 1991. Aquarium Atlas. Melle, Germany: Mergus.

Roberts, T. 1989. The Freshwater Fishes of Western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia). San Fransisco: California Academy of Sciences.

Sakai, H., J. Wang, K. Naka. 1995. Contrast Gain Control in the Lower Vertebrate Retinas. Journal of General Physiology, vol 105 iss 6: 815-835.

Sakurai, A., Y. Sakamoto, F. Mori. 1993. Aquarium Fish of the World: The Comprehensive Guide to 650 Species. San Fransisco: Chronicle Books.

Skobe, Z., P. Garant, J. Albright. 1970. Ultrastructure of a New Cell in the Gills of the Air-Breathing Fish Helostoma temmincki. Journal of Ultrastructure Research, vol 31: 312-322.

Sterba, G. 1983. The Aquarium Fish Encyclopedia. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Trapani, J. 2001. Position of Developing Replacement Teeth in Teleosts. Copeia, vol 2001 iss 1: 35-51. Accessed October 05, 2005 at http://www.jstor.org/.

Weinberg, S., J. LoBue, C. Siegel, A. Gordon. 1976. Hematopoiesis of the kissing gourami (Helostoma temminicki). Effects of starvation, bleeding, and plasma-stimulating factors on its erythropoiesis. Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol 54 iss 7: 1115-1127.

Yan, H. 1998. Auditory role of the suprabranchial chamber in gourami fish. Journal of Comparative Physiology, 183: 325-333.