By David Armitage

I’m conscious that new members, especially juniors, may find some of the articles in ‘Labyrinth’ over-technical. The Latin names and the plethora of newly-discovered fish must be confusing to someone who was attracted to the family of labyrinthfish by the community examples commonly available through the aquarium trade. I hope the New Member’s pack will resolve most initial questions but in future will try to devote at least one page per issue to the basics. Let me know what you’d like to see but this month, we kick off by choosing the fish.

The most popular and widely-available anabantoids are probably Gouramis, Siamese fighting fish or Paradise fish. These groups contain some of the most but also the least suitable species for beginners. If your initial experiences with the fish are unfavourable, it is unlikely that you will persevere with the family, so it is crucial to get your initial choice of fish, right first time.

Let’s start with gouramis. You’re likely to be faced with a choice of Blue gouramis (or Cosby, Gold, 3 spot, platinum – all the same species), maybe Pearl gouramis and also Dwarf and Honey gouramis. These bigTrichogaster gouramis from Malaysia are aggressive and disruptive in a small tank. They are as territorial as cichlids and I would not recommend these as your first choice. The Colisas from India are more peaceful and there can be no more beautiful fish in the hobby than the Dwarf gourami,C.lalia. However, perhaps he best choice would be the 2″ Honey gourami which has the additional advantage of having relatively large fry which are easier to raise than many labyrinth fry. A little harder to find, but still manageable in the community tank, are the croaking gouramis, Trichopsis, particularly the miniature sparkling gourami,T.pumilla.

I could not recommend the Siamese fighting fish, Betta splendens for beginners. The cost of carrying the splendid ornamental fins is a short life for the males and their hyper-aggression makes them a pain in your first aquarium. The real ‘splendens enthusiasts keep rows of males in individual jars, uniting them with females for a few short hours for spawning- surely not an attractive proposition for your first experience as an aquarist. Unfortunately, the most peaceful alternatives to ‘splendens, the small bubblenesters from Malaysia, such as Betta imbellis, the Crescent Betta, are rarely available outside AAGB.

Equally unsuitable, in my opinion, is the Paradise fish, Macropodus opercularis It is quite large and aggressive and, although colourful and easy to spawn, males make life very hard for females in a community aquarium. A beautiful alternative, sometimes available, is the dwarf spike-tailed paradisefish, Pseudosphromenus dayi, which is usually barely 2″ and makes a better parent.

So there you are, my initial recommendation is that you chose between the Dwarf gourami and the Honey gourami, with the additional options of the croaking or sparkling gourami and the dwarf, spike-tailed Paradise fish. Next time I will suggest how to set up a community, based around your first choice of labyrinth fish.