Introducing: Labyrinth Fishes
by Ruby Bayan
Labyrinths are so called because they are equipped with an auxiliary sponge-like breathing chamber just above the gills. This chamber, or labyrinth, lets the fishes breathe atmospheric air, therefore allowing them to survive in oxygen-deficient habitats and "crawl" out of the water in search of better environments.
This group of fishes is also collectively known as Anabantids, belonging to four different families. Here are some common-name members from each family:
Anabantidae: Climbing Perch, Bush Fish
Belontiidae: Blue Gourami, Pearl Gourami, Dwarf Gourami, Siamese Fighting Fish
Helostomatidae: Kissing Gourami
Osphronemidae: Chocolate Gourami, Giant Gourami
One of the easiest aquarium fish to take care of is the gourami. Active, colorful, and tolerant of most water conditions, gouramis are good inhabitants of a community aquarium. Many of them tend to be a bit timid, though, suffering infections when more aggressive breeds bully them around or nip at their elongated ventral fins. This is why the ideal habitat for them is a well-planted set-up with cave-like structures where they can find safe refuge when necessary.
Gouramis should be bought in pairs. While they may be hard to sex as juveniles, their color definitions become more pronounced as adults -- males are generally more colorful than the females. Dorsal and anal fins are also longer in the male.
The ideal water temperature for these African and Asian breeds is slightly warm Ė mid-70s to low 80s F. And depending on the adult size of the gourami, small to large community tanks with good foliage will be appropriate homes for them.
Siamese Fighting Fish
No discussion on anabantids is complete without touching on the Betta splendens or the Siamese fighter. Known and bred for their exotically colorful finnage, the male fighters are best kept in individual jars or in specially designed tanks with separate compartments. Their ability to breathe air allows them to survive in what may seem to be an unpleasant habitat, like a filter-less, non-aerated tank; but more importantly, this "solo" existence is actually for their own health and safety.
In a community, the highly aggressive Betta males seek each other and fight to death. Without another male to engage, a fighting fish moves slowly and becomes prey to tankmates who will tend to nip and tear its trailing fins. Harassed, the injured male will hide and most likely die of starvation. Females who donít have trailing fins, on the other hand, easily adapt to a community set-up.
Probably the best-known labyrinth fish is the Anabas testudineus, or Climbing Perch. It is said that it got its common name from a legend that portrayed them as fish that could climb trees. The truth is, these air-breathers canít climb trees, but can stay alive in an out-of-water (but damp) condition for as long as 48 hours. If a pond is drying up, a climbing perch will "crawl" using its gills and fins to find a more suitable home. It can also sink itself in mud to stay alive.
In an aquarium, the Anabas will thrive well in a community. They prefer warm water, though, as high as 80 degrees F. They are also predominantly territorial, therefore, adequate markers, like plants, and woody shelter will make them feel more comfortable.
See also: Feeding and Breeding Labyrinths