field guide to the freshwater fishes of singapore

Index of fishes
General parts of a fish
Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
  Family Belontiidae
This Asian family includes some of the best known anabantoids. Fighting fishes (Betta), Gouramies (Trichogaster, Colisa, Sphaerichthys) and Paradise fishes (Macropodus, Belontia) belong here. Most are famous aquarium fishes.

Genus Betta
Primarily freshwater fish; oviparous; carnivorous; solitary or loosely gregarious, but the males are often highly territorial; pelagic. This genus comprises what one popularly calls fighting fishes, although not all species "fight".

photo of pair of fishes, fighting
Photo: Yip Hoi Kee
Siamese Fighting Fish
Betta splendens

Ikan Sepilai, name in chinese characters

6 cm. Feral, uncommon. Rural streams, drains and ponds.
A native of Thailand, this, like many other introduced fishes to Singapore, has been introduced via the tropical fish trade. It is a typical bubble-nest breeder, the nest being constructed and fiercely guarded by the male.
Although the rather drab-looking females are peaceful, the colourful males are renowned world wide for their bitter aggression towards other males of their own kind (for more about fighting fish as a sport). The Siamese Fighting Fish has been domesticated, and many colourful varieties have been produced by selective breeding. In Singapore, they are not common in the wild.
photo of fish, side view
Specially bred long-finned
variety of Siamese Fighting Fish
Photo: Tan Bee Hong

photo of whole fish, side viewForest Betta
Betta pugnax

Ikan Pelaga, name in chinese characters

10 cm. Indigenous, uncommon, Forest streams. This species is characteristic of small, fast flowing streams, and thus to build a bubble-nest would be rather inappropriate. Instead, it spawns in a depression on the substrate, and the male broods the eggs in his mouth until the fry hatch. It is rather similar to the Siamese Fighting Fish in appearance, but is visibly more stocky in build and has a proportionately larger head. In temperament, it is not as quarrelsome as the latter species. The colour pattern is very variable.

Genus Trichopsis
photo of whole fish, side view
Photo: Tan Bee Hong
Croaking Gouramy
Trichopsis vittata
Ikan Karim, name in chinese characters

Primarily freshwater fish; 6 cm; oviparous (bubble-nest breeder); omnivorous; solitary;
pelagic. Indigenous, common. Forest and rural streams, drains, ponds and reservoirs.

This small fish is probably one of our most successful anabantoids. Although generally a peaceful fish, the males may be quite aggressive to one another. Both sexes are known to produce a sort of soft purring-croaking noise with the aid of the labyrinth organ. The fragile bubble-nest is usually built amongst thick clumps of floating vegetation, and a pair may produce over 200 eggs per spawning.

Genus Trichogaster
Primarily freshwater fish; oviparous (bubble-nest breeder); omnivorous; solitary or in pairs; pelagic. Members of this genus are laterally compressed with filamentous and highly movable first rays of the pelvic fins.
Males and females are easily recognised by the length of the dorsal fin. Males have long ones, reaching the base of the tail. Females tend to have shorter and more rounded ones.

The name gouramy is also sometimes spelled "gourami" or "goramy".
close-up photo of male dorsal fin
Dorsal fin or male gouramy

close-up photo of female dorsal fin
Dorsal fin of female gouramy
Many species of gouramies make excellent aquarium fishes, being both hardy and colourful. The famous Dwarf Gouramies (Colisa lalia) and Chocolate Gouramies (Sphaerichthys osphromenoides) are not found in Singapore, but in India and Malaysia respectively.

photo of whole fish, side viewSnakeskin Gouramy
Trichogaster pectoralis
Ikan Sepat-sepat, name in chinese characters

26 cm. Feral, uncommon. Rural streams and ponds.

This species is native to Thailand, and was believed to be introduced to Malaysia and Singapore in the 1930s. The locals know it by the vernacular name of "Sepat Siam", and it is often used to make dried salted fish, so relished by many Singaporeans. It is known to be very prolific, producing as many as 300 to 500 eggs per brood.
photo of salted fish
Dried Snakeskin Gouramies
sold as salted fish

photo of whole fish, side viewTwo-spot Gouramy
Trichogaster trichopterus
Ikan Sepat-sepat, name in chinese characters

15 cm. Indigenous, common. Rural and sometimes forest streams, ponds and reservoirs.

This well known aquarium fish has been domesticated, and various colour strains (e.g., the so called "Cosby") have been produced by selective breeding.

It has also been called the Three-Spot Gouramy by those who count the eye as one spot. It has potential as a mosquito-control fish. Its native range includes most of South East Asia.
photo of whole fish side view
Golden variety

photo of whole fish side view
"Cosby" variety
Freshwater habitats
Fishes in Singapore
Amazing Fishy Facts
About the guidebook
From A Guide to Common Freshwater Fishes of Singapore by Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
Published by the Singapore Science Centre and sponsored by BP

@Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Singapore Science Centre