Gerry Swims Into Gladys’ Life

giant gourami
Gladys and Gerry

Bristol Zoo’s biggest and ugliest fish has found companionship with the arrival of a new mate. Although the Zoo’s solitary giant gourami (Osphronemus goramy) lives in a huge tank with dozens of other tropical fish, she has not had a mate of her own for four years.

Nicknamed Gladys by Zoo keepers, the enormous fish is one of the ugliest yet most popular fish in the Zoo. But now a male giant gourami, called Gerry, has arrived as a match for Gladys.

The pair are now getting to know each other in their 20,000 litre Asian-themed tank in the Zoo’s aquarium.

Jonny Rudd, assistant curator of the aquarium at Bristol Zoo, said: “It’s great to have a new male giant gourami as a mate for Gladys. They are such charismatic fish — although some people think they are ugly — yet Gladys has always been one of the most popular fish in the aquarium.”

Giant gouramis can grow up to 70cm in length and can live for up to 25 years.

The pair can be distinguished as Gladys is a pale yellow colour, while Gerry is grey and white. Both are fully grown adults.

Jonny added: “Gladys seems to be responding well to the arrival of Gerry. It is still very early days but they are swimming around happily together. Gouramis are fantastic fish and they seem to respond to the public and follow them as they walk past their tank.”

Bristol Zoo’s aquarium is home to more than 70 species of fish, from a wide variety of tropical and temperate, freshwater and marine habitats. This includes species such as porcupine pufferfish, red-bellied piranha, clownfish, fly river turtles, endangered dragon fish, and the critically endangered Potosi pupfish — which is extinct in the wild.

The aquarium has also recently seen the re-introduction of long snouted seahorses (Hippocampus reidi) on display in a specially created tropical marine tank. Seahorses are notoriously difficult to breed and it has taken years for the Zoo’s expert aquarists to create just the right rearing and breeding conditions behind the scenes, for the seahorses to thrive.

Bristol Zoo’s aquarium recently underwent a make-over aimed to alert visitors to the link between sustainable seafood choices and marine conservation, and to promote greater awareness of the sustainability challenges facing the world’s oceans.

The revamp includes a huge replica shark’s jaw, replica giant clams, a scale model of a fishing trawler, an interactive children’s play area with marine related puzzles and aquatic puppets, meet-the-keeper videos, an underwater themed mural, and displays about fish sustainability.

Giant Gourami

  • Scientific name: Osphronemus goramy
  • Gladys arrived at Bristol Zoo along with two other giant gouramis in 1995. The two other gouramis have since died.
  • Males of this species have more pointed dorsal and anal fins than females and when mature, a distinctive swelling of the forehead known as the ‘nuchal hump’.
  • Like all other gouramis, this fish can breath air using a special ‘labyrinth organ’ which acts like a lung, enabling them to survive in oxygen-depleted waters. Giant gouramis can grow to 70 cm length.
  • Gouramis live in shallow weed-choked pools, where oxygen is sometimes in short supply. Being able to breathe mouthfuls of air is very useful in these conditions. They feed on the weed itself and almost anything that lives amongst it.
  • When gourami’s are ready to breed, they build a nest of plants at the surface of the water suspended with bubbles. The eggs are guided in, then after about two weeks the fry leave the nest.
  • Giant gourami are an important food fish in South East Asia.
  • This species, as it is now farmed for food, is in no danger of extinction. However, it is a threat to other species as when it is introduced to pools, it can rapidly out-compete and outgrow the native species.

Bristol Zoo Gardens

Bristol Zoo Gardens is open from 9am every day except Christmas Day. The Zoo is an Education and Conservation Charity and relies on the income from visitors to support its work. Bristol Zoo’s aquarium make-over was made possible thanks to funding from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and the Bristol-based Project AWARE Foundation – a non profit organisation working with divers and water enthusiasts to conserve underwater environments through education, advocacy and action. The Zoo is involved with more than 100 co-ordinated breeding programmes for threatened wildlife species. It employs 140 full and part-time staff to care for the animals and run a successful visitor attraction to support its conservation and education work. Bristol Zoo Gardens supports – through finance and skill sharing – over 10 projects in the UK and abroad that conserve and protect some of the world’s most endangered species. Bristol Zoo Gardens is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. BIAZA represents more than 100 member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums.