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Small tank bullies.

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New Member
Sep 8, 2023
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Cambridgeshire, UK
I have a bit of a bullying problem. I have a 25L tank with the original (Pygmy) Sparkling male Gourami and 2 Kuhli Loaches. The 3 of them get along fine with the Gourami often seen resting very close to almost on top of the Loaches. The two Loaches are often out and about, and the Gourami will hassle me for food at the top of the tank. It is a bit of a strange setup but, it kind of works.

When the tank was originally set up, I had two Gourami, one was a lot smaller. I am assuming they were both males. The larger of the two harassed the smaller to the point of it becoming dinner for the loaches. I had lost sight of it for a while and had to strip the tank a little to find the poor things remains, it was difficult to find, the tank has quite a lot of moss and plants.

I then stupidly decided to add two fancy male guppies for a bit of colour. They both fought with each other. I was hopping they would settle down but the larger of the male guppies ended up killing the smaller one. I am thinking now the Gourami may have gotten in on a bit of the action as well.

Feeling a bit useless at this point, I thought that would be it and I would be able to leave the tank as it is. Then I noticed the male Gourami chasing the Guppy. This got worse to the point where I was looking at another fish death if I did not intervene, ending in removing the Guppy from the tank.

Here I am now with this odd trio of fish who seem to get along fine. Not sure what to do with tank now. Would like to go larger but the missus has put her foot down about any bigger fish related spends at the moment.

My options are:
1) Leave as it is?
2) Try and add a couple of female Pygmy’s and see if they get along with 'Killer!'
3) Due to possible cruelty having these fish in such isolated company, remove all the fish and add a school of small Tetras?
4) Remove the Gourami, add a few more Kuhli's and some shrimp? I think the tank may be too small to support this despite heavy moss and planting.
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You don't have a bullying problem, but rather a set up issue. If I were you I would go with the fact a 25L is a very small tank, and any creature crowded can become aggressive. I would go with the community you have, as the fish are giving you a very clear message about stocking.

I don't think I've ever met (or been) a fishkeeper who started out accepting how few fish can thrive in small tanks. It took me a while to figure that out. It sounds like your fish are sending you direct messages.
Agree, you cannot add more fish of any type to this small a tank. It stresses the fish because they cannot be in the environment they expect and that means aggression.

Gourami males are territorial to varying degrees, and the male you have clearly is showing he considers this tank "his" and that is not going to change no matter how many females or any other fish. The kuhli are out of the way of the upper fish, so they will likely stay in the shadows and manage. Adding any other upper fish is a disaster waiting to happen. All of this is in the fish species' genetic makeup and we cannot change it.
In nature, this would normally be resolved by the weaker fish running away. But in an aquarium, they can't leave. All the dominant fish knows is that someone is in his territory and won't leave.

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