Ctenops gracilis goes by a couple of common names. The Noble Gourami references its scientific name, though what its author, 19th-century British naturalist Dr John McClelland, found so noble about this creature isn’t mentioned in his description. It is a rather striking and distinctive example from the gourami family, with its highly angular body, which is perhaps what he was getting at.
The other common name, Frail Gourami, alludes to its reputation as being “one of the most difficult fish to keep”, though much of the challenge stems from how poorly this fish handles the stresses of transport. Once acclimated, it’s really not much different from other timid fishes with finicky feeding preferences.
There is just the single species in this genus, distributed in the Ganges and Brahmaputra river drainages of Northeastern India and neighboring Bangladesh and Nepal. The region is temperate, especially so in the higher elevations, and thus a wide range of water temperatures are tolerated, anywhere from around 60-90℉. Lower temperatures have been reported as beneficial, with higher temps bring out their innate aggressive side.
The habitats favored are slow-moving streams with ample vegetation and clean, clear waters. Keeping a Noble Gourami content in captivity requires this be recreated. A densely planted tank is ideal, with driftwood and dead leaves helping to create a natural look full of hiding spaces.
Another concern is the tendency for intraspecific aggression among both sexes. Gouramis are, as a rule, quite unfriendly towards their own kind, but it’s interesting to see such a gentle fish, easily bullied by other tankmates, turn on its own kind so readily. Multiple specimens can be kept together, but only with adequate space and suitable habitat (i.e plants) in abundance. Two males in a small tank is a recipe for bickering and torn fins.
Males and females will readily breed in captivity, with the female initiating the courtship and the male mouthbrooding the few, large eggs. The sexes aren’t as simple to differentiate as they are in other anabantids. Females have a more angular profile to the head, while males have a more rounded jaw owing to the extra skin used during the egg brooding period. During this brooding, males will seek refuge and often adopt a beautiful marbled patterning along the body (which doubles as the defensive coloration). The freshly hatched fry can eventually be fed on tiny live foods.
Feeding is another hurdle when it comes to keeping this “frail” species. Live foods (e.g. water fleas, mosquito larvae, black worms) are of course relished, and similar frozen options will usually be accepted, but prepared foods are a challenge that will take time to work into the diet. The combination of shipping stress and the starvation that can occur as it acclimates are the biggest cause of frustration with Ctenops, but, once overcome, this is a unique species for the more advanced hobbyists to take a crack at.