Paradise Fish - Macropodus Opercularis

The Origional Fish that Started the Tropical Fish Hobby, Paradise Fish

Another of the little-known facts of the wonderful world of fish keeping is the fish that really started the tropical fish keeping hobby. The Goldfish had been kept for well over 500 years, some say over 2000 years, and the specialized breeds are so old no one knows for sure who originated many of the strains.

But it was the Paradise Fish that first made tropical aquarium keeping popular.  People have been keeping goldfish for a long time in the home and in backyard ponds, but it was in the mid-19th century that the home aquarium became the rage.

It was a fad, a sensation like no other at the time, but a toy for the rich. At first, clumsy attempts were made to keep marine fish and animals, sea turtles were very popular. Very few even attempted to keep freshwater fish beyond Goldfish, the fish available were just not colorful, nor were they interesting, active or long-lived.

Then in 1891, the paradise fish was brought to Paris. Before long it had reached England and other European countries. In 1876 the Paradise Fish was introduced to the United States with much fanfare and a very high price. At first, the small group of freshwater aquarists involved with Goldfish was afraid the new brightly colored fish would harm their expensive and prized specimen Goldfish. But in fact it was not only found that the Paradise Fish mostly ignored the much larger Goldfish, others began keeping the Paradise Fish in separate aquariums, which launched the “tropical fish aquarium” hobby.

Origin of the Tropical Fish Hobby: The Paradise Fish

Back in 1869 a French military attaché’ in Indo-China, sent back to Paris, several pairs of a beautiful and interesting little fish which he said could be kept alive just as easily as Goldfish, and in fact, they could be bred much more easily.  He sent along instructions that the little fish could be kept in a large bowl on a desk and be perfectly happy for long periods of time without much care.

The fish were Macropodus opercularis, known as the Paradise Fish, and the Goldfish fanciers of the day who were fortunate enough to acquire some of the early arrivals, and find that they were in fact impossibly easy to raise them, became the first tropical fish fans even before any called that classification of fish in a hobby “tropical fish”. So, the first Tropical Fish Hobbyists in the world that we know of were from that small group of Goldfish enthusiasts in Paris France who received and bred the original Paradise Fish shipped back from Indo-China.

From France, the fad for keeping tropical fish instead of Goldfish spread to Germany and later to other European countries. When the Tropical Fish Hobby or Fad first started sweeping the United States, the Paradise Fish was the fish most responsible, by far the most popular fish among the new hobbyists’.  Why you may ask. They became very inexpensive since they were easily bred and did so in great number, they were easy to keep and required little expensive equipment and little deep knowledge to keep them alive.

However, soon many other tropical fish became available, bright colors, and long delicate tails.  The Paradise Fish are not good tank mates with fish their size, in fact, they are downright nasty, they rip tails and sometimes kill other smaller fish.

Many of the new hobbyists’ gave up their Paradise Fish and turned to the newest introductions, the newest colors, everything was new back then.

Because of their enduring and unique beauty, the Paradise Fish will always have a place in the hobby, their unique habits and easy breeding styles, make them a must for beginning hobbyists that want to experience the bubble nest breeders up close. It is true that they are belligerent little creatures and will usually not live at peace with other fish in a community aquarium of shoal fish. They will do well in with larger fish or their original mates the Goldfish.

Even if they are kept by themselves in a tank all their own, battles will sometimes ensue, but with their colors in full glory, watching two males battle it out for a females attentions is worth having them in an isolation tank and always has been.

Remember, before the Paradise Fish, we had the Goldfish, tadpoles and whatever you could catch in a lake!

Three Common Species

The three common species commonly kept in the aquarium may be distinguished by the shapes of their tails. Macropodus opercularis has a forked tail, M chinensis has a rounded tail, and M cupanus (formerly known as Polyacanthus dayi) has a pointed tail with several rays extending from its middle. They are all banded with stripes of vivid color, which varies according to the angle of the light falling upon it, and is intensified during courtship. These bands are blue or green alternating with orange or red. There are also numerous small dots of black or metallic blue scattered over the body of the fish. In all three the ventral fins are orange.

The Albino Macrpodus

This fish was created by a commercial breeder in Germany and put on the market in 1933. It has pink eyes creamy white, pink and blue stripes. The strain breeds true and is still around and available today.

Native Origin

The range of the Paradise Fish is from Korea through Eastern China, including Formosa, to South Vietnam. A second species, the found-tailed Paradise Fish, similar but slightly smaller, has much the same range but does not go so far south. A third species of Paradise Fish, also small, with two longitudinal bands on the flanks, ranges from India and Ceylon, through Burma to South Vietnam.

Paradise Fish: Wild Fish or Highbred?

There has been a lot of debate and much written in scientific and aquarist journals about the Paradise Fish; whether or not the fish we keep in our tanks today is the same as the one that exists in the wild or if it was modified by breeders over the years. Though data is inconclusive,  on the whole, it seems that the common variety of the fish we know in tanks today is much the same as the fish that is wild in the rice fields in Asia. That said, at least 2 varieties have been totally created by breeders: a dark variety called “concolor” which breeds true and actually 2 albino strain that breeds true both with pink eyes one with cream and pink alternating stripes the other with cream pink and bluish stripes.

Reason for Nasty Behavior

Little is known about the enemies of Paradise Fish in the wild, but it is known that they are extremely territorial with each other. They also will eat anything live that they can fit in their mouth in the wild. For their size they are rather vicious, and remember, they are genetically very close to Betas, so 2 males are predestined to fight anyway. It is in their nature to fight with each other, to fight or kill smaller fish and defend a large territory.  Bottom line, they do not make a good citizen in a community aquarium ever!


Very adaptable and can adjust to almost any water conditions. The size of the aquarium should be at least 10 gallons to a 5000-gallon backyard pond full of Koi.  Temp 21C- 24C actually they will handle from 62F – as high as 78F. They love to eat, in a pond, they will greedily eat mosquito larva or anything that happens in the pond.  In an aquarium, feed often and generously, some live but dry food is accepted.  Live plants are a must in whatever environment you place them in. Final note, they do not play well with fish smaller than themselves, they look at them as food, but larger fish such as Goldfish or small to medium cichlids are fine.