Chaweng Lake, a habitat for gouramis, half-beaks, and snakeheads, among other species. (Inset): A croaking gourami from Chaweng Lake, Koh Samui.
In the late 1990s, I made a holiday trip to the island of Koh Samui, located east of the Malacca Peninsula in the southeast of Thailand. The climate is tropical and the inner parts of this area consist of mountains with tropical
vegetation. There are many streams on the hill slopes, and there
are also two lakes.
It is hard to find literature describing the different fishes on a
little island like this. In the excellent book The Fresh-Water Fishes
of Siam, or Thailand (1945), author Hugh M. Smith mentions Koh
Samui’s connection with some species that are not completely
unknown to us: Betta taeniata (a mouthbrooding fighting fish),
the blue panchax Aplocheilus panchax, the pearl danio Danio
albolineatus, and the croaking gourami Trichopsis vittata. The
observations had been made during the 1930s, and according to
Smith, Betta taeniata was found both in mountain streams and in
lowland areas in southern Thailand. In Koh Samui, Aplocheilus
panchax had been spotted in low-lying areas even though it had
been found on uplands in other locations. Trichopsis vittata is
widely spread in Southeast Asia, so I hoped to find this species
With this in my mind, I went away to look for the croaking
gourami in its proper environment. Providence had placed one of
the lakes at walking distance from the hotel. On the afternoon of
my first day on the island, I departed to explore the grounds and
met a busy group of boys fishing at the lake. I later approached and
looked closely at their catch, which consisted of some kind of big
perch. None of the boys seemed to understand English, and in order
to break the silence, I asked “pla kat?” (the name for the fighting
fish in Thai). All of a sudden the silence was broken, and one of the
boys answered “pla kat mate,” or something similar, showing me a
croaking gourami Trichopsis vittata being held in a bottle.
Language and Environment
Pla kat means “biting fish,” and is the common Thai name of the
Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens. However, it is also used for
similar species in which the males are more or less aggressive toward
one another—especially in locations where Betta splendens is absent.
Thus, on the island of Phuket, Betta imbellis is simply called pla kat,
even if it is less hostile than its close relative.
After a few minutes there were several croaking gouramis in the
bottle. The boys caught them with their bare hands close to the