Life in a bubble: the role of the labyrinth organ in determining territory, mating and aggressive behaviours in anabantoids

M. Tate, R. E. McGoran, C. R. White, S. J. Portugal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The anabantoids are a group of c. 137 species of air-breathing freshwater fishes found in Africa and southern Asia. All anabantoids have a pair of suprabranchial chambers that each house an air-breathing organ known as the labyrinth apparatus: a complex bony structure lined with thin, highly vascularised respiratory epithelium. The labyrinth apparatus allows anabantoids to extract oxygen from air and is a morpho-physiological innovation that has had a dramatic influence on the behaviour of these fishes. Air-breathing influences a wide range of anabantoid behaviours, including territorial displays, courtship and breeding and parental care and also equips these fishes to persist in hypoxic and polluted water. These traits also make anabantoids successful invaders of novel habitats, a global problem compounded by their popularity in the aquarium trade. By reviewing the functionality and evolution of air breathing in anabantoids, this review aims to examine the role of the labyrinth apparatus in modulating behaviour within this group. The anabantoids are a fascinating group and have often been cited as a model organism due to the stereotypical and easily identifiable behaviours that they adopt during social interactions. They also provide a unique opportunity to further our understanding about how fishes adapt their behaviour in response to an extreme environment, whilst limited by their own physiological constraints.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-749
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Fish Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • air-breathing
  • Betta splendens
  • facultative
  • gourami
  • obligate
  • respiration

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