The effect of hypoxia on air-breathing onset and survival was determined in larvae of the air-breathing fishes, the three spot gourami Trichopodus trichopterus and the Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens. Larvae were exposed continuously or intermittently (12 h nightly) to an oxygen partial pressure (PO2) of 20, 17 and 14 kPa from 1 to 40 days post-fertilization (dpf). Survival and onset of air breathing were measured daily. Continuous normoxic conditions produced a larval survival rate of 65–75% for B. splendens and 15–30% for T. trichopterus, but all larvae of both species died at 9 dpf in continuous hypoxia conditions. Larvae under intermittent (nocturnal) hypoxia showed a 15% elevated survival rate in both species. The same conditions altered the onset of air breathing, advancing onset by 4 days in B. splendens and delaying onset by 9 days in T. trichopterus. These interspecific differences were attributed to air-breathing characteristics: B. splendens was a non-obligatory air breather after 36 dpf, whereas T. trichopterus was an obligatory air breather after 32 dpf.