As demand has grown for Bettas, they have been captive-bred globally, both commercially and by private individuals. Virtually all species for sale are captive-bred.
The male will blow an elaborate bubble nest when he is ready to spawn. The female should be provided with a hiding place, as males may become aggressive during courtship. Even with a hiding place, it is common for the female to lose a few scales or have their fins frayed during spawning.
Betta splendens in the wild feed on Zooplankton, Crustaceans, and the larvae of mosquitoes and other water-bound insects. However, in captivity they can be fed a steady diet of pellets and frozen foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia and many others.
Some bettas will change colours throughout their lifetime (known as marbling), attributed to a transposon.
The Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), also sometimes colloquially known as the Betta, is a species in the Gourami family which is popular as an aquarium fish. They are called pla-kad (biting fish) in Thai or trey krem in Khmer. They are a very territorial fish and it is unwise to house two males together. Even the females may become territorial towards each other if not housed in a large enough tank.
Mirrors should never be left in a tank as constant ‘flaring’ of fins by males can cause stress and exhaustion.
The common name, Siamese Fighting Fish, was coined due to the practice of organized fights between males, much like cock fights. These matches continue to this day, driven by the income from betting. In some locations males are bred specifically for aggression, to ensure better fights.
Siamese fighting fish are from a tropical climate, so proper heating is essential. Normal room temperature is not suitable as this is generally too cold. Room temperatures can also fluctuate, and this can be stressful to the fish.
To ensure fins are not torn, gravel should be smooth and decorations such as silk or live plants should have no rough edges. Male fish with long fins are particularly prone to fin tears. Sharp edges and points on some decor and driftwood can be sanded gently to make it safe.
Bettas originate in the shallow waters of Thailand (formerly called Siam, hence their name), Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and parts of China. These areas are home to acres of rice paddies, ponds, slow moving streams and swamps, all of which are home to Bettas. Today Bettas have been introduced in many locations, giving rise to non-native populations in a number of countries.
Most breeders find that a bare bottomed tank of roughly ten gallons works well, although smaller tanks are also suitable.Ideally the fish should be conditioned prior to breeding, by feeding them a diet of live foods. The water should be at a pH of about 7.0, and temperature around 80 or slightly above.
When they are ready to spawn, the pair will display intense coloration and begin circling each other under the bubblenest. The male will wrap himself around the female who has turned on her back. As she expels the eggs, they are fertilized and begin to sink. The male will scoop up the eggs and spit them into the nest. From this point on the male will tend the brood. It is advisable to remove the female, as the male may become aggressive towards her as he tends his young.
Siamese fighting fish are excellent jumpers so the tank should be fitted with a lid to prevent escape. Siamese fighting fish require occasional surface air, even if water oxygen is plentiful, so there must be some space between the water and the tank lid in which to take in air.
In January 2014 a large population of the fish was discovered in the Adelaide River Floodplain in the Northern Territory, Australia. As an invasive species they pose a threat to native fish, frogs and other wildlife in the wetlands.
In nature Bettas subsist almost exclusively on insects and insect larvae. They are built with an upturned mouth that is well suited to snatching any hapless insect that might fall into the water. Internally their digestive system is geared for meat, having a much shorter alimentary track than vegetarian fish. For this reason, live foods are the ideal diet for the betta, however they will adapt to eating flake foods and frozen and freeze dried foods.
Fin types have also changed due to selective breeding. Veil tails have been joined by Crowntails, Deltas, Fans, Halfmoons, Lyre and Split tails, to name a few. Betta competitions and breeding to compete in competitive shows brings new variations to the market regularly.
Breeders around the world continue to develop new varieties. Often, the males of the species are sold preferentially in stores because of their beauty, compared to the females. Recently, breeders have developed in females the same range of colours previously only bred in males. Females almost never develop fins as showy as males of the same type and are often more subdued in coloration, though some breeders manage to get females with fairly long fins and bright colours.
Live foods preferred, will eat flakes and frozen foods
Partial water changes of approximately 10% should be performed once per week, using a gravel vacuum to remove waste and uneaten food from the substrate. At this time the sides of the tank can be wiped with an aquarium safe sponge and filter media and/or decorations can be cleaned in old tank water.
In 1892, this species was imported to France by the French aquarium fish importer Pierre Carbonnier in Paris, and in 1896, the German aquarium fish importer Paul Matte in Berlin imported the first specimens to Germany from Moscow.
Bettas have a fairly short lifespan, and are most successful as breeders when they under a year old (bettas in pet shops are usually at least six months old). They breed in bubblenests and do not require a large tank or special equipment.
Bettas are found in many different colours due to different layers of pigmentation in their skin. The layers (from furthest within to the outer layer) consists of red, yellow, black, iridescent (blue and green), and metallic (not a colour of its own, but reacts with the other colours to change how they are perceived). Any combination of these layers can be present, leading to a wide variety of colours.
A true albino betta has been feverishly sought since one recorded appearance in 1927, and another in 1953 . Neither of these was able to establish a line of true albinos. In 1994, a hobbyist named Kenjiro Tanaka claimed to have successfully bred albino bettas.
The fry should be fed a couple of feedings daily of baby brine shrimp or very fine baby food. Tetra makes a dry mixture specifically for egglaying fish, and many pet shops carry frozen baby brine shrimp. Take care not to overfeed, as the uneaten food will foul the water and can quickly prove lethal to the fry.
Good water quality is essential for any aquarium. You should use a quality liquid water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramine from tap water before adding it to your tank. Use GH ‘General Hardness’ and KH ‘Carbonate Hardness’ supplements. These will vary depending on your local water supply. Siamese fighting fish require a pH of around 7.0, GH 7-9º, KH 5-8º.
The home countries of the Betta are tropical, which means the water temperature is quite warm, often into the 80's. Bettas thrive on heat, and will become increasingly listless when the water temperature falls below 75 degrees F. Water temperature is perhaps the biggest argument against keeping a betta in a tiny bowl, which cannot readily be heat controlled.
Bettas are one of the most recognized, most colorful and often most controversial fish in the freshwater hobby. Debates rage about the appropriateness of keeping them in small bowls. To fully understand their needs it is important to become familiar with their native habitat, where they live in large rice paddies, shallow ponds, and even in some slow moving streams. Although many fish keepers are aware that Bettas come from shallow waters, what is often overlooked is the water temperature.
In the wild, betta spar for only a few minutes before one fish backs off. Bred specifically for heightened aggression for fighting, domesticated betta matches can go on for much longer, with winners determined by a willingness to continue fighting. Once a fish retreats, the match is over.
Wild fish exhibit strong colours only when agitated. Breeders have been able to make this coloration permanent, and a wide variety of hues breed true. Colours available to the aquarist include red, orange, yellow, blue, steel blue, turquoise/green, black, pastel, white ("opaque" white, not to be confused with albino) and multi-coloured fish.
Siamese Fighting Fish
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Breeders have developed several different finnage and scale variations:
Tanks for housing Siamese fighting fish should be at least 15 litres in volume, with an optimal size of 20 litres or greater. Small tanks or fish bowls do not provide adequate space or a healthy environment for Siamese fighting fish. These fish are known to be intelligent and curious, and small bowls do not meet the fish’s behavioural or physiological needs.
These species are native to the Mekong basin of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. The fish can be found in vast standing waters of canals, rice paddies and floodplains. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
The tank should be kept out of direct sunlight to inhibit algae growth and excessive heat. Aquarium lights should be kept on for a maximum of 12 hours to provide fish with adequate rest time. This will also help to reduce the chance of algae forming.
Male Betta will flare their gills, spread their fins and twist their bodies in a dance if interested in a female. If the female is also interested she will darken in colour and develop vertical lines known as breeding bars as a response. Males build bubble nests of various sizes and thicknesses at the surface of the water. Most tend to do this regularly even if there is no female present.
It is normal for some Siamese fighting fish to 'hang out' or rest in one area or for a while, with some fish being more active than others. However, a healthy fish is always responsive, moderately active and inquisitive. Any fish which is constantly hiding or appearing lethargic and unresponsive to its owners is likely to be stressed or suffering illness and should be provided with appropriate medical care.
As Siamese fighting fish require surface air supplementation to survive, being close to the surface is beneficial when resting. Providing tall plants with large leaves on which fish can rest at night can assist with this.
Seeing the popularity of these fights, the king of Thailand started licensing and collecting these fighting fish. In 1840, he gave some of his prized fish to a man who, in turn, gave them to Theodor Cantor, a medical scientist. Nine years later, Cantor wrote an article describing them under the name Macropodus pugnax. In 1909, the ichthyologist Charles Tate Regan, realizing a species was already named Macropodus pugnax, renamed the domesticated Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens.
It is popular to keep betta fish in very small containers for display around the home. Contrary to popular belief this can stress the fish causing health issues. Bettas prefer to be kept in larger tanks or community tanks. The smallest tank recommended is 20 litres, or 5 gallons, and bigger is advisable.
Even though Bettas do well in waters low in dissolved oxygen, that does not mean they require less oxygen than other fish. Bettas have a special respiratory organ that allows them to breath air directly from the surface. In fact they inherently must do so. In experiments where the labyrinth organ was removed, the fish died from suffocation even though the water was saturated with oxygen. For this reason, Bettas must have access to the water surface to breath air directly from the atmosphere.