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Breeding your Bettas

Photo courtesy of Liz-Hanh Morin

Eventually, after acquiring a Betta or two (or three!), you might want to try to breed these beauties. This challenge can be a very frustrating or rewarding experience. It can be a major disappointment when a whole spawn crashes because you were not able to feed them right. Or it can be a wonderful reward to see little fry go from a couple millimeters of wiggly dots to 2 inches of beautiful, flowing fish. Please take a moment to read Terri Gianola's "A Note about Breeding Bettas" to ensure you are ready to breed your Bettas.

Now that you have read "A Note about Breeding Bettas" and still feel you are prepared to take on the challenge of breeding Bettas let's go over the materials you will need and what you will need them for:

Selecting Your Breeders

Before you can breed you must have a male and a female Betta (duh!). Try and start with the highest quality stock you can because the fry of these parents will be of high quality too. Choose fish that are active and healthy. Consider all of their faults and strengths because these will be passed onto the offspring. Condition the fish for two weeks prior to breeding. To condition the fish means to feed them on rich foods to stimulate the male to produce more sperm and the female to produce eggs. I recommend a diet of blood worms, mosquito larva and a little slice of liver. Feed the worms and larva 2-5 times every day in small amounts. The liver should be fed once a week before water changes because it will quickly foul the water. Breeding younger fish will get you better results. Bettas can be breed as young as 3 months but I have had better results by breeding fish 7-12 months. Fish as old as 18 months have been known to breed but after a year the fish ages more quickly. Larger, long finned males in the pet store are at least 7 months old.. If this is your first time breeding, pet store Bettas can give you good experience but it is harder to find homes for pet store Bettas than good quality Bettas. Pet store Bettas tend to be easier to breed and the fry grow much faster.

This is a nice, healthy opaque pair bred by Kevin Pelletier. Notice the females torn anal fin an bulge around her abdomen. The torn anal fin is caused by the normal nipping that takes place during spawning. The swelling of her abdomen is due to the build up of eggs inside of her. Light vertical strips can be seen on darker bodied females.

 

The Tank

The tank you breed your Bettas in should be 5 to 10 gallons for your first breeding attempt. As you become more experienced and wish to breed more pairs at one time you may want to switch to smaller 2 gallon plastic shoe boxes. For your first time however, use a larger tank. The larger tank has a number of advantages over a smaller one.

  • It allows more room between the male and female during the beginning stages of mating where the male chases the female until she succumbs to his advances. If she does not have enough room to swim away from him he might catch her and injure her.
  • A larger tank can hold more water for the growing fry. The extra water dilutes waste and their toxic byproducts so the tank and fry can go longer periods of time with out water changes.
  • Because of the above mentioned, a larger tank can support more fry. This way you don't have to move 150 fry to larger quarters when they get to be only 3 weeks old. If you use a 10 gallon, depending on the amount of fry, they do not have to be moved until well into their 5th to 8th week.

The tank should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected. DO NOT USE SOAP!!!! Soap is toxic to all fish and it will kill them. A solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water will disinfect all your supplies safely. The chlorine can be removed by allowing it to sit outside in the sun for a day (chlorine is a rather weak chemical and is broken down quickly by sunlight) or by filling the tank up with water and adding extra dechlorinator. Betta fry are very fragile until after their labyrinth organ has finished developing at around 4 weeks of age. The air and water temperature need to be kept approximately the same. When Betta fry are very young and still in their bubble nest the basically absorb air directly through the surface and not the water. An air temp that is more slightly cooler then the water could kill the fry. This is where a cover comes in. You can use either a glass hood or plastic wrap. The cover traps heat and prevents evaporation. Some breeders, including myself, use plastic wrap. It may not be very eye pleasing but it's cheap and efficient. If you use a hood during the summer months keep a diligent eye on the temperature because it tends to work too well and the tank has to be vented. Set the tank on a sturdy surface that is easily accessed and has an electrical outlet near by.

 

Water and Additives

Now that the tank has been cleaned and disinfected, it is time to add the water. Fill the tank with approximately 4-6 inches of water, or halfway. This resembles the Betta's natural environment in the rice paddies and "puts them in the mood". A lowered water level also makes it easier for the fry to reach the surface of the water once they begin swimming. Add the proper amount of dechlorinator and dechloraminator such as Prime or NovAqua. In addition I recommend adding AmQuel to tie up the ammonia. Some dechloraminators break down the chloramines but one of the byproducts is ammonia. AmQuel will completely break down chloramines, chlorine and detoxify ammonia. For more information on how it works go to AquaScience Research Group.

 

Temperature

The temperature of the breeding tank must be kept at 78-85 degrees F (80 degrees F is best). This stimulates the male and female and keeps the embryos and fry growing at the proper rate. Place a submersible heater in the tank and let it adjust for 15 minutes so the glass tube does not crack. Place a thermometer in a place where it can easily be read. I prefer the digital thermometer strips because they are not in the way during the spawning or when the female is being chased around. Adjust the knob on the heater so the temperature is 80 degrees. Let the tank stand for a day to make sure the heater is not faulty and keeps the temperature constant.

 

Filtration

Place a "seeded" sponge filter ("seeded" refers to a sponge filter that is seeded with healthy, aerobic bacteria. Seed your sponge filter, place it in an established tank and allow it to run for at least a week, preferably two )in a corner of the tank, opposite from that of which you hope to get the male to build his bubble nest. Connect an airline to it and connect that air line to the gang valve. Connect the gang valve with another short length of air line to the air pump and adjust the knobs so that only a bubble comes out once a second. The other outlet of the valve will be used for the brine shrimp hatcheries. To "seed" a sponge filter run it in an established tank for a week. If you do not have an established tank, set up the breeding tank with plants and let the filter run for at least a week. The sponge filter provides biological filtration and will not filter solid fish waste from the water. Once the fry are large enough you must siphon out the waste and add new, treated water. Make sure when you add water it is the same temperature as the tank's.

 

The Bubble Nest

The male should have something to build his nest under to help stabilize it and keep it from evaporating. Take a styrofoam cup and cut it in half length wise. The finished product will look like a mini air plane hanger. Press this against the side of the glass to keep it in one place. All of my males like this but others may not. If this is the case cut a circle of wax paper or plastic shipping bubble wrap about 3 inches in diameter. Float this on top of the water and press one edge against the glass to keep it still.

 

Plants

Plants provide hiding places for the female and fry. They also convert ammonia, nitrites and nitrates into forms of plant energy. I always use plants in my breeding tank because they seem to relax the fish and keep the water healthier. I use live plants but if you do not know how to keep them healthy, plants can do more harm then good. If this is the case, plastic or silk aquarium plants work just as well.

 

Adding the Fish

Now that the breeding tank is all set up and the temperature adjusted it is time to add the fish. Place the hurricane lamp in the tank and put the female inside of it. If you do not have a hurricane lamp you can float a jar full of the tank water and put the female in that. The lamp or jar allows the male to see the female but not attack her. Put the male in the tank itself and leave them in the tank (the female in the lamp and the male in the tank) for at least a day.

Once the male has built a nest (some males will only build a nest of 20 bubbles or so and other's nest will be 3 inches in diameter) and the female is in a head down position with dark vertical stripes release the female into the tank with the male. When the male realizes the female is loose he will most likely chase her for an hour or longer until she submits and follows him back to the nest. If she doesn't submit within an hour or she looses her vertical stripes and becomes nervous place her back in the hurricane lamp and try and release her the following day. If all is normal, the male will usually go back and add bubble to the nest periodically between darts around the tank after the female.

During this chase the male usually nips and tears her fins. This is normal behavior so don't worry too much about injuries unless the male become overly aggressive and the female's wound are extreme. If this is the case remove this fish and try another pair. After she tires from the chase the male will settle down and try to entice her back to the nest. She will eventually follow and it is at this point they begin their embrace.

 

The Spawning

The embrace.

Once the male gets the female under the nest he will usually circle her a few times and then attempt to embrace her. When they embrace the male will wrap his body around the female in a upside down U shape and squeeze her sides, stimulating her to release eggs. Some males get the embrace correct after only a try or two but others can take up to half an hour until they finally get the right grip on her.

At first she will only release a few eggs but as the spawning continues she will release more and more until she runs out. A typical spawn is anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs. As the eggs fall the male will release the female and dart after them, scooping them up into his mouth. The female will float to the top stunned for about 10 seconds and then hang out while the male puts the eggs in the nest. Sometimes she will help out with putting the eggs in the nest but usually she tries to eat any the male might have missed. Sometimes males will also eat the eggs. If this is the case you can take the fish out and attempt to artificially hatch any eggs that remain.

If all goes well, the female will run out of eggs and the male will chase her from the nest. Now it's time to remove the female. Put her in a jar of clean, treated water approximately the same temperature as the breeding tank. Add some Stress Coat and maybe a drop or tow of Methane Blue to help ward off fungus. Feed her rich foods and do your best to promote the healing of her wounds. Most females recover quickly and will be back on their feet, umm I mean fins, in no time!

The eggs will hatch in 36 to 72 hours. Keep the temperature the same and do not raise or lower it because improper temperatures can result in weak fry.

 

Feeding the fry

Note: For more on live foods and feeding fry go to the Live Foods page.

Once the fry hatch they need to be fed. Many crashes of spawns are due to starvation so make sure you have enough of the proper foods before you even set up the breeding tank. After the fry hatch, they feed off their egg sacs, which sustain them for a couple of days. Once you remove the female, start a brine shrimp hatchery and put in the eggs. Even though the fry do not have to be fed immediately, brine shrimp eggs take about two days to hatch, and by starting it early they will be ready when the fry need them.

I use two 2 litter soda bottles turned upside down. In the first bottle I drill a hole in the bottle cap and push the end of a 1 1/2' air line length into it so it is about 1 cm into the cap. I cut the bottom of the bottle around until it is attached by only 1/2" of plastic to form a lid. I place the inverted bottle into the bottom of another to hold it upright. I recommend decapsulating the brine shrimp eggs. Decapsulating the eggs gets rid of messy shells and less nutrients are used by the baby brine shrimp (BBS) in the hatching process so more is available to your fry when they eat them. Feed brine shrimp sparingly one to two days after the fry hatch and then increase the amount as the fry grow and consume more and more. Fry will eat BBS until about 4 weeks of age when you should start introducing them to other foods along with the brine shrimp. Another food you need to have on hand for the frys' earliest days is infusoria. Infusoria is a mixture of microscopic organisms including algae, ameba and paramecium. Small amounts of infusoria already exists in established tanks so growing your own infusoria is not necessary unless you wish to be extra cautious during the first week of your baby Bettas' lives (which is definitely understandable ;-) ).

To grow your own infusoria place a wilted lettuce leaf or a dried corn husk in a jar or decholrinated water and place it in a warm sunny place. I would start this culture at least a week before you are planning to introduce your male and female. Some breeders swear by feeding infusoria the first week of the baby Bettas life but more and more breeders and throwing out the infusoria altogether. Personally I feel that infusoria is not a necessity and my fry seem to do just fine without it. As your babies age past their first week their growth rate will increase considerably and I like to add some microworms along with BBS to their diet. Microworms are small nematodes that are relatively easy to culture but their culture median can get smelly if you don't take care of it.

To grow microworms you must first get a small culture from a dealer. After obtaining a culture place some moist baby cereal or oat flour in a small plastic container with a lid and sprinkle a tiny bit of yeast on top of the medium. Place the culture starter in the container, wait a week, and -bang- microworms are crawling up the sides! Well you should be set for the first month of your baby Bettas' life.

As the fry grow add smaller versions of adult betta food to their diet (such as crushed flake food, minced blood worms, tiny bits of liver [feed sparingly!], grindal worms, etc.) and you fry should grow into beautiful juvenile Bettas.

 

As the fry grow...

At about a month old the fry will begin to mature into juveniles and start fighting. At first this bickering is harmless but as the Bettas grow they will start ripping each other's fins. If you plan on selling to people who might want to show your fish or people who buy Bettas based on their aesthetics (almost everyone!) then you should separate the young males into their own jars. Males and females can be hard to tell apart at a young age but generally the males have fuller fins and a small ovipositor can be seen on the females.

I would recommend having a minimum of 20 jars on hand before you even set up the breeding tank. Most spawning average about 200 eggs and this means at least 100 babies. Collect jars while the babies grow from friends and family. 2 liter soda bottles with the top cut off work great! Believe me, with a little imagination almost anything can be looked on as future betta bowls! Separating the young male prevents the Bettas from injuring each other and frees up space in a cramped fry tank. It also prevents any unwanted spawnings (even though this is highly unlikely at such a young age it has been recorded and it's always best to taken precautions).

I start separating my Bettas at roughly two months of age. After letting the males grow and fin out for 1-3 months after jarring, you can sell and ship your Bettas (both male and female) to other breeders and pet owners around the country.

JARS!!!!! Looking for affordable jars? Check out this link!