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Introduction to Betta Splendens


Photo courtesy of Liz-Hanh Morin

Betta Splendens are fascinating fish with the broadest spectrum of colors available in a freshwater fish. They are those pretty little fish you see in the pet store, sitting in small bowls or cups. Don't worry, they can survive just fine in that confined space as long as they receive proper water changes, food and the temperature does not drop too low. Although they can survive in this environment, they are much happier in containers a quart or larger, fed live food and kept at temperatures from 70 to 85 degrees F. They are able to live in such small containers because they have a special breathing organ called a labyrinth. The labyrinth allows the Betta to breath air from the water surface instead of through the water like most fish with gills do. Although the Betta also has gills they get over 80% of their air from the water surface so never place your Betta in an air tight container

The Betta originated in the rice paddies of Siam, or present day Thailand, from which they derived their name Siamese Fighting Fish. The rice paddies have very murky water with low oxygen content so the Betta evolved a labyrinth that allows them to breath air from the water surface. Wild Bettas hardly resemble the Bettas seen in pet shops today. They have been domesticated and bred into the beautiful, colorful fish we have now. The wild Bettas are small olive-brown colored fish with much smaller fins that enable them to swim quickly away from any opponents.

True to their nick name, the Siamese Fighting Fish, the male Betta will fight another male until one gives up or is killed. NEVER KEEP TWO MALE BETTAS TOGETHER! Most of the time the loser, and at times the winner, dies as a result of injuries obtained during the match. Females will also fight but usually not as viscously as the males. Males and females in general, should not be kept together except for breeding purposes because they too will fight with each other. Multiple males and females can be kept together if they are raised from babies (baby fish are called fry) and never separated. In this environment they still nip at each other but a pecking order is established and at most times they can live together relatively peacefully.

I have a ten gallon, heavily planted tank (with two Cory Cats), to which I introduced a young male and female that had been living in fry grow out tank with their siblings, and two large adult females that lived in a pond with their sisters. All fish were accustomed to living with other Bettas. The male was picked on heavily for the first day by the largest of the adult females but within a week each Betta had pretty much settled into their spot on the pecking line. The male's tail is nipped but healed and the Bettas live together relatively peacefully. This was an experiment and it succeeded but I would not recommend attempting to do the same unless you are experienced and very familiar with Betta behavior. Do not attempt this community setting unless you are absolutely sure they have never been separated. (i.e. you have raised the fry together or you have bought them from a trusted breeder who told you they were never separated.).

Bettas have been kept by people for over 150 years. The first Bettas were used in gambling matches where two males were pitted against one another in a small bowl and fought until one died or refused to fight anymore. Even though Bettas are still fought in some areas of Asia, they have become pets of beauty rather than warriors. Through selective breeding Betta Splendens have developed into gorgeous, graceful fish. The color mutations are almost endless - from white to black and everything in between! Bettas are easy to care for, making them the ideal first pet. Their breeding behaviors and genetics are challenging and, at times, unpredictable making them a fun and fascinating species to breed. Maybe one day you will decide to pick up a Betta as a interesting pet or even try your hand at raising these beautiful fish!