are found mainly in the southern parts of South-East Asia, and are especially abundant in Vietnam, Thailandand Cambodia, where they thrive in in reedy ponds, slow moving creeks and rivers. They are often also found in shallow stagnant ponds, rice paddies and sometimes in highway drains or low level catchment areas. Considered by many as the most beautiful of all tropical fish, their name is derived from ikan bettah a term in a Malayan dialect.
Bettas are members of the gourami family (Osphronemidae) of the order Perciformes, although they were formerly classified among the Anabantidae. There are nearly 50 other members of the Betta genus, but Betta splendens is the species we focus on as aquarists.
Betta splendens usually grows to an overall length of about 5 cm. They are known for their brilliant colors and large, flowing fins, but the natural coloration of B. splendens is a dull green and brown, and even silver, with highlights of red or green stripes and patches and the fins of wild specimens are relatively short. The brilliantly colored and longer finned varieties like Veiltail, Delta, Superdelta and Halfmoon are the result of selective breeding through thousands of years.
Bettas do have an aggressive nature, because they have to survive in small bodies of water, and therefore must defend their territories and their females against other males. This fierceness is what led to breeding the Betta as a fighting fish. In the wild, Bettas spar for only a few minutes or so before one fish backs off – and no harm comes to either. In captivity this can carry on for hours, even unto death – while large amounts of money are wagered, often with potential losses as great as a person’s home! Although this is no longer legal, Siamese fish fighting still takes place.
Betta splendens have been affectionately nicknamed “The Jewel of the Orient” due to their beauty and wide range of colours – which are produced through selective breeding. Wild Bettas exhibit strong colours only when agitated. But over many years breeders have been able to make this colouration permanent, and a wide variety of hues breed true.
Colours available to the aquarist include red, blue, turquoise, orange, yellow, green, bright blue with pink highlights, cream and even true opaque white - not to be confused with albino, which is still fervently sought. The shades of blue, turquoise and green are slightly iridescent, and can appear to change colour with different lighting conditions or viewing angles; this is because these colours, unlike black or red, are not due to pigments, but are created through refraction within a layer of translucent guanine crystals. Breeders have also developed different colour patterns such as marble and butterfly, as well as metallic shades like copper, gold, or platinum mainly by crossing B. splendens with other Betta species. And they are still at it.
Whereas Male Bettas have always been traded preferentially, because of their beauty compared to the females, recently breeders have developed the same range of colours in females previously only bred in males. Of course, females never develop fins as showy as the males of the same type and are often more subdued in colouration. But they have now become an attractive option for the aquarist. (More below…)
Betta fish have upturned mouths and are primarily carnivorous surface feeders, although some vegetable matter may be eaten. In the wild, they feed on zooplankton, crustaceans, the larvae of mosquitoes and other water-bound insect larvae. Typically, commercial Betta pellets are a combination of mashed shrimp meal, wheat flour, fish meal, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and vitamins. But Bettas are finicky eaters and live or frozen bloodworms, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp or daphnia should form the bulk of their diet.
In the wild Betta Fish seldom survive for more than a year or two. However, when they’re bred in captivity and are kept in ideal conditions Betta Fish can live anywhere up to 2-4 years.
Betta fish have a labyrinth organ, a unique adaptation that allows them to breathe air at the water’s surface when their water becomes oxygen depleted. It is often wrongly thought that this organ allows Betta fish to be kept in unmaintained aquaria. This is a misconception as poor water quality makes all tropical fish, including Betta Splendens more susceptible to diseases.
REQUIREMENTS FOR Keeping Siamese Fighting Fish
And that brings us to the crucial question: How are you going to keep your Betta Splendens? This is perhaps largely a moral question, and one which only you can answer for yourself.
However be warned, if you house male Bettas together, you will soon see a fight – and very often a fight to the death. Below three excellent images from our favourite photographer, Hristo Hristov, showing just how such a fight begins!
Some people keep single male Bettas in a display vase or vessel — popular, I know, but nowhere near close to natural. Surprising to most people, a male display Betta does very well if housed in a small planted tropical aquarium – with plenty of space for the Betta to swim and exercise its beautiful fins. For tank mates, add in peaceful species such as platies, mollies and swords and neon or cardinal tetras, or Zebra danios which are truly compatible with Bettas. Cherry barbs, a few corys and a school of rasboras are also a good choice. Choose at least a 40 litre tank, double that size if you are going to add more companions. Keep the water impeccably clean, otherwise your Betta will become sick!
Females should be housed separately from any males. Males and females are only ever put together if you want to breed Bettas. You can keep about 4 to 6 females in a 40 litre aquarium and they will coexist harmoniously and peacefully. This does not mean that these females are any less hierarchical! When a new female Betta is introduced into a tank in which other females live, they’ll tend to “pick” on each other before they settle down again. Although you will notice some fin flaring during their squabbling, all the females will eventually sucumb to the dominant female’s pecking order. Usually no one gets seriously hurt during this type of squabble.
A true little warrior the Betta Splendens may be, but if you have ever only thought of this sensational fish in terms of its warrior-like nature, please think again! For the breeding of Bettas is a spectacular, tender and rewarding challenge!
On the next page we offer you a series of incredible images that will show you just how beautiful and mesmerising the courting and spawning process is!
Photo credit: The stunning large images above have been taken by Hristo Hristov, fish photographer supreme. Please note that we are using Hristo’s photographs with his permission, but that his work is under copyright and should not be copied off this site!