The Betta (Betta splendens) belongs to the family Osphronemidae (commonly called gouramis) and the subfamily Macropodusinae known as the fighting fish. The brilliant colors we now know Bettas for are partially the result of captive breeding – Bettas are one of the oldest domesticated fish in the world, dating back at least hundreds of years, possibly a thousand! Bettas generally grow to less than 3” long and the ones in the wild are usually much more drab, green and brown colors to blend into their natural environments. Likewise, Betta fins have become larger and fancier with domestication, whereas the wild fish have much smaller fins.
Found throughout the Mekong River basin in South East Asia, Betta fish like the backwaters. Think swamps, rice paddies or very low flow areas of small streams or rivers. These areas frequently have little aeration, and lots of decomposing plant matter and therefor have a wide range of water quality parameters and pH. Temperature in these small pools can also swing to levels that would be unsafe for other “tropical” fish. These conditions are part of the reason why Bettas are so hardy in aquariums, despite frequently less than ideal living arrangements. They compensate for the low oxygen levels in these environments with a lung-like “labyrinth organ” which allows them to take gulps of air from the surface to breathe.
Bettas are not demanding as far as most tropical fish go, but should be given more than they frequently get. Like all aquariums, stability is key; a filter and heater will help stabilize water quality and temperature so your Betta can live its best life. A five gallon tank should be considered a safe minimum for keeping a Betta. Most Betta fish commonly sold in stores are males, and should be kept singly, as they will fight among themselves as the name “fighting fish” suggests. Females are usually more drab, and can be kept in groups in larger aquariums. Invertebrates like shrimp, snails and / or clams can usually be safely added to a Betta tank. More risky additions (but perhaps possible) are active, peaceful fish living at or near bottom of the water column like Corydoras or Plecos. Always leave a gap between the top of the aquarium and the surface of the water so that your Betta can get air to breathe, and cover your tank as Bettas spend most of their time near the surface and can jump out if startled. Emulating their swampy habitats, live plants, driftwood, and botanicals (such as properly prepared leaf litter) all make great decorations for a Betta display.
Since Bettas have been captive bred for hundreds if not thousands of years, they are not picky when it comes to food. They will eagerly accept appropriately sized flakes or pellets, and their diet can be enriched with frozen foods, or small live foods such as worms (grindal or black worms would be best), daphnia, or gammarus shrimp, which can all be cultured at home with relative ease.
Breeding Bettas generally requires at least three aquariums. One for the male fish, one for the female fish, and one for the babies. Once the male & female are in breeding condition, they can be placed in the baby aquarium. It should be shallow (5” or less deep) because the young fry are poor swimmers and will have a hard time inflating their swim bladder in deeper water. A lid to cover the surface of the aquarium will help with the nest the male builds out of bubbles at the surface of the water. The spawning process between the male and female can be violent – so they should be watched during their time together to make sure everything goes right. If so, the male will wrap his body around the female, and fertilize the eggs as she releases them. He will then pick the eggs up and put them into the bubble nest. The female may attempt to eat the eggs, so removing her may also be necessary at this point. Once the babies hatch, and are free swimming its time to remove the male and start feeding the young small live food such as infusoria, vinegar eels or baby brine shrimp.
Bettas are beautiful, come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, and are one of the hardiest fishes in the aquarium hobby. Talk to your local fish store about getting a quality, captive bred Betta fish from Aquatropic today and take part in one of the oldest traditions in the aquarium hobby: Keeping Betta Fish!