Description: The brilliant coloration, and
long flowing fins of the Betta make it one of the most well known of
aquarium fish. Colors range from red to blue to white. Females are not as
highly colored, and have much shorter fins. A well conditioned breeding
female will often display horizontal stripes.
Habitat/Care: Bettas are one of the most
recognized, most colorful, and often most controversial fish in the
freshwater hobby. Debates range on about the appropriateness of keeping them
in small bowls. To fully understand their needs it is important to become
familiar with their native habitat. Bettas originate in the shallow waters
in Thailand (formerly called Siam, hence their name), Indonesia, Malaysia,
Vietnam, and parts of China. They proliferate rice paddies, shallow ponds,
and even slow moving streams.
Although many fish keepers
are aware that Bettas come from shallow waters, a key factor that is often
overlooked is the water temperature. These countries are tropical, which
means the water temperature is quite warm - often reaching 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).
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.
Optimally the water for
keeping healthy Bettas should be soft, warm, with a neutral to slightly
acidic pH. Water movement should be kept to a minimum, which means that
power filters and powerheads are not suitable. Bettas may be kept in a
community tank as long as the water conditions are met, and if no aggressive
or fin-nipping fish are present. However, only one male may be kept in each
aquarium, unless they are separated by a barrier.
The use of plastic boxes
that hang inside the aquarium are a suitable option for keeping more than
one betta in a tank, or for keeping them in a tank with fish that might nip
their fins. Females will generally not fight with each other, and may be
kept in the same tank.
NOTE: Selling a betta in a
vase with a Peace Lily has become in vogue. However, a flower vase is not a
suitable environment for the betta. For more information check the
additional information links to the right.
Diet: 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.
Brine shrimp, Daphnia,
plankton, tubifex, glassworms, and beef heart, are all excellent options
that may be found frozen or freeze dried. If flake food is fed, it should be
supplemented with frozen and freeze-dried foods, and if possible live foods.
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.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.
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.
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
The male will continue to
tend the bubblenest, spitting eggs that fall out back into the nest. In one
to two days the eggs will hatch, and the fry will be visible hanging in the
bubblenest with their tails pointing downward. They will feed off their yolk
sack for another thirty six hours, during which time the male will continue
to pick up any fry that fall out of the nest. The male should be removed
within two days after the fry hatch, as they may eat the young once they are
free swimming. 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. Additional information on breeding, raising
fry, and photos can be found in the Additional Information section below.