BETTA: HISTORY AND CARE by Tom Sarac
HISTORY AND CURRENT POPULARITY
The Siamese fighting fish is no newcomer to the aquatic hobby. It originates from the Kingdom of Siam some 150 or more years ago, where humans bet prized possessions on the outcome of betta fighting matches. These bettas came from the ditches and rice paddies in the countries we know today as Malaysia and Thailand (the latter originally known as Siam). These fish were once dull with non-descript colour, and do not compare to the specimens we see today. In fact, it won’t be long before a century of work has gone into the genetic discovery and dedicated breeding of the beautiful betta fish.
Betta splendens come in so many varieties and strains – longfin, delta tail, super delta tail, half moons, crowntail, rosetail, plakat, doubletail, veiltail, combtail, etc. The colour variations and combinations are numerous too – there is no lack of choice.
The Super Delta Tail and Half Moons often command higher prices versus other variants. Considering how attractive these two forms are, it is not difficult to understand their popularity and value. Their massive fins and stunning colour varieties are admirable – a huge accomplishment by many capable breeders considering what the originating gene pool looked like just decades ago.
Looking beyond Betta splendens, we find Betta macrostoma, which are part of the mouth brooding group. The male and female share similar body and fin structure, with the male being adorned with stunning colouration and somewhat fancier fins. These fish are large by betta standards, ranging from 3 to 4.5” in length and originating from Brunei (where they are a protected species) to North Eastern Borneo. Their natural habitat consists of acidic freshwater rivers and pools with lower pH values.
There are, of course, a number of other Betta species, such as albimarginata, channoides and imbellis. Many of these provide you with the opportunity to keep multiple specimens together, as long as you have a planted aquarium with structure.
Betta albimarginata, available as an export from Indonesia, can be kept in a 15 to 20 gallon aquarium and will spawn freely with other adults present. Also a mouthbrooder, it maxes out at a little over an inch in length. The male does the majority of the brooding. The incubation period is short. Seeing fry after a spawning does not take long, given that the parents will predate their young, so be ready to take action when you see the first babies.
We have a number of wild Betta species at Fluval headquarters, and have captured two different species spawning on film. The wild species are a pleasure to set up in a planted tank, and observe as they show attractive colour patterns and pair-oriented behaviour. Their behaviour is so serene, in fact, that they make for nice feature fish in a natural looking aquarium.
A good place to start your investigation of the various betta clubs and organizations is the IBC (International Betta Congress), which is involved in setting up global events. A quick scan of their website will certainly leave you interested and motivated to get deeper into this fascinating family of fish.
BETTA ENVIRONMENT: SET-UP, CONDITIONS AND CARE
Betta splendens, with flowing fins and gorgeous colours, is usually kept by the average buyer in a 0.5 to 1 gallon cubic or desktop-sized tank designed specifically for this fish. If this is how you decide to keep your betta, it is very important to perform weekly conditioned water changes while keeping the temperature from 76°F (24.5°C) to 80°F (26.5°C). I would even suggest performing the water changes even more frequently than once a week whenever possible.
Although bettas are an anabantoid (fully capable of breathing atmospheric air), remember that water quality is still of utmost importance. Keep this in mind, especially when keeping today’s fancier varieties with flowing fins and a more delicate structure.
Fluval offers some great desktop aquarium kits that provide above average habitats for betta, including the Spec, which includes LED lighting and a built-in filter system. This model will allow you to add filter media to help maintain desirable betta water conditions as well as a back filter area where a small submersible heater can be placed.
The Edge also makes for really cool betta tank, for the fact that the top panel of glass touches the water surface, therefore providing a large area for a male betta to choose from when it comes time to build his bubble nest.
Your betta should be fed a quality dry flake or small floating pellet diet that is based on a sound formulation. Marina and Nutrafin provide betta diets, and Fluval will be launching one shortly as well.
On top of this, I would urge you to regularly supplement their diet with freeze dried and frozen foods. Live foods, such as wingless fruit flies, brine shrimp, black worms and white worms, are also ideal. If you have access to these, by all means treat your betta regularly to these.
Always remember that bettas have small stomachs, so feed until you see a nice slightly rounded appearance – twice daily is ideal.
Bettas adapt well to a variety of water hardness and pH values, however, considering their ancestry and origins, an acidic pH range of 6.4 to 7 is preferable with a carbonate hardness range on the softer side (between 20 to 70 ppm or approximately 2 to 4 degrees dKH).
Softening small volumes of water is not a challenge as you can purchase reverse-osmosis water to dilute conditioned tap water. Acidifying soft water is easily accomplished with minimal amounts of peat and tropical almond leaves, for example. Note that this will turn your water an amber colour, but is actually beneficial to your betta as this also helps prevent algae and tends to maximum the fish’s full colour potential.
PLANTS (FLOATING, ETC.)
Floating water sprite, Hornwort, Elodia and other plants are always appreciated by bettas and help to create a more natural environment. Not only can they build bubble nests under the leaves, but during reproduction, floating live plants can offer refuge for females.
Bettas are considered an easy fish to breed. The greatest challenge is raising young and the dedication required on the part of the aquarist. The process includes separately conditioning the male and female. Once the female is visibly swollen with eggs and clearly displays the white egg ovipositor tube tip extending from her abdomen, she can be placed in a separate vessel within the male’s aquarium. When she starts to approach the male from within her protected domain, you can release her into the breeding aquarium. Breeding usually ensues rather quickly within the same day. If not, remove the female and give her some time to recoup and condition her again.
The breeding tank itself should be a minimum of 5 gallons, if not 10 gallons, and filled half to two thirds with water and sealed with a glass top. Temperature should be close to 80°F (26.5°C). The sealing is important as this ensures that the newly hatched fry, which are left in the care of the father until they are free swimming, can take in air at the same temperature as the water. Once the fry are free swimming, you can start to feed with live infusorians. The male should be removed at this point.
Now the challenge begins, with almost daily small partial water changes and dosing progressively with other live foods. If you miss feedings, it does not take long before the fry suffer greatly or perish.
In my opinion, bettas rank in Top 10 for tropical fish popularity. Given that they are easy to keep (even for beginners), and come in so many variations and colours, you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t impress.
This fascinating anabantoid has given us the great opportunity to genetically explore many breeding programs and, with its perfect size and capacity to use atmospheric air, I honestly can’t think of another family of fish that has gone so far in such a short period of time (other than the guppy, perhaps).
Do yourself a favour and pick up a small desktop tank, plant it with some crypts on the bottom and some floating water sprite, drop in a red copper dragon half moon male betta, and place it a calm corner of your house where you like to kick back at the end of a day. It’s the perfect prescription for happiness and relaxation.
HOW TO CARE FOR BETTA FISH
Tom Sarac from Fluval offers helpful information and basic care advice for owners of Siamese fighting fish, also known as the betta (Betta Splendens), including ideal habitat types, food preferences, water conditions and more.