Betta splendens has to be one of the most recognized species of fish that are available in the aquarium trade. Most specimens that are sold nowadays are tank bred rather than wild specimens and through the generations beautiful colouration and tail finnage is displayed, the only drawback is that the extended tail finnage on the males makes them a large target for any fin nippers if they are kept in a community set up. Males are extremely aggressive towards other males and in Asia it is a sport to fight males against each other but thankfully this practise is not practised in Europe or the US.
In the wild they can be found in shallow, stagnant waters which are low in oxygen levels but they have overcome this problem by developing an organ allowing them to breathe from the atmosphere, thus they are classed as labyrinth fish. In the aquarium this can be aided by reducing the water surface level slightly and keeping a lid on the tank to create a humid atmosphere for them to breathe.
Females tend to be duller than the males but there are now some breeders that are developing a better colouration for the female specimens although these as of yet do not compare to the bright colours of the male specimens.
Adult Betta splendens should reach an adult size of approximately 2.5 inches with the females being slightly smaller but as with all fish sizes can vary slightly with each fish.
These fish are to be found naturally in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, as mentioned above they can inhabit the smallest and shallowest of water ways and are sometimes found in the paddy fields.
Caring For Your Betta splendens
Sadly it is quite common to see these fish kept in the smallest of tanks, they are even sometimes kept in small glass vases or jars, this is definitely bad practice!! The minimum size tank that Betta splendens should be housed in is at least 18” x 12” (45cm x 30cm), they need some swimming space and this does provide the minimum for them. In small aquariums never add more than one male as rivals will fight, often to the death as each male will establish its own territory and if a female is introduced fighting will intensify.
Planted tanks are ideal for the Betta splendens, they love tall plants that reach the water surface such as cryptocoryne and often they will use pieces of the leaves that have broken away to help to build their bubble nests.
The substrate is your choice whether it be sand or gravel but if using gravel make sure it is well rounded with no sharp edges. Hiding places can be provided with the use of driftwood, piping etc. even some aquarium ornaments provide hidey holes if you prefer to use these.
The water flow should be low to medium, never use a strong current as these fish will struggle to swim against it, and as mentioned in the general description keep the water surface a couple of inches below the top of the aquarium to provide a breathing area and use a lid to keep the atmosphere humid.
Betta splendens are tolerant of quite a wide temperature range, they can survive in a range between 22 deg C right up to 30 deg C but it is best to keep them midway between these two temperatures, keeping them at the extremes could lead to health problems, they can also tolerate quite a wide pH range, between 6.0 - 8.0 so a pH of 7.0 is a balanced level, if your mains water ranges between the higher and lower levels then don’t attempt to alter the pH by artificial means as this can also lead to future problems trying to keep the pH stable.
Suitable tankmates should include peaceful species that show no aggression, fin nippers should definitely be avoided at all costs so if setting up a peaceful community set up it is always best to ask for advice before purchasing other species.
Perform regular water changes, at least 10% weekly and make sure the filtration system used is rated for the water volume contained in your aquarium.
Feeding Betta splendens
Betta splendens can be fussy eaters when first introduced to your tank, they should be offered live or frozen foods initially and gradually introduce flaked foods or small granular foods which will be accepted in time.
Like most species of fish they will always look hungry and will greedily eat all foods added to the aquarium. To keep these fish healthy only provide them with small meals twice a day, overfeeding can lead to obesity and health problems, especially with their digestive system.
If offering blood worms as a frozen treat these should be fed sparingly, daphnia and brine shrimp make for a better choice but always try to get the fish onto flaked or pellet food as soon as possible.
Breeding Betta splendens
Breeding these fish could involve a full article in itself as they are not the easiest to breed and definitely not a breeding project for novice fish keepers. It is best to try to breed other species of fish before attempting these as a little skill and knowledge is involved mainly due to the high aggression of the male betta during the courtship process.
However breeding these fish is not impossible if you research and be prepared to take some time to make sure that the breeding process goes through smoothly. You should also be prepared to have the resources to raise hundreds of fry if the breeding project is successful, female Betta splendens can lay batches of 500-600 eggs with each spawning.
You will need to set up two tanks one for the male and one for the female, each tank should be set up with cycled water and filter medium, air driven sponge filters are recommended as you can control the water flow much more efficiently and also the filter sponges are easier to clean without disturbing the parent fish too much. You can also use one breeding tank but a divider will be required to keep the fish separate until they are ready to breed.
The easiest way to breed these fish is to buy a proven pair from a reputable breeder but you can take a chance and purchase a male and female from a pet store, the only drawback with this is that the male may attack the female when they are first introduced to each other in the breeding tank.
Keep the breeding tank away from busy human traffic and do not add any substrate, a bare bottomed tank eliminates eggs being lost in any substrate.
The breeding pair will need conditioning on live foods, this is a particularly stressful time for the female so she needs to be at full strength prior to breeding. The male and female should be introduced to the breeding tank but the divider is needed to keep the two fish apart, they need to see each other and this will encourage the male to start building a bubble nest. While the divider is in the tank this gives you a good chance to see how they react to each other, if any aggression is shown by the male then remove the female and add her back to the breeding tank after a few days. To aid the male to build his bubble nest turn the water flow right down and if he looks interested in the female you can now introduce her to the male by removing the divider. Keep a close watch on the proceedings to make sure that aggression does not get out of control, if they pair the male will circle himself around the female, if the female is ready to lay eggs she may appear to be in a trance while laying. The eggs once laid will drop to the bottom of the breeding tank and immediately the male will scoop up the eggs and place them in the bubble nest. The male will guard the nest, replacing any eggs that drop- at this stage the female can be removed.
Once the eggs hatch the fry will be seen balancing onto the outer edge of the bubble nest, at this stage the fry do not need feeding as they will consume the yolk sac from the egg. Once they are free swimming they can be fed on infusoria or newly hatched brine shrimp.
Keep the tank clean and syphon out any uneaten food that the fry may leave, the food can very quickly spoil the water once it starts to break down. Small meals should be offered several times through the day rather than feeding larger meals twice a day.
When the fry are free swimming the male plays no further part in his parental care and can be removed from the breeding tank, he will need live foods to rebuild his strength so when deciding to breed always allow a few weeks between spawnings to allow the parent fish to get back to full strength.
Common Diseases and Parasites Associated with Betta splendens
Like all fish species, Betta splendens are not immune to contracting diseases and illnesses. The main reasons for contraction of these is often due to poor tank maintenance, overfeeding or even purchasing a weak specimen that has always been prone to infections.
Good tank maintenance is all about keeping the water quality high with regular water changes, testing of the water to make sure that the parameters are stable and ensuring that uneaten food is not left in the tank to decay and spoil the water. The most common diseases or parasitic infections associated with Betta species include whitespot, finrot, velvet and bloat. Due to the breeding practices, Betta splendens have evolved long flowing fins and as such they can become a target for fin nippers, the slightest injury can lead to infection. Bear in mind this can also be caused by substrate or ornaments with sharp edges. Fin rot can be treated with larger water changes and the addition of aquarium salt in small doses to heal the damage. White spot and velvet are parasitic infections which can also be easily treated by raising the water temperature and the addition of methylene blue but always follow the recommended dosage that is printed on the medicine bottle. Follow the full course to make sure that the parasites are eradicated, check other tank mates to make sure that they do not contract the same symptoms.
As expected, bloat is normally associated with over feeding or even feeding the wrong foods. Too much food in one meal means your fish will eat too much, all fish tend to over eat if given the chance so bear this in mind it is better to feed smaller meals where all the food is consumed, this is healthier for the fish.
Basically bloat is caused when the digestive system of the fish becomes blocked or infected and this can be quite common with Betta splendens as they are a greedy fish species. The easiest method to overcome this problem is to add epsom salts to the water, do not add large amounts - a teaspoon for every five gallons of water that the tank holds is plenty and this can also be added on a routine basis as a preventative measure as well.
About the Author
Jan Hvizdak keeps fish for over 20 years and owns https://www.aqua-fish.net which is a searchable database of aquarium fish, plants and biotopes.
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