In order to understand how the colorful bettas we see today came about, we must travel back to Southeast Asia in the 1800s. More specifically, head to the river basins of the Mekong and Chao Phraya Rivers which run through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. There, in small peaceful streams, rice paddies, drainage ditches, and even little puddles are where Betta originally come from.
They looked completely different from what you picture when you hear “betta”. Back then, they had a plain dull olive green or brown color which allowed them to camouflage in the still, warm waters. They also had short fins that didn’t draw much attention. Bettas were a very common fish during that time as they were very durable. They could live through rough conditions and survive dry seasons in water with very low oxygen content.
Seeing as they were such a common fish, they became intertwined with the culture of the region. The people of Thailand referred to them as “Pla Kat”.
Pla Kat loosely translated means tearing or biting fish. They earned this nickname as they are highly territorial. Male Bettas are especially bold as they will look to guard their nests and territories against any and all threats.
Siamese Fighting Fish
Although bettas hotheaded temperament has made it possible for them to survive for centuries, unfortunately, it also allowed for a more dark side of their history to take place. People would collect bettas and conduct fish fights. Huge bets were placed on fights between two males. Gladiator like battles would be organized, as the dark tradition grew from a small village activity to a large spectacle. It is said that people would lose money, property, and even family members in bets. The fish suffered the most, however. Fights would be stopped before one of the fish would die, but the loser (sometimes even the “winner”) would be severely injured and torn up. This means they would often die not long after a fight as they could not recover.
In the wild it was common for betta males to attack one another, however, in those cases the loser would quickly leave the more dominant males territory
Both fish would be fine and continue with their day. In these organized fights betta males were forced to continue fighting as they were in a tightly confined space.
“The Jewel of the Orient”
As individuals looked to gain an advantage in the practice, breeders began popping up. Although the bettas we know today grew out of a dark organized fighting practice, the breeding of them allowed for some positive effects.
People began to appreciate bettas not only for their fighting spirit but instead for their beauty.
When fisherman would pull up their nets, at times there would be a brightly colored, shiny betta fish stuck in the nets. This was seen as a good luck charm. The fisherman would keep the fish in a bowl and take care of it. This appreciation of the fish has allowed for bettas to become what they are today.
Over the years, breeders took different beautiful elements from these fish and created what we commonly see in stores today… Betta Splendens.
Unfortunately, the fish fighting traditions are still secretly present today in parts of the world. It can be noted however, that most of the world does not tolerate any animal fighting for sport. In the countries where bettas originated, the law does not take the tradition lightly. Fish fighting is now a serious offense punishable with jail time.
Bettas Today :
Bettas have come a long way from their past in Southeast Asia to becoming one of the most popular aquarium pets of the Western world. They brighten up aquariums with their impressive colors and personalities.Owners have been able to teach them tricks and even despite their aggressiveness, have successfully cohabitated bettas with other fish and even other betta. To find out more about how you can potentially get started with this, turn to: Compatibility.
It is great to get a full understanding of where Betta come from. It makes it easier to see why it is important for them to be in a certain water temperature, or why there should be a good amount of plants in the tank. Don’t worry if everything I just mentioned doesn’t make sense just yet. We will cover all aspects of betta care later on, but for now, let’s take a more in-depth look at the different varieties of bettas…
SPECIES / BREEDS
Betta are always seen as gorgeous, but simple aquarium fish. There is a lot of miseducation when it comes to the species. Because of their wide popularity and availability in stores, people are often shocked when they find out there are actually over 70 different species of bettas. Fish enthusiasts aren’t able to ignore many of the other betta species, however. They make great aquarium subjects and also display beautiful traits, even though they may be more subtle ones. Because of their more subtle look, most shops don’t have other betta species readily available.
In this Article we will look at 5 of the more popular betta species and observe different details surrounding a betta fish. This includes their size, anatomy, and the unique way they breathe.
5 Betta Species
This list is not organized in any particular order (i.e. best to worst). They are simply some of the more popular bettas enthusiasts enjoy having.
Emerald Betta (Betta Smaragdina) 50-60mm / 1¾–2”
Emerald Bettas earned their nickname by having a shiny green sheen on their body and fins.
Both males and females have a short fins and feature a round tail.
They have a bright green color with black webbing on their scales.
They can also feature some reddish touches either on their fins or bodies.
Origin: Nong Khai, Thailand
Mouthbrooding Betta (Betta Pugnax) 60-70mm / 2-2¾”
Mouth-brooding Betta and other bettas feature an upturned mouth. This makes them top feeders. They spend their time patiently hiding, and then when something floats by at the surface that looks appealing they quickly come up, grab it, and head back down to cover. Male mouth-brooding bettas also carry their babies (eggs) in their mouth until they are ready to hatch.
They have some of the smallest fins of the species.
They have a round tail and pointy fins (the tail can be somewhat pointy as well at times).
Their colors vary, as they can be anywhere from an orange color to a gray or even feature green/blue spots.
Origin: Penang, Malaysia
Peaceful Betta (Betta Imbellis) 50-60mm / 1¾–2”
Peaceful Betta are, as their name suggests… peaceful. They can easily be kept in community tanks as long as they are with other peaceful species, and the tank is of appropriate size with enough hiding spots.
They have a round tail with a dark body.
They have bright blue or green markings on their bodies that contrast beautifully against their dark background.
Their dorsal fins are a mostly blue-green color and the ends of their tail and fins are bright red.
Origin: Spread throughout Thailand, Malaysia, and northern Sumatra.
Slender Betta (Betta Bellica) 80-90mm / 3-3¾”
Slender Betta are a slim and longer species of betta.
They feature short fins and a spade-shaped tail.
A female has dark dots on her fins and tail
A male is more intensely colored and has green highlights.
Origin: Pengkalan-Pegou, Malaysia
Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta Splendens) 60-70mm / 2-2¾”
Hands down, Splendens are the most popular betta. They come in a variety of colors, shapes, and fin shapes. The extensive breeding of Betta Splendens has allowed for them to develop unique fin shapes and colors.
Great variety of colors.
Fins with different shapes ranging from round, to split, to heart, and more.
Origin: Menam River, Thailand. Has been introduced to several countries even outside of Southeast Asia. Because of fish farm escapes, populations have been established in Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
Betta Details : It may seem like an exaggeration, however, knowing specific details about bettas including anatomy, origin, and breed details will help you become a better caretaker. Gaining this knowledge will allow you to provide a great life for your fish pets. It is a sad sight, walking into pet sections of stores and seeing hundreds of betta stored into small cups, closely packed up next to one another. Although they are “surviving” many are suffering in the conditions they are in. Only when you learn more about how the breed actually lives comfortably, can you understand how much stress they are under.
At first glance, male and female bettas share many of the same anatomical features. Male bettas generally have a much flashier look and are larger than their female counterparts. Their bodies have a cylindrical form which tapers off to meet their “tail” fins (Caudal Fin). Betta have fish scales, which can be compared to armor which helps protect their soft internal organs. Healthy bettas will display beautiful scales and colors on their body. If they are stressed or sick, you will notice their coloring is a lot duller and they can display dark horizontal lines along their body.
Betta fish have quite the grumpy-looking face. This is because they have an upturned mouth that helps them suck in air and feed up at the surface. It also allows them to make bubble nests, which is how their offspring are able to be fertilized.
Here is something truly unexpected… betta fish have greater jaw strength than that of great white sharks. Yup, you read that right. The betta you have swimming in your tank, has a more powerful jaw than a great white (*by size proportion). Don’t worry though, although they have a lower jaw full of tiny sharp teeth, they cannot harm humans.
Betta are carnivores, and in the wild they feed on different insects, larvae, and scraps larger animals leave behind. Their teeth assist in the breaking down of food before ingestion.
Betta fish have 2 protruding eyes on each side of their head. They cannot blink and on close inspection you will notice their iris (center of the eye) is black. Bettas have very good eyesight, as they are able to recognize their owners and can get agitated by their own reflections in a tank.
Fins play an important role in keeping fish balanced and stabilized in water.
This is no different with betta fish. Their dorsal fin is located on top of their bodies and can vary in shape and size depending on what type of betta it is.
Just as with sharks and dolphins, betta use their dorsal fin to travel in a straight line.
The caudal peduncle refers to the thinnest section of a bettas body that connects to the caudal fin. It is simply the connection between tail fin and body.
Caudal Fin (Tail Fin):
The caudal fin is what propels a betta fish forward. Extensive breeding of betta has allowed for the creation of a great variety of fin sizes, shapes, and colors. We will take a more detailed look at some of the more common tail types bettas have been bred to have later on in this Article.
While the intense breeding of bettas has allowed for many magnificent tail fins to develop, it made them very different from their wild counterparts.
Bettas bred to have long flowing tails are actually quite poor swimmers.
Their fins are too long for their bodies and this makes them very easy prey in the wild. They are, however, gorgeous to observe in an aquarium.
The anal fin is located underneath a bettas body. This is another fin that is perfectly positioned to help stabilize our fish in the water. Just as a boat uses a “keel” under its “body” or hull for stabilization, bettas have this naturally on their bodies.
The ventral fins are often also referred to as the pelvic fins. They can be quite long and thin depending on the type of betta and are located just below and behind the gills. The ventral fins of a male are much larger than those of a female.
These fins assist bettas in turning and stopping.
These are the last 2 of the 7 fins bettas have. These fins are constantly in motion, helping guide a betta through the water. They can vary in size and color depending on the species of betta. Some owners refer to these fins as betta ears because of their flappy, ear-like appearance. They of course do not help bettas hear anything.
The operculum is a shield that covers a bettas gills. It’s job is simple, to protect a fish’s gills. While both male and female bettas have this protective shield, males have an extra membrane underneath there as well. This membrane is often referred to as a “beard” and allows us to more easily distinguish between a male and a female.
When betta want to look more intimidating, or when males show off a dominating dance, they flare up their entire bodies. This includes the operculum and, of course their beards.
Betta have gills, which allows them to extract oxygen from water. This is one way that allows bettas to live and thrive, however, amazingly bettas can also thrive in low oxygenated water environments. Theirs gills alone would not allow them to survive in these conditions. Let’s see how they breathe in more detail below.
Betta fish are definitely unique when it comes to their personalities and looks, but they also breathe in a very special way. As mentioned before, one way bettas breathe is how all fish breathe, with their gills. In simplest terms, fish will suck in water through their gills. As the water transfers through, the interior walls of the gills will absorb and remove the dissolved oxygen in the water. Oxygen is then transferred into the bloodstream and able to spread throughout the body. This is an amazing process that allows fish to live and thrive underwater.
Moving waters, like that in rivers and oceans will constantly pick up oxygen from the air. This is great for fish as it’s how they breathe. In small, stagnant, warm waters, however, much of the oxygen will seep out. These conditions are lethal to most fish, but bettas can thrive in these environments.