Betta fish are incredibly popular and, if you’ve ever ventured into the aquarium section of a pet store, chances are you’ve seen one.
You may even have noticed that each individual Betta was kept in its own chamber, separated from any others of its kind. Bettas are well-known for their fighting spirit, but that’s not the only interesting thing about them. Here are the most fascinating facts about Betta fish.
Fact 1: There Are Approx. 70 Species of Betta
When most people think of Betta fish, they will probably think of Betta splendens, the Siamese fighting fish. But there are lots of different species within the Betta genus, including the Mekong fighting fish (B. smaragdina) and the Java fighting fish (B. picta), also known as the spotted betta.
Fact 2: Betta Fish Are Named After Warriors
The fish get their name from an ancient clan of warriors that were called the “Bettah.” They later came to be known as fighting fish as a result of the growing popularity of fish fighting as a sport during the 1800s, particularly in Thailand.
Here, people would bet on the fish for their bravery rather than the damage they could inflict on their opponent.
Betta fish are also occasionally known as “plakat,” especially the short-finned varieties. This comes from the Thai word pla kad, which translates to “biting fish.”
So, as you can probably deduce, Betta fish don’t have the friendliest reputation.
Fact 3: They Originate From Southeast Asia
The fish are native to the Mekong river basin in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. But they are most commonly found in Thailand’s Chao Phraya river. In fact, the Siamese fighting fish was named as Thailand’s national aquatic animal in early 2019.
The fish can be found in rice paddies, drainage ditches, flood plains, and in pretty much any other standing water within their native region. In these habitats, they are exposed to a lot of storm flooding and droughts.
Fact 4: Multiple Varieties of Betta Fish
After many years of selective breeding for the ornamental trade, the iconic tail of the Betta fish comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The most common is the veil tail, but there are also crown tails, comb tails, half-moon tails, and double feathers, to name just a few.
Bettas also come in a lot of different colors. Their skin contains several layers of pigment, going from red, yellow, black, iridescent (which consists of blue and green), and an outer layer that appears metallic, which changes how the other colors look. Different combinations of these layers can be present in any one individual, which is why there are so many color varieties in Betta fish.
Fact 5: Wild Bettas Are Very Different To What You See In Pet Stores
Wild Betta fish tend to be a dull brown and green colour. The will only exhibit the brighter colours mentioned above when they are agitated and will use this as a threat display.
Their tails and fins are also much shorter than those of their pet store counterparts. This way they are less of a target for predators or other Bettas.
The traits we’ve come to associate with these fish have all been selectively bred to create the most attractive pets for our aquariums.
Fact 6: They’re Omnivorous When In Captivity.
Betta fish living in an aquarium will eat a very varied diet. They can be fed flakes and pellets, as well as live or frozen foods like bloodworm, brine shrimp, and daphnia. They will even munch on vegetation if it’s available. You need to be careful, though, as they may also eat smaller tank mates if given the chance.
Meanwhile, wild Betta fish are almost exclusively insectivores. They will eat insects, which they usually collect from the surface of the water, as well as aquatic insect larvae. They do not typically eat vegetation in their natural environment.
Fact 7: They Can Breathe Air Like You
Betta fish have a special organ, known as the labyrinth organ, that allows them to breathe air at the water’s surface. The organ extends from the fish’s gill plate and is made up of many folds of bone. When the Betta fish gulps down air, it passes over the blood vessels that run over these folds. This allows oxygen to be absorbed into the blood in a similar manner to what happens in our lungs.
Thanks to the labyrinth organ, Betta fish are able to survive in waters with low oxygen content. This is how they can thrive in rice paddies, stagnant ponds, and lightly polluted waters. They can even survive out of water for short periods of time when needed, so long as they are able to stay moist. This serves them well during droughts.
Fact 8: Fiercely Territorial
Bettas are called fighting fish for a reason. They are highly territorial and males are especially prone to aggression. They cannot be housed together or they simply attack one another relentlessly, which usually results in injury or death to one or both of them.
Female Bettas, in contrast, can be housed in small sororities of 5 to 10 fish. They will live quite happily together provided they have enough space. But, if they are in too small a tank, even females will become territorial and attack.
Males also shouldn’t be housed alongside females, except on a temporary basis for breeding, otherwise they are likely to harass the females. Even during breeding, care should be taken to ensure that the female is safe.
Fact 9: Male Bettas Build Nests Out Of Bubbles
When it’s time to breed, male Bettas build a bubble nest at the water’s surface. When the female releases her eggs, the male releases his milt and fertilisation occurs externally. The male then gathers the fertilised eggs and will spit them into the nest.
But that’s just the beginning of the male’s job. He will then watch over the nest, repairing it as needed. He retrieves any eggs that sink away from the nest and protects all the eggs from predators until they hatch. He will even chase away the female as she tends to eat the eggs after spawning to replenish her energy.
The fry hatch after just 24 to 36 hours and they remain in the nest for a few days, still under the male Betta’s protection. They live off of a yolk sac for these first few days but, once this is fully absorbed, they are ready to venture out into the world.
Fact 10: Different Betta Can Hybridised
Betta splendens has been successfully hybridised with B. imbellis, B. mahachaiensis, and B. smaragdina. However, the B. splendens/B. Smaragdina hybrids have a pretty low survival rate.
Even more surprisingly, it’s possible that B. splendens could also be hybridised with fish outside the Betta genus. There are unverified reports of it being successfully crossed with the paradise fish, Macropodus opercularis. Intergenetic hybrids such as this are really uncommon so, if this hybrid can be confirmed, it would further our understanding of how the fish relate to one another genetically.
Fact 11: They’re A Incredibly Intelligent Fish.
Bettas are one of the few fish that can learn to recognize their owners and perform tricks. You can teach your Betta fish to follow your finger around its tank or, if you have the equipment, they can learn to swim through hoops or to push a ball into a goal.
They are incredibly fast learners and can be trained in much the same way as a dog, using food rewards.
Fact 12: One Of The Most Popular Fish For Hobbyists.
They are second only to goldfish in terms of popularity. Unfortunately, many people don’t look into the needs of the fish before purchasing and it has become a trend to keep Betta fish in vases and other small, decorative vessels that are not suitable for housing a fish.
Bettas are a commitment and they can live for 3 to 5 years. Although they are able to tolerate small spaces with poor water quality, what they really need in order to thrive is an aquarium of at least 5 gallons with regular water changes. On top of that, their preferred water temperature is 76 to 82℉ so, if you want a Betta fish of your very own, you may also need a heater.
Betta fish make a great addition to any aquarium. They are beautiful, colourful, and fascinating to watch. Their ability to recognise faces makes them the perfect companion for many fish keepers. But, as with any fish, you must be prepared to meet its needs and provide the proper level of care. If that’s a commitment you’re ready for, these feisty little fighting fish could be the perfect pet for you.