By Rajiv Sharma*
The appearance of Betta splendens or Siamese fighting fish attracts most fish keepers. These colourful fishes come from the slow moving waters of rice paddies, stagnant pools and streams of South East Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Their body is streamlined and covered with scales. The scales are coated with a layer of mucus. This mucus layer protects the fish from infections. The scales of Bettas are almost colourless. The vivid colouration of Betta fish comes from pigment cells present in their skin. In nature, they are not found as colourful as the ones available in pet shops. Their red, blue, white, black, yellow and other striking colours are a result of selective breeding. Due to its vibrant colours and long fins, the Betta is one of the most popular pet fish.
Bettas can survive in low oxygenated water and a wide range of different environments. They have a unique labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe directly from air. They are capable of breathing in air, so most pet shops keep them in small pots or bowls where they can hardly swim. This is unethical and cruelty towards freshwater animals.
Ideal Conditions for Keeping Bettas
Keeping Bettas in small pots and bowls can hurt them. They need consistent water parameters and temperature. The acceptable water temperature is 22° Celsius to 26° Celsius. The pH should be between 6-8. Sudden changes in water parameters are very harmful for their health.
Bettas like shallow tanks in comparison with deep tanks. So, a 20 litre tank is enough for a single male Betta with two females. They are terrestrial, so never keep two males in the same tank. They can also be kept in community tanks with small and peaceful fishes. Avoid keeping them with barbs, mollies and guppies which have a tendency of nipping the fins of other fishes.
In nature, Bettas feed on small insects, mosquitoes, flies and larvae. But in aquariums, they can accept flake foods. Occasionally, provide them some live foods rich in protein. Blood worms and mosquito larvae can be good choices for live food. They also need fibre in their diet. In nature, they get fibre from exoskeletons of insects and vegetation but in aquariums fibre-rich foods need to be supplied externally. Always try to provide them with healthy food, otherwise they will end up dead within a few days.
There is a myth that Bettas survive best in small pots and tanks. This is completely incorrect. In nature, their natural territory is around 3 square feet in area. Their natural aquatic habitat is full of vegetation with slow moving water. During the dry season, water evaporates and remains in the form of small pools and mud. They can survive in small water pools and wet mud for a few days. They are also good jumpers and utilise this ability during the dry season to jump from drying pools to bigger puddles and water bodies.
One square feet shallow tank can be used to keep a male Betta with a few females. There should be proper arrangement of filtration and heater. Vegetation in the tank provides them the feeling of being in their natural habitat. Keeping them in tiny pots and bowls is akin to their natural survival in small pools where they survive but cannot thrive.
Bettas are also known as fighting fish due to their tendency to fight with other males. If two males are present in the same tank, fights will continue till the death of one.
In nature, male Bettas create a bubble nest with the help of air and their saliva. They attract the females by showing off their long fins and big size. When an egg bearing female fish comes near the nest, the male attracts her and wraps himself around her. The female fish lays eggs in the nest and runs away. The male guards and fertilises the eggs till the tiny fry take birth. They are also known to protect their fry and provide them with food. In tanks, when the male makes the bubble nest, female Bettas carrying eggs should be released. Just after laying eggs, the female should be removed from the tank.
Bettas are one of the most colourful results of selective breeding. They can live upto 3-4 years in ideal conditions. Their long fins and vibrant colours are the gift of nature for fish keepers.
Precautions with Betta splendens
- Never offer them too much food. Sometimes they die due to eating too much. If the fishes start swimming strangely, don’t feed them for 1-2 days.
- Keep them with smooth substrate. Sharp substrate and decorative materials can lead to cuts and scars. These injuries can lead to many types of infections.
- Maintain the quality of water. Dirty water may cause fin rot infection. Ensure clean, chemical-free and pollutant-free water for the aquarium.
* Rajiv Sharma is the Founder of online aquarium forum www.aquapetz.com. He is also an aquarium hobbyist and planted aquarium designer. His email id and phone number are firstname.lastname@example.org and 9958075234.