Fish Keeping 101

Fish Keeping 101: Betta Fish - Research Required Before Keeping

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Betta fish have different characteristics for breeding which determine their optimum environment. It is worth researching the requirements before making your choice.

Bettas are popular fish for aquarium keepers, mainly due to the richly-coloured variety Betta Splendens or Siamese Fighting Fish.

They are part of the anabantoid group of fish, which are able to breathe atmospheric air through a structure called a labyrinth organ found near their gills. Hence anabantoids are also known as labyrinth fish.

Bettas are scientifically classified within the family belontiidae. There are several types of betta fish, including the Betta Splendens and the Peaceful Betta, though the males of the latter type, like all bettas, still fight each other.

Breeding Characteristics

Although bettas originate from south-east Asia, their breeding methods are attuned to their natural habitat. This in turn determines the best environment for keeping the different types.

Most bettas are bubble-nesters. "Bubble-nest" is a literal description, as the nest is created from air bubbles surrounded by mucus by the male betta, which are anchored to plants. A female in breeding condition will swim to join the male under the nest and if compatible they will spawn (mate) while wrapping their fins around each other.

Most types of female bubble-nesting betta will float upside-down as the male collects batches of eggs in his mouth and puts them in the bubble-nest before resuming spawning. The number of eggs per batch and the time taken to fill the nest varies between different types of betta and the whole process can take some time.

Some bettas are mouth-brooders. In this technique the female lays batches of eggs into a pocket formed by the anal fin of the male. The female then collects the eggs in her mouth, after which she pushes them into the mouth of the male. Again this is done in batches and batch size and time taken varies between different betta types.

The easiest method of identifying a mouth-brooding type of betta from a bubble-nesting type is by the depth of the head. A mouth-brooder will have a deeper and slightly square-looking jaw. This is at its most pronounced in a mature betta.

Aquarium Requirements

In general, all male types of betta fight, some fiercely, if kept in the same tank. They are housed separate from each other and most males will tolerate other types of fish, though male bettas with long fins can be a target for the other types.

Other inhabitants of the aquarium should ideally be non-aggressive types of fish.

If considering breeding, as well as checking which type of breeding method is used, one should also check whether females can be kept with the male permanently or only for breeding as there are significant variations across the wide range of betta fish types.

It is possible to keep some types in a large tank with glass screens within it to create separate environments, though the screens may not quite fill the whole cross-section in order to help the flow of water in some instances. Hence there are variations depending on the type of betta and the nature of the keeper's requirements.

Another aspect requiring research before purchasing bettas is feeding as many require live food, as do some of the young newborn fish. The live food is usually small brine shrimp, but there are other variations.

In general terms, the mouth-brooding bettas require slightly cooler temperatures as they would get in their natural habitat of flowing water, which is why the mouthbrooding technique evolved to avoid letting fry be swept away.

Bubble-nesting types prefer slightly warmer water, with more and larger plants in which to build the nest. Some types build quite large nests, which impacts on aquarium size to a degree if fish health is to be maintained.

The different requirements determine which other types of fish may co-habit the aquarium, increasing the need for research and planning.
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