Although there are many species of Betta, the most common species that is kept and bred is known as the Betta splendens or the Siamese Fighting Fish. The name “Betta” is said to be derived from an ancient Asian warrior clan known as the Bettah, although some accounts differ.
Betta splendens have their origins in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam where, some 150 years ago, the sport of fighting Bettas was actually regulated and taxed by the King of Siam. As popular then as boxing is today, people would bet all of their money, and sometimes their personal belongings and children, on the outcome of just one fight. Thailand was once known as Siam which explains the Siamese Fighting Fish label.
Siamese Fighting Fish Explained
Spend much time with serious betta fanciers and you’ll hear terms like “veil tail,” “delta tail,” “crowntail,” and “half moon”… and quickly become confused. So I’m going to give you a pain-free introduction to the various lines of the glorious Betta Splendens. In a nutshell, the only real difference among the types of bettas has to do with the tail. I explain as follows.
Veil Tail – Over 80% of fish sold by pet stores are VT males. They’re characterized by bottom fin rays being longer than the top rays. (Rays are the “spines” you see in fins.) With fins flared out, VTs look rectangular or diamond-shaped. Most breeders and Betta show enthusiasts look down on the VT as inferior. I think they’re mistaken because I think the VT’s multiple colors and wavy fins are one of the true miracles of nature.
Round Tail – The tail appears round, hence the name. The circular shape comes from the middle ray of the tail being the longest, and then the rays becoming progressively shorter away from the middle.
Delta Tail – The tail has a triangular shape, which comes from the outermost rays on the tail being the same length as the middle. In Betta shows the widest-tailed of the Delta Tails are the most sought after.
Half Moons – A Delta Tail’s tail can become so wide that it forms a half-circle (or half-moon) shape, at which point it becomes known as the Half Moon Betta. Half Moons are the most popular variety among hardcore Betta fanciers.
Double Tails – These little guys have their tail fork into two halves. DTs are genetic rarities you will never find at a pet store.
Crown Tails – The rays of the tail extend well past the webbing, giving the tail a prickly appearance. The Crowntails is most commonly single rayed. Then breeders bred double rayed Crowntails which had tail rays branching off. Since then breeders have developed “double double ray” and “double double double ray” Crowntails, which are the scarcest and costliest Bettas you can buy.
Origin of Betta Splendens’ Colors
The beautiful colors of the Betta that catch our eye were not naturally present when the species was first discovered. Because the Siamese were solely interested in the fighting ability of these fish, breeding practices concentrated on building strength, endurance, and a fierce fighting attitude. Most of the betta splendens from that time were short-finned (to give their opponents less to latch on to), and were a greenish-brown color.
Even in 1840, when the King of Siam made his gift to Cantor, colors still ran towards the drab. By the time the fish began showing up in America, some had begun to develop longer fins and rounded tails, and specks of bright colors could occasionally be found.
There are several basic color genes present or missing in Bettas. Yellow is the base color followed by black, red, and blue. There are sub colors as well. For example, the blue gene can be represented by metallic blue, royal blue, or blue-green. The popular royal blue is actually a mixture of the other blues.
Betta Splendens Breeding Basics
Breeding Bettas can be fun but it can be a challenge as well. Just because you are interested in breeding Bettas, it doesn’t mean that the betta splendens will be. Your job is to set the mood for love.
Also, keep in mind that you might become too successful. The typical highly-fertile female can produce a few hundred eggs… meaning you might wind up with a few hundred Bettas!
The good news though is that your local pet store will often be happy to take them off your hands — and often for as much as a dollar apiece or on rare occasions as much as $2.50 or $3.00.
When the time comes that you’re ready to give it a shot, follow the tips and you could be rewarded with a brood of new fry.
Life Expectancy in Betta Splendens
A betta kept in good health and good conditions will generally live 2-3 years. If you purchased your betta splendens at a pet shop, it is probably already over 5 months old, since most retail pet supply and customers prefer male bettas with fully-developed finnage. There is some misinformation that has been perpetuated for many years suggesting that all pet store bettas are over a year old.
This is usually not the case. Large betta farms sell their fish in bulk for mere cents on the dollar to American and European consumers; if they spend a year raising the fish they are putting more into its feeding and upkeep than they can ever hope to see a return on. My contacts in Asia tell me the rumor of large betta farms raising their bettas for a year before shipping to pet stores is absurd. They raise betta splendens as quickly as possible so they can produce as many as possible, and most Veiltail pet store bettas are between 4-6 months old by the time they arrive in the States.
The life span of your betta depends on a number of things. Unlike warm-blooded animals, bettas do not age so much as develop. A betta raised in cooler water (72-76 degrees F) will grow more slowly, taking 7 or more months to reach maturity, and will live longer since the cooler temps retard development.
On the other hand, a betta that is raised in warm temps (78-84 degrees F) with regular water changes and multiple good meals a day will reach maturity by 3 months old, and its life cycle will be slightly decreased. The average life span of a pet betta kept in a gallon bowl at room temperature and fed once daily or once every other day is approximately 3-4 years. A breeding fish that is fed twice daily and kept in the lower 80’s usually live around 2-3 years.
Studies have shown that the cause of death for most bettas kept in small containers and fed twice a day (as recommended by the pet food manufacturers) is degeneration caused by excessive fatty tissue. If a betta splenden is to be expected to live a long, full life it is imperative that he be given plenty of room to swim and perhaps less frequent feedings.
You can also exercise your betta splendens by letting him flare at his reflection in a mirror for a couple of hours a day. Walt Maurus reported in his book Bettas – A Complete Introduction that several male bettas kept in controlled laboratory conditions were over 10 years old and still going strong! Apparently, these betta splendens were given large tanks of their own and were exercised daily by lab students who chased them around with sticks.
It would be interesting to discover how long betta splendens live in the wild. Of course, one would have to factor in the loss by predation, fighting, or environment.