Nothing Betta!

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Chances are as soon as you hear the genus “Betta”, the species epithet “splendens” echoes in your mind. There’s no doubt the feisty, colorful, loner males of this species hold a special place in most fish-lovers’ hearts, but here at The Wet Spot, we like to get a little wild! Wild Bettas have a more subtle, elegant beauty, many are less aggressive and can be kept in pairs or groups, and many species breed with relative ease. Most wild species in this genus are found in dimly-lit forest swamps, streams, and pools, and require biotope accomodations in their captive tanks. We’d recommend going the wild betta route to any experienced aquarist looking for a more challenging small tank. A few of our house favorites are Betta unimaculata “Sangatta”, Betta falx, and Betta mahachaiensis.

Found in the Sangatta region of the Howong river drainages of Indonesia, B. unimaculata is known more commonly as the “Howong Betta”. How long is the “Howong”, you ask? They are relatively large, maxing out around 4 inches in length. As you might expect, males are the more colorful and beautiful sex exhibiting dark red bodies accented by bright blue cheek scales, a blue stripe down their backs, and a rounded caudal fin with blue and red patterning. Females are more drab, exhibiting mostly brown bodies with flattened heads, and slight red and blue caudal coloration. Collected from a variety of habitats, this species does well in clear, flowing streams, turbid forest streams, or isolated pools. In captivity, they generally do best in tank setups with dim lighting, soft (or no) substrate, piles of driftwood logs and roots, tall and floating plants with low light requirements, dried leaf litter (especially if breeding), filtration no stronger than a sponge, and a tight-fitting lid. More peaceful than splendens, but spooked by larger or vigorous species, Howong Bettas are best kept alone as pairs, or in groups if there is adequate space. They seem to do fine, however, alongside loaches, and some small, timid cyprinids from similar environments. Primarily hunters of aquatic invertebrates and zooplankton in the wild, they should be fed meaty diets of small, live and frozen foods, though they will learn to accept high-quality dried products as well. Tank waters are best maintained with temperatures between 70 and 78°F, pH of 5.0 to 7.5, and soft waters in the range of 0 to 179 ppm.

Found in forest streams and pools of Sumatra and Indonesia, B. falx smaller, beautiful wild betta known more commonly as “Red Skirt Bettas”. Reaching about 2 inches in length, males are mostly red with blue spotted scaling, and a dark blue-black edge to the caudal fin. Females smack of gouramis are have pointed heads, tan bodies, dark horizontal striping, and a tail spot. Similar to their Howong cousins, they should have plenty of shade, soft filtration, lots of hiding places from furnishings like overturned ceramic pots, driftwood branches, rock and slate piles, dried leaf litter, and low-light tolerant plants. Due to their small size, they are more able to be kept in groups in smaller aquaria, and dominance hierarchies and interesting behaviors will unfold over time. In general, they don’t do well with other species, but can be kept alongside small, calm cyprinids from similar environments. Another micropredator, they feed predominantly on small invertebrates and zooplankton, and should be offered diets consisting of small, live and frozen foods alongside a high-quality dried product. They are prone to overeating, so take care not to bloat these beauties. Red Skirt Bettas do best in waters with temperatures of 72 to 80°F, pH between 4.7 and 6.8, and very soft waters under 90 ppm.

Elusive and known to few habitats in Thailand, B. mahachaiensis appears as if in a dream…a blue dream perhaps? Known as one of the more beautiful wild betta species, “Blue Dream Bettas” reach just over 2 inches, and males exhibit beautiful, bright blue faces, blue scales dotted over bright red bodies, and blue and red striped and patterned fins. Mainly inhabiting brackish waters of coastal Thailand, they can be kept in hard-water aquaria with slightly brackish conditions. Tanks should be set up with dim lighting, plentiful shady hiding places formed from driftwood and rock piles (or any furnishing of the aquarists choice), leaf litter, and low-powered filtration like sponge filters. Additionally, there should be a humid layer of air above the water line, and the tank should be equipped with a tight-fitting lid to prevent jumping. Generally, they are best kept as a single pair, though if tanks are large enough, and contain well-defined territories where males don’t necessarily interact, they can be kept in groups. They pair off and breed somewhat readily (especially if separated for spawning purposes), and males construct bubble nests. Like others of their genus, they primarily consume invertebrates and zooplankton, but will also eat terrestrial invertebrates like crickets or fruit flies. Be sure to feed them plenty of live and frozen foods to enhance their beautiful coloration. Tank waters are best kept with temperatures around 72 to 82°F, pH of 7.0 to 8.5, and hardness between 90 and 357 ppm.

Halloween might be over, but it’s never too late to go wild…or to get yourself some treats! Wild bettas will help you keep the spirit alive with their big mouths and elaborate costumes!  

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