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Choosing a Betta Splendens

By: Bruce Stutz

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When bettas (also known as Siamese fighting fish) show their breeding or fighting form, they have the appearance of animated Asian watercolors. Bettas are intensely colored – flaming red, cobalt blue, black or emerald green depending on the variety – with veil-like fins spread like wings. They will toss their heads and flare their fins and gillcovers eager to do battle or to breed. In the case of the former, two male bettas occasionally fight until death.

In the case of the latter, female and male commence a swirling pas de deux. The male goes to the surface for air and blows small bubbles that he coats with saliva so that the bubbles connect into a nest that floats on the surface or beneath a floating plant. The male then drapes his fin over the female, embraces her and fertilizes her eggs as she releases them. Then, they both take the eggs to the nest, putting each inside its own bubble. At that, the two part company, and the male is left to guard the nest - even to the point of keeping the female at bay.

Bettas for the Community Tank

When not fighting or breeding, bettas appear rather drab, and for the most part are good fish for a community tank. While two males can't be kept together, a male can be kept with two or more females. They make easy-to-care-for tank residents as long as they are not swimming with fin-nippers such as tiger barbs.

Native to southeast Asia, the marshes and rice paddies of the Maylay peninsula and Thailand, bettas have been bred from plain orange-green wild stock into extraordinary varieties that are found in most aquarium shops.

Since they breed rather easily in captivity, they produce endless varieties. They grow up to three inches long, need a water temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and feed on flake food.

Appearance

Like the gouramis, which belong to the same taxonomic order Anabantidae, bettas are labyrinth fish. This term refers to a special organ behind the fish's head – folds of tissue that act as a third breathing apparatus and allow the fish to take in air from the surface. For this reason bettas can be kept in small bowls or tanks with little or no filtration, although in that case you must take great care to change 50 percent of the tank's water at least once a week.

If you want to see the betta display its fighting colors you can put a mirror along the side of the tank and it will flash and flare at its own reflection. Or you can separate two males by a glass insert in the aquarium. Keeping the fish in a constant state of alert, however, is not good for the fish's health.

Breeding

If you do breed them, make sure to remove the female after the breeding is over or the male will attack her in his zeal to guard the nest. When the eggs hatch, remove the male as well. Local aquarium hobby groups often hold shows for bettas and you will be able to see how yours stack up against some of the best of breed.

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