The Halfmoon betta fish has become a beloved pet for many aquarists over the years. These beautiful creatures have a special "half-moon" shaped tail that makes them truly stand out from their counterparts, but there's more to them than just looks-- they have an incredible backstory as well! But what exactly makes this species of fish so unique? From its distinctive tail shape to its vibrant coloration, it's easy to understand why these creatures have captivated us all.
To dive deeper into this story, we explore the origins of the Halfmoon betta and discover its fascinating evolution to where it stands today - as one of the most desired breeds in aquaria around the world.
The True Story of the Halfmoon
In 1982, Peter Goettner, an American breeder, created a fish that was far ahead of its time: a green STM (single-tailed male) with a near 180-degree tail. The betta fan base gave this unique fish the nickname "Mr. Great". It is believed that Goettner acquired fingerlings from another breeder named Parris Jones of the US, who further improved on one strain bought from American breeder Chuck Hale in 1977. From 1983 to 1986, French breeders imported stock from several notable American breeders including Goettner and Jones, with Guy Delaval being among them.
Delaval was a renowned Seven Colors breeder and, some years ago, decided to try his hand at betta breeding. To start, he acquired pet store specimens and then proceeded to selectively breed them in a very particular way: fraternal brothers and sisters, followed by father-daughter pairs, over multiple generations. This produced the distinct trait of white fin margins which is still seen in Halfmoon bettas today. As Delaval's bettas gained in quality, he pushed himself even further to create something special. Working with only four tanks and twenty jars, he focused on breeding and culling the best fish - building the strain up through careful selection.
At the 1987 betta show in Lyon, France, Delaval presented his Halfmoon fish with excellent form and symmetry. However, they were met with only momentary amusement by the judges - due to their unfamiliarity with such a different type of betta. At that time, the traditional winning bettas were roundtail or doubletail varieties, which made Delaval's entries appear decades behind from what was normally seen at these shows. Afterward, the President of Anabantoid Association of Germany wrote a report on the exhibition praising all participants as well as winners; but regarding Delaval's creations he simply commented that they were "cute".
At the 1988 exhibition in Le Mann, France, Delaval's betta fish were met with disbelief. However, one visitor, Rajiv Masillamoni, was captivated by their size and beauty - so much so that his beloved picture of “Mr. G” slipped from his hands! He eagerly questioned Delaval about them and went home with two of the three 180 degree tail males as well as five other males and two females from the same line. It was clear to Masillamoni that Delaval had achieved something extraordinary with his breeding program.
Masillamoni was overjoyed to bring his newly-purchased bettas home to Switzerland, expecting them to reproduce properly. Unfortunately, all seven males he had acquired from Delaval were unable to do so, even though they still behaved with the females in a typical manner. Masillamoni, along with two other breeders who had also obtained their fish from Delaval - Laurent Chenot and Marc Maurin - realized that this issue stemmed from severe inbreeding. To try and overcome this problem, Masillamoni crossed his Delaval females with pet store bettas, but the resulting progeny was noticeably not as good in terms of shape and symmetry when compared to the original stock. A stroke of luck came in the form of an American IBC member who was visiting Switzerland and presented him with a male melano doubletail, which Masillamoni bred with his Delaval females. The fish, labeled “R39”, was a green male with a perfect 180 degree tail, and outshone all the other bettas.
Masillamoni's ambition to develop the new line of Halfmoon had him mate the male R39 with every female in his possession. Later, he joined hands with Laurent Chenot and Jean Luc Corso, two experienced breeders who bred their own females to the same male. This genealogy was integral in forming the first genuine Halfmoon species, and all current Halfmoons are derived from this original one. Thus, it is safe to infer that R39 is at the foundation of today's population.
At the 25th Annual IBC Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1991, Masillamoni brought his 180 degree betta to the show, but was disappointed when the referees disregarded his fish for more conventional double-tail and round-tail types. However, European entrants caught the attention of leading breeders such as Jeff Wilson, Peter Goettner, Parris Jones, Paul Hardy and John Benn who took some of the fish back with them to breed in their own aquarium lines. It was at this same convention that Jeff Wilson jokingly referred to the new form of tail as a 'Halfmoon' which eventually became its official name. Masillamoni returned home feeling inspired by his experience.
Masillamoni, Wilson and Laurent Chenot joined forces, driven by their shared passion for Halfmoon bettas. To secure the trait in a stable lineage, they regularly traded off their best fish - occasionally migrating one to all three dwellings in America, France and Switzerland. This enabled them to accelerate their breeding process; the results were carefully documented with both photos and records, allowing each subsequent generation to be even better than its predecessor.
In 1992, Masillamoni and Wilson entered their best Halfmoon bettas into the IBC Convention in Alabama, determined to continue their work with fish lines even if the competition didn't go their way. To their delight, one of their fish won second place in the Form and Finnage Variations category, although the coveted first prize and Best Of Show award were still awarded to the round-tailed bettas.
The International Betta Splendens Club was established as a direct result of the increasing popularity of Halfmoon bettas among breeders. It was at this time that Masillamoni, one of the leading breeders, was approached by Marc Maurin who requested a pair of Halfmoons to begin his own breeding program in France. Although Masillamoni had only five males he deemed suitable for breeding, he nonetheless chose the least desirable and gave it to Maurin. A few weeks later, when Masillamoni was preparing for an upcoming show in the US, Maurin sent back the same male claiming it could not be bred. Despite not meeting his standards, Masillamoni still included it in his selection along with four of its brothers.
Masillamoni was on his way to the exhibit with a bag of 25 aquarium fish, when he was interrupted by a flight attendant who informed him that the size of the bag exceeded the allowed space for overhead compartments and had to be placed in cargo hold. Masillamoni argued that these were valuable live fish travelling for an important show in America and he could not bear to part with them. He firmly declared that if the bags were not kept in the cabin, he would not fly. The flight attendant eventually agreed to let him bring them into First Class so they could fit comfortably in an overhead compartment for their journey. Both parties reluctantly accepted this agreement.
In the middle of his flight, Masillamoni discovered that his beloved fish had been moved to the luggage compartment. In a panic, he searched desperately for their bag only to find it in an unpressurized hold - all 25 bags were burst and the fish lay barely moving inside. Alerted by Masillamoni's loud cries of distress, the Chief Steward - an aquarium enthusiast - stepped in to help. He procured a plastic bag and instructed the stewards to bring him bottled water that was heated with a hairdryer until it reached room temperature before dropping the bettas into it. Much to Masillamoni's relief, each one survived.
Masillamoni was kept busy as an assistant Referee at the show, but couldn't help noticing that his Halfmoon bettas were, once again, overlooked in comparison to round and delta tails. Trying to remain composed, he concentrated on his duties and refrained from letting his disappointment show. Little did he know when he began judging the class winners for Best of Show that a very unique green male Halfmoon had taken first prize. Upon closer inspection Masillamoni realized this was the fish returned by Marc Maurin which he himself had deemed unworthy of entering the competition. Even more remarkable was that despite all the better Halfmoons present, this one still managed to top the Turquoise/Green category and secure its place in the running for Best Fish.
Masillamoni nervously bit her fingernails as the Best Fish nominees were eliminated one by one. The green Halfmoon was still in contention, and the referees slowly whittled down the competition until only it and a blue male bred by Peter Goettner with an impressive 160 degree tail spread remained. Though it seemed that the referees had a clear preference for Goettner's fish, the results remained uncertain. As a last resort, they called upon Mr. Jim Williams - an experienced Referee who had previously awarded Goettner's fish first place in the Blue category - to decide between them. After inspecting both contenders under a bright flashlight and passing a magnifying glass over them for 10 minutes, he exclaimed 'There it is!' he finally announced to the waiting crowd. 'The blue is missing a scale.' Consequently, the Green Halfmoon from Switzerland was awarded the IBC Convention Best of Show Male award.
The Halfmoon betta was first brought to prominence when a reporter from FAMA Magazine noticed its unusualness and featured it on the cover of the magazine, along with a story about its origin. With increased availability, breeders all across the US and Europe were drawn to this strain of fish, and started breeding in such a way as to produce a 180-degree tail pattern. The combination of the quality of these fish and their increasing popularity led them to become quite sought after, eventually leading to successes in numerous competitions around the United States.
In the late 1990s, Thai breeders made special requests to European and American counterparts for Halfmoon stock, hoping they could help Asians establish themselves in the breeding scene. Considering their ideal breeding conditions and environment, by 2003 these fish were of higher quality than those found in Europe and America. Nowadays, Halfmoons are a priority among breeders across the globe who strive to produce superior specimens with a combination of passion and scientific knowledge that's not commonly seen with other pets. These fish have redefined what it means to be a “Show Betta” - truly setting the standard for excellence.
Rajiv Masillamoni from Switzerland was a great help in the making of this article. Both Rajiv and Markus Gutzeit were very generous with their time and resources, speaking to us over the phone from Switzerland and providing pages of letters, notes and photographs for our project. It was truly remarkable to witness Rajiv's passion, charm and dedication to the intricate history of HM form. Unfortunately, due to limited capacity, not everything could be included in my work; however I felt compelled to share this wonderful story that Rajiv had shared with me. My hope is that everyone can appreciate it as much as I did!