The Mysterious Origins of the Betta Fish

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By Linh Nguyen Updated on 02 Feb 2023

Betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish  ( Betta splendens ), originate from Thailand and Cambodia. They have a long history of being bred for fighting competitions, which is why the betta's brightly colored fins are so long and flowing. These days, however, bettas are mostly kept as pets all over the world. Bettas can be found in almost any pet store or aquarium and they come in a variety of vibrant colors such as blue, red, and purple. Additionally, most varieties of bettas have an especially eye-catching tail shape that stands out amongst other aquarium dwellers. Betta Fish are some of the hardiest freshwater aquatics available and require only minimal maintenance to sustain their health. They thrive in small tanks with plenty of plants and other decorations to swim around. With the proper care, Bettas can live up to five years or longer! 

Betta fish are a rewarding pet for both experienced aquarists and beginners alike. With their bold personalities, impressive colors, and interesting behaviors, these fish make an excellent addition to any aquarium. Whether kept in isolation or with fellow tank mates, Bettas are sure to bring plenty of joy into your home. With just a bit of research and dedication, you can ensure that your betta lives a long and happy life.

If you have ever wondered what makes these fascinating creatures so unique, this blog post is for you! In it, we’ll discuss the many interesting facts about betta fish including their diet, habitat requirements, and breeding habits. We’ll also explore some of the common myths associated with these fish and provide advice on how to best care for them. So whether you're thinking about getting one or want to learn more about these amazing animals - read on!

Origin and history of betta fish

Origin and history of betta fish

1. What is a betta fish?

Betta splendens, or Betta fish, are best known for their wild habitats in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They can be found inhabiting a range of still and shallow water areas such as rice fields, ponds, and lagoons. The ideal temperature for their well-being is between 27 to 30 degrees Celsius with soft water that has a neutral or slightly acidic pH level. Male bettas will typically make bubble nests under fallen leaves or in seaweed to attract females to lay eggs during the spawning season. Females then deposit hundreds of eggs which hatch after around one day. The fry is cared for by their father until they become able to swim independently on their own. 

At the beginning of their life, bettas glean sustenance from the microorganisms present in the water. As they grow older, they start feasting on things like boobies and larva. Rice fields or ponds that are lush with vegetation makes for an excellent habitat as well as a plentiful source of food for these fish. Bettas reach maturity roughly between four to six months and can then start reproducing. Each rainy season, floods disperse these fish into surrounding waters so that their species can continue its cycle over and over again.

In the wild, Betta splendens usually live in mossy areas

In the wild, Betta splendens usually live in mossy areas

When spawning, the male fish usually releases foam.

When spawning, the male fish usually releases foam.

2. Origin

The betta fish, also known as the Siamese fighting fish, is a species of freshwater labyrinth fish native to Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia. 

The history of the betta fish goes all the way back to ancient Siam where they have been bred and used in traditional fights since the 19th century. In these fights, two males would compete in a confined space until one was declared the victor. This practice was popular among the Thai people to show their courage and strength.

In 1840, the King of Thailand presented renowned Danish physician Theodore Edward Cantor with some of his prized fish. Nine years later, Cantor documented this species and named it Macropodus pugnax in a published paper. 

In 1909, the discovery of a related species prompted British ichthyologist Charles Tate Regan to rename the domesticated Siamese fighting fish as Betta splendens or "splendid warrior".

The name 'betta' is derived from ikan betah, an Indonesian term meaning "I can't stop" which shows their tendency for aggressive behavior towards one another.

The betta fish has become increasingly popular as an aquarium fish in recent years due to its vibrant colors, interesting behavior, and relatively easy care requirements. In addition to its popularity in the home aquarium market, it is also a popular target for scientific research due to its ability to live comfortably in small volumes of water and tolerate extreme temperatures. 

The betta fish is a unique species that has been around for centuries, providing entertainment through fighting and beauty through colorful displays. While it is still used in traditional fights today, it has gained widespread recognition as one of the most strikingly beautiful freshwater aquarium fish available. The popularity of this species continues to rise with each passing day. 

A beautiful red halfmoon

A beautiful red halfmoon

3. Betta fish: From the wild environment to the world of ornamental fish

3.1. From wild betta to Siamese fighting fish

Bettas are highly territorial, males often compete for the most desirable bubble nest location. Their fighting abilities have been honed to a fine art, with dangerous and varied maneuvers being used. It was farmers working in the fields who first noticed these heated battles. For centuries, wild bettas would be captured by farmers and their children to battle each other during leisure time or at traditional local festivals.

Thailand is a place renowned for domesticating wild bettas and selecting them over many generations for the purpose of fighting. After hundreds of years, these domesticated fighting fish developed into a breed that looks significantly different from their wild counterparts—they boast more widespread and uniform iridescence, as well as larger heads, bodies, and tails. In the early 20th century, when global trade was booming, plakat— as they are referred to in Thailand—from Thailand spread to many parts of the world.

3.2. From Siamese fighting fish to modern ornamental betta

The longtail Siamese is a mutant strain of the Siamese fighting fish and has been bred by Thai breeders for ornamental purposes since its introduction to Europe and America in the early 20th century. Warren Young, an American breeder, began breeding bettas with longer than normal tails - known as chiffon tail fish - in the 1960s. Subsequent mutations have produced other types of ornamental bettas, such as delta, superdelta, halfmoon, crowntail, giant betta and ornamental plakat. These fishes come in a variety of shapes and colors including blue, turquoise, steel blue, cambodian red black yellow orange white bronze bicolor multicolor and even butterfly-like patterns and jade.

Betta fish, with their vibrant colors and various fin shapes, have become a hot favorite among aquarium keepers due to their beauty and ease of care. Perhaps the most popular strain is the Halfmoon betta, which has been created through decades of painstaking efforts from breeders on both sides of Europe and America. This particular breed has sparked a wave of excitement amongst fish lovers around the world.

Today, modern ornamental bettas are thriving all around the globe, including their native Thailand. Their beauty, diversity, and mythical status have attracted increasing numbers of people to take an interest in these fish and nurture them accordingly.

4. Wild Betta Fish

Betta is the name of both a domesticated species (Betta splendens) and a genus of fish belonging to the labyrinth group. Members of this group possess an accessory respiratory organ located above the gills and just behind the eyes, known as the labyrinth. This structure is composed of numerous grooves and tiny capillaries which allow fish to absorb oxygen directly from air, enabling them to survive in low-oxygen environments or even narrow crevices and buffalo footprints during dry seasons.

According to the new taxonomy, three families of fish, namely Anabantidae, Helostomatidae and Osphronemidae, comprise the Labyrinth group. It is mainly distributed in Southeast Asia, with some occurrences in India and Africa. Currently, genus Betta falls under the family Osphronemidae; however, many documents have yet to update this information and continue to list it under its former family Belontiidae.

Below is a list of genera belonging to the group labyrinth.

Set of perciformes

Suborder Anabantoidei (a group of fish with a maze)

Family Anabantidae

  • Genus perch Anabas, Ctenopoma, Sandelia.

Coriander family Helostomatidae

  • The genus Helostoma.

The Osphronemidae family of giant fishes

Family Belontiinae

  • Genus flat perch Belontia.

Family Macropodinae

  • Genus Betta, marlin Macropodus, betel nut Trichopsis, Malpulutta, Parosphromenus, Pseudosphromenus.

Family Luciocephalinae

  • Genus Trichogaster, Colisa, Ctenops, Luciocephalus, Parasphaerichthys and Sphaerichthys.

Family Osphroneminae

  • Genus Osphronemus.
Labyrinthine anatomy of a betta fish

Labyrinthine anatomy of a betta fish

In 2005, Tan Heok Hui and Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore published a significant betta work titled "Wild Bettas in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei". Through their research, they reorganized and grouped the genus. They also identified 23 new species. The following year, six additional new species were discovered, bringing the total number of Betta species to nearly 70!

The ancestor of modern ornamental bettas, Betta splendens, belongs to the group Splendens along with four other species: Betta imbellis, Betta smaragdina, Betta sp. Mahachai and Betta stiktos. This is a very small number compared to the total number of wild species in the same genus, Betta.

Wild bettas have evolved to inhabit a wide variety of habitats, from the acidic peat swamps in Selangor to the brackish estuary waters in Mahachai. They have adapted their reproductive behavior as well, ranging from foam nesting to mouthbrooding - enabling them to survive and thrive in environments with fast-flowing currents. Despite their varied lifestyles, all wild bettas share one thing: their vibrant colors which make them so visually captivating.

Currently, besides the modern ornamental betta movement, there is a part of aquarists who love and cherish wild bettas. Taming them in the aquarium is a challenging endeavor, especially for some species that require specialized living conditions. However, with further research and dissemination of knowledge on raising such fish, hopefully people around the world will have the chance to own these stunning creatures in the future.

Male fish species Betta Channoides

Male fish species Betta Channoides

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