What are wild bettas?
Wild Betta Fish are the collection of all Betta species living in the wild. The domestic Betta, which has been crossbred and hybridized for decades, comes from a couple of these species. In total there are 73 species of Betta fish living in the wild.
These 73 species are divided into 13 groups called ‘complexes’. Each group has its own set of characteristics and looks different. The most famous wild betta species are from the Betta splendens complex, where the genetics of the domestic betta come from.
Where do wild betta fish live?
Wild betta fish live in Southeast Asia in the countries Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. A lot of less known primarily mouthbrooding wild betta species living on Borneo and Indonesia too. The natural habitat consists of rice fields and often oxygen-poor where they breathe directly from air.
In Thailand and neighbouring countries, wild betta fish live in shallow streams and pools such as rice puddles. Their habitat consists of plant rich and tannin packed pools, with barely any current. This makes it ideal for males to develop more extensive but impractical fins and colouring.
Here, wild bettas survive by building so-called bubble nests and hunting small insects. The more well-known wild betta species such as Betta imbellis and Betta splendens come from these habitats and are bubble nesting bettas.
On the other hand we have the wild Betta species that live on the islands of indonesia. Mostly on Borneo (Kalimantan), but also other islands such as Sumatra and Java.
These species have to survive in whole different conditions: streams with barely plants and usually some sort of current in them. This makes the species less extravagant and more efficient. But this doesn’t mean it’s less beautiful (look at Betta macrostoma ;)). Due to this different habitat, most species don’t build bubble nests but are mouthbrooding species.
Unfortunately, many wild betta species are in a critical situation. Their habitats are being destroyed rapidly for mostly agriculture and industry. Many betta habitats seem like the ideal place for these economic purposes.
Perhaps the most endangered wild betta species is Betta mahachaiensis. It lives exclusively around the area of Bangkok, where industries are rapidly claiming ground and destroying its precious habitats.
Other endagered species live on the islands of Indonesia. Habitats of species like Betta macrostoma are under great pressure due to oil palm plantations.
People like Frank Sriboribun do a great job by breeding and releasing wild betta specimens for conservation purposes.
Wild betta species
As stated above, as I am writing this there are 73 recognised species of betta fish, divided into 11 so called complexes. From small bubble nesters to big mouthbrooders, all are part of the Betta genus.
I have listed a couple of my favorite wild betta types below, with their characteristics and needs.
Often referred to as peaceful betta or crescent betta, because of its red eclipse on the tail. Betta imbellis is a very appealing species for most beginners, due to its beautiful appearance and more tolerant behaviour.
It is similar to Betta splendens in terms of care and is best kept alone. In some conditions however a pair can be kept. The most important part is the size of the tank. Individual males or females can be kept in 5 gallon tanks, but pairs need at least a 20 gallon tank with a lot of plants to have a chance of success.
Myth debunked: 'Peaceful Betta'
Often referred to as peaceful betta, there is a common misconception that Betta imbellis pairs can be kept together. Out of my own experience, I can debunk this myth.
Betta imbellis remains a territorial species, and I have seen many cases where the male attacks the female because of territorial reasons. Keeping them together without preparation or in a setup that’s not optimal, may result in fighting.
That being said, Betta imbellis is a slightly more tolerant species as opposed to f.e. Betta splendens. Thus, many sources claim that pairs can be kept in the same tank, without providing any extra information or disclaimers.
In general, it is not a good idea to keep multiple mixed genders of Betta imbellis in the same tank. Only with enough research this can be a success.
I find that there only is a good chance of success when the following criteria are met.
- Tank size
A tank of at least 15 gallons. Preferably with low water level, so the plants create more isolated pockets of water.
Enough hiding material such as plants is crucial to have success on keeping Betta imbellis as a pair. Plants will create hiding places and the fish will be able to create their own space. Other hiding places such as catappa leaves and wood are great too.
Betta macrostoma (Brunei Beauty)
When thinking about Betta splendens, many people instantly think about the domestic betta. But the domestic betta is in fact a hybridized wild Betta splendens. The base of its genetics are those of the wild B. splendens, mixed in with some other species such as Betta smaragdina and Betta mahachaiensis.
Betta splendens behaviour is thus the most similar to that of the domestic betta, and one of the more aggressive wild betta species. This species should always be kept alone.
It can be recognized by it’s dark scaling all over the body, but it has intense red coloration on the anal and caudal fin and accents on the ventrals and dorsal fin.
In terms of tank and parameters, it is similar to species like Betta imbellis and other species in the splendens complex.
Betta hendra is a relatively small wild betta species that can be kept in pair. It is part of the betta coccina complex. It has red cheeks and a green-blue body, which makes it easy recognizable.
A pair can be kept in a tank of at least 10 gallons, if heavily planted and decorated. Betta hendra is a bubble nester and likes tubing to hide in and build their nest in.
Bubble nesting vs. mouthbrooding betta fish
Within wild bettas, there can be made a clear distinction between bubble nesting species and mouthbrooding species. Apart from their way of reproducing they are also different in terms of appearance.
First off, as the name suggests, bubble nesters are species that reproduce by building floating ‘nests’ using their labyrinth organ. Males breathe bubbles and will create a nest, whereafter he will put the eggs in and care for the fry.
The eggs of bubble nesters hatch very fast, but fry is reliant on the bubble nest and the care of their father. Huge batches of 200+ fries aren’t uncommon.
Mouthbrooding betta fish are quite the opposite. Due to their different habitat, the males carry the eggs in their mouths. This is why males of these species have bigger mouths (Betta macrostoma f.e.).
Batches are very small, since the capacity is limited and eggs can take up to three weeks to hatch. After this, fry will stay for numerous days in the fathers mouth to feed off their yolk sack, before they are released.
Wild betta tank setup
Although many concepts with creating a setup for domestic bettas apply to wild betta fish, there are some things to keep in mind when setting up a tank specifically for wild betta fish.
Plants are by far the most important part of any wild betta tank setup. Apart from providing a more natural look and feel for your fish, plants create hiding places and clean the water.
In a wild betta tank, aim for around one plant every 4 inches. This way there are enough plants to create a setup that’s as natural as possible.
The kinds of plants you use don’t really matter that much, but there are some plants that I prefer. Floating plants are beneficial, as well as big leaved plants. Both create more shadow in the tank and floating plants provide nesting possibilities. Big leaved plants create resting places near the surface. Here are some plants I like to put in a setup for wild betta fish.
- Anubias – Anubias is a small, robust plant that lives on wood or other hard structures. When your plant has reached a reasonable size, its roots and leaves create great structures for fish to hide in.
I find anubias also to be a very tough plant, that doesn’t need a lot of filtration or lighting.
- Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum) – Floating plants such as frogbit provide great cover in the upper layer, provide shadow and support the bubble nest of the male. The long roots are ideal hiding places for fry and create a more natural look.
- Java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) – A fast growing plant which provides a lot of hiding places for your fish. It is very easy in terms of nutrients and lighting. The only thing it needs is a rock or piece of wood to attach to.
- Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana) – Again a fast growing plant which is very tough and can live under almost all circumstances. Preferably it has something to attach to, so it doesn’t spread out in an uneven form. This plant doesn’t provide that much cover for adult fish, but for fry it’s a great addition.
- Cryptocoryne sp. – Out of personal experience this plant grows very well, even in small 4 gallon tanks and thrives with bettas. Sometimes, it melts away when planting, but after this it will return into a beautiful full plant.
As a minimum, a single male can be held in a tank of 4 gallons. In a relatively small tank a male will be able to establish his territory without having to defend a huge tank. In a big tank, this can become an issue. Certainly when there aren’t a lot of plants in a big tank males get stressed. 4-10 gallons is ideal.
Apart from usually getting a little larger, mouthbrooders swim more in their tank. It is also entirely possible to keep multiple fish in the same tank. If the aquarium is big enough and there are enough hiding places such as plants and wood.
For a pair of a species like Betta macrostoma, a tank of at least 20 gallons is advised. This gives the fish enough place to hide from each other and to add some small tank mates. Other small species like Betta channoides can be kept in a 10 gallon tank.
A filter is optional in most setups, if there are enough plants in the tank. A single betta doesn’t produce a lot of waste and with regular water changes and plants it creates a good biological balance.If you are however looking into adding tank mates and thus adding extra biomass, a filter is useful to add. Sponge filters for betta fish are a good addition, since they are fully biological and create some current in the water, without stressing the betta.
Indian almond leaves (or catappa leaves) are crucial in every wild betta tank. They have numerous advantages and will make sure your wild betta feels comfortable and has a healthy life. First off, the leaves create hiding places and contribute to a more natural setup. Bettas love to hide under sunken leaves and the tannins color the water so it feels more natural.
But maybe even more important, Indian almond leaves add tannins and chemicals to the water that increase the resistance of your fish. Your fish will be less vulnerable do fungus and other infections.
Read more about Indian almond leaves for betta fish
Wild betta fish care
Betta fish in the wild eat all kinds of insects and invertebrates. They basically eat anything that fits in their mouth and is alive. Some species such as Betta pallifina where the males sometimes become over 5 inches, eat small fish and crayfish.
So, in captivity it is eligible to feed some sort of variation in diet. You can go for frozen food, dried food or alive foods and all will do well. It is important to not just feed one type of food (especially when going for frozen or alive foods), since this doesn’t provide all the nutrients they need. Pellets are a good choice since they consist of a lot of different kinds of invertebrates.
Popular types are mosquito larvae (white and black), tubifex, daphnia and bloodworms.
As for dried foods, it is important to go for a pellet that contains a lot of meat and protein, without fillers or plant material.
Captive bred wild betta fish tend to be tolerant towards water parameters. wild caught fish tend to be more sensitive, since water parameters in the wild can be very different from normal tap water.
Wild betta fish can be kept on a pH between and 7.5, although this isn’t rocket science. If the tank water is kept clean, catappa leaves and a lot of plants are added, wild betta fish will do fine.
The water temperature should be between 72 and 80° F. The higher the temperature, the faster the metabolism and the more should be fed.
Wild betta tank mates
It is always the safest to keep your wild betta fish alone. This way the betta has its own tank to create a territory without any potential sources of stress.However, in a tank that’s a good size, some fish can be added to create a more lively setup.
When picking fish to keep with a wild betta, it is important to buy fish that are calm and don’t have the same territorial temperament as betta fish. When doing this, it will cause lots of fights and eventually death of the fishes.
Here are some calm fish species that can be kept with wild betta fish.
Neocaridina shrimp – Many shrimps such as cherry shrimp are a great addition for your betta tank. Neocaridina shrimps are easier and more tough than the cardina shrimps such as crystal red. Shrimp also love feasting on catappa leaves and are great cleaners. That being said, your betta might eat some as a snack. Another reason to add a lot of plants and hiding material.
Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha) – This fish lives in the natural habitat of bettas and is used to the same conditions as your betta fish. You can keep them in small groups of 8 fish.
Corydoras pygmaeus – A bottom dweller aquarium fish who is great for cleaning up food on the bottom. Since bettas live in the upper layer of the aquarium and cory’s are a calm species it is a great match.
Snails – Snails are another great cleaning tank mate. They don’t swim and so your betta will not see them as intruders in his territory.
Breeding wild betta fish
You probably saw it coming, but again plants are very important to spawn these fish successfully. In every breeding setups, there should be at least some plants to create cover for the female and later for the fry.
As of tank, a 10 gallon does the trick. Lower the water level To 5-10 inches and adding something like bubble wrap or a catappa leaf where the male can build his bubble nest.
When the tank has been set up, you can start conditioning the pair. Another crucial step in the breeding process. Conditioning prepares the fish for spawning and the female will start developing eggs.
Do this by feeding lots of high nutrient food and regularly showing the off the female to the male.
When conditioned for two weeks, the spawn can be intiated. Put the female in a bottle along with the male in the spawning tank. During this time, the male will flare and build a nest with the female being put safely out of reach. After this, the female can be released (the female should show extensive vertical lines).
A spawn can take a couple of days and when there are added enough plants the female will be able to hide if necessary. It is highly important to keep an eye on the pair and separate them when the male is too aggressive.
After the spawn has happened, remove the female or the male will see her as an intruder.
Where to buy wild betta fish
Since wild betta fish aren’t that known, they aren’t available at the regular fish store. You will most likely need to find a breeder or seller that specialises in this fish. Facebook groups are a great place where lots of breeders and enthusiasts offer fish for sale.
The second option is importing betta fish from asia. There’s a big chance that the betta fish in your local store get their fish from an Asian seller and it is entirely possible to import wild betta fish yourself.
In Asian countries, there will be a lot more choice and the price per fish will be lower. The quality standards are very high and when searching, you can find amazing fish for a reasonable price.
Unfortunately, importing betta fish will be more expensive due to shipping and handling costs that transshippers charge. The hassle of finding a reputable seller and transshipper will take some time which makes it not ideal for everyone.
If you are looking into buying a wild betta, always watch out for hybrids. There are tons of hybrids on the market which makes it hard to find pure specimens. Hybrids can be recognised mostly by deviant coloratian and fins.
Caring for wild betta fish is a little different than caring for a normal domestic betta, but with some good preparation they are magnificent and beautiful fish to care for. Here are some summarized tips:
- Add plants and leaves to your tank. This creates a natural setup for your wild bettas.
- Feed a variated diet
- Look into the care of each individual species. Not all species should be kept the same way. Do your research on the species you want to keep to make sure your betta will have all he needs.
- Watch out for hybrids. Hybrids are starting to get more common. So look closely and compare to pure bloodlines before purchasing your fish.