Knowing how to care for your wild betta fish is essential if you want to enjoy them the fullest and give them a happy life. Although there is much online about how to care for the domestic Betta splendens, there seems to be a lot of misinformation on the care of wild bettas. Keeping a wild betta is different from keeping a domestic and reading up on how to care for them properly is recommended (congratulations if you are reading this ;)).
If you plan on (or already) keeping a wild betta, this full wild betta care sheet should give you a complete image on how to care for it.

What are wild betta fish?

In the 1800’s people first started collecting bettas to make them fight each other. For more than two centuries, those bettas have been selectively bred for various factors such as aggression, color and shape. This makes them one of the most recognisable and diverse fish in the aquarium world. But what many people don’t know are the species where the domestic Betta splendens have been created from. Wild betta fish are the original bettas like how they originally live in Southeast Asia and are still its original form. 

The genetic structures of the domestic Betta splendens has been created out of various species from the B. splendens complex. With the base of it being the genetics of the wild Betta splendens and this is why domestics have been called the same.

The distribution of Betta sp. ranges from northern Thailand to Borneo. Did you know there are 73 recognized species divided under 13 complexes? The most famous is the Betta splendens complex, where 6 species are placed under:

Betta splendens
Photo by FranksBettas
Photo by FranksBettas
Photo by C. Kowasupat
Photo by FranksBettas

In this care sheet we will focus on species from the B. splendens group, if you want to read specified guides for care of other species, take a look at the Betta species page.

The habitat of wild betta fish consists of mostly low-oxygen pools and rice-fields. There are many plants and little predators which makes it ideal for bettas to thrive. Substrate consists of organic material such as leafs, this ensures lots of tannins and provides extra hiding places.

Wild Betta habitat in Thailand
Wild Betta habitat. Photo @Frank Sriboribun

Setting up a tank your your wild betta fish

If you want to keep a wild Betta, the first thing needed is a suitable setup. In order to provide your betta fish with a good environment where it can thrive, its natural habitat should be mimicked. I wouldn’t recommend keeping your wilds in a busy community tank. Most wilds are shy and don’t do well with a lot of busy fish around them. It is best to prepare a dedicated setup.

The perfect tank for wild bettas
Photo by Peter Luijtens

Plants are the most important thing in your tank. Apart from improving the water quality it provides shelter and a natural touch where your fish feel safe. In addition to real plants, you could add fake plants, but live plants are highly recommended since fish certainly feel the difference.

Some plants I recommend for your tank:

  • Anubias sp. A great plant which can survive in almost all circumstances. Can live perfectly under low-lighting setups and doesn’t need nutritions.
  • 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.
  • Java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) A fast growing plant which provides a lot of hiding places for your fish.
  • Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana) Again a fast growing plant which is very tough and can live under almost all circumstances. 
  • Cryptocoryne sp. Out of personal experience this plant grows very well, even in small 4 gallon tanks and thrives with the Bettas.
Anubias nana, Limnobium laevigatum, Leptochilus pteropus, Vesicularia dubyana, Cryptocoryne wendtii

As a rule of dumb, you can add every 25cm at least one plant. Of course, you can always add more or less, depending on your tank and personal preferences.

Adding catappa leaves to your tank adds useful tannins to your water, just like in the wild habitats where those are created by the substrate. Tannins give your water a brown color and prevent diseases, higher your fish’s immunity and lower the pH. Plus if you decide to leave the used leaves in the tank it provides some nice cover and creates a natural touch. Hardscapes such as stones (without chalch) or wood are great too and provide extra hiding and tannins.

Anubias nana, Limnobium laevigatum, Leptochilus pteropus, Vesicularia dubyana, Cryptocoryne wendtii

As of soils, a darker soil is recommended. This is because Bettas feel safer and the colors come out better. There are plenty of pH lowering soils on the market who are great for your plants too.

As an alternative for the mostly expensive aquarium soils you could use cheap filter sand. It is a kind of sand who has rounded edges which prevent the slipping and rotting of the substrate. 

Bettas prefer shaded, low-lighting setups and it makes them feel more safe. To achieve this floating plants or high and big plants are a great solution. It also provides cover and a good place for the male to build his nest. 

A great video of a tank for B. imbellis. Note that this is a breeding tank used temporarily for spawning. 

A filter is optional. In bigger tanks it might be good to have some circulation and plants certainly benefit from it too. However, make sure your filter doesn’t produce a fast current. This is why I prefer a sponge filter. It is fully biological, doesn’t create a current and cheap.

Tank mates?

Like stated before, it is best to not keep bettas in regular community tanks. This doesn’t mean however that you can not keep any other fish with them. There are many fish who can live peacefully next to your betta. Just keep in mind that your betta needs place and theritory. Putting too much tank mates in can still result in fights and stress. 

Good tank mates are for example rasbora species, shrimps, small tetras. Here’s a small list of what you could add.

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 🙂

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.

Food

Bettas are fully carnivorous and feed on small insects and water creatures. In order to provide them with enough nutrients, vitamins and minerals is recommended. Good foods are frozen foods such as daphnia, mosquito larvae, artemia and bloodworms. If you want to give your fish something extra, live foods are a great choice. Sometimes they can be picky towards dry foods like flakes or pellets.

Water parameters

As of water parameters, these guys aren’t picky. For different species pH in the wild fluctuates, but mostly it is between 5.5 and 6.5. As long as your parameters are stable, most tap water is fine. Try achieving a pH of in between 6 and 7.5 for captive bred fish. Temperature can range between 72° and 80° F. Read our in depth articles for more information about water parameters per species. Betta species

Maintenance

Just as with all other fish, there are certain things you will need to do to maintain your tank. In order to keep a healthy ecosystem where your Betta is happy and your plants grow regular water changes are needed. If you have plants, those will take out a lot of nitrites. If you have a filter, the bacteria in the filter will do that too. 

This doesn’t mean however that water changes aren’t needed anymore. Smaller tanks will need more water changes
If you are keeping your betta in a small tank more water changes are needed. Small tanks have a less stable system and so risks of certain parameters getting out of balance is bigger.
In general, a tank between 5 and 10 gallons should need water changes 1-2 times of 50% or higher.

Changing water is also some gut feeling. There aren’t fixed rules on how many times you should freshen the water and every tank and its ecosystem is different. Sometimes the best and most beautiful tanks are those who don’t follow everything in the books.

Buying a wild betta fish

Wild bettas are often hard to find and you probably aren’t going to see them in regular pet stores. The hardest thing is finding a pure, non-hybrid fish. If you can, buy from a reputable breeder who you know you can trust. Here are a few tips to see if you are buying from a good seller:
  • Check names – I can’t remember how many times I have seen wild bettas labeled wrong. The most misconceptions are between B. mahachaiensis and Alien Bettas. Always compare pictures to the fish you are buying.
  • Check other fish – Is the seller also selling other fish or fully focussing on bettas? If so, your breeder is probably pretty trustworthy. If not, you might need to pay some extra attention.
  • Look out for hybrids – Hybrids are a huge thing in the wild betta community. It can be hard to distinguish hybrids from pure fish and it will need some practice. Look at the typical appearance of the species you are buying. of the species you are buying. If you don’t plan on breeding yourself you might not have an issue with hybrids, which is fine too.
  • Search for healthy fish – Watch out for classic diseases and look if your fish wims lively. Healthy males will mostly flare at its reflection and have birght and clear colors and eyes.

These are tips for all breeders including out of your own country. That being said, there is a big chance you will find quality and healthy fish directly from asia. The downsides from importing directly out of Asia is that it’s slightly more risky and mostly more expensive due transshipping costs. 

What do you think about wild betta fish? Do you have experience keeping them? Let us know in the comments!