If you have been looking at the domestic Betta splendens for a while, and question whether there are any similar brothers of the well-known Siamese fighting fish. The answer is absolutely!
Betta splendens, or as I like to call them the domestic betta is actually a hybrid and domesticated fish, that has been in our aquarium trade for decades. This makes them actually a hybrid which isn’t actually living in the wild anymore.
There are 73 species of wild bettas that still live in the wild, from small bubble-nesters to big mouthbrooding species, all called ‘betta fish’. All are different from the domestic Betta splendens, and in my eyes at least as interesting and beautiful to keep.
Wondering why Betta splendens is on this list? Wasn’t this the normal domesticated betta?
To understand where the domestic betta comes from and how it differs from this species, I’ll give you some background about it.
In the 1800’s, local people started catching various betta species to make them fight in a jar and they would gamble on which fish would win. This made the betta very popular and they gained the attention of the king of Siam (now Thailand), who made them internationally famous.
People started breeding and hybridizing the original Betta splendens to create more colourful, bigger and more aggressive specimens. The wild Betta splendens is the base of the domestic Betta splendens genetics and so the domestic betta has been given the same name.
The wild Betta splendens is a little less shiny or extravagant as its cousins, but it’s certainly worth looking at. It is one of the more aggressive species of wild bettas and is the most widely spread betta fish. Both have contributed to its fast-rising popularity.
It’s easy recognizable by its dark coloration without much scaling all over the body and deep red markings on the caudal, anal and ventral fins.
It’s one of the more easy to care for wild betta types, but some experience is necessary to keep them successful. The most important thing when keeping them is that you need more plants and natural cover. Your tank should be as natural as possible.
Some sources claim wild Betta splendens can be kept in pairs, but wild Betta splendens can be just as aggressive and don’t hesitate to kill each other. This wild betta species should be kept seperate, not in pairs for the safety of both male and female.
Betta imbellis often called the peaceful betta or crescent betta is one of the more known wild betta types. And if you look at it’s appearance, it’s no wonder why.
Betta imbellis is easily recognizable by its green color all over the body and the red eclipse on the caudal fin. Its anal and dorsal fins and ventrals show red markings. Under LED light, blue accents show on the anal fin.
It’s one of the smaller Betta species in the B. splendens complex and can be kept in a tank of at least 5 gallons for a single male. Always add live plants, a filter is optional if you do enough water changes.
It originates from wild habitats in Malaysia where the pH is between 6 and 7. If your tap water has a high pH it can be interesting to try lowering it. Although captive bred specimens usually do fine at tap water. The most important thing is that you change water regularly and stable water parameters.
Many people claim that Betta imbellis is peaceful and can be kept in pairs without problem or aggression. However it’s nature is slightly more tolerant than for example Betta splendens, Betta imbellis can just as easily kill each other and easily get aggressive towards each other.
I do not recommend keeping Betta imbellis together, unless you have a tank of at least 20 gallons. The safest is to keep one male separated from any females, and only place them together for breeding purposes.
Betta foerschi is a less-known Betta species. It is part of the B. foerschi complex. It’s most similar to Betta hendra and shares the same color and similar markings on the cheeks. Other species similar are Betta stohi and Betta mandor, also part of the B. foerschi complex
It lives in western Borneo around the area of mandor, in swamps sometimes only a few inches deep.
Betta foerschi is a mouthbrooder and can be kept in pairs in a tank of at least 15 gallons. A filter is a good choice to create some current.
Betta foerschi does best on acidic water with a low pH. You can choose organic materials such as catappa leaves, a pH lowering soil or RO water. Natural materials should be added to replicate its wild habitat.
This species lives on northern sumatra in similar conditions to other species such as Betta coccina in peat swamp forests. It lives in blackwater pools with little to no other fish species.
Betta rubra can be recognized by its deep red coloring with vertical bars/stripes on the flanks. Rubra means ‘red’ in Latin hence the name. Males have more intense coloration and females tend to have gray more dull coloration.
It is possible to keep this species in pairs in a tank of 10 gallons or bigger. A small group can be housed in a tank of 15 gallons. When kept together, lots of plants and natural cover should be added to provide hiding places.
Betta rubra is a mouthbrooding betta species and the male cares for the eggs in his mouth. The male cares for the eggs and fry for around two weeks. After this period he releases fully developed fry which can be fed baby brine shrimp.
Betta channoides is a small mouthbrooding complex part of the Betta albimarginata complex. It is often called snakehead betta due to its snakehead-like shape and body figure. Betta channoides is a small, max 4cm big mouthbrooding species. In nature, it lives on eastern Kalimantan in small blackwater streams.
It has a bright orange-red color with balck fins with white edges. Females are less colorful and have more vertical stripes.
Betta channoides can be kept in groups in a relatively small tank and lives peacefully together. Tank mates can be added if they are peaceful and calm. Barbs or big territorial species aren’t a good choice and will harm your bettas and outcompete them.
Betta channoides is a small betta species and a pair can be housed in a tank of 10 gallons. The tank should contain lots of plants and organic materials such as Indian almond leaves. A group can be housed in a tank of 15 gallons.
Betta macrostoma is one of the most appealing betta species for most betta keepers hence their name the Brunei Beauty. They are big and males have bright coloration which makes them very recognizable. It is often called the holy grail of betta fish
One of the first things you notice when looking at this fish is their very big mouth. In fact, it’s actually called after it. In Latin, macro means big and stoma mouth. The males use their big mouth to care for their eggs and fry.
Betta macrostoma can perfectly be kept in pairs. Once a pair is formed, it will peacefully live together. If you’re lucky, they can even spawn spontaneously without any extra attention.
Their wild habitat consists of small streams and pools with a lot of leaf litter and organic materials as substrate. Because there aren’t a lot of plants and water floats fast which makes it not possible to build bubble nests. Mouthbrooding betta fish developed a way to hatch the eggs in their mouth and protect them that way.
A pair can be housed in a 20 gallon tank. Groups or harems should be kept in a bigger tank, of at least 30 gallons. Plants and natural cover are necessary to provide a place where your fish can hide and feel safe.
Betta macrostoma is one of the betta species that likes a little current and water cycling. In a tank that has a balanced biological system with lots of plants a filter isn’t necessary, but is certainly beneficial. Betta macrostoma doesn’t like a strong current, so pick a filter with low flow rate.
Betta hendra is a bubble-nesting small Betta species part of the B. coccina complex. It lives on Borneo in the southern parts of middle Kalimantan, in the Sebangau drainage. Its wild habitat are small pools with a lot of organic material on the bottom, which causes a low pH of 4-5.
You can recognize Betta hendra by their dark green or blue color. Betta hendra is a rather small species, growing up to 1.6 inches (40mm) in length. On the cheeks, two collateral red markings show.
Betta hendra can be kept in pairs in a tank of at least 12 gallons. Just as with any other wild betta species, natural plants and cover is very important. Betta henra also likes wide tubing to hide in and to build their bubble-nests in it.
If you buy wild caught specimens, it is a good choice to lower your pH. To do this you can add natural materials such as Indian almond leaves or alder cones in combination with lowering your KH.
It is best to keep Betta hendra in a tank without any tank mates. Betta hendra is a small species that gets easily stressed and if there is too much competition, they will be outcompeted for food. Species that could live with it are small and peaceful bottom dwellers such as shrimps or corydoras.
Tank mates are only suitable if your tank is big enough and your bettas have enough space to retreat and have a personal territory.
Often called red wine betta due to its deep red coloration, Betta coccina is a very remarkable and beautiful Betta species. It is easily recognizable by its red color and blue-green spot on the middle of the body. Depending on the locality and specimen, this coloration and blue spot varies in size and intensity. Betta coccina is similar to Betta brownorum in color and needs a trained eye to distinguish.
Betta coccina lives in Malaysia and on Sumatra. Its natural habitat consists of small streams without much plants but a lot of organic materials and leaves as substrate. These leaves make the water very acid and pH can be as low as 3-4.
Betta coccina can be kept in pairs or groups. For a pair, a tank of at least 12 gallons is recommended. Groups can be kept in larger tanks of 15 gallons+.
Lowering your pH can be beneficial for wild caught specimens. However, for captive bred fish a clean, well maintained tank will be enough and lowering your pH is optional. Achieving this can be done by multiple organic materials such as peat and catappa leaves or RO water.
Breeding this species is fairly easy. Betta coccina can be encouraged to breed by putting wide tubing such as film canisters in. Males will build their bubble nests under this and foster breeding behaviour.
Betta uberis is another stunning Betta species of the B. coccina complex. It can grow up to a max of 1.5 inches and is a small growing species.
It has a dark base, with iridescent green-blue scaling on the main body. Its fins range from a full red color to only the borders being red. Females are less coloured and are smaller than males. When agitated or in the mating process, females colour up more.
It lives on the island of Borneo around the city of Pangkalan Bun and habitats are similar to those of other Betta species: peat swamps and small streams, with lots of tannins and a low pH.
Betta uberis can be aggressive towards each other, and keeping them in groups is only possible in tanks of 15 gallons or more.
For this reason, keeping tank mates with Betta uberis isn’t recommended. They will both stress the fish and possibly outcompete them for food. In bigger tanks calm species such as shrimp or other bottom dwellers could be added.
Betta pallifina is one of the biggest wild betta species and it can get up to 4 inches in length. Betta pallifina is part of the B. unimaculata complex, among with species such as Betta macrostoma and Betta unimaculata.
It lives in the upper Barito, an area in middle Kalimantan (Borneo). Small streams and pools make up its natural habitat.
It is less colorful than the other species listed, but shows amazing blue-green coloration on the flanks and fins. Its cheeks are fully covered in snake-like blue-green scales.
Betta pallifina is a mouthbrooding Betta species which is very clear looking at their enormous mouth. Apart from being able to hatch eggs and fry, this mouth also allows them to take on bigger prey animals such as small fish and shrimp.
Betta pallifina can be kept in pairs or groups. For a pair, a tank of at least 30 inch or 30 gallons. Preferably a long and wide tank over a high tank, this way your Betta pallifina can hide from each other. Groups should be kept in bigger tanks so fish have enough space to have their own territory. For more than one male your tank should be at least 60 gallons.
Keeping this species in groups or contains a risk since there is always a possibility that they don’t get along and fight, sometimes until death. Plants and natural cover such as wood and stones are a must to provide your fish with enough cover.
It isn’t recommended to keep tank mates with Betta pallifina. Adult Betta pallifina can get very big and territorial towards each other and other fish. If you don’t mind your fish getten eaten, you could add bottom dwellers such as corydoras or kuhli loaches. Small tetra species can be added too, since they are fast and won’t bother your bettas.
What Wild Betta species should I choose?
If you are looking at wild betta fish for a while it can be confusing to know which one to go for. Some species are harder than others and most species have their own preferred conditions.
As a beginner, species from the betta splendens complex are a good choice. They are the most easy to get and are most similar to the domestic betta in terms of care. A small species such as Betta imbellis is both beautiful and can be kept in a relatively small sized tank.
If you are looking for a mouthbrooding species, Betta channoides is a good choice. Both size and appearance make it an attractive choice. Betta channoides is a species that can be kept in small groups in a relatively small tank of 15 gallons for a pair.
Betta macrostoma is more difficult and needs some experience to be kept successfully. It is bigger than most species and is harder to breed. A pair can be kept in a tank of 20 gallons.
Other species for intermediate keepers are Betta hendra (bubble-nester) and Betta coccina (bubble-nester). Both can be kept in relatively small tanks and can be kept in groups or pairs.
Betta pallifina is a species for more experienced keepers. It is big and can be aggressive towards each other and other fish. This makes them less suitable for beginner fish keepers.
Of course there are many more species of Bettas that are just as amazing to keep. Don’t be scared by their care, with enough research and suitable conditions wild Betta fish are amazing to keep and will be just as beautiful as the classic domestic Betta.