Betta fish, aka Siamese fighting fish, are among the most popular home aquarium pets, second only to goldfish. With the wide variety of stunning betta colors and shapes to choose from, it’s no wonder so many aquarists are betta fans. Click through to learn 10 cool facts about betta fish and even some experienced betta owners might not know.
“BETTA” IS NOT THE NAME OF ONE FISH SPECIES
(BUT MORE THAN 70)
Scientifically speaking, “betta” is the name of a genus that encompasses dozens of different fish species. The most common of these, and the species most people almost always mean when they say “betta,” is betta splendens, aka the Siamese fighting fish.
“FIGHTING FISH” IS NO MISNOMER
Betta splendens are known colloquially as Siamese fighting fish, and for good reason. Bettas are very territorial and aggressive. Although females are not quite as violent as males, a betta of any sex may fight any other betta without hesitation. Even the sight of its own reflection can cause a betta to flare up with aggression. Fights aren’t usually to the death as is commonly believed, but they do lead to serious injury.
BETTAS ARE CARNIVORES
Bettas eat meat. Those kept as pets are typically fed freeze-dried bloodworms that are available at any pet store. In the wild, bettas feast on bloodworms, shrimp, and insects like crickets, flies or even grasshoppers.
BETTAS HAVE DIFFERENT TAIL SHAPES
Bettas come in as wide a variety of shapes and colors. Their tails, in particular, can be found in endless styles. A partial list of betta splendens tail shapes includes comb, crown, delta, double, feather, halfmoon, halfsun, plakat, rose, round, spade and veil. Most of these types have their own subtypes, and they are often combined into hybrid shapes.
COLORFUL BETTAS ARE THE RESULTS OF SELECTIVE BREEDING
Bettas are popular because of the enormous variety of attractive colors and shapes in which they are found, but they don’t exist that way naturally. Wild-collected betta splendens are colored dull brown and green with red on their fins, and their fins are much smaller and more understated. Their natural appearance isn’t without its charm, but it doesn’t come close to the resplendence of bettas that hobbyists breed as pets. These breeders create bolder and brighter betta colors, patterns and shapes all the time.
THERE IS STRONG SEXUAL DIMORPHISM IN BETTAS
Male bettas are typically larger than femalesand display brighter colors with more ornate finnage. As a result, the vast majority of bettas kept as pets are male. The smaller, less visually striking females are widely available in pet stores, but those who purchase them usually do so because they plan to breed their own bettas.
BETTAS CAN BREATHE AIR AND SURVIVE OUTSIDE OF WATER
Bettas are anabantoids, aka labyrinth fish. Anabantoids possess a special organ that allows them to breathe air. For these fish, this is necessary for survival in habitats that often become too polluted or otherwise oxygen-poor to survive with normal underwater breathing alone. As a result, bettas are able to survive outside of water for several hours at a time, although they must remain moist. It should go without saying that those who own pet bettas should not test this ability.
BETTAS BUILD BUBBLE NESTS
New betta owners are often puzzled to find their new pets creating a layer of tiny bubbles on the surface of the tank’s water. This is called a bubble nest, and the behavior is not only normal, but an indication of a happy and healthy betta. In the wild, bettas create bubble nests for mating purposes, and subsequently to protect eggs and newly hatched bettas. Still, the behavior is instinctive, so a betta creates bubble nests even in home tanks without a mate present.
MALE BETTAS TAKE CHARGE OF CARING FOR THEIR OFFSPRING
Uncommon in the animal kingdom but certainly not unheard of, betta fathers nest and care for their offspring while the mothers don’t participate. Once a female betta lays her eggs, her mate chases her away and corrals the eggs into his bubble nest, where he tends to them until they hatch.
BETTAS ARE INTELLIGENT ENOUGH TO BE TRAINED
Bettas are intelligent fish. They can learn to recognize their owners. Some people even have success training their bettas to perform simple tricks, like following their fingers around a bowl, swimming through hoops or pushing a ball into a goal.