The Betta Splendens Fish

Care, Habitat Requirements, Varieties and History

The Betta, Care, Success, Myths and History
Thomas R. Reich PhD

The Betta Splendens is native to Southeast Asia and epically common in Singapore and Thailand. The Betta lives mostly in stagnant waters, ditches and rice paddies where it feasts on mosquito larvae or whatever it can find.

This fish is a survivor and is a member of the anabantids family. Like all anabantids, the Betta is a Labyrinth fish, which means they are equipped with special organs under the gill plates that allow them to take oxygen directly from the air above the surface of the water into a chamber and “breath” from the air. This allows them to live in totally stagnant water, devoid of oxygen, lacking a nitrogen cycle and still survive.

In fact, if you see these little brightly colored fish when they arrive at your local pet store, they will most likely be unpacked from tiny plastic bags no bigger than a salt shaker. This fish can survive in a small bowl or in your community aquarium, but they cannot survive temperatures below 75 Fahrenheit.

If you have seen one in the office, around plant roots in a vase, this is fine, but if it died it was most likely because of low temperature, not the tight space. The first specimens of the Betta were brought to Europe as early as 1874. But they were not bred and widely distributed in the Western world as a common aquarium fish until the 1940s.

The Male

The body of the male is elongated and slightly flattened sideways. Its length is about 2 ½ inches. The snout is slightly pointed, with a large, up-tilted mouth. The dorsal fin is placed far to the rear. The base is rather short, and the middle fin rays are the longest. The caudal fin is moderately big and rounded. The anal fin is big and pointed and stretches from just in front of the root of the tail to just behind the pectoral fins. The ventral fins are located under the throat and grow out quite long. The pectoral fins are normally developed and rounded.

The Female

The Female Betta splendors are less striking in every respect; in fact, it is rare to find them in stores due to their plain appearance. Their fins are much smaller and shorter, and their coloration is dull, even the most prized fancy varieties which do have a distinct color, pale in comparison to their male counterparts. In young specimens not yet possessing the startling differences of the adult versions of the Betta, a female may be separated from the males by recognizing the small, white oviduct.


There are no special requirements for aquarium size or space where Bettas are concerned. They are equally happy in a small bowl or a large community aquarium as long as their basic needs are met. A large aquarium does allow the Betta to show off its beautiful finnage. The male Betta seems to display his fins for you on full stretched splendor from time to time. Actually, he is showing his fins in a threatening display to its own reflection in the side glass of the tank thinking it is another male Betta.

Temperature is crucial to the Betta, perhaps more so to the Betta than most any other common freshwater aquarium fish you may try to keep in your aquarium. Many novices new to the hobby of fish keeping have written wondering why their Betta died, with no sign of sickness or distress. In almost every case it is temperature.

If you have a Betta in a commercial office building, the tank or bowl must be heated, offices are typically allowed to get cooler at night in the winter to save on energy costs. The Betta will not tolerate that temperature change pure and simple. A Betta cannot tolerate consistent temperatures below 75 F and be happy and healthy. They actually prefer 79 F and if you plan to breed them, you will need water up to 86 F for best results but that is another article. It is true, this is unusual for aquarium fish, but it is their only unusual requirement, and their beauty and animated antics outweigh the need for many who enjoy their company.

To make the Betta truly happy, whatever home you give it should have lots of live plants, they like moving in and out of thick live plants. The will eat dry food like most community fish but should be supplemented with live food such as brine shrimp, alternatively, this can be frozen or freeze-dried occasionally.

Many books and articles state that the life span of a Betta is 2 or 2 and ½ years, this is a false statement. Bettas, under the right conditions, have been known to live up to 9 years. The average life of well-cared-for male betta is around 4 years. The trick is supplementing its diet with live or frozen foods, they need natural food to keep their system in top shape for the long haul.


Breeding the Betta was once thought to be almost impossible. However, it is really quite simple. They are a bubble nest builder, and with the right preparation, will breed quite readily.


In the wild, this widely known and very popular aquarium fish has many varieties. Had the “Betta” been discovered in other areas of the world they probably would have each had a name, discoverer, and classification. But the Betta has been kept, bred and developed by man in the Orient for over a thousand years. So much like the Goldfish, credit, if in fact, the variations came from the wild in the first place (and were not mutations bred in by careful crossbreeding over centuries of selective breeding), was lost long ago. Variations in coloration, as well as shape, size, even fin arrangements, exist in varieties available today.

These Bettas have names like “The Patriot Betta”, “The Butterfly Betta” and The Veil-Tailed Betta. We do know, for instance, that Vail-Tailed Betta is actually nothing but a freak, or a sprite of breeding, much like the vial-tailed guppy, or more accurately the varieties that were developed by Goldfish breeders long ago. The Betta you are most likely to find in your local pet store is the Veil-Tailed Betta. It is in all ways the Betta Splendens with longer, even more, beautiful fins. It is just as active, eats the same and still needs that minimum 75 F temperature.

Fun Facts

The Betta got its nickname “Siamese Fighting Fish” from its rather bad habit of trying to kill any other male Betta it comes in contact with. This is much more prevalent in the breeding season, but we do not recommend having 2 male Betta in one aquarium for this reason. In Thailand, men bet on prize Bettas and have professional fights. This practice still continues today, but most of the Betta sold in America have had the fight bred out of them and are quite a bit more peaceful than their brothers in Thailand.

Enjoy your Betta, treat it well and it will live long and surprise you over and over with its antics. Remember, 75 F minimum constant temperature, live plants, dry food with occasional live or frozen supplement and only 1 male Betta to an aquarium. There are no other considerations; almost any water conditions are fine with them.