Our summer project this year is betta genetics and breeding. Our first spawn was last week, and this is what we learned so far;
We set up 2 pairs, a yellow male with a red female and a pair of iridescent multi-colored crowntails.
~BTW, before anyone asks, yes, we did make plans for all the fry before this project began. Show type bettas will not sell better locally then multi-colored "mutts". In fact, I will find it easier to sell bettas who are all different than 50-100 red ones.~
The females were full of eggs, the males fat and sassy ... but neither boy was even remotely interested in building a nest.
When we released the females, the 2 pairs had totally different reactions.
With the crowntail pair, the female went absolutely spazzing hiding. No hiding spot was good enough. She would dart madly around the tank, sometimes jumping out of the water, to end up back under her leaf.
The male, on the other hand, went happily and contentedly to a slow courtship, dancing seductively and blowing the occasional bubble as he tried to lead her under the cup.
The yellow male would NOT stop flaring at the red female, and began a long, slow chase of her around the tank, flaring the whole way.
She was entirely confused at the whole thing. He never dashed after her or hurt her, he just aggressively (and endlessly) flared at her and kept her in constant, yet slow, motion. Finally, she started flaring back, and even began to shred his tail - he would slowly advance, head first, gill covers out, looking for all the world like he was going to dive at her any second .... and she would decide she had too much and dash past him, taking a nip at his tail as she went past to the other side of the tank. I can not describe well enough how ssssllloooooowwwwlllyyyy yet relentlessly he chased her.
We had just decided to separate them when he seemed to give a gasp, arched his back up .... and sank slowly to the bottom of the tank, stone dead. We think he had a heart attack!
~Things we learned; Never attempt to spawn a betta you aren't prepared to lose. Even if you are sitting there watching to make sure they don't seriously hurt each other, they can have a heart attack and die from the excitement.
In the meantime, the crowntail female had stopped freaking out, noticed that the male was doing everything in his power to entice her, and courtship went text-book perfect from there on, except for the pitifully small nest he built.
Finally, they began to embrace and the eggs started coming. Oh. My. Goodness did she lay eggs!! Dozens at a time, he couldn't pick them all up though he tried manfully. They both ate some, but there were so many it didn't make a dent. His tiny nest became WHITE with eggs before they both decided they were done with each other and we removed the female.
~Things we learned; Their mating ritual is beautiful and complex, and can take hours
~When they are done with each other, they are DONE
~The number of eggs possible is no exaggeration.
The female spent some recovery time in a QT jar with some Stress Coat before happily going back to her tank and is fine.
the male began to move his endless eggs from his pitifully tiny nest to a New And Improved - and still impossibly small - nest. He was hugely dedicated, even though his moving made eggs fall from the nest, 20 - 30 at a time, and he would patiently go down and pick them up and blow them back, before moving the next mouthful.
In about 36 hours, the eggs began to hatch. We were so excited!!! the male, not so much. He did not approve of anything happening to his eggs, and the way they now persisted in falling irritated him. But his dedication was impressive, and he made endless 5 inch trips to the bottom of the tank to retrieve them, even though every motion of his fins knocked still more babies out of he teeny nest.
~ Shallow water and a bare bottom is the best favor you can do for your breeding male.
A day later, we saw the first fry swimming. WOOHOO!! We also saw that, myriad though they were, there were noticeably less of them. We were not in a rush to begin feeding, as the water was well aged and cycled, and teemed with infuoria and micro-life....
~ A microscope is a wonderful, wonderful thing
...so we decided to leave the male in until more of them were free-swimming, as there was still a steady rain of fry falling from the nest.
The next day, we were certain. The fry were full and round (tiny little dots though they were) and the male, no doubt out of desperation in wrangling his errant and endless children, was swallowing about every third mouthful of fry that he picked up, so we decided to remove him, even though there were still some fry hanging from the nest.
I carefully washed my hands (no soap!) and went to lift him from the water. The first time he literally leapt from my hand, and the second time managed to wiggle free and dashed for his nest, where he went to fight me! Not wanting to totally destroy the nest, I thought I'd let him calm down for a couple of minutes.
~When you decide to remove the male, a deep net may actually be the best way to do it.
~If you think he needs to be taken out, go on and wreck the nest.
~An upset male is capable of hoovering up fry like a commercial shop vac.
A minute later I looked and saw him totally destroying the nest and devouring fry left and right, inhaling them dozens at a gulp. I took a cup and caught him in it, even though this action scattered the few remaining slow and clumsy fry all over the place.
We put him back in his old (cleaned, of course) home and fasted him for a solid week.
~ In spite of appearances, an overfed betta will not, in fact, explode.
The few remaining fry, who had been in a cluster near the nest, were now scattered across a 15G tank with many plants in it. Staring hard, I got the occasional glimpse of a moving speck, but mostly just put tiny droplets of egg food here and there in the water daily, and hoped.
~ Not only are the fry really, truly that small, they are even smaller. They will vanish into a tank, especially one with plants.
4 days later, my daughter managed to see 5 fry at the same time. Yay!! A far cry from hundreds, but we were happy with it. The fry had progressed from a miniscule black eye with a hair, to in incredibly teeny silver bubble of full belly, with a hair. So I thought it was time for microworms.
~ Microworms smell incredibly boozy.
It is now day 10 since The Incident and the fry are easier to see. Whenever I spot one, which I can now do every time I look into the tank, it is fat and round. I've still never yet to see more then 5 at the same time, but I'm hoping there are a few more then that.
Other things I have learned;
~ If your fish room is in a shop building (like a garage, for those of you not out in the sticks) a screen on the fry tank is a great thing to have. Otherwise, you will not only be raising betta, but mosquitoes.
~ I am a coward when it comes to siphoning out a fry tank.
~ Mosquito larvae are impossible to catch with a siphon.
~ That air-stone on the siphon trick is a good one.
~ Box filters are our friends.
I have also learned that I am delighted and fascinated with the process so far. I'll try to update this weekly - I can't wait to see these little guys grow and develop! I'm hoping that what we learned so far helps us have more success with our next planned spawn.