Has anyone done the research on how they live in the wild given their grumpiness towards each other? How much territory do they claim to killing each other off? I watched a couple dozen "catching wild betta" videos on YouTube but the only thing I've seen them catch is females. I ask not because I plan on getting more than one. I'm just curious about how much space they give each other when there is no such thing as a glass wall separating the genders.
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Wild male bettas are short finned.. so you are probably seeing them catch males, but didn't realize it. The long fins are genetically altered thanks to breeders, along with the colors.. They (wild bettas) are much less colorful (though they do have streaks of the reds and blues and greens that our bettas have all over their bodies). There are numerous species of bettas.. I think around 50 different species of "bettas", the splendens is what is commonly sold and what we refer to as siamese fighting fish.
They have territory, but not a whole lot- it depends on the season a lot of times- dry season they may only have a puddle if they are lucky, otherwise they bury themselves in the ground to wait it out until the paddies fill back up. In the wild they are a little more tolerant of each other- their fights tend not to last longer then 15 minutes (the fighters that people breed are bred to fight for over an hour, anything less then they are considered bad fighters).. they tend not to need a whole lot of territory, but enough not to be in constant view of another.
Females don't tend to stay put long enough to claim one spot as a territory- but rather travel around by themselves and look for mates.
They will actually try to avoid fighting when possible, because they don't want to get hurt since it means less of a chance to survive.. so I don't know, I don't think anyone can say how much territory the males claim, since it varies so much on location and season.
Again, let me be clear in saying I do not plan on attempting this, but given that information, I could house two in my 210 (were it not filled with South American Monsters that would gobble them up the second they hit the water) and theoretically, they'd be able to coexist given the proper living conditions? I also read that females need to be kept either alone, in groups of 6 or more. I assume that's so they don't pick out any one individual fish and pick on it til dead, can you confirm?
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I will confirm both as yes... in a large enough tank you can theoretically home more then one male betta, or a male with multiple females, or a mix (I personally would always place more females then males). As long as the tank is large enough, and there are plenty of medium-tall plants for cover and line of sight breakage. But I'm talking about no less (in my personal opinion) then a 75 gallon.. and of course, it depends on the temperament of each betta, as some can be quite passive while others quite aggressive. The more the merrier, as it will spread out the aggression.. but sometimes you will have the one on the lowest totem of the pole who just simply can't catch a break.
Females can co-exist in smaller tanks such as a 10 gallon (as minimum).. I prefer larger because a 10 is still rather small for them to be able to escape when needed.
Sororities tend to fail, or have issues from time to time- but I believe the cause is the tank size, as a lot of people tend to go the route of below a 20 gallon. Also a common mistake is not enough medium and tall plants in layers to break up the lines of sight.
After a few generations and careful selection, you can attempt to keep multiple males and females together in tanks of 55+ gallons- but usually takes a few generations and a good eye at picking out the calmest of the siblings to reproduce. It's usually easier to keep siblings that have been housed together since birth, then strangers you pick up randomly at stores.
I have males that are both really aggressive (who will continuously try to fight another and need separation from time to time) and who are very subdued.. in a 210 gallon I would buy some siblings off a known breeder, asking in advanced before the breeding process, to house the males I want together as long as possible.. and then floating them all in a cup for a day to observe which ones are calmer and which ones seem to want to fight constantly. I wouldn't not attempt it with bettas from a different stock if I know they are pretty calm.
I would go for approximately 15-20 girls and 6 boys (or even more) in that size of a tank, along with other peaceful fish (as sometimes having other species of fish can help keep the females from being as aggressive.. may work with males) and see how that is. I would use natural decorations mixed of plants, wood and rocks set up to simulate caves for the ones who like cover.. get the tank cycled and set up to the point where I would have to do as little cleaning as possible (just the basics) to avoid disrupting the habitat as much as possible, so I won't distress the fish unneeded.
I have seen quite a few set ups of very large tanks with multiples of males along with females living in near peace, but it takes time, patience and a true understanding of the needs of the specific betta species that is being housed before it can even be thought of. There will always be some fighting for domain and dominance, and if not bred to fight specifically, their fights tend not to last more then 15 minutes, and they will avoid if possible (which is why smaller tanks you can't do this unless you breed for it). As long as you are aware of how aggressive each fish is, and understand that at any point you may have to rehome one or more- then it can be done. Just not recommended for the average keeper.
Bettas are aggressive due to alpha dominance. Basically they are control freaks. In situations where males are kept with their fry until adulthood the male keeps the tank in order, assuming his role as alpha fish. Males and females remain peaceful in most cases. Sometimes a female will become aggressive to her female siblings (to show that she is the dominant female) and end up breeding with her father. With this we conclude that bettas fight for dominance for control and to show that they are the best for breeding.
Another experiment is where two male bettas were released in a lake, and they continued to fight each other. Again showing it's alpha dominance.
In an ideal set up for housing males together, you'll ideally want father with sons, or sibling brothers that have never been seperated. You'll want about three feet per male to avoid too many squabbles. Plant plenty of live plants.
OFL here on the forums has spent many years breeding and raising bettas, and after generations have been able to keep them together peacefully. Here is a part of her album showing one of her tanks with a mix of males and females :) She is one of the go-to people on advice for these little fish hehe :)