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Betta mahahchaiensis, Betta imbellis, Betta alien, Betta smaragdina (copper)
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What are wild bettas?

Wild Betta Fish are the collection of all Betta species living in the wild. The domestic Betta, which has been crossbred and hybridized for decades, comes from a couple of these species. In total there are 73 species of Betta fish living in the wild.

These 73 species are divided into 13 groups called ‘complexes’. Each group has its own set of characteristics and looks different. The most famous wild betta species are from the Betta splendens complex, where the genetics of the domestic Betta come from.

How do wild betta fish differ from domestic betta fish?

In many ways wild betta fish are similar to domestic betta fish, since the domestic betta is basically a hybridized wild betta. But they also differ in a lot of ways.

As stated above, wild Betta fish aren’t just one species, so treating them as such is wrong. Domestic Betta fish on the other hand are basically one ‘super species’, with a lot of variants and tail types. Thus, domestic betta types all have very similar needs and caring for different types of domestic bettas is similar. From species to species wild bettas care can differ quite a bit. Certain species require other water parameters, tank conditions and live together or solitary.

In terms of care, wild betta species are a little harder then their cousin domestic bettas. Which is quite logical, since domestic bettas have been living in captivity for years, while wild bettas are used to the conditions in their native habitats. To keep wild bettas successful, you will need to prepare a little and try to create a setup that is similar to their habitat in the wild.


Where do wild betta fish live?

Wild betta fish live in Southeast Asia. The well-known species of the B. splendens complex (bubble nesters including B. imbellis and B. splendens), live on mainland Asia in Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia. Their habitat consists of shallow pools with a lot of vegetation and organic material.

Most mouthbrooding Betta species such as Betta macrostoma live on the island of Borneo and Sumatra. Their habitat consists of more jungle-like vegetation. They live in shallow streams with usually some sort of current.

As opposed to the habitats on mainland Asia, these streams don’t have a lot of vegetation in them and most natural cover is provided by fallen leaves and branches.

Most streams and pools have brown water. This isn’t because water is dirty, but because of the various tannins released by the organic materials. These tannins have various positive effects on the betta fish, and are preferably also added in captivity.

‘The peaceful betta’ myth

One of the common misconceptions with wild betta fish is that they would be ‘peaceful’ and can live with each other without fighting. Especially Betta imbellis that has received the nickname ‘peaceful betta’ is often labelled as very tolerant and non-aggressive.

Like stated a couple times above, the domestic betta has been excessively bred on both appearance and temperament. Aggressive fish where preferred, thus this selective breeding makes the domestic betta more aggressive than the wild species.

It is often misunderstood or wrongfully told that Betta imbellis or other wild Betta species can live in pairs or groups, without going further into detail. This is wrong. Just as the domestic betta fish, wild Betta species are highly territorial and don’t tolerate other males, or even females in their territory.

Betta imbellis for example is a more calm species than Betta splendens, and in some circumstances can be kept in paris or harems. This doesn’t take away that Betta imbellis is territorial and keeping them together is at risk. Only in a big planted tank there is a chance of success.

I would state that if there really is a ‘peaceful’ betta, it would be a mouthbrooding species such as Betta channoides. Most mouthbrooding species can be kept in groups and are more tolerant than the bubble-nesters.

Keep in mind that if you would like to keep a species in groups or pair to always do your research specifically on that species.

Betta Species

Out of all the recognized species of bettas (73), there aren’t that much generally known in the aquarium world. From big mouthbrooding species to small bubble-nesters, all have their own characteristics and needs.

Here are some more well-known species of betta fish that are relatively easy to care for.
  • Betta splendens
When thinking about Betta splendens, many people instantly think about the domestic betta. But the domestic betta is in fact a hybridized wild Betta splendens. The base of its genetics are those of the wild splendens, mixed in with some other species such as Betta smaragdina and Betta mahachaiensis.

Betta splendens behaviour is thus the most similar to that of the domestic betta, and one of the more aggressive wild betta species. This species should always be kept alone.
  • Betta imbellis
Often referred to as peaceful betta or crescent betta, because of its red eclipse on the tail. Betta imbellis is a very appealing species for most beginners, due to its beautiful appearance and more tolerant behaviour.

It is similar to Betta splendens in terms of care and is best kept alone. In some conditions however a pair can be kept. The most important part is the size of the tank. Individual males or females can be kept in 5 gallon tanks, but pairs need at least a 20 gallon tank with a lot of plants to have a chance of success.
  • Betta hendra
Betta hendra is a relatively small wild betta species that can be kept in pair. It is part of the betta coccina complex. It has red cheeks and a green-blue body, which makes it easy recognizable.

A pair can be kept in a tank of at least 12-15 gallons, if heavily planted and decorated. Betta hendra is a bubble nester and likes tubing to hide in and build their nest in.
  • Betta macrostoma
Often called the Brunei Beauty, Betta macrostoma is a dream species of a lot of aquarists. It is the biggest species on this list and a mouthbrooder. This means they don’t build bubble nests but males brood out the eggs in their mouth.

Betta macrostoma can be kept in groups or harems. A tank for a pair should be at least 20 gallons. For a harem of 2 or more pairs at least 35 gallons. Betta macrostoma likes a filtered tank with some circulation.

Care

Wild betta species are similar to domestic bettas, but require some extra things and preparation.

Water parameters are different for every species. Most species do well on a pH of 6-7 and temperature of 72° to 80°F. As long as water parameters are stable and enough water changes are done to prevent nitrate forming, most captive bred fish do fine.

In my opinion a must have for every wild betta keeper are Indian almond leaves (catappa leaves). Not only do they provide natural cover in the tank, but they add useful tannins to the water. These tannins can possibly lower the pH, and prevent diseases by creating a stronger immunity for your fish. The leaves will color your water darker and more brown, adding an even more natural touch.

Tank

Most wild bettas can be kept in a tank of around 5g, alone. Other species can be kept together in a bigger tank. Tank size depends on the species, so do your research before setting up a tank.

The most important aspect of every wild betta tank are live plants. These plants provide natural cover and make your fish feel more comfortable. When you don’t use a filter, plants also keep your water clean and add oxygen.

When keeping wild bettas in pairs or groups, natural cover is even more important. Things like plants and wood provide a place where fish can hide from each other if needed.

Important: have a lid on your tank!

Wild bettas are great jumpers - and I would say they are even better at jumping than their domesticated cousins. They can fit through tiny holes or gaps which makes it very risky to have no lid or a lid that doesn’t close well.

Unfortunately, many people (including me) have to learn this the hard way. I always had lids on my tanks, but more than once I forgot to fully close the lid. The next day I would go to my tanks and see a dead dried up fish laying on the ground. Some of my best fish died this way. Now I always pay extra attention ofcourse.

If you think your fish isn’t a jumper, you are wrong. Some betta fish will jump more than others, but one wrong jump is enough. Sometimes fish get scared and jump and sometimes the wild instincts just take the upperhand. Especially when you choose to have wild betta fish.

Conclusion: when you are thinking of setting up a wild betta tank, pick one with a tight lid. Do you have a tank without a lid? Cut out a plexiglass lid or cover it with plastic foil. This way your wild betta fish stays safe and no unpleasant surprises happen.

Food

Fully carnivorous. Wild betta species can be picky towards dried or frozen food. Especially wild caught species will sometimes not eat dried foods. Encouraging eating dried foods can be done with mixing dried foods with live or frozen food.

Variating in food is important to assure your betta gets all necessary vitamins and nutrients.

Breeding

Within wild betta fish there are two main groups, determined by how they breed. First are the well-known bubble-nesters, such as Betta splendens and the domestic betta. They identify by more aggressive behaviour and create bubble-nests. The male guards this nest and protects it while fry is most vulnerable.

Second are the mouthbrooding species. These are more peaceful species, such as Betta channoides and Betta macrostoma. The female will pass on the fertilised eggs to the male. The male will care for the eggs and fry for multiple weeks in his mouth.

Both groups have different way of reproduction and should not be confused.

Bubble-nesters

Breeding bubble nesting wild species is similar to breeding the domestic betta.
Set up a separated breeding tank, with a lot of plants. This is the key to success. In my experience, if not enough cover is added the pair will fight and not mate.

Add some catappa leaves too to create a natural touch. Keep a dried one to put in for the male to build his nest. The breeding tank should be around 10-15 gallons with water level around 7-10 inches. A filter isn’t required for spawning.

When the pair is conditioned and the male has been put in the breeding tank, they can be shown to each other. Put the female in a bottle for a couple of days and keep feeding live foods. When the male has built a big nest and the female shows vertical stripes and an egg spot, you can release them.

It is very important to condition and show the pair before putting in the tank. When released, keep a close eye on the pair. Some signs of aggression are normal, but heavy fighting not. The female should always be able to hide. It might take up to 48h for the pair to mate.

When the pair has mated, remove the female and when fry swims freely the male too.

Mouthbrooding species.

Breeding mouthbrooding species is quite different. A pair has to be formed and live together in a tank. When a pair feels comfortable, they will spawn naturally. Setting up a separated setup with lots of plants and cover is best to be able to raise the fry easily.

If the male is holding eggs, don’t disturb him. Mouthbrooding species are very stress-sensitive and the male will eat the eggs when too uncomfortable. Try dimming the light and not moving often around the tank.

Depending on the species, eggs may take up to 3 weeks to hatch, and another couple of days for the fry to consume their yolk sack and swim freely.
 

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Thank you very much for your work!
This is a great overview for interested people.
I soaked it up like a sponge.
 
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