Breed: Siamese Fighting Fish
Temperament: placid when alone, aggressive towards other males
Lifespan: average 2 years
Recommended for: anyone, those with little spare time or space
The Siamese Fighting Fish is native to the South-East Asian region of Thailand (formerly Siam), Cambodia and Vietnam. It survives in the wild anywhere where still water lies, such as rice paddies, stagnant ponds and road-side drains.
The species attracted its name because of the aggressive nature of the males towards each other. Because the fish are common to very small bodies of water, even water-filled buffalo hoofprints, males must fiercely protect their territory, or lose their breeding ground to a stronger male.
Siamese Fighting Fish have been bred for over 1,000 years in Thailand, both as ornamental types and those bred for fighting. Although strictly illegal in Australia, Thai’s will often place wagers on fights between two males. Winners are those which bet on the fish that continues attacking after the other has given up. Sometimes these fights can be to the death.
The ornamental type, that which we see in pet shops, is much more colourful and splendid in appearance than the fighting type. It is the colourful hues and flowing fins which led to the species being called Betta splendens, the ‘splendid betta’.
This species of fish also possess a special characteristic which sets it apart from most others. Known as a labyrinthine fish, this animal is able to not only breath through its gills but also through a supplemental breathing structure – the ‘labyrinth’. This structure is located in a chamber above the gills and is well supplied with blood vessels which absorb air gulped-in through the mouth. This enables the fish to survive in oxygen-poor, or even stagnant water. This is a major evolutionary leap for a fish species. In fact, the species is on its way to becoming a lung fish.
In the wild the fish are generally brown or silver with red and green highlights. They are not nearly as attractive as the bred types and have much smaller finnage.
The ornamental fish are available in just about colour. They may be solid coloured, half-coloured (called butterfly), piebald or marbled. As with many examples in the animal kingdom, males are more colourful than females and also possess much larger fins. This assists with displaying against other rival males. Tail shape may also vary from round tails, veil tails, single tails, double tails or fringed tails. The fish may also be iridescent all over, partly iridescent or a dull matte.
A white type, once thought to be a different species and named Betta cambodia, was later recognised as only a colour variety. The name Cambodia is retained today for the type with a white body and pigmented fins and eyes.
Although placid when alone, the males will show extraordinary aggression when together, flaring up their fins and blowing out their gill covers. Males and females will not normally fight, however a male may become aggressive towards the female after she has spawned as he will set out to protect the fry.
Colours will become much more vivid when males display. Special tanks, called “Betta Barracks” are ideal for watching males safely display their finnage. These rectangular tanks have clear dividers between each cell, allowing the fish to see, but not reach each other. For a solitary fish, a mirror inside the tank is useful.
Easily bred in a home aquarium. The males are bubblenest builders. They blow a large series of accumulated bubbles onto the surface of the water, into which they deposit the eggs released by the female. Once the female releases the eggs into the water, the male will collect them in his mouth, deposit them into the nest and fertilize them.
These fish are bubblenest builders because water conditions in the wild are normally close to stagnant. As the fry will not have yet developed a labyrinth system or effective gills, it is best maintained close to the water’s surface where it is able to absorb oxygen directly through body tissue.
In Thailand, these fish are bred in their thousands in old ‘Mekong Whisky’ bottles stacked side by side along the ground. There are so many tightly- packed bottles that a person is able to safely walk over the top of them. A breeder who supplies these fish for export can expect to receive around 10c per fish.
A carnivorous fish. Can be fed commercial fish food, special ‘Betta Pellets’ or frozen tubifex worms. Fresh bloodworms and mosquito wrigglers also make a suitable treat. As water temperature drops, metabolism slows and feeding is required less often. During the warmer months, feed a small amount daily.
Health and maintenance
These are tropical, fresh water fish which thrive best in warm temperatures (optimal around 30°C). However, temperate regions of Australia should not really require additional tank heating. A heater may be required if the water temperature drops below 18°C.
Although these fish are able to survive in poor quality water, regular water changes are still required. Change 1/3 of the water each week for a small bowl, 1/4 each month for an aquarium and the entire amount once weekly for a small container.
These ornamental types are prone to suffer diseases (such as fin rot) which are associated with dirty water. Specific ‘Bettafix’ medications are available from aquariums.
Cost and lifespan
In the wild, Siamese Fighting Fish will survive a year at the most. Captive bred specimens can be expected to average 2 years. The more fancy the specimen, generally the shorter average lifespan. Females are more prone to disease and tend to be very short lived in captivity. Fish cost from $4 up to $18 for the most spectacular specimens. Simple tanks can range from $20-$100.
These fish can live in the smallest of tanks, and are often kept in decorative glass jars, small containers, or betta barracks. They can be kept in a mixed tank with other breeds, however there are some types of companion fish to avoid – long finned, red coloured fish will be harassed and tiger barbs, serpae, tetras and other fin nippers are likely to be drawn to the long flowing fins of the Siamese Fighting Fish.
Anyone. An especially good animal for a first-time pet owner or someone with little time or space for a regular pet. Very low maintenance.
For Siamese Fighting Fish, look under ‘Aquariums and Supplies’ in your local ‘Yellow Pages’®
We filmed this segment at Manly Aquarium World, Sydney, phone: (02) 9977 1758.