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A betta in its bowl -- the rest of the story

A beautiful male Crowntail Blue Betta
A beautiful male Crowntail Blue Betta
Dr. Tom Bailey

The betta is a fascinating, beautiful, and smart fish.

The betta was discovered in Southeast Asia, living in rice paddies and drainage ditches, having successfully adapted to drastic changes in its environment through cyclical flooding and droughts. Today, many are kept in small ornamental bowls, simulating its “puddle” lifestyle. Yet although the betta can live in stagnant small spaces because it is a labyrinth fish, which means it can breathe oxygen directly from the air and can survive for short periods of time outside water, most experts agree that bettas do best in small heated aquariums with regular water changes.

The odd and unfortunate myth that bettas can live in a closed environment on lily roots in “betta vases” is false. (I personally know of at least one betta who lost his life in a high school biosphere experiment.) In their natural environment, betas eat bugs, not plants, and therefore require a diet high in protein and fiber. Commercial pellets are best because they not only contain protein and fiber, but they also have vitamins and minerals to improve a betta’s coloring and longevity.

The beautiful betta is flashy because it is combative and psyches out its opponent through flaring. In fact, the betta got its name from an ancient clan of warriors. Males cannot be kept together as they will fight inexhaustibly, most often to the death. In fact, in the mid-1800’s in Thailand, betta fighting was quite popular, with bets placed and won according to the bravery of the fish. Females, who are a bit more dull in color and shorter of fin, can be kept together and can even live harmoniously with one “peacockish” male. Both sexes enjoy plant roots in which to hide, which may be why the peace lily-betta combination became so popular.

Bettas, especially the males, are beautifully colored and shaped fish with amazing variety. Established color types are solid, bi-color, Cambodian, butterfly, marble, piebald, mask, dragon, and multicolor. Tail shapes include the crown tail, veil, double veil, double round, delta, super delta, half-moon, over half-moon, half sun, spade, rose, feather and comb. lists each color type and tail with a picture to illustrate.

Bettas live on average, 2 – 5 years depending on the source you consult.

And finally, bettas are smart fish that quickly learn to recognize their owner and can be trained to be fed by hand. Youtube even features videos on how to teach your betta tricks. To be fair, there are also videos teaching goldfish tricks as well. (One is especially entertaining video features two goldfish competing in a soccer match.)

So the next time you see the little betta in its bowl, you will know the rest of its story.

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