Betta Fish Introduction

Origin, Characteristics, & Behavior

Don’t let the Betta’s majestic grace fool you! These little fish are full of spunky quirks that are playful, witty, and entertaining.

We are going to learn about what makes this fish unique.

Cultures around the world have devoted a deep love and interest in Bettas and strive to breed, raise, and care for them in ways that are exceedingly nurturing.

Origin of the Betta

The genus name “Betta” derived from the Malaysian term “ikan betah” meaning “persistent fish.”

The Betta is called different things in different countries.

  • “Betta”   Westernized countries
  • “Plakat” - Thailand
  • “Siamese Fighting Fish” - Westernized countries
  • “Trey krem” - Cambodia
  • “ປາ betta” - Laos

Throughout the centuries, Bettas have been native in the wilds of the Southeast Asian regions of Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.

They originated in the Mekong River basin, and today they are found in the same area; in rice paddies, drainage ditches, small streams of water, and even in a water-filled footprint of an ox.

Floods have forced the movement of Bettas from one body of water to another whether it be a river, puddle, or to a separate rice paddie.

History Of The Betta

The King of Siam (now known as Thailand) who ruled in 1840 gave some Bettas to Dr. Theodore Cantor, a Danish doctor. Dr. Cantor carefully studied and bred Bettas and published a research study on the Betta called “Macropodus Pugnax.”

A taxonomist later named the Betta as the “Betta splendens,” which meant “warrior” after the ancient Indonesian warriors (Bettah.) This was because the Betta fish were fighters and aggressive to other fish. Bettas to this very day are still referred to as “Betta splendens.

A famous Ichthyologist (scientist of fish,) named Pieter Bleeker from Amsterdam did an extensive study on fish of East Asia.

This included the Betta fish. Bleeker not only assigned scientific categorization and class to the Betta, but he defined each species with characteristics.

Every detail on his findings and data was compiled into a scientific, literary compilation called “Atlas Ichthyologique des Indes Orientales Néêrlandaises,” (Bleeker, 1877.)

The late 1800s saw the importation of Bettas into France and Germany. The Betta did not arrive into the United States until 1910. The first imported Bettas arrived in San Francisco, California.

Taxonomy on the Betta

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Anabantiformes

Family: Osphronemidae

Subfamily: Macropodusinae

Genus: Betta

Species: Betta Splendens

(73 species of this genus)

Reference:Atlas ichthyologique des Indes Orientales Neerlandaises by Bleeker, P. (Pieter), 1877

The Bettas Native Habitat    

The muddled waters of rice paddies, tributaries, and standing waters of Southeast Asia provides the environment for Bettas to thrive. The shallow waters with thick vegetation are perfect for the Betta to be sheltered in and is conducive to the warm temperature they prefer.

Bettas became adapted to living in puddles, drainage ditches, and other small standing bodies of water because of the repetitive droughts and flooding.

Sadly, some Bettas lived a short life in puddles, and because of these conditions, the Betta evolved to have the capability of getting oxygen directly from the air.

Bettas use a special organ called a labyrinth that gives them the ability to get oxygen from air and from the water.

If Bettas are kept wet, they can survive out of the water for very short periods of time.

The World of Fish Fighting

For centuries, the recreation of fish-fighting has been a form of entertainment and gambling throughout Southeast Asia. Many consider this form of recreation as an art, and the success of winning is based on breeding the best Betta.

The Siamese (Thailand) culture has kept fish fighting alive through history. Fish fighting was believed to have started because farmers had very little money, or means of entertainment and being so close in nature, the Betta provided a way to satisfy a way to get money, be entertained, and promote a sense of community.

Today, fish fighting is considered illegal in Thailand; however, it still continues. If caught, one can be sentenced up to 2 years in prison. Many local authorities in small villages turn a blind eye to fish fighting.

Characteristics of Bettas

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Betta is how elegant and colorful they are. Their silky flowing fins are angelic in movement and when in full display, it can be quite a magnificent sight!

The Beautiful Colors

Bettas come in so many different colors, and no two are alike.

Solid Colors




True Black



Color Combinations:


  • Solid colored body
  • Unpaired fins different color

  • Black Lace

  • Black with iridescent body and fins
  • Edges of fin are clear
  • Metallic

  • Shimmery metallic color that covers light body color
  • Platinum, gold, silver colors
  • Black Lace

  • Black with iridescent body and fins
  • Edges of fin are clear
  • Marble

  • Patterned
  • Two different colors
  • Full-Masked

  • Iridescent blue, steep, green
  • Heads are black
  • Cambodian

  • Flesh colored body
  • Deep red fins
  • Koi

  • Marble pattern
  • Two different colors
  • Color combinations of red, black on light flesh
  • Dragon

  • Silver/White metallic
  • Resembles armor of dragon
  • Heads are metallic
  • Bi-Color

  • The body is one color
  • Fins are a different color
  • Colors vary
  • Grizzle

  • Random flecks, spots, or peppering of iridescent color over pastel body
  • 2 shades of iridescent colors
  • Melano Black

  • Completely black

    Red Loss

  • Red color that disappears as the fish age
  • Copper

  • Light to dark copper color with variations of purple, turquoise, blue, pink
  • Multi

  • Different colors
  • Thai Flag

  • Red
  • White
  • Blue
  • Steel

  • Dark blues
  • Black Orchid

  • Deep Purple
  • Dalmatian

  • Various colors that are speckled
  • Lifespan of the Betta

    The lifespan of a Betta is dependent upon several factors; however, a healthy Betta can live up to four years in captivity.

    • How old was your Betta when you got it?
    • Did it come from a retail pet store where it was kept in small container?

    Bettas that are nurtured and well cared for tend to live longer. Betta owners generally feed their Bettas a diet that is good in quality, they don’t overfeed, and the most important thing is they maintain good water quality within the tank.

    When you get a Betta, you don’t know exactly how old they are and if you purchase a Betta that is already a year old, that is 1 year less that you will have them.

    Also, it’s important to purchase a Betta from a breeder and not a “box pet store” or large retail store. Bettas that sit on store shelves in small containers may not be healthy or well cared for resulting in a shorter lifespan.

    Sexing Male and Female Bettas

    It’s quite easy to tell the difference between male and female Bettas because of distinct characteristics that are gender specific.


  • Long dorsal fin (located on top)
  • Long ventral fin (located on bottom)
  • Long caudal fin (tail)
  • Brighter colors
  • Body is long and thin

  • Short fins
  • Ventral fin looks like a comb
  • Subdued colors
  • When stressed, the color of females are brighter
  • Small white spot located between the ventral fin (ovipositor tube). Looks like a grain of salt.
  • Body is shorter and thicker.
  • Behavior Of The Betta

    Bettas are not only curious little fish but will learn to recognize you and will strive to get your attention. Some Betta owners have taught their fish to do tricks, and have even been able to hold their Betta in the palm of their hand in the water.

    The male Betta is aggressive and dominant and wastes no time in letting other fish know. Females, on the other hand, will act aggressive but not to the extent, a male will.

    “Flaring” is what draws the attention of fish owners to the Betta. Flaring makes the fish look grand and beautiful as its fins extend giving it the appearance of becoming bigger. But make no mistake, flaring is not done to make himself appear beautiful but is an act of aggression.


    • Very dominating
    • Does not do well around other male bettas but will do well in a tank with other docile and compatible fish.
    • Flaring (extending fins and making itself larger) is a male behavior when he feels threatened.
    • Aggression increases with age.
    • When courting a female, he will flare at her.
    • Make bubble nests from spitting out bubbles. Male Bettas do this in preparation for baby Bettas or in the hope of a partner to spawn with.


    • Does well with other female bettas.
    • When courting a male, she will flare at him.

    Bettas Attacking Other Bettas

    When placing a male and female Betta together, watch them carefully. If the female is not ready for spawning, the male will attack her. Male Bettas will only accept female Bettas that are ripe for spawning.

    If you place Bettas together and see any of the below, they must be separated immediately.

    • Fish position themselves side-by-side, head-to-tail
    • Fish will twist into an S-shape
    • Fish will slap each other with tail
    • Fish will bite into the others tail
    • Fish will lock mouths ensuing a jerking motion

    “Swimming On” our next article

    Join us now as we continue on in our Betta series where we will dig deeper into the fascinating world of the Betta fish.

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