Betta Lessons

by Leslie Keefer

Occasionally as we progress in a hobby, we lose touch with the magical aspects that drew us to that activity in the first place. Technical information takes precedence. I decided a few years ago that breeding Betta splendens would be the best option for me given my small quarters. Last fall, I ordered some very beautiful well-bred fish from a breeder in Missouri. I took a day off work to wait for Federal Express and set up three to six gallon tanks to accommodate my new Bettas. Of course, all tanks were full of reverse osmosis water with just the right additives to make the water slightly soft with pH 7.0. Each was maintained at 84 degrees with live plants present in all of them. My new fish were fed a large variety of fresh, frozen and freeze dried foods. When they seemed to be of the proper age and size to breed I carefully followed directions set forth by different breeders. I set up the spawning tanks, introduced the females in glass chimneys, kept the water level low and waited for the males to build nests. One of my three pairs built no nest at all. The other two males both built satisfactory nests. After a few days I released the females. I thought I had a success on my hands as one pair spawned. But as the days progressed, I noticed that the male had no interest in maintaining his nest. The bubbles burst and no fry were to be found. I am uncertain whether the eggs were not fertile or the father was negligent. The other pairs never spawned at all.

Meanwhile, a friend who had never kept fish before developed an interest in Bettas. She bought several from a local pet store and was keeping them in vases with a peace lily plant. Out of curiosity she poured a female into a vase with a male. Her female survived several days with the male while suffering very little noticeable abuse and spawned. I was floored, and a little jealous. Not that I didn’t want her to be successful, but why if I tried so hard did I not succeed when she did?

Inspired by my co-worker’s spawn, I went home and tried again. I selected the two fish that seemed to ignore each other and kept both in a small net breeder in one of my community tanks. After about a week of apparently not spawning, I removed the female since she didn’t seem to be eating much. The next day when I looked in on the male, I was shocked. There in the middle of his nest was a mass of eggs. The next night when I checked on him again he was busy catching falling fry and extending his huge bubble nest. Unfortunately I lost quite a few babies. (I learned that the Angelfish in the tank can suck the newly hatched fry through the netting). I have been moving the eggs from more recent spawns to a small tank to hatch out.

While I still attempt some spawns in the community tank, I have managed to settle on a set-up that my Bettas seem to approve of. Currently I use small Eclipse tanks divided in half with a piece of plastic craft mesh. The female and male are kept separate until spawning. No glass chimneys or jars - I have yet to have a female that would accept that scenario. I leave the filtration that is built into the tank running until the pair spawn and then swap it for the good old sponge filter/air pump combination. After the pair spawn, I remove them. Fry hatch in about three days and are fed newly hatched baby brine shrimp and possibly infusoria growing in the plants.

It used to be that everything I learned about fish keeping and breeding seemed so amazing. But lately, with all the technology available to exactly mimic water conditions and environments, I assumed that I could just coerce my fish into spawning. Perhaps I just needed to learn that technology doesn’t guarantee success. Of course I won’t stop watching water parameters. Nor will I give up mixing vitamins in with dried foods. As I sit here in my living room sorting out an inventory of chemicals and foods that could stock a decent sized local fish store, I will try to remember that I can try to mimic Mother Nature, but I am not the real thing.

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 33, # 2