Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Betta, Betta, Betta

Last weekend my roommate and I decided it was time for a pet. We agreed that a Betta fish would be a good addition to our room. Betta fish, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are a common household pet. My roommate and I were inexperienced in Betta care. I was aware of the common fact that two males will fight each other if put in the same tank, but I was curious to what other behavior these little creatures possessed.

When we first brought “Henry” home he was very skittish. He could dart across the tank in less than a second. Betta fish are found in small, shallow streams in Southeast Asia. They face many predators and thus one of their defense mechanisms is being able to dart quickly through the water.

In terms of their fighting behavior, these fish are just doing what most male species do; protecting their territory. Why then do Betta’s get a bad rap for their aggressive behavior? It has been said that this behavior was bred into them. A tribe in Southeast Asia (called the Bettahs) would fight betta fish, for money in underground playing arenas, much like dog fighting. Historians argue that the Bettah tribe would fight the fish to test their bravery, and not to watch one of the fish die. The fish that survived a single fight would then be pampered and used for breeding for the remainder of it’s life. The past century society started marketing and selling the fish as pets, the behavior stayed. It is argued that this behavior was “nurtured” into the fish, and not instilled at birth. Wild Bettas do not fight to the death. When one of the males has seemingly won, the other will retreat away. When the domesticated Bettas fight to the death, it is due only to the interference of humans centuries ago.

Another interesting behavior about the Betta fish is that it has a special organ called a labyrinth as the top of its head. This allows the fish to take oxygen directly from the air, as well as with its gills. Henry often swims to the tope of the fish bowl, in fact he rarely “hangs out” near the bottom of the bowl. Bettas need to be able to reach the waters surface in order to survive.

A couple days after we got Henry, weird bubble nests started forming at the top of his tank. These were due to male Betta reproduction. When males are trying to mate, they will from “bubble nests” with their saliva that float to the top of the tank. They then will mate with a female, and the fertilized eggs will float to the nest and “snuggle” in there. The male will guard the nest until the younglings hatch. As to why Henry was making bubble nests is beyond me, poor guy there’s not a female around for miles!

Mia DiFabbio (2)

UPDATE!!! ( 9.29.08)
Thanks for the interesting questions. Many of you expressed interest in the "bubblenest", based on the information I have found, domesticated Bettas do not have a fixed reproductive cycle. The males will make bubble nests when they are happy. In saying this, if you or your friends Bettas are making bubble nests you are doing a good job! It shows that they are healthy enough to want to mate, and it shows they are comfortable in the enviorment you have provided for them. In terms of other fish that have a Labyrinth organ, I have enlisted a site that shows pictures of various species. Most fish that have this, are tropical.


At 6:10 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Betta fish are very interesting. Thanks for posting this, it was nice to read about another persons pet. Did you know that if you put a mirror in front of the male betta that his gills will flare out in fighting mode? Just a little side note- My sister, who should never be resposible for anothers care, had a betta fish at Rutgers and came home for winter break. She left the fish, and we were all mad at her for leaving it to die. Well, come to find out, when she returned to Rutgers a month later the little guy was still there and doing fine. He even came home with her in the Spring!

I'm not sure how he held out, but I wonder- as you are now an owner yourself- if you know anything about their ability to store fat or hibernate in situations like my sisters? It would be interesting to find out, anyway.

Good Luck with him!

-Michele Copeland (2)

At 12:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that answers the question of the gender of my roomate's fish. I'm in charge of him for the weekend while she's home and he's been puting sticky bubbles at the top of his tank. I was wondering if this wanting a mate affects their eating habit, cuz he doesn't seem as interested in food as he usually does.

Ada Marie Flores

At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My beta fish would also make bubble nests in his tank, even though the nearest female was probably at the pet store. Did you come across any information about why they nest even though there are no females? Is it just a constant behavior, or is there some kind of environmental cue that's present even in the absence of a female?
On a side note, betas do have a limited temperature range in which they can survive. My roomate and I accidentally left our first pair of betas by the window one day. The sun came out, and our fish were dead when we came home from class :(

-Corinne Delisle (2)

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betta fish are very interesting creatures. My father has one at home and when he first got it there was an adjustment period for it. During my freshman year, my room mates had the "brilliant" idea of purchasing them and fighting them they would "finish" the other one off. Luckly they got bored or something and some survived, I decided to seperate them and they went on to live for quite sometime thankfully. Very interesting article.

Duy Nguyen

At 7:20 PM, Anonymous allison cornell said...

I once attempted to raise a goldfish in a bowl with disastrous results. After debating whether or not to give up owning fish, I tried raising a betta in similar conditions, and it lived to a ripe old age. I was always curious why the betta lived so much better in its small confined space without an air filter. Do any other species of fish possess such a labyrinth structure allowing them to access to atmospheric oxygen?

I've seen bettas live in tanks with other species. Do you know what the sign stimulus is for male bettas?

Allison Cornell (2)

At 12:10 AM, Blogger PWH said...

Last semester I volunteered to watch my friend's betta fish and i remember wondering why there was so much foam in the tank..but thanks to you now I know. I really thought the history of the betta fish was interesting...I always assumed they were naturally extremely aggressive creatures. But I do wonder what if betta fish have a fixed mating season like most animals or not?

-Joanne Philippeaux

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My roommate two years ago had a beta fish, but I always thought that the bubbles were there simply because she was a pretty filthy individual and never cleaned the tank.
I have also seen their resiliance in lack of care, however I find it hard to believe that it has to do with fat storage. I suggest that maybe in captivity and in lack of predators, a Beta fish in a small tank can reduce its ebergy demand and so it is able to survive longer without food.

Noam Pelleg

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aww you should buy a female betta fish so they can mate! I liked this story, I never knew that people fought fish like that. Seems a bit odd to me that anyone would want to fight such small fish. I find that interesting about the bubble nests, why would the males do it even if they are alone? They must not be able to sense they are in a tank by themselves.

-Julie Riley

At 5:27 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I found this article very interesting, but I was a little concerned about why Henry rarely spends time at the bottom of the fish tank. Just the other day in my Comparative Animal Physiology class we learned that Betta fish (or any normal pet fish such as a gold fish) can make as many as 200 visits an hour to the surface of the fish tank if the fish tank water isn't properly oxidized. I'm not as clear about the information about Betta fish and their ability to extract oxygen with their gills as I am with Gold fish, but do you think there are any other reasons why the Betta fish hangs out near the surface so much?

-Kiel Boutelle

At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your article since it reminded me of when my roomate and I had a Betta fish as well! I also didnt know about the "Betta fighting" but that does seem to explain the Betta's agression...
Whenever we used to put out finger near the fishtank our Betta would freak out and start swimming around really fast... I guess that is explained by their quick defense mechanism, they seem to be constantly at guard for any predators/ confrontations.

Do female Betta fish have any way of demonstrating that they are ready for mating like the males?

Goodluck with your Betta! (Be careful not to feed him too much or you might kill it!)

By: Brena Sena

At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting article. My beta fish makes used to make bubbles at the top as well. I didn't have him for a long time, so I couldn't figure this out, but do they do this year round? If so, why, if they aren't near any females? When I did have my beta, I would place mine next to my sister's (in their own bowls of course), and they would go after each other and try to fight through the bowls. Why does this happen? And finally, I was told that betas can only live in distilled water. Why is this, if they live in the wild without distilled water?

-Alyson Paige

At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never knew that betas needed an open surface on the water to survive. I've heard many arguments about what the best tank space for a beta is, as some think that the small tanks are inhumane to the fish, and tanks that have plants growing in them crowd the fish as well. Do you know anything about this? I haven't seen any research done for one side or the other.

Stephen Lee

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Now I know a bit more about the popular fish (I see them everywhere!). I wonder why males still produce those bubble nests even though there are no females in sight...good work.

Ericka Adey

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My roommate and I had a Betta Fish my sophomore year here. We would often watch to see what kind of behavior "Zoltar" would exhibit, but unfortunately, we never got to witness anything interesting. One of my questions is, why didn't our Betta fish do anything, for lack of a better word, cool? Do you think it could be because ours was a female? Are there and unique behaviors in female Betta fish, that identify them as female? When you bought "Henry" did you know he was a male? How did you know? Thanks for posting about this, I know plenty of people with Betta fish and it's nice to know a little bit more about them.

Posted by: Amanda Sceusa

At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dorm rooms are small, but the inhabitants have the ability to exit their room. Fishbowls are much smaller than dorm rooms, but the fish have no means of leaving. Fish as pets is upsetting because of the pathetically small environment in which they live. They breath and swim in the same small amount of water in which they excrete their bodily wastes. The life of a fish is depressing. PETA has overlooked this sort of animal cruelty. I have seen many fishtanks, some of which have plenty of animals, natural decor, and water movements. But even in the most extravagant fishtank environments, there still exists a major difference from their natural habitat: size. A poor betta fish stuck in a cup of water barely the size of its fins can be described as cruel. I imagine a world where I do not feel sorry for an animal that lives in a few handfuls of water.

Jordan Grinstein

At 1:04 AM, Anonymous Odmir Rodrigues said...

Betta fish is a good article, but when I read it, I felt that you shoud explain more about the causes why the two males were fighting. Were any genes or hormones involved or was territory preservation the only reason?

Odmir Rodrigues

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a Betta fish a while ago, and as inexperienced fish owners we let him live in our large tank with other fish and never had a problem. Peple would tehn correct us abot our fish care, but I think that this really showed that the fighting to the death is not an intrinsic behavior but one that was trained in. thanks for this interesting article.

posted by Erica Damon

At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow i really enjoyed your post as a former owner two betas. also i remember watching the bettas in walmart when i worked there they behavior is very interesting. but be careful don't over feed them but other than that they are east o care for. -Matthew Sousa


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