BREEDING AND REARING OF YOUNG BETTA FISH
Breeding betta fish, according to the professionals, is not difficult. Novices, however, report varying degrees of success. Perhaps the measure of achievement lies in the participants: the fish, the man – sometimes both.
Young betta fish, if brought up properly and not stunted, are capable of being bred when twelve weeks old. Professionals delay any breeding activity until their fish are at least twenty weeks old, or better still, twenty-eight to thirty weeks old. At this age their conformation, coloration, and finnage can be seen at their best.
The breeding stock is of the utmost importance. Breeders should use known strains of fish whose backgrounds will reliably produce the wanted traits. Unfortunately, most novice breeders have little choice because little or nothing is known about their pet’s backgrounds. This does not appear to bother the novices too much. Most of them just want to “breed fish.”
On the other hand, the serious breeder, who has unknown genetic traits to work with, decides where he wants his breeding to go. Then, in subsequent spawnings of progeny after progeny, he slowly approaches his goal. This may be nothing more than obtaining a solidly colored strain. Or it may be as complicated as changing the shape of the body or a fin. In either case, the chosen goal is reached only with selective breeding: with raising the young, with choosing from these the one fish that comes closest to your ideal, and repeating this selective process through successive spawnings until the ideal is reached.
To be successful, it is not enough just to “breed bettas.” The novice must be able to rear the young as well. It is here that the beginner sometimes falters.
The pair chosen for breeding obviously must be in the best of condition. Both male and female should have the traits the breeder raise red fish, he will breed a pair of bettas truly as red as possible. In this case, knowing the ancestry of the breeding fish would be a help.
When the chosen pair has been selected, they should be kept apart and fed well on a diet of live food, if at all possible. If not, then on top-quality substitutes.
When the male is ready to spawn, he starts to blow bubbles. These appear sometimes as a few small “suds” n the surface or as a fully-erected bubble nest – a mound of tiny, white bubbles that spread over from four to six square inches of water and rise to the height of half an inch. This nest is made up of individual gulps of air taken into the buccal cavity where they are given a mucous coating and then expelled. It is a tedious, time-consuming job for the male, but he seldom tired of it. In fact, from his actions it appears occupation – perhaps in anticipation of the female.
The female betta, ready for breeding, gives fewer, more subtle hints of her ripeness. She should be observed carefully because, if she is not ready when introduced to the male, an unsuccessful spawning will result. (Egg-bound females can release their roe without assistance.)
The female always has played second fiddle to the male. Not blessed with his finnage or coloration, considerably less pretentious, she seldom receives the care given to him. Yet her action at breeding time is of the utmost important. She should be in prime condition. She should be fairly close in size to the male. Never breed bettas greatly different in size. The female should be alert and active. She should possess a rotund abdomen distended by the ripeness of her eggs. Often, a little, white, bead-like dot will be noticed at her vent. This is the end of the ovipositor or egg-tube. It is a good indication of her readiness for breeding.
The tank setup for betta spawning is simplicity itself. Its size is a matter of preference. The author always has used a three- to five- gallon aquarium. It should be clean and have a full, tight cover. No aeration is needed at breeding time. In fact, still water is essential so that neither the nest nor the eggs it contains will be disturbed. The temperature should be a uniform 82 to 85°F.
The empty breeding tank should be filled to a depth of only four or five inches. A greater depth than this gives added work to the male who must catch both falling eggs and fry which hatch and drift down from the nest. This catching in his mouth is an almost endless procedure. The water use can be either fairly fresh or it can be taken from a clean, healthy aquarium. The breeders are not too particular about this.
A few floating plants can be use as an anchor for the nest. If such plants are not available, a three — to four – inch square of waxed paper can be floated. Males invariably prefer to build their nest beneath something of this sort on the surface.
As we mentioned earlier, prior to introduction into the breeding aquarium, the sexes should be kept part. There are two ways of accomplishing this. Some divide the aquarium in half with a piece of glass. Others allow the male the run of the aquarium while the female swims in a small, floating jar. She is easily seen, but untouchable.
The male should be allowed to build, or at least start to build, the nest. While doing this, he will carry on a vigorous flirtation with the female. His courtship is an exciting thing to watch. His actions, complete with fin-flaring, tail-batting, and mock entreaties containing masked but obvious threats, are almost unique in fishdom. The confined female does her best to escape her confinement and meet the male’s advances.
Finally, the divider is removed and the courtship reaches new heights. Only infrequently does the female respond immediately and follow the male beneath the nest to begin their nuptial embrace. Instead, her timidity increases as the male becomes more audacious. He will strike at her, often making a rough-and-tumble chase out of the courtship. The female should have some place of refuge, such as a small flowerpot lying on its side, or a clump of plants. When the chase reaches such a pitch that the female is endangered (although this sometimes works in reverse, with the male endangered), they again should be separated in the previous manner. This separation and introduction technique safeguards injury. Such an discontinuance of the spawning.
Eventually, after one or more separations, the female does agree to follow the male beneath the nest. After a few trials, breeding begins in earnest. They circle each other slowly in a head-to-tail approach. At the propitious moment, the male, moving slowly in a circling motion, enfolds the female in a U-shaped body clutch. They turn slowly upside down in a trembling embrace. Her eggs are released to be fertilized immediately with sperm from the male. When the male releases her, she lies inactive near the surface while little white irregularly-shaped eggs may be seen dropping.
Now the male begins his task of catching the falling eggs in his mouth and carrying them to the nest. He then inspects the bottom of the tank. Any eggs lying about are rescued and returned to the nest as well.
The female normally helps with the egg-catching after she recovers from the embrace. It is here that success or failure of a spawning often is decided. There are abnormal females who sometimes eat the eggs. To satisfy this craving, they craftily grab those eggs in the nest while the male is elsewhere, these egg-eating females are rare. Egg-eating males are even rarer. It does happen, however, that they too, when left alone to guard the nest, will devour all, or nearly all, of the eggs.
There is more than one spawning embrace. They are repeated with only short pauses until the female is devoid of eggs. Lengths of spawning vary, depending upon how many eggs the female has. Egg expulsion on each embrace can be as few as one or two, or as many as thirteen to eighteen. An average-size spawning may contain 350-400 eggs. These will take two or three hours to deliver into the nest.
The female should be removed just as soon as the spawning is completed. The male will drive her away from the nest and assume full command of its care. If the female is not removed, she is in serious danger from the male. She should be given clean living quarters with a medication in the water to heal tears and wounds inflicted by the male. If she is fed properly, she should be capable of breeding again in a week or two. For a maximum egg count, keep her from spawning for at least sixteen days.
The male, now in full charge, immediately starts extensive nest repairs and clustering the eggs together in a fairly compact mass. The treatment of the eggs varies according to the male. Some show a total lack of interest which results in the failure of the spawning. Others are extremely attentive. The nest is not only mended, it is enlarged to magnificent proportions. The eggs are moved and moved again until everything is just right. Finally, completely satisfied with his job, he positions himself beneath the nest and stands his lonely guard.
If the aquarium has been kept covered to prevent air from leaking in and breaking the bubbles, the male’s job is an easy one. During this period, he can be fed if desired, but it is not necessary. If not eaten, the food will rot and foul the breeding tank.
At proper breeding temperatures, the betta eggs should hatch in about thirty-six hours. The fry are extremely tiny. They hang vertically with their tails down — a head-in-the-suds position. The male becomes vigilant. He constantly catches and blows back any falling baby.
On the day after hatching, look carefully beneath the nest. Have your eyes follow a line across the surface. The nest will resemble a finely-bristled brush because of all the tails dangling in the water.
On the following day, the fry begin to assume a horizontal swimming stance. On the day after this, they are capable of swimming about slowly. The male’s duties now have been completed. He should be removed. His parental obligation fulfilled, he is likely to consider the fry not his offspring, but his food. Like the female, he will be ready for spawning again in a few days.
Feeding the young
As soon as the fry start swimming, they will start to look for food, so have it ready for them. Form this point on you alone are responsible for raising the young. Up to now, the male betta has done most of the work. It is your turn to take over.
The baby bettas will want living food. It must be of a size that can be swallowed easily – almost microscopic. This means infusoria. These are a variety of tiny organisms which thrive in water. Perhaps you will remember them from your high school days as protozoa, paramecia, or rotifers. All abound in stagnant water. Perhaps you have such a stagnant pool in your vicinity where you can collect infusoria. If not, you will have to culture your own. Tablets for this are available at aquarium shops or you can make your own culture with an infusion of hay, chopped lettuce, or dried lima beans in a large jar of stagnant aquarium water.
When feeding infusoria, always make sure that there are a great many of them in the culture. When culturing them, the first growth in the jar will consist of tremendous quantities of bacteria as well as mold from the dead plant surfaces. The water in this first stage will be very cloudy. It becomes less cloudy when protozoa are present in great number. They can be removed by the use of a medicine dropper or rubber bulb syringe, such as those sold for babies. A rubber bulb of the type used for starting filters, with a length of rigid plastic tubing attached, can be used also. Draw the infusonia from areas in the jar that have clouds of them visible.
The hatchlings cannot eat baby brine shrimp until they are about a week old. Hard-boiled egg yolk must be fed, a small amount at a time, at least three times a day. Since infusoria are alive and dispersed through the water, enough can be fed in the morning to last all day. Do not foul the water with excess food.
If fed live good, the sexes will be distinguishable as soon as the fish are about two months old. Young bettas cannot be sexed when very young. Even at an early age, however, careful observation will reveal when the anal fins of some begin to grow longer than those of others. The tail and dorsal soon follow suit. Separate the young males as soon as they are recognized to prevent their scrapping with one another. If the space is limited, now is the time to select the best (usually the earliest developers) and dispose of the others.
Aeration is not advisable in the breeding tank. It may destroy the bubble nest. Once the young are free-swimming, aeration can begin, as it takes several days for the labyrinth to develop sufficiently for the fry to utilize atmospheric oxygen. If the room is cool or dry, keep a glass cover the tank. A 15-gallon tank is the smallest size you should use to raise an entire spawning. If a tank of at least this size is not available, discard part of the spawn. This sacrifice will permit the remainder to develop properly.
To sum up, then, the major problems are the need for higher temperature, the possibility of severe damage to a reluctant female, the size of the young, and the need for early separation of the males as well as the space in which to isolate them. The color of the prospective parents is of consequence only if one wishes to breed a pure line of a particular color. Since most bettas offered for sale are color hybrids, it is almost impossible to predict the color of their young.