A few years ago, a new hybrid betta arrived on the aquarium scene. Boasting intricate markings and otherworldly colors, the newcomer was branded the ‘Alien Betta,’ although nobody knew exactly why.
Much confusion and controversy still surrounds the alien betta: Where it came from and whether it’s an ethical breed. What we do know is that the alien betta possesses many of the beautiful traits of several wild betta fish subspecies.
Let’s untangle some of the mystique surrounding this fish and find out the very best ways to care for it.
Alien Bettas at a Glance
|Alien Betta Info|
|Common Names||Alien Betta|
|Scientific Name||Unknown hybrid within the Betta splendens complex|
|Minimum Tank Size||5 to 10 gallons|
|Diet||Omnivore but primarily carnivorous|
|Aggressive||Often more peaceful than typical betta fish|
|Water Temperature||78° to 81°F|
|pH Level||pH 6-8|
|Water Hardness||4 - 18 dGH|
Origin and Background
Alien bettas are one of the more recent breeds of betta fish, created by cross-breeding different species of betta fish. But there is much contrasting information about its parentage.
While some sources suggest that they were created by crossing the domesticated Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), with a wild species, others report that the alien form came from two wild species crossed together.
Possible parentage of wild fish include Betta smaragdina, Betta mahachaiensis, and Betta stikos. While some people have suggested there could be some Betta imbellis genetics thrown in, alien bettas don’t share many traits with that species.
While the alien betta doesn’t exist in the wild, it certainly has some wild betta genetics. Its appearance shares characteristics of all three of the aforementioned species.
Some people feel that creating man-made hybrids from wild betta fish is unethical, one primary reason being that hybrid fish could confuse the pure bloodlines of the wild species.
Because alien bettas look so similar to some of the wild species, they could easily get mixed up, forever corrupting the purebred genetics.
Additionally, if alien bettas ever got released into the wild, we’d be introducing a manmade, ‘alien species’ to native populations that have evolved independently for thousands of years.
Hybridizing species is also a very unpredictable business, with offspring sometimes displaying undesirable traits or mutations.
Some people have reported their alien bettas as sterile – incapable of producing offspring, while others have successfully bred successive generations from two alien betta parents.
Size and Appearance
As I mentioned, alien bettas share much in common with three wild species of betta fish: Betta smaragdina, Betta mahachaiensis, and Betta stikos.
These gorgeous wild types are characterized by their bright blue, green, and turquoise iridescent pearly scales, interspersed with reddish to brown pigments.
While some alien bettas share this reddish-turquoise color combination, others have an exotic deep blue and black coloring. Pink, purple, copper, and white variations are also available.
Alien bettas typically have a very pronounced and striking checkered or striped pattern on their fins, which is one of their most appealing characteristics.
Alien Betta Care Guide
Alien bettas need the same size tank as other types of betta fish – that means an absolute minimum of 5 gallons for a single fish.
Nano tanks aren’t without their problems, though. 5-gallon aquariums are notorious for having unstable water chemistry, so 10-gallon or 15-gallon tanks are much better for a solo fish.
If you’d like to include some peaceful schooling fish, such as rasboras or cories in the tank, you’ll need to purchase a 20-gallon tank at the very least.
Alien bettas will be happiest when you replicate the natural habitat of their ancestors within the tank.
While their exact parentage remains a mystery, wild betta fish typically prefer a tank set up with dense plants, subdued lighting, and pieces of hardwood driftwood to produce some tannins in the water.
One of the possible forebears of the alien betta, Betta mahachaiensis, has an unusual native habitat of tidal mangrove swamps with brackish water, so it’s difficult, even for experts, to generalize or guess the perfect aquarium environment for alien bettas.
Betta fish, especially the wild varieties, are known to be excellent jumpers, taking any opportunity to leap out of the tiniest gap in the tank’s lid! A tight-fitting lid on your fish tank is essential to prevent this often fatal incident from occurring.
All fish in the Betta splendens complex (which includes all the betta species mentioned so far) are equatorial fish, requiring warm water temperatures to thrive.
Like their cousins, alien bettas are very sensitive to sudden changes in water temperature, so acclimatizing them properly in a new tank and avoiding temperature fluctuations is essential to avoid thermal shock.
There are mixed opinions over the ideal water parameters for the alien betta, but a near-neutral pH and a dGH of between 4-18 should be fine.
Never believe the myths that betta fish can live without a filter. As with keeping any fish, an efficient aquarium filter is essential.
Because bettas don’t like strong currents, I’d recommend a sponge filter for tanks up to 10 gallons in volume. For larger tanks, hang-on back (HOB) filters are a good option, but make sure the current isn’t too strong.
Some filters allow you to manually adjust the flow rate. On other models, you can reduce the water current by using an aquarium spray bar, or lily pipe.
Like other betta fish, alien bettas enjoy a varied, fairly carnivorous diet.
Dried foods like flake foods and betta pellets are readily accepted, but dried fish foods should always be supplemented with meaty fresh and frozen foods such as bloodworms, tubifex worms, daphnia, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae.
As usual, feed your betta fish twice a day, with no more than it can eat in 2 minutes. Overfeeding is one of the most common causes of water quality and health problems in betta fish. Even if your fish seem hungry, be careful not to feed too much!
Alien Betta Aggression
There are many reports that alien bettas are less aggressive fish than betta splendens, the regular domesticated betta fish.
This is quite possible since wild betta species like Betta smaragdina, Betta mahachaiensis, and Betta stikos tend to be more peaceful fish than Betta splendens.
Be warned, however – this is only a general rule! Each betta fish has its own personality, and the family is renowned for being highly territorial, especially in the upper water layers.
While some bettas of any species won’t tolerate anything else in their tank, others can coexist with all kinds of tank mates in relative harmony.
Should You Keep Alien Bettas Alone or in Pairs?
Some keepers have successfully kept male and female alien betta fish together, but due to aggression issues, this should only be attempted by highly skilled aquarists.
Two or more male alien bettas could easily fight to the death, so they should never be kept together, except in an aquarium with a tank divider.
Compatible Tank Mates for Alien Betta
Since alien bettas tend to be slightly more peaceful than betta splendens, there’s more chance of them striking a peaceful relationship with a wider range of tank mates.
For small aquariums of up to 10 gallons, snails and shrimp make the best tank mates. Mystery snails, ramshorn snails, cherry shrimp, and ghost shrimp do a good job of cleaning algae but can also breed excessively. Nerite snails and Amano shrimp are excellent algae eaters and don’t breed in freshwater.
A larger tank of 20 gallons opens up the option of keeping well-behaved freshwater community fish like harlequin rasboras, chili rasboras, and ember tetra. Bottom dwellers like Corydoras catfish, bristlenose plecos, and kuhli loaches also make great companions.
Other schooling tropical fish like Neon tetra, cardinal tetra, and rummy nose tetra could also be tried, but have been known to nip betta fish fins, especially when kept in small groups or when stressed.
Avoid any larger, more aggressive fish like barbs, cichlids, and gouramis, and also very delicate species like guppies and Medaka rice fish.
Health and Disease
Alien bettas are susceptible to the same health conditions and illnesses as other types of betta fish. In general, they should remain healthy unless they become stressed or water quality becomes very poor.
Ich, velvet, and flukes are all common parasitic diseases that can lie dormant in an aquarium for years until a weakened fish or very poor water quality offers them a chance to strike.
Similarly, bacterial and fungal infections like columnaris and water molds only tend to affect fish that are already in a vulnerable state.
As mentioned earlier, alien bettas are vulnerable to having their fins nipped by other fish. Nipped fins can lead to fin rot – a bacterial infection that can then invade the rest of the body.
Keeping betta fish in a tank with plenty of hiding places and peaceful tank mates is the best defense against such problems.
As with other betta fish, male and female alien bettas look very different. Whereas males have long, flowing fins and bright colors, females have shorter fins and duller colors. Females also tend to be slightly smaller than male alien betta fish.
The more showy characteristics of male bettas have led to them becoming much more popular for aquariums than females.
Breeding any type of betta fish is a tricky endeavor and should only be attempted by seasoned fish keepers.
Tank conditions need to be just right, and males will often attack or even kill females before mating. To make it even more challenging, alien bettas are sometimes infertile, and their offspring can be unpredictable in form and color.
Because they make bubble nests, alien bettas need a dedicated breeding tank with a weak current and floating plants for successful reproduction.
Be sure to have some prior breeding experience with easier fish such as livebearers, cichlids, or Medaka rice fish before attempting to breed any type of betta!
For those who are interested, some helpful articles on breeding betta fish can be found here.
A happy, healthy alien betta fish should exceed 3 years of age in captivity. In some rare cases, they might even exceed 5 years in the ideal fish tank!
For these bettas to reach their maximum lifespan, their diet, water quality, and quality of care must be of the highest order.
Here are some top tips for keeping your Alien Betta in tip-top condition:
- Feed them a diverse, high-protein diet that includes regular additions of live or frozen foods. Avoid overfeeding!
- To keep water clean, get yourself a good filter and clean it every 2-3 weeks.
- Vacuum your substrate and make partial water changes of 15-35% every 1-2 weeks with treated water of matching temperature.
- Get yourself a reliable heater and thermometer. Make daily checks to ensure the temperature is within the ideal range for all of your fish.
- Observe your fish closely every day to ensure they are in good health and interacting peacefully with each other.
- Test your aquarium’s water at least once a month or any time your fish seem unwell.
Alien Betta Buying Guide
Because alien bettas vary considerably in their colors and markings, they also vary in price. While the most exotic forms like the ‘copper longfin alien betta’ may sell for over $70, you can also find blue and emerald forms for $25-$35 in 2023.
If you’re buying your fish from a store, only choose active individuals with bright colors, shiny eyes, and healthy-looking fins. If you’re buying online, always check reviews to ensure the site’s integrity.
The Alien Betta is a slightly controversial new addition to the plethora of betta varieties on the market. Their vibrant colors and exotic markings have made them popular with some, while others remain less convinced.
Their ambiguous ancestry has led to much confusion about their optimum tank conditions, but they appear to be fairly adaptable and hardy fish that tend to be more peaceful than their ‘Siamese fighting fish relatives.