If I say “Betta,” you say “splendens,” right? After all, Betta splendens (aka Siamese fighting fish) are the fish that most aquarists know and love. Their aggressive temperament can be a hassle, but their beautiful coloration and fun personalities more than make up for that. But did you know there’s more to these fish than just being popular in the pet trade?
There is more to betta fish than just the selectively bred B. splendens. Although most don’t feature stunning colors like domestic bettas, many are less aggressive; these betta fish can be kept together, are easy to breed, and show fascinating behaviors. They’re a great genus if you’re looking to set up a dark water aquarium and getting into creating biotope aquascapes.
As a whole, wild betta fish are often overlooked in the hobby and in the overall pet trade. If you’re interested in getting into keeping these betta fish, keep reading. We’ll discuss 9 fascinating species that will make you forget all about domestic bettas!
Known as the scorpion betta, which is probably the coolest common name of all bettas, B. brownorum is appreciated for its bright red coloration and bluish-green side spot. Interestingly, the size and intensity of the spot vary depending on locales. These betta fish are usually found in very dark and slow-moving streams, which is a good indication of preferred water conditions.
A low pH of 3.0 to 4.0 with lots of tannins, leaf litter, and cover is needed for these betta fish. A pair can be housed in an aquarium measuring 18×12 inches (45×30 cm), although there is some discussion on how best to keep this fish due to its aggressive nature. It tends to be more territorial when in groups, although notable aggression has been observed amongst pairs as well. You’ll have to offer plenty of hiding places in the form of floating plants, flower pots, and low-light plants, like Java moss, to allow these betta fish to escape aggressive tankmates.
B. macrostoma, also known as the Brunei beauty, is considered to be the holy grail of wild bettas. These betta fish were thought to be extinct for over 50 years before being rediscovered in 1981. Since then, given its rarity and beauty, many aquarists are eager to get their hands on a pair. The fact that these betta fish can cost up to $300 doesn’t stop them!
Its body colors are similar to that of B. albimarginata, although the fin markings differ; B. macrostoma has a large spot on the dorsal fin and more dark bands through the other fins.
With adult fish growing up to 4 inches (10 cm) in length, it’s recommended to have a tank of at least 31×12 inches (80×30 cm) or greater per pair. These betta fish live in more acidic water with a pH of 4.0 to 6.0 and is considered to be difficult to keep, although some hobbyists claim individuals are actually hardier than originally expected. In any case, with its hefty price tag and fairly challenging care, this is not the best beginner fish.
Be sure to add plenty of leaf litter (pictured below) to help imitate B. macrostoma‘s natural habitat and for its many other benefits, which you can read more about here. Keep the water relatively dark and baffle the filter flow to prevent stress.
Named after Hendra Tommy, who first discovered and exported these bettas, B. hendra is a bubblenester from the B. coccina complex known for its stunning blue-green coloration and red cheek bars. If you’re looking for bright colors like those of the domestic betta fish (Betta splendens) you’ve found them! Unfortunately though, B. hendra is considered to be one of the more rare betta fish within the hobby. These fish may also be referred to as B. Sengalang/Palangkayara.
It is definitely not recommended for B. hendra to be kept in the standard community tank; these fish are easily intimidated and outcompeted for food, but you can try keeping them with some carefully chosen tankmates. This works best if the aquarium is large enough and has plenty of leaf litter and hiding places. Simple coconut caves work well as hides and are not expensive.
Peaceful bottom-dwelling fish, like kuhli loaches, won’t bother your bettas in any way, which makes them a good tankmate for these timid fish.
B. imbellis, also known as the peaceful or crescent betta, can be found in acidic, fresh, and brackish water conditions. Despite their common name, these are still fighting fish from the B. splendens complex, so it’s recommended to only keep one male and two or more female fish per tank.
These bettas will also appreciate a dark aquarium that has plenty of hiding places. Tall, low-light plants like Amazon swords, floating plants, and wood will help your bettas feel at ease.
Tip: Consider using a dark substrate like CaribSea’s Moon Sand as this will reflect less light and, as an added bonus, highlight the striking colors of these fish.
B. albimarginata is also known as the whiteseam fighter or strawberry betta. Although it is currently listed as one species, it is possible that it will be separated into three distinct groups based on local data.
The male bettas have reddish-orange bodies with black and white edging along their fins and females tend to be browner with red-orange fins that may or may not have white edging. While male B. albimarginata may be confused with male B. channoides, the female bettas of both groups are a bit more distinctive in appearance.
You can house a pair of adults in an aquarium measuring 18×12 inches (45×30 cm), but as with all fish, it’s recommended to go bigger whenever possible. B. albimarginata does best when kept in at least a trio containing one female and two males. Note that we said multiple males and not multiple females, as is ideal with many other types of fish. This is because, with mouthbrooders, it’s best to have more male fish than female fish to help reduce aggression between the females. Because the male holds the fry, this also prevents one male from being spawned to the point of exhaustion.
B. picta, the spotted betta, is admired for its ease of breeding but, sadly, not much else. It’s considered to be one of the more plain betta fish in terms of coloration and form. As a result, it’s not often in demand within the hobby, which is a shame as its behavior is just as interesting as that of other bettas. Similar species within the complex include B. falx, B. taeniata, and B. simplex.
To house a pair or small group of these betta fish, it’s recommended to have a tank measuring at least 24×12 inches (60×30 cm). Due to their less aggressive nature, B. picta can be kept in community tanks with more peaceful fish. Just make sure they’re not intimidated or outcompeted for food, just like with B. hendra.
B. mahachaiensis, known also as the Mahachai fighter, is only found in a handful of locales and is under extreme threat due to expansions of nearby cities. These betta fish actually do better in brackish environments.
In the past, B. mahachaiensis was considered to be a hybrid, although it is now recognized as a distinct species of its own. It is a gorgeous fish with a brown or black base and blue-green iridescence. Both male and female fish have this coloration, although the colors in males tend to be more intense.
B. pugnax is known by a number of names, including the forest betta fish, Pengang betta fish, or Malayan betta fish. Similar to B. picta, B. pugnax is not a particularly flashy fish, although it can range from a pale brown to green, with males having slightly longer and flowing fins. Given the variety in this group, it’s possible that it may be broken down further in the future into even more subgroups.
These betta fish can grow as large as B. macrostoma, so they do best in 31×12 inch (80×30 cm) setups or more. Also similar to the Brunei beauty, B. pugnax is said to be more tolerant of water chemistry. Like most betta fish, it’s not recommended for standard communities but is considered to be less aggressive compared to other members in the genus.