As a pet owner, it’s always helpful to know your pet’s origins. As a fishkeeper, if you want to take great care of your betta fish and give it the best life possible, you’ll want to deeply understand where it comes from and how it lives in the wild so you can replicate its natural habitat when setting up and maintaining its aquarium.
What Are Betta Fish?
Betta fish (a.k.a Siamese fighting fish) are small freshwater fish that grow up to 3 inches in length, originating from the shallow freshwaters of Southeast Asia in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Siamese fighting fish are one of the most popular aquarium pets for all fish keepers because of their active nature and beautiful coloring.
Where Does the Siamese Fighting Fish Come From?
The discovery of the wild betta species began in Thailand (previously known as Siam) when children discovered their fighting tendencies. They would collect the bettas and place them together to watch them spar against each other. Betta fighting caught on among adults and it became popular for entertainment purposes. During that time, the King of Siam III (now Thailand) decided to regulate the activity and implement a tax on betta fish fighting.
In the 1890s, the prized fish was imported to Germany and France and in 1910, they were brought to San Francisco of the United States by a man called Frank Locke.
What Does the Betta’s Natural Habitat Look Like?
Wild bettas are found in rice paddies, ponds, pools, and slow moving streams.
These shallow bodies of water are warm, between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Rice paddies, ponds, pools, and streams where the wild betta species live are all low flowing, shallow waters with low oxygen levels.
Wild betta waters are typically full of plants and vegetation, which is the primary oxygen source for bettas as well as a hiding place.
The tropical climate surrounding the betta’s habitat is humid and hot in temperature year-round. Summer, from March to June, is humid with temperatures around 40°C, whereas winter is more mild, with 50% to 60% humidity and temperatures ranging from 30°C to 35°C. There is a yearly rainy season, from July to October, which is a cue for the mating season for betta fish.
Do Betta Fish Live in Puddles?
A common misconception about wild bettas is that they live in puddles. This is only the case when their habitat dries out into a mere puddle. The living conditions of a puddle is far too shallow, and bettas will jump to other bodies of water in search for better water quality.
What Fish Are Found With Bettas in the Wild?
Other fish commonly found in Thai rice paddies with betta fish include species of shrimp, rasboras, loaches, zebrafish, paradise fish, barbs, snakeheads, the Nile tilapia, carp, catfish, eels, and gouramis. All tropical freshwater fish that share waters with bettas are all hardy, with the ability to live in low-oxygen, shallow water.
Other creatures that live in the same waters as bettas include snakes, leeches, frogs, rats, turtles, and waterbirds including ducks, herons, and rails.
What are Bettas Like in the Wild?
Betta fish are a popular hobby fish due to their vibrant, bright colors and long, flowing fins. The same isn’t true for betta fish in the wild, however. In the wild, betta fish have shorter fins and are a dull-ish green-gray color. Hobby betta fish have undergone a selective breeding process that has created an array of vibrant colors and fin types in the betta species.
Though betta fish share waters with other species, wild bettas live a solitary life. As you may be able to guess, the betta didn’t get its name “Siamese fighting fish” out of nowhere. Betta fish are aggressive fish, especially males; however, wild betta fights are shorter and less common as in domestic bettas, due to the fact that domestic bettas are in a much more confined space than wild bettas.
How Do Bettas Breed in the Wild?
First, the male betta will create a bubble nest using its labyrinth organ. When the bubble nest is prepared, the male seeks a female mate, by making his fins bigger and brighter. Once they’re ready to mate, they commence a mating dance, where the male chases the female betta around, sometimes nipping her fins. When the dance is complete, the male betta will wrap himself around the female, where he squeezes the eggs out of the female. The male betta retrieves each egg laid by the female then spits them out into the bubble nest, coated in its mucus.
The process can take several hours. When the female finishes laying the eggs, she leaves. Male bettas are particularly territorial over their bubble nests, heavily patrolling them to ensure no other fish, including female bettas, come to eat the eggs.
What Do Bettas Eat in the Wild?
Betta fish have lots of access to food in their natural habitat. Betta fish are omnivores, eating plant matter, insect larvae and bloodworms. In Asia, there is an abundance of insects around water sources. These insects use the water surface to lay eggs, giving betta fish plenty of easy-access fibrous foods.
What Are the Betta Fish’s Natural Predators?
The betta’s natural predators include snakes, frogs, larger fish, and turtles.
Other Major Threats to Betta Fish
Betta fish are much more in danger as a result of human disturbances. Some activities that affect the health of bettas and other species include water waste, industrial, military, forestry, and agricultural effluents, and human work. These are causing slow, yet significant declines in the wild betta population. As a result of these disturbances, wild bettas have been vulnerable to extinction since 2011, according to the ICUN Red List.
How Long do Betta Fish Live?
In the wild, betta fish live up to 2 years. The wild betta lifespan is shorter than captive bettas (2-5 years) for a few reasons:
First, wild bettas need to forage for their own food. At times, food can be hard to find, due to the fact that they’re competing with other fish for it.
Second, betta fish living in the wild, also are constantly faced with other betta fish or species that cause them feelings of aggression. Constantly being on edge about territory invaders can become too stressful for a betta to handle. This stress lowers their immune system, making them more vulnerable to diseases and illnesses, and as a result, can shorten their lifespan.
Finally, as previously mentioned, wild bettas and other species live in polluted waters, which captive betta fish don’t have to deal with, which also shortens their lifespan.
How Do Betta Fish Survive in the Wild?
In order to literally survive in habitats with low oxygen levels, betta fish have developed the ability to breathe air at the water’s surface. They have evolved to use what’s called a labyrinth organ that allows betta fish to take oxygen in from air, similar to the human lung. The labyrinth organ works alongside the gills for betta fish to get enough oxygen to survive.
For survival against predators and other betta fish that may be looking for a fight, betta fish hide among the vegetation in their habitats.
Differences Between Wild Betta Fish and Hobby Betta Fish
The biggest difference between wild betta fish and domesticated bettas are as follows:
- Betta fish are more aggressive in captivity
- Captive betta fish have more vibrant and bright colors, with larger fins
- Betta fish have a longer lifespan in aquariums
How to Replicate the Natural Betta Habitat at Home
- Use a water heater, unless your room temperature is no lower than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, year round. Cold water slows the betta’s immune system, causing them to become lethargic and risk death.
- Use a low-flow filter.
- Use real plants. I always recommend using real plants over artificial plants because they provide beneficial nutrients to aquarium fish, improve overall water quality, and prevent cuts and scrapes from sharp synthetic edges.
- Be wary of what fish you put in your betta tank. Like wild bettas, domestic bettas are territorial fish and don’t get along with fish with a tendency to nip. Never combine two male bettas or any bright-colored fish with a betta fish.
- Keep a close eye on new additions to your betta tank because you can’t predict your betta’s reaction to an unfamiliar tank mate.
- Provide fibrous foods (bloodworms, insect larvae, brine shrimp).
- Use an air stone. Although betta fish have the labyrinth organ that allows them to take in oxygen from the air, they thrive much better in well-oxygenated water.
- Use a 5+ gallon aquarium. A common misconception is that bettas are okay to keep in small bowls, flower vases, or other small containers; however, 1 betta fish needs at least 5 gallons of space to roam stress-free.
Take Care of Your Betta Fish the Best Way Possible
Betta fish aren’t very hard to take care of, you just need to know how to do so properly. Understanding the betta’s origins is a great place to start. For further detail on betta fish care, see our in-depth betta fish care guide on everything you need to know about betta fish.