Jun 04, 2023 News
By Shervin Belgrave
Kaieteur News – Reportedly endemic to Thailand and also native to other south Asian countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, is the Siamese fighting fish, commonly known as Betta. This is today’s interesting creature, in all its flamboyance and grandeur.
One writer, Jason Bittel, in a National Geographic article wrote, “A twirling dancer, a bird in flight? Through a photographer’s lens, this popular pet, also known as the Siamese fighting fish, becomes a fantasy in fins”.
Its beauty, bright colours, long flowing fins that resemble angel wings and ornamental features along with its unique personality has made the fish one of the most sought after pets in the aquarium industry.
In fact, this small but yet unique freshwater fish that measures about eight centimetres when fully grown has been in the aquarium industry for more than 150 years.
Research however shows that bettas have been living in captivity for much longer than that. Some researchers say it has been around for at least 1000 years but not as pets. Like the name suggests, Siamese fighting fish are aggressive in nature and were initially bred and domesticated for gambling matches similar to those of cock fighting.
The Betta’s aggressive nature comes from being territorial. Both male and female Bettas would fight off other bettas if they invade their space. People of Malaysia and Thailand as far back as the 17th century observed its aggressive nature and decided to arrange fight matches between the fishes so that they could gamble.
In the wild, Bettas would spar for only a few minutes before one retreats. But in smaller tanks with no escape, fights could end in death.
However, during the early days, gamblers did not know this, so they would breed the Bettas, especially the plakat Bettas for heightened aggression so that the fish can fight for longer periods.
Winners were determined on the Betta’s willingness to continue, the first fish to retreat was the loser. The fish fights became so popular that it caught the attention of the Thailandese King at the time. He kept some of his women for fighting and regulated the matches so that he could tax them.
Gaining the attention, the king actually worked in favour of the Bettas. He introduced them to a European doctor who was taken aback by its beauty and uniqueness.
The doctors studied them and his reports about the fish marked the beginning of the Bettas’ entrance into the aquarium industry during the early 19th century.
It is unclear if Betta fish fights still take place, but today despite its aggressive nature, they are being bred for its decorative and ornamental features.
It is still not safe to rear two Bettas in the same tank because of how territorial it can be but they can live with other species of fishes that do resemble its own kind.
Male Betta fishes can live with females in the same tank but after mating and reproduction takes place, they have to be removed. Females tend to eat their own eggs while the male cares and protects them at all cost. So when the eggs are laid, males chase the females away.
Apart from its unique personality, Bettas have some interesting features. These fishes live in shallow waters such as swamps and rice fields, that are warm, contain little oxygen and low PH. In other words, Bettas can survive in extremely harsh conditions. There is one little organ that allows it to be so tough.
Bettas possess an organ called a labyrinth that allows it to breathe air just like humans. When it needs oxygen, Bettas would swim to the surface of the water; poke its head up and with the use of its Labyrinth gulp air before returning to the bottom. It is this unique ability that allows such an interesting creature to survive for years in captivity.
If you are interested in having one as a pet, it is important to note that Bettas are carnivorous and have a high protein diet.
In the wild, they eat small insects, zooplankton, crustaceans and larvae, so make sure their fish food has a high protein base. Like humans, it is advisable not to overfeed Bettas, because they can become susceptible to overeating and can become obese and develop health conditions.
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