Breeding Bettas

Best known through its popularity in vases and fishbowls, the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens) is a colorful and easy to care for pet. Assuming you already have a basic knowledge of betta care requirements, breeding bettas can be a rewarding hobby. Please make sure you have the time care for anywhere between 20 and 300 fry (babies), and the space available to house the males in bowls or jars. If you take the time to select quality breeding stock, you may be able to sell the fry to local aquarium stores.

Breeding bettas is not difficult, but it can be time consuming. The fry need to be fed twice daily, and weekly water changes are required. You will also need the following equipment and supplies, available in aquarium hobby shops:
1. 5-10 gallon aquarium
2. Submersible aquarium heater
3. A small lamp
4. Aquarium temperature gauge
5. A medicated water conditioner, such as BettaMax
6. LiquiFry No. 1, or another liquid fish food suitable for betta fry
7. Brine shrimp eggs and a brine shrimp hatchery
8. Styrofoam cup or Indian almond leaves
9. Small air pump, air stone and aquarium tubing
10. Jars or fish bowls to house juvenile males and your breeding stock.

You will also need aged water to fill the tank and perform water changes. This can be accomplished quite easily by filling clean buckets with tap water, covering them and setting them in your garage for a week or two. Aging the water is very important, as it allows the chlorine (poisonous to bettas) to dissipate from the water. Alternately, you can purchase distilled water or an aquarium-safe water conditioner, but this can prove to be costly.

After you have the required basics listed above, it’s time to choose a breeding pair. You want to look for young, healthy fish that are appropriately sized to each other. Stay away from fish with visible injuries, ragged fins or any signs of disease. Remember to make sure the fish are of compatible strains, as some betta hybrids do not reproduce well. If you are in doubt about this, your local aquarium supply staff should be able to help you choose a breeding pair.

Once you have selected your bettas, you will need to condition the pair for breeding. Your male and female need to be housed separately before and after breeding, but they also need to be able to see each other. Place the male and female bowls next to each other for at least a week before attempting to breed them. If you attempt to breed the fish too soon the female could be killed. During this familiarization period, you want to ensure that your fish are healthy enough to breed. Condition the bettas with a morning meal of live food such as brine shrimp, followed by an evening meal of frozen or freeze dried foods. After about a week, you should notice the male betta beginning to stare at the female and flash his fins in a showy fashion. This is a sign that your male is ready to breed, and you should prepare the breeding tank.

To prepare the breeding tank for spawning, use aged water to fill the tank to a maximum depth of about 5 inches. The newly hatched fry will have difficulty reaching the surface if the water is too deep. Install the heater at the bottom of the tank and adjust the water temperature to about 80F. You may need to cover up to 80% of the tank to stabilize the water temperature. The male will need a place to build a bubble nest for the female to lay the eggs in. You can float Indian almond leaves or half a Styrofoam cup on the surface of the water, and this will provide an anchor for the nest.

Once the breeding tank is set up, introduce the male to the new environment. Let him explore the tank for at least a few hours before introducing the female. Once the female has been released into the tank, you can just leave them alone for the day. The male should begin constructing his bubble nest by the next day. You will frequently see the male betta chasing and biting the female. This is normal, but should be monitored rather closely. If the male seriously injures the female, you will have to separate the fish and try again at a later date.

Within about two days you should observe the female betta swimming head down under the bubble nest. The fish will circle each other, and the male will wrap his fins around the female’s body. The female will release some eggs, and the male will place the eggs in the nest. The spawning process usually lasts between three and five hours. Once the female has released all the eggs the male will chase her from the nest. You should remove the female immediately, taking great care not to disturb the delicate bubble nest. Placing the female in a bowl of medicated water after spawning will help prevent infection from any wounds the male may have inflicted.

The eggs will begin to hatch within 24-36 hours. You should see the male betta swimming up and down as he helps the newly hatched fry back into the nest. If you observe the male attempting to eat the fry, you will need to remove him immediately and carefully lower the water depth to two inches. The fry should be able to swim on their own within about 24 hours. Once they are swimming horizontally, carefully remove the male to a bowl of medicated water.

Betta fry less than a week old will need to be fed several drops of liquid fry food twice a day. After the fry are a week old, you will need to feed them freshly hatched baby brine shrimp regularly and continue to keep them warm. Do not attempt to change the water for at least three weeks. After this time, slowly siphon off about 10% of the dirty water using air tubing or a turkey baster. Replace the dirty water with 1 times the amount of aged clean water. Continue to increase the volume of water in the tank as the fry develop, and replace at least 25% of the water in the tank every two weeks.

When the fry are two months old, you should be able to distinguish the males from the larger, less colorful females. At this time, the male bettas should be separated into individual containers. The females are not aggressive, and can live together in the spawning tank.

With a little time and patience, you will be breeding beautiful bettas for fun or profit. Bettas can make a wonderful gift for friends and family, and high quality fry are also desired by local aquarium retailers.