Shedding light onto darkness

by Ray Torres, USA

My wife and I were doing our usual Friday night thing: water changes in our fish room, when she asked, "If you were a Betta, which would you be?" Like many Betta enthusiasts, I had a fascination with black Betta splendens and Betta macrostoma. After seemingly hundreds of spawns yielded only ten black Betta splendens, I decided to look elsewhere for my perfect Betta. The search led me to Betta macrostoma and as many of you know, this fish is more elusive than six winning lottery ticket numbers. Fortunately my profession lend itself to travelling abroad and that's where I met 'fishkeeper extraordinaire' Andrew Smith. (Sorry Andrew, I couldn't resist- ref. Jan./Feb. 1996 'Flare' article, 'Wild types'.) Andrew presented me with several interesting fish of the Betta coccina group, however I could not keep my eyes off a small, slender black fish with a hint of green on the dorsal, caudal and anal fins. The fish I am referring to, is Betta persephone.

 B.persephone is named from Greek mythology, after the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, 'the daughter of darkness'. The fish is indigenous to the southern part of the Malay peninsular where expansion-minded Homo sapiens have placed much stress on the natural habitat of this exquisite fish. Therefore, the purpose of this essay is to spark interest in order to sustain a gene pool.

The fish favour very soft and highly acidic waters, preferring to live quiet and sedentary lives between roots, underneath leaves and foliage. As previously mentioned, the male is black with just a trace of green on the dorsal, caudal and anal fins. The female's colouration is identical, except that her body is more greyish-black. In my experience, the male's anal fin is slightly larger and somewhat pointed as it approaches the caudal fin. The slim pelvic fins are black with white tips. The male is approximately 1 1/4" long with about 30 lateral scales and the female about 1 1/8" long with about 27 lateral scales. The easiest way that I've found to determine gender, is by chasing the fish around the tank with a net. The male will retain darker colouration, while the female turns noticeably greyer.

My B.persephone are kept in dimly-lit, ten gallon tanks, housing only 3 pairs at a time. The water has a temperature of 76F, a pH of 5.3 and hardness of 3 or 4 ppm. I achieve this by boiling 1 lb. of Canadian peat moss and then placing it in a 30 gallon drum containing 27 galls. of distilled water and 3 galls. of tap water. I let this settle for three days, resulting in tea-colour water with the aforementioned pH and hardness. Filtration is by means of an undergravel filter and a sponge filter, which I keep at a very low setting of a bubble per second! I provide many hiding places and the fish spend much of their times under oak leaves which also serve to lower the pH.

Once a day, I feed my B.persephone either live blackworm, live brine shrimp, live Tubifex or live Daphnia. Live is the key word here. Every week or so, I neglect to feed the fish for two days, resulting in hungry fish which would not otherwise eat vitamin flake. It is enjoyable to drop food into a seemingly empty tank and watch fish dart out from underneath every leaf, devour their food and disappear. Talk about eating and running!

Under proper conditions, breeding B.persephone is quite simple. It is imperative t remove the breeding pair from the community tank and place in a smaller, isolated tank. A 2 1/2 gallon tank with similar water conditions, Java moss and oak leaves has worked well for me. The only difference from the larger tank is a temperature of 78F and 1 1/2" wide by 2" long piece of floating PVC tube, which serves as a nest site.

Several techniques which have helped induce spawning are partial water changes with cooler water, lowering the water level to about 2" and leaving it like that until a falling barometer, then replacing with water containing added blackwater extract.

The spawning is initiated by male flaring and body gyration, producing water pressure patterns which entice the female into the nest. The embrace is different from B.splendens due to the fact that the female is vertical while the male is horizontally embracing her. Only five or six eggs are released pr embrace and it is interesting to note that, after each embrace, the female gives token effort in retrieving eggs and seems more concerned to stand guard over the nest, while the male gathers the eggs. I have witnessed he female come to the side of the tank and flare at me, as if to say, "You wouldn't like it if I watched!" At this point, I grant the fish their privacy and return a couple of hours later. I usually find the female resting comfortably under an oak leaf and the male carefully tending his brood. In my opinion, the male B.persephone exhibits the best parental care of any fish that I have kept to date. The fry can be kept with the parents for some time, however I prefer to remove them just after they become free swimming. I've found that less fry in a tank induce more frequent spawning. It is also important to note that the fry which are kept with parents grow quicker than those which are moved to a separate tank. Spawn sizes range from 20-75 eggs, averaging 30-35.

The eggs hatch in about 36 h and hang from the bubble nest for another 24 h. Fry are fed infusoria for 3 days and afterward are fed newly-hatched brine shrimp, twice daily. The babies grow rapidly and can take chopped blackworm and Tubifex in about one month's time. Care must be taken, since I've lost more than one fry from choking.

It is important not to overcrowd the rearing tank, not so much because of fighting, but because of disease. Velvet can be a problem, if weekly water changes are not carried out. I have found that aquarisol, 75% water changes, and most recently, UV sterilisation, to be effective remedies. Cloudy eye is another problem that I've experienced with B.persephone. This was cured by a 50% water change and covering the tank with a towel - basically, a little peace and quiet.

Overall, keeping and breeding B.persephone is comparatively easy and very enjoyable. This species has served as a good transition from B.splendens to the so-called 'wild types' for me. In closing, I'd like to thank my wife Dianna, without whose patience and encouragement, much of this would still be in the dark.

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