Care and breeding of the jealous Betta

by Andrew Smith

In the summer of 1991, a small, 3 cm, wine-red Betta was collected in the north Selangor area of Malaysia and was duly named, 'livida', after its green eyes, meaning 'jealous'. This fish was another of the Betta coccina group and differed from the others in that it had green-tipped ventrals, (white inB.tussyae and black in B.coccina) and a green spot on the flank of both sexes. The spot differentiates it from B.tussyae (also from Malaysia) and B.ruttilans (from Kalimantan) which has none, but shares a similarity with B.tussyae due to the presence of two, vertical gold bars on the operculum.

This was a species that I first encountered at an AAGB Members' Weekend a year or two ago and was pleased to bring four young fish back with me. Having been reasonably successful in the maintenance and breeding of B.tussyae, I set up my tank for the B.livida in much the same way. This is a basic set-up, no gravel, no aeration or filtration. The water was rainwater that had been left in a bucket of boiled peat and a few oak leaves for a fortnight and heated to 74F. The water depth was only about 1" in a 12"x8"x8" tank. Other decor included a small clump of Java moss and some dried oak leaves. I also always add a couple of plastic floating tubes, even with very young/small fish. If the facility is there for them to breed, they will often take the chance soon after arrival, despite their age/size.

The fish were acclimatised and left to their own devices for a few days. Initially they were shy and hid for most of the time under leaves or in the pipes. I fed them on live brine shrimp, both at baby and full-grown size, as well as daphnia and bloodworms. As the weather warmed, I was able to collect mosquito larvae from the water butts, which is a great conditioning food and often a trigger for spawning. As the weeks passed, the water was gradually topped up to a depth of 3 1/2 ". The fish were still shy, but I did notice in one of the pipes, a collection of bubbles but, try as I might, I couldn't ascertain which was which, with regard to the sexes. Just as one fish appeared to be male, all the others appeared to show the same differences, as it were. I had one option left open to me which was to try each fish with the other and watch for results.

My task was made a little easier, for the wrong reason, as when I went to catch the first two fish in the trial, I found a rather perished corpse, tangled in the Java moss. So two fish were selected and placed in one of my small spawning tanks (12"x5"x5"), in two inches of water with two floating pipes and a few oak leaves. The water was really brown from the peat steeping and when the fish were at the back of the tank, (to get them all in, they are placed 'end-on') I could barely see them.

The pipes were placed at the front of the tank, so that I could look into them but every morning when I went into the shed, sure enough, they were facing the other way. I put black paper along the two sides of the tank so the pair are not continuously sparring with fish in the adjacent tanks. A couple of weeks passed and I was now convinced that I was trying to spawn two males - no nests and constant antagonism led me to believe this.

The less dominant fish was caught and replaced by the remaining fish which, to all intents and purposes, looked the same. three days later, I was proved wrong, the male had blown a nest in the tube and was courting what was surely a female. During the day, this courtship remained as spreading finnage and beating movements of the body, causing currents of water to waft at each other. At this time, both fish were extremely colourful, a very deep, wine-red, which enhanced the green flecking in the unpaired fins and the tips of the ventrals. In these displays, it was the male that initiated the pose and the female that responded.

The only way that I had of distinguishing the two, was that the male was slightly larger - no finnage differences were evident. The male claimed the nest site for his own and the female was not allowed in. The nest started out as something which would have barely covered a 10p coin but progressed to take up the roof of a 2" long-pipe, with several clusters of bubbles spilling out of the ends.

The spawning commenced in the evening. Both fishes swam into the same pipe and circled each other. The embrace differs fromBetta spp such as B.imbellis andB.smaragdina in that the female is turned so her head points straight down to the base of the tank and her tail is usually brushing or actually in, the nest. The male is wrapped around her, upside down. The embrace lasts around 20 seconds and is broken when the eggs start to spill out and sink. These eggs are white and slightly elongated. The following day, I looked into the pipe to find no nest and no eggs. Under the sunken oak laves sat two rather well-fed B.livida - they'd eaten the lot! I was, shall we say, disappointed.

Two or three weeks later, the pair spawned again and this time I removed the eggs into a shallow tray, where they promptly fungused, so I thought it best to let nature take its course in future. After another two weeks, they spawned again. This time the nest disappeared but only because the male had built another nest in another pipe. he then moved it again- to a surface nest in one corner of the tank and then finally back into a pipe. All this happened before the fr> aatched out, after a couple of days.

The fry hung, tail downward, in the nest for three days and then began to look as though they would free swim. At this point, when I have a nest with fry in it, I employ the following method. Take a tub and gently slid it under the nest (or the pipe, in this case). The current will pull the nest into the tub with enough water. Often the male will come with it and you can catch him later but don't be surprised, when you return him to the breeding tank, if he spits out 6 or 7 young that he carries in his mouth. This trait also occurs in B.tussyae (see my article in Labyrinth 78) and B. spec. affin. coccina.

The tub is put on a shelf where the temperature is equal to the breeding tank, with an open air-line gently running as well as a few pieces of floating plant, to allow the fry to settle on something. This set-up is where they stay for the first three or four weeks of their lives and they are fed 'Liquifry' after a day free-swimming. The tiniest amount of baby brine shrimp is added four days later and this amount is stepped up each day after.

Meanwhile, a spare rearing tank is set up with a sponge filter slowly running. The tub with the fry is placed in this tank and the filter outlet is allowed to gently dribble freshwater over the sides. It takes a surprisingly short time for the tub to overflow but the fry are not released for a day or so in this set-up. They are released by gently tipping the tub on its side and letting the fry swim out in their own time.

For the next weeks, they are fed on brine shrimp and grindal worm and water changes are affected by topping up the tank. On horror with this species is Velvet, not in fry or adults, but in the 'young fish' stage where they resemble their parents and have their colours but are still small. One such attack happened as we were about to leave for the USA. I added a concentrated treatment and had to hope for the best and, although they looked like they had really been 'through the mill' when we returne ,fthere were only a few casualties. Even so, one brood was velvet free for less than half the time. It seems that water changes are at a premium when the young are at their most formative stages. The only other problem which I notice is that the brood do tend to squabble when they are at a higher temperature, say 76-80F, lowers 70s, sees a drop in aggression.

It takes the young to b about half adult size for them to get the spot on their sides and this then fades with age. Both sexes have the spot and both lose it, neither seeming to do so quicker than the other. Tank-bred specimens also seem to adapt better to the more convenient pHs that we can provide which will lessen the chance of velvet-type diseases taking hold. Incidentally, I raised 15 young with their parents in a 12"x8"x8" with no filter and aeration, just fairly regular water changes, and I didn't encounter one fight or any disease.

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