Breeding success with another of the threatened Betta akarensis group

by Phil Dickman, IGL

Distribution: Betta cf. akarensis (The fish discussed in this article has been described in the literature as Betta chini -Ed.) has so far only been identified in 2 places. On the one hand, it appears it has only a thin strip of territory along a strip of coastline above Sipitang, Sabah. On the other hand, it lives in lowland blackwater but this strip of coastline has hardly any primary woodland left. It seems that the 2 places where they are found are probably small remnant blackwater biotopes, with little hope for the future. Because of these criteria, it seems clear that this fighting fish is already threatened, and only a very short time after its discovery.

Biotope: We found this fish in March 1993, on the road from Sipitang to Mesapol (Sabah). About 2-3 km before Mesapol, a road crosses a small black stream. If you follow the stream along, in an easterly direction after about 100m, you meet a small tributary with particularly black water which comes out of an overgrown corner of a plantation. We only found Betta cf.akarensis in this small tributary, not in the stream itself. It seems that this species has found a niche which is useful because it occasionally runs with blackwater.

Description of the stream: 1. The bed of the stream is clay 2. Branches of trees and strands of grass hang into the water of the tributaries. 3. The stream is shaded by trees, for all of its course.. 4. The base of the stream comprises branches and leaves. 5. There is hardly any water movement. 6. The water colour is coffee-brown 7. The water temperature was 26.4 C. 8. The pH was 4.5-5.0, GH <3.

Other fish found in this locality wereTrichogaster trichopterus, Rasbora cf. einthoveni, Parluciosoma sumatrana s.l.

Shape: The total length is 8-10 cm., the length of the body 6-7 cm.. This makes it a comparatively small member of theB.akarensis group.

Fins: The dorsal and pelvic fins are elongated. In the male, the last soft rays of the anal fin as well as the caudal fin are elongated.

Colouration: With proper care, in acid, peaty water, with leaves on the base and a partly shaded surface, the fish have a dark brown colour which becomes an intensive wine-red on the fins. The whole of the fish is spotted with light-blue, shiney scales. All fins have a white edge to them. In contrast to other fish of this kind, these have no blue patches on the operculum, pelvic or anal fins.

Sex differences: The male is a little slimmer and longer. The centre of the anal fin is clearly elongated, in adult males, this elongation nearly reaches the end of the caudal fin. In the females, the fins are not elongated, and the anal fin is slightly 'fringed' During courtship, the male is much more highly coloured.

Colouration during courtship: The female show the proximity of spawning with 2 dark horizontal very contrasting stripes. The lower half of the body becomes very light. This colouration at the start of courtship can also be followed, up to a point, in the male. This is very showy in contrast to the normal, rather regular dark colouration or the fright or camouflage pattern with its dark, nearly black, vertical bands. As with most fighting fish, the male is more intensively coloured, darker -nearly black on the head on which the shiny blue scales stand out. During courtship, the wine-red colour of the fins is also stronger than normal.

Spawning triggers: After the temperature was raised from 23C to 26C, the courtship started in a place free of floating plants, at the water surface. It progressed as in most similar members of the B.akarensis group. It is noticeable that the 3 different pairs, even when kept in different places, spawn up to 3 times. all at the same time (of year). The animals were in different places for 10-12 months but always spawned on the same day!

Prelude to spawning: The courtship always appeared to commence in the afternoon. First, both animals were in 'female-dress'. The female swam toward the male, he stretches all his fins and bends the rear half of his body into a slight 'U' shape. Now his colour becomes very intense. The 2 fish now are in a 'T' position to each other and the male lifts his head slightly. Next, while they circle each other, a false spawning takes place. In between, the two swim parallel to each other and harmoniously visit the surface together for air.

Spawning: These cycles are repeated several times until the spawning takes place in earnest the next morning. The male swims to the side of the female and embraces her in the 'U' formed by his body as they then turn over, with the female on top. They stay in that position and rise slowly 5-10 cm. toward the water surface. During this time, the female releases 4-8 eggs of around 2mm, which rest on the horizontal anal fin of the male who stays rigid after spawning. The female picks the eggs off the anal fin and swims after those eggs which fall to the floor. This happens several times, sometimes even when there are no eggs.

After 1-3 successful spawnings, the fish swim parallel to each other, led by the female. Typically for this group of Bettas, she plays with the eggs by spitting them out and catching them again- if the male is not faster!

The Betta cf. akarensis 'Sabah'* female spits out some of the eggs in a horizontal or almost horizontal position 1-8 times and catches them quickly again, before the male eventually collects most of them. It was not observed that any eggs were lost during the transfer. By the evening, the male has a well-filled mouth and thus the courtship of about 1.5 days is over. he now stands just under the water surface, or if there are no water plants, in a shelter.

Fry: After 2- days, the young fish hatch and will be carried for about 12 days in the throat pouch until they are able to swim freely. If the fish have spawned in a smaller aquarium, it is advisable to take the female out on the 2 nd. day, because she may chase the male rather a lot and the stress may cause him to lose the larvae. This all depends, of course, on the female who may act differently in some cases!

The critical time for the breeder is after 2 or 3 days, when the fry hatch. After the first spawning the male often eats all the young. If all goes well, he releases 40-50 young after 12 days which he then ignores. The young fish now have a length of about 6 cm. and feed immediately on live brine shrimp naupilii. The growing fish love to be at the bottom of the tank and their parents do not chase them much, if there is enough space.

Social behaviour in the aquarium: With proper care, these are very peaceful fighting fish which like to be in a small group. The spawning took place in a normal 60 l. aquarium in which 3 other pairs of the same size, lived. The spawning took place in this group so harmoniously and without any chasing and biting, that at first it was not easy to recognise the spawning pair. However, this behaviour will depend on the individual character of the fish, particularly the female. In other cases, the male was chased terribly by the female before spawning and had several wounds where it had been bitten.

Food: This is no problem, they take dry and frozen foods. Every 2-3 days it is a good idea to feed them some larger food. My fish take earthworms, flies and other live food.

Experiences in caring for them: We were only able to find these fish in the slightly acid, dark brown part of the stream. In the aquarium, they turn out to be surprisingly sensitive to acid water. At a pH of around 4, several of the fish were suffering from changes in the mucous lining on the head, which made them look as though they had been bitten. After they had been carefully transferred to less acid water, these wounds soon healed.

Dark brown water is always good for them, with some leaves on the bottom and plenty of floating water plants on the surface. In aquaria with too much light, fish were often disturbed and would jump out of the aquarium on every opportunity. They also only show their true beauty in brown water Just like Rasbora cf. einthoveni, which we caught in the same waters, they lost their colour in clear water and only after a few days in brown water, did it return.

Betta cf. akarensis 'Sabah (B.chini) is another representative of this behaviourally most interesting group of mouth-brooding fighting fish. One can only hope that this attractive but threatened fish will remain in existence, at least in captivity.


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