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Breeding Betta splendens

PostPosted: Sat Nov 29, 2008 6:52 pm
by Crazygar
Breeding Betta splendens

Ok, you asked for it, you got it. Please understand, this is by NO means the only way to do things. This is the way I've done them in the past and it works. I put this together in about 30 minutes, so there are bound to be some issues I glossed over or perhaps skipped entirely. Take this as a starting point, and ask any questions you might have.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. This would be a great way to make money (or at least get some good credit for your local fish store). While this may be the case, there are many things to consider before you jump in headfirst.

A good thing to understand from the beginning is the basics of keeping fish and breeding. I'm going to skip fish keeping under the assumption that the vast majority (if not all) of the people reading this are already competent aquarists. So, that leaves us to the wonderful world of breeding.

Breeding fish is not anything like breeding people or mammals. In most of these cases, you simply stick a male and female together and you end up with babies. Ask anyone who's ever bought two "female" hamsters or mice at the local pet store, only to find out one is actually male, how difficult breeding is with mammals. The mammals available in the pet trade are most often very good parents, rearing their young with milk and raising them up to a size at which they can accept solid foods. Even then, most of them can be kept together for indefinite periods of time.

Most fish, on the other hand, have very differing levels of parenting input. These range from some fish, such as Neolamprologous brichardi, who will often raise their young with the assistance of previous generations, to livebearers and many other fish, which consider their fry lunch almost as soon as they've given birth. Then there are some fish species such as our subject, Betta splendens, in which the male and female have a very different view of parenting.

With bettas, the male take sole responsibility for brood care once the eggs have been laid. The female, if left in the area, will eat the eggs or fry if given the chance. Quite often, both before and after the act of breeding, the male will be quite aggressive towards the female, due to the previous reasoning. Great care is required to ensure the female is not killed by the male while they are in the same tank. The fry need lots of food (preferably a minimum of 3-5 times daily), lots of care, very clean water and very close attention while they're growing out, pretty much on a daily basis. Your life will consist of changing water, feeding the fish, growing brine shrimp, lots of wet sloppy messes and if you're lucky, a few saleable fish in the end. Be prepared that if you raise fish, they will suck up most of your free time. Slacking off one day can mean an entire tank wiped out and starting all over again.

Sounds like fun right? While it may not be the easiest thing in the world, if you're diligent and attentive, it can be very rewarding. Here are some other things to think about before you even start setting up a breeding program:

    How many fish can the local market absorb?
    Are you ready to take care of possibly hundreds of unsold fish?
    Do you have the time/space/energy/money to give to breeding fish?
    Cost is often the reverse of mammal care: most of your resources will be spent up front, especially money.
    Do you have the ability to raise and keep raising brine shrimp and other tiny foods in enough volume for the fry to eat?
    Will your spouse/roommate/dog appreciate the added noise, expenses and lack of free time you will now have?
    Will you be okay knowing that fish that you raised from eggs to beautiful adult specimens will be sold to numerous people who will not know how to take care of them and likely be dead within a week or two of you selling them?
    Are you fine with culling your fry, weeding out the weak or deformed fish? If not, are you prepared to care for these fish for their entire lives, possibly up to 5-7 years?
If you answered NO to any of these questions, you would be best served by simply keeping these fish, rather than breeding and raising them. A baby fish is like a baby anything: it will need lots of attention, lots of food (not always readily available) and lots of money to grow properly. Make sure you can supply these things before starting.

If you're still interested in breeding bettas, then congratulations. You're among the minority of people who have the time, resources and desire to donate to the hobby.

Before you rush out and buy the most beautiful bettas you can find to breed, because you're just sure that stores and people will buy then, sit down and think. More often than not, your first attempt, and often some following the first one, will likely result in complete and utter failure. Expect and prepare for this, because no matter how much you read or how much you think you know, the odds are heavily stacked against you. There is no replacement for experience. Go out and get a male and female betta that are not that pretty, or that you don't get immediately attached to. Start with these. Once you have the knack of it down, then start expanding from there. Failing with mediocre fish is much easier to settle with yourself than possibly failing with or killing a pair of hundred dollar specialty fish. Either of these fish, whether they're beautiful or barely average, will need the same requirements to breed, so your experience will be well worth it.

Bettas are best bred in smaller tanks. Ten gallons usually will suffice. A bare-bottomed tank with a simple sponge filter, submersible heater and a couple of potted plants will be plenty for decoration. Remember, you want them to breed and make it as easy for yourself to raise them as you can. Gravel and decorations, power filter and heavy aeration are all deleterious to your ease of raising the fish.

Bettas are very adaptable as far as water parameters, so as long as they're not extreme, just about any will do. A pH of 6-8 should be fine, with low-high hardness. To make life simpler, test your water's pH and then hardness. It's best to simply keep the water at the pH it's add, and add a small amount of buffer to stabilize it if need be. Set the tank temperature to 75 degrees and turn the sponge filter on. A previously seeded sponge filter works best, as it will have beneficial bacteria already established on it. Use of a small air valve inline with the filter will allow you to adjust it so a steady but gentle stream of air bubble flows through the filter tube.

Add the male betta to the tank. Attach a Styrofoam cup cut in half lengthwise to the side of the tank. You can simply tape is near the top with a piece of tape. The idea is to get the cup floating on the open side (length-wise) in order to create a little cave. If you keep the cup to the front of the tank, it will be easier to assess the progress of the male's bubblenest construction. If the male doesn't build a bubblenest within a few days time, check to see if the water movement may be too much for him. Otherwise, he may not be in prime breeding condition. Conditioning both the male and female betta can be done with good, high quality foods. Some recommendations would be frozen bloodworms, daphnia, brine and small mysis shrimp, good quality cichlids pellets and live brine shrimp. If the male appears healthy, the water movement seems fine and everything else seems good, do a 10% water change with cooler water. Often this will spur him to get ready to spawn. Also, a regular day and night cycle with lights on timers should be kept to.

Once the bubblenest construction has begun, it's time to assess the female. She should be about the same size or slightly smaller than the male, and her ovipositor should be visible if she's ready to breed. The ovipositor is an easily seen small white protrusion coming from the belly of the fish, just behind the anal opening. If this is not present or she does not look full of eggs (gravid), she should be conditioned before breeding is attempted. Another sign for the female is three dark vertical bars on her body (often referred to as breeding bars), not to be confused with the dark horizontal stress bars.

If the male and female both appear ready to mate, then it's time to introduce the pair. There are multiple methods of doing this. You can introduce the female inside a glass jar floated in the tank. The male should show interest, and then continue constructing his nest. If this is the case, release the female while he is building. She should have hiding places within the plants to avoid him for now. If they appear to be overly aggressive, or the male will not leave the jar alone to go back to building his bubblenest, they're not ready to spawn yet. Remove the female and condition them a little longer.

Once the male and female are in the tank, slowly raise the temperature over a few days to about 82-85 degrees. This rise in temperature will tell the fish that it is time to consider spawning. Spawning should occur within 2-3 days, if not a few hours after the temperature rise has begun. If the fish don't spawn within a few days, it is probably best to remove the female and possibly look for another one. If she attempts to go near the bubblenest but is consistently chased away, the male is not ready.

While constructing his bubblenest, the male betta will guard the territory immediately around it. If he chases the female all around the tank, or does not build a bubblenest, he is not ready to spawn, or you may need to look for a different male.

Once the female approaches the bubblenest and is not immediately chased away, the spawning even is not far off. The male will wrap himself around the female, who will release the eggs. The male will catch the eggs on his tail where they are fertilized. He will then pick up the falling eggs and place them up in his bubblenest. The female will be stunned for a few moments after each embrace. Once she comes around, she will attempt to eat any non-collected eggs. Spawning can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Once the female starts running from the male instead of falling into the embrace, it is time to remove her. This is so she will not eat the eggs or fry, and to avoid damage from the male.

The male now assumes all care of the eggs and fry. He will collect any eggs that may fall out, as well as any wrigglers once the eggs hatch. This is why we keep the bottom clear of gravel and decorations. It would be very had for the male to dig fry from 2" of rocks. Hatching should occur within 48-72 hours.

Once the fry are free-swimming and moving around on their own without yolk sacs attached, it is time to remove the male. Make sure he's well fed and taken care of, as this experience will be quite draining to him.

The water level in the tank can be lowered to about halfway now. It is best to feed the fry with infusoria (from green water) or some smaller organisms like vinegar eels or microworms, but newly hatched brine shrimp can successfully be used to raise most of the fry. Only the smaller fish which are not large enough to eat the artemia will be lost, which is a simple way to cull the smaller fish from the batch. The heater is best laid in a horizontal position on the bottom of the tank to keep it fully submerged

The fry should be fed newly hatched brine shrimp at least 3-5 times daily. They grow fast and need lots of food and nutrients to support that growth. Within a couple weeks, they should be large enough to start introducing some larger food items, such as prepared fry foods or crushed flakes.

As the fry get larger, you can slowly start raising the water level in the tank. During this initial grow out period water changes of 50% should be conducted daily, with all excess waste being vacuumed off the bottom. The water being put back in the tank should be the same temperature and pH (or very close) to the water in the tank. At this stage, the fry have yet to develop their labyrinth organs, and will breathe oxygen from the water as most fish do. This organ will usually develop in about 3-4 weeks. When it's beginning to develop, the fry will begin to make trips to the surface of the water to take in atmospheric air.

Once the water level in the tank is full, you should be getting close to the point where it will be necessary to sex and separate the fish. Males will start to develop their finnage and aggressive behavior towards conspecifics at about the 3-month age. From here on, they will need to be maintained separately. The females can be kept in progressively larger grow out tanks.

If you've made it this far, congratulations. You can now care for these young adult fish the same as any bettas you would purchase at a store. Now is the time to consider stepping up your bloodstock and seeing if you can develop that next popular color or fin attribute. Good luck!

For some other excellent information about breeding bettas, check out

Written by: AquaticEnterprises

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