The Breeding and Raising of Betta Fry
For this article, I will be reporting how I breed and raise my Betta fry.
I'll be using one of my current spawns as an example, and all photos are from the same spawn. I called this spawn the "Red Spawn".
Father is an extended red over cambodian base HM male.
Mother is a red/orange BF cT
Terminology for above:
Extended red: An intense version of red, that covers the betta from head to tail, included pectoral fins (fins on the side of their body).
Cambodian: Clear, fleshy coloured body, with coloured finnage - normally red. With a cambodian base, this is underneath the top layer of colouring.
HM: Abbreviation of Halfmoon. A tail type in which the Bettas caudal (tail fin) reaches 180º
BF: Abbreviation of butterfly, in which there are two colours on the Betta’s fins. The two colours are ideally symmetrical and have a 50/50 colour separation. In this case, the two colours are red and orange: which is very unusual with Bettas; as generally you can only have either red, or non red (yellow and orange), but not both. The gene can work together, as you can see in this case - it just isn’t common.
cT: Abbreviation for combtail. cT Bettas have some ray reductions on their finnage (the spiky bits), but not enough to be called a crowntail (CT). CT’s ideally have 33% ray reductions, any less and it is classed as a cT.
The Spawning Process
The spawning process of Betta Splendens, commonly called the Siamese Fighting Fish, is tricky. As they are fighting fish, they are quite aggressive towards one another.
To spawn, you must introduce the pair to a courtship, which generally has a length of two weeks. Each pair is different, so there is no set time on the courtship process, but 2 weeks is the standard length of time.
In this courtship, both male and female should be fed high protein food. Live food is ideal, but frozen food is also a good option.
The pair should also be carded from each other. This means that they cannot see each other, or any other fish, and are isolated. For around half an hour each day, the pair should be exposed to each other, then re-carded.
This desensitizes them from the other fish, reducing the chance of aggression: but not enough that they aren’t interested in breeding. Had they been constantly exposed to eachother, they would get bored of the other fish, lose interest, and not spawn.
Setting up the spawn tank
The way the spawn is set up is very important, in regards to size, filtration, hides for scared females, and of course: fry safety.
An ideal spawn tank generally is around 20-30L.
Inside it will have:
- A heater set at 26-28*c
• A sponge filter with a control valve, with the filter set at 1 bubble per second. Sponge filters are great for fry, as they don’t have a lot of flow: but are great biological and mechanical filtration.
- At least one or two Indian Almond Leaves (IAL). IAL has anti bacterial properties, and turn the water a dark tea colour. This both helps the male with nesting, as it turns the water “stickier” and feels like a more natural environment rather than crystal clear water.
- Hides. Normally used in live plants. Java moss, java fern, foxtail, hornwart, or frogbit are all good options. Live plants provide coverage for scared females, and later on, fry. Having organic matter in the tank also produces infusorians, which are great first fry food. Live plants also act as trees do for our air: they take the nasties out of the water, making it cleaner for the fish.
- Keep the tank bare bottom: no gravel. With gravel, any eggs will get lost in it during the spawning process. Also food will get caught, and it will be hard to clean when you have lots of tiny fry swimming around.
- Nesting media, to help hold the male’s bubblenest. I find that a square of bubblewrap, bubbles down, works well. It not only holds the bubbles together excellently, but the male thinks it is another nest, and takes it for his own. Females will also believe it is a nest, and will be more impressed - especially when it comes to those males who don’t nest until spawning time.
Setting it up:
Have the tank mature and cycled. Lower the water level to around 15cm. This copies breeding season in the Bettas natural habitat (rice paddies of Thailand). It also ensures the male doesn’t get too tired during spawning, as he will later swim up and down continually collecting eggs.
Have the filter on one side of the tank, and the nesting media on the other side. The heater will be in the middle of the two.
All plants, hides, and IAL will be around the filter side of the tank. There should places for the female to hide in, but then an open space near the nesting media.
The Spawning Process
After the spawn tank has been set up, and the pair has been conditioned on high protein food and have had a bit of a courtship, the female should be released into it (male still in his separate quarters, not in site). It’s a good idea to keep her there for a day or two. Having the female in there for a day or two gets her used to the surroundings, so when she is finally put in there with the male, she will know the tank’s setup, and where the best place to hide is.
After this, remove the female to her own separate quarters. The male will then be placed into the tank, and will stay there until the pair has spawned.
By this time, the pair haven’t seen each other for a few days, after having had exposure to each other. In Bettas, the saying “the heart grows fonder with distance”, appears to be true.
Let the male get used to being in new surroundings overnight. The following morning, introduce the female by floating her in the tank. Cutting the top of a soft drink bottle works well. This way, the pair can see each other, but cannot touch each other. Here you can monitor their behaviour, and decide whether or not they seem to show spawning behaviour, or aggression. Leave the pair be for a few hours.
After coming back, look for signs of breeding behaviour.
The male may have started making a bubblenest, most likely under the bubblewrap. He will also be flaring up, showing off to the female.
The female should be clamping her fins, and swimming with her head down, which is submissive behaviour. Look at her body, chances are she will be showing prominent stripes. If they are vertical, then those are breeding bars, and a good sign. However, horizontal stripes are stress bars. At this stage of spawning, stress bars aren’t uncommon.
If you release her, keep a close eye on them, but try not to stand over the tank.
Most Betta pairs show a little bit of aggression, and nips are not uncommon. It’s your call on how much is too much. If there is a lot of aggression, remove the female again, and try the next day.
If all is going well, the male will show off to the female, chase her, nip her slightly, and then swim back to the nest... trying to lead her there. Most females are reluctant at this stage, and often hide. Eventually she should follow the male to the nest to inspect it.
If you have left them in the tank together and they still haven’t spawn in two days, remove the female, keep them apart a few days (remember “the heart grows fonder with distance” is apparently true in Bettas), then try again.
If the female finds the nest to her liking, she will then clamp her fins, and roll onto her side. The male will wrap around her, and squeeze her eggs out. Then the female will go into a trance like state, and float as if dead. At this time, the male swims and collects the eggs in his mouth, spitting them back into the nest. By this time, the female would have come through from her trance, and often looks for eggs to eat. Occasionally you will get a female that helps collect eggs, but that is in the minority.
This will repeat until all the eggs are out of the female. Spawning often takes between 2-6 hours on average, but can go up to 24 hours.
It will be obvious when the pair has finished spawning. The male will then become aggressive towards the female, and will chase her away. If the female goes anywhere near the nest, the male will then attack her, and possibly kill her. From here, the female is removed.
The male cares for the eggs. He catches any fallen ones, and spits them into the nest. Using his pectoral fins (the fins on the side of his body), he fans them, creating a slight current, so they don’t fungus. It isn’t uncommon if the male will choose to move the eggs to a different location, or rotate them in different areas of the current nest.
Depending on the temperature, it will take between 24 and 48 hours for the eggs to hatch. The fry will hang vertically from the nest, still feeding of their egg sacks. Any fallen fry will be caught by the male, and then replaced into the nest.
After another 24 hours, the first of the fry will start to turn horizontally, and will start to swim away from the nest for the first time.
The male will continue to chase them, and spit them into the tank. Once the majority of the fry have started to swim away, it is time to remove the male. From there, it is solely up to you to care for the fry.
Raising the Fry
You can have anywhere from 50 fry or less, to even up to 300+ fry.
This red spawn was very small, as the female ate a lot of eggs during the spawning process. It was the pairs first time, so that isn’t uncommon. I estimated around 30 fry from time of hatching. I ended up with 31. Another spawn of mine had 300.
If the fry are clumped together near the surface of the water, they are still feeding on the last of their egg sack. Until the egg sack is fully used up, they don’t need to be fed. For the few who may have already used the egg sack, this is where the infusoria, from your live plants, comes in handy. There may be enough for the fry to snack on until their first feeding.
After the majority of the fry are fully swimming, it’s time for their first feed.
Fry have the natural instinct to eat anything that is moving, and smaller than themselves, which is why live food is a must.
Fry won’t eat any form of dry food, so flakes or fry powder are out of the question. They must be fed at least twice a day. It is better to have multiple small feedings daily, rather than a couple of bigger ones. I try to give my fry 3-4 small feedings daily.
I fed this red spawn vinegar eels (VE), which are tiny free-living nematodes. The VE were fed for the first three days, until they were big enough to move onto Baby Brine Shrimp (BBS). The BBS hatchery was set up between the time from hatching, and free swimming.
From the third day after free swimming, up until the fry were a week old, they were given three feedings of BBS daily, with a fourth feeding of VE.
After a week, VE holds no nutrimental value, so they are fed solely on BBS.
At two weeks old, the fry can have their first water change. Fry are still very small, reaching around 0.6cm.
Syphons are too large for fry, and you’ll probably suck them all up.
I attach a long bit of airline tubing (normally 0.5cm in diameter), and tape a chopstick to one end, for control. Slowly use it just as you would syphon. Only take out about 1L of water.
Put the old water in a glass jar, and stand it near a light for an hour. After it settles, check for any fry you may have sucked up, and replace them back into the tank.
To add new water, attach an air-stone to one end of your airline syphon. Have the new water higher than the tank, and syphon the new water into the fry tank. The attached air stone will ensure the water trickles. A sudden rush of new water can stun fry, killing them.
A good rule of thumb for water changes: if you take out 1L, replace with 2L. This will eventually fill the tank to the top (since the water level was lowered for spawning). Once the tank is filled, replace the same amount of water you took out.
From this two week mark, start daily water changes.
The constant water changes keeps the water level perfect, as fry are sensitive, and uneaten live food rots.
It also removes the Growth Inhibiting Hormone (GIH).
The Growth Inhibiting Hormone (GIH) is a hormone fry release. In the wild, the largest fry release this, and it stunts all other fry. This ensures they are the biggest, and there are enough resources (larger territory, food) for them. The Growth Inhibiting Hormone is handy in the wild, but not so much when you are trying to raise fry. The GIH is the reason why there are always larger fry in the spawn, with noticeable runts. Frequent waterchanges remove the GIH, and helps all the fry to grow.
|2.5 week old fry, already getting colour (base of tail). Amazing growth!|
This particular red spawn grew at an amazing pace, which would have been a combination of daily waterchanges, live food, and genetics. They started to get colour at only 2.5 weeks old, rather than the standard 8-10 weeks.
At the three week mark, grindal worms can be introduced, along with BBS. Continue daily waterchanges.
At around the four-five week mark, you can introduce live blackworms. Keep fry on BSS. Grindals are optional. Live blackworms are fantastic, as they are aquatic worms. Any left uneaten will just live in the tank, until it is preyed on.
Depending on the size of the spawn, you may now move the fry to a grow out tank. Grow out tanks are much larger tanks, and range in size. Some use 2ft, 3ft, or 4ft tanks.m I personally have a 3ft growout. The growout tank gives fry more room to grow, with more fry to water ratio. This removes the GIH even more.
This red spawn was only small, so I kept them in the fry tank as they were.
Continue with daily waterchanges.
For most spawns, around the 8-9 week mark, fry will start to show colour, and start to mature. Being Fighting Fish, the fry will start to show aggression towards their siblings. At this stage, you must separate the bullies. This is called jarring.
Jarred fry are also carded from each other, which promotes development, and helps to improve their form. It also teaches them to flare on command, which is great for shows and photographing.
I set my jarring set up Bain-marie style. Using a large storage tub, I half fill it with water, placing a heater in the storage tub. All jarred fry are inside soft drink bottles, with their lids cut off, and are floated inside the storage tub.
This is both space effective, and saves energy - as you heat all jarred fry with only one heater, rather than heating each fry individually.
Daily waterchanges are to be done on each individual jarred fry.
From this stage, fry can be moved onto frozen foods, although live blackworms are still ideal. You can also introduce dry food, which is easier to feed, but doesn't have as much nutrients as live food.
|Betta fry at one month, two weeks old eating live blackworms.|
As Bettas have the natural instinct to eat anything that is smaller than themselves and wriggles, weaning the fry onto dry food can prove a problem. Frozen food doesn’t seem to have as much as a problem, maybe because it floats and swishes around when you put it in the tank, rather than float on the water surface.
Michael Chang discovered that if guppy fry (which are dead easy to breed, and eat anything) of a similar size of Bettas are moved into the betta tank, and then fed dry food, the guppies will eat the dry food willingly. The bettas, seeing the guppies eat the dry food, become competitive, and try and out eat them. From there, the Betta fry make the connection that the dry powder stuff on the surface of the water is actually food, and from there will willingly chomp it down.
Once the fry are eating dry food, along with daily waterchanges, the fry are then grown out to a larger size continuing the same routine. Once on dry food, you can feed them once a day, as you would an adult. Twice a day feedings would be recommended, but only to grow them out that little bit more.
From here, you can sell them to friends, family, hobbiest or take them to the LFS (local fish store).
Here are some fry from this red spawn. In this spawn were extended reds, non reds (yellow), cambodians and chocolates.