Keeping and breeding bettas

There are currently 73 recognized species in this genus. The currently described Betta species can be grouped into complexes for conservation purposes
There are currently 73 recognized species in this genus. The currently described Betta species can be grouped into complexes for conservation purposes

My girlfriend, Marianne and I live in Urbana, Illinois. For several years I worked in a pet store, but only dabbled with fish breeding. We started breeding Bettas in June of 1994. What started as a pastime, has now become a full blown MANIA!

To the question, “How hard is it to breed Bettas?” We seem to think that the most difficult parts are, carefully watching the breeding couple from mating until the eggs hatch (usually about 2-3 days), and being diligent with live feeding of fry until they can eat other foods. We generally introduce a pair on Thursdays, by Monday night there are fry. Of course, you must be prepared to spend a lot of space and time if you do want to raise young to adults.

Though I do not claim to know everything about this wonderful hobby, I thought some would like to know how our system works. First, let me describe the fishes containers.

Their Environment

Our breeders are kept in 2 1/2 gallon tanks with dividers. Some are in Mason jars until ready to breed. (I’ve bought about 200 quart jars, all at garage sales, for less than $10!) Juvenile males are currently also living in one quart jars. Fry are transferred to 5 1/2, 10, or 20 gallon tanks at around six weeks old. Plants are placed in most all containers. This seems to keep them from jumping out (early on we had a couple of suicides), stimulates practice bubble nests, and gives small fry a place to hide. We use Java fern the most, but also find riccia and tiny watersprite, and salvinia are useful. Anacharis is good for the juveniles as well. We are also trying giant duckweed. All are easy to reproduce and deal with during water changes.

Temperature of the water ranges from 76-82 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmer temps do increase spawning activity and speed up egg hatching! We haven’t monitored our pH in over a year, so perhaps we are lucky, the tap is slightly high. We change all of the water in the quart jars once a week. (some times as many as 200 jars!). Fry tanks receive only slight water changes, only to remove build-up on the bottom. Juveniles get a 50-60% change weekly. Oh, by the way, we don’t use any gravel at all, it makes cleaning tough, and traps some live foods. Aeration is used only in the tanks for the young, not for the adults or fry. We have only rarely had trouble with infection or disease, but have had a few set backs due to water chemistry.

Their Breeding

Remember, there may be many ways of getting the job done, ours is just one. Most of our males will build nests immediately after water changes. They prefer putting them along a side of the container, or under and around the floating plants. We introduce a female in a partitioned tank (2 1/2 gal.) or just next to the male, in a jar. (We can now recognize when a female is ready to produce eggs). He will go about an aggressive display, flaring gills, etc., and continue adding bubbles to his nest; she will get vertical stripes (its harder to tell with white or pale females), move her fins rapidly, and swell with eggs. The initial compatibility should be evident within a 2-12 hours. At this point we introduce the two and cover the container. She will either accept or reject his bubble nest in 24-48 hours. If she rejects it, she will sometimes attempt to destroy it. If this happens, we will take her out, do a water change and wait for him to build another nest. If she accepts the nest, They will go through a courtship “dance” of nudging and twisting , dropping eggs (25-200) and semen to the bottom of the tank.. Warning! This is usually very rough on one or both partners (usually the female), and even fine specimens can become tattered or injured This is unfortunate and sometimes heartbreaking, but fairly common. The male will take the eggs and place them in the nest, guarding and protecting them. When it appears that she is no longer dropping eggs or seems disinterested, we take her out. The male will continue to care for the nest and eggs. He picks up eggs that fall to the bottom and moves others around. A good male is extremely good about this. We have noticed that some males are better at this than others and that they sometimes get better with subsequent breedings. Occasionally we get males who will eat their own eggs or fry. We remove them as soon as we notice this behavior. Under normal circumstances, we will leave the father with the fry until they become horizontal and can swim on their own (about 3 days).

The Fry

The eggs will hatch between 24-36 hours after being deposited. The fry drop to the bottom, and are picked up by their father and placed back at the surface. Remove males who are not good parents. If he eats the eggs or newly hatched fry, remove him and lower the water to about 1″. The fry remain at the surface of the water for approx. 1-2 weeks. The first few days they will be vertical at the surface, but will begin to swim horizontally within about a week A good father will help them back to the surface if they fall We remove the father as soon as the fry swim horizontal. We start feeding infusoria at two days old, though most don’t seem to eat until 3-4 days old. At about 5-7 days old we feed live baby brine shrimp. (Thank goodness Marianne has been so diligent with our shrimp hatchery!) The tank is kept covered with Saran Wrap and a small glass top or just a rubberband and plastic. The high humidity is necessary for the development of the labyrinth organ. They are kept covered for 4-5 weeks, during which they will begin to move about the container. Some fry will begin to show color by the 5th week. At 5-6 weeks the fry are moved to a larger tank, depending on the number either a 5 1/2, 10, or 20 gallon.

Juveniles and Adults

From 6-12 weeks old, the fry grow rapidly. They grow really fast when given larger tanks. There are two to three “size-groups” to each group of siblings. The larger ones stay at the top and feed fastest. The smallest ones remain at the bottom until large enough to compete at the top. Except for a few, they usually catch up in size within a month or so. I will describe their feeding a little later. It appears that we are getting 50%-60% females. This may be a result of temperature or pH, but we haven’t really experimented with either. We begin separating off the males as we notice them, either by behavior or size and shape, putting them into mason jars. The females are left together until sold as they are not near as aggressive as most males. They reach sellable size between 5-6 months. We start breeding them at about 4-5 months old.


As mentioned, the fry receive infusoria. We grow this by placing a piece of lettuce in a jar of old tank water, before the parents are even placed together. The jar is placed in direct or indirect sunlight. After a couple of days water looks gross, but here is a cloud of microscopic infusoria ready to feed with now work! Infusoria is fed from day 2-5 although many fry will not eat until about 3 days old as they absorb their egg sac.

Microworms are our second food and are fed until the fry are large enough to eat brine shrimp. You can easily produce millions of these tiny creatures if you get a starter culture. Microworms can be grown using a starter culture in Gerber’s Dried Mixed Baby Food mixed with water. The mixture should have the consistency of a slightly thick pea soup. Fleischman’s dried yeast (just a little) is also mixed in. (Dried food, water, and yeast are all that is needed for a healthy culture, but watch out for fruit flies! Keep the culture cover but with air slits) The microworms will eat the mold created by this mixture. It takes a good 3-5 days to really get a culture growing good, but then it can be maintained for a few weeks before starting a new one. They can be fed to fry from about 5- 15 days and can be used intermittently with baby brine shrimp or other tiny live foods.

Live brine is fed when the fry are large enough to catch them, usually by 10 days old. We use a 2 liter coke bottle and follow the instructions on the commercial brine egg container. These can take 24-36 hours to hatch depending on temperature. If your brine hatch should fail, it is good to have a fallback culture, like microworms.

The fry are fed 3-4 times daily, about as much as they could possibly eat. The juveniles are fed a variety of foods in rotation. These include: live bloodworms, daphnia (from a green water tank), mosquito larvae (when in season!), microworms, whiteworms, freeze dried tubifex, krill, or brine, and occasionally chopped and frozen chicken livers. A word about the chicken livers. This food will foul the water with its fats, so we will do a major water change after feeding this. If you can handle this, it is a CHEAP food supplement, and really enhances their color! (possibly due to the iron.) We also feed a variety of flakes: veggie flakes, growth, tropical mix. The veggie flakes help to keep the fish from getting constipated from high protein live foods.

Our Future

We currently have 200 mason jars used for juveniles, 40 small breeding tanks & fry tanks. In addition, we have young juveniles and females in 20 or so other various sized tanks. We are planning a fish room in the basement so we can have at least part of our house back! We have shipped fish to at least 20 states, and will continue to do so as weather permits. None of our fish have been turned away from the pet stores, so we keep producing more and more. The plants and live food cultures are going pretty darn good and have also been well received by friends, at stores, and auctions.

We have produced some whites, blue/blacks, assorted butterflies, and some interesting color combinations; red-blues, lavender, powder-blue(pastels), yellow, and turquoise. Though our actual stock varies.

We spend approximately. 45-60 min. per day feeding and about 10 hours each week changing water in all the tanks and jars. All this AND we both work 40+ hr. regular jobs. So as you can see, we have adopted the raising of aquatic life as our second careers. Yes, we are hooked on raising fish (sorry couldn’t resist a bad pun.)

by Joshua Sloan[su_divider size=”1″]