How to Combat Shyness
While extremely beautiful, many of the smaller species of wild bettas (particularly those from the coccina complex) can be excruciatingly shy. I think it is their sometimes elusive nature and specific care requirements that have led to a lack of popularity outside of a small group of enthusiasts.
Excessively shy fish can be exasperating for any fish keeper. It can be disappointing when all you see of your fish is one or two glimpses as it beats a hasty retreat. Furthermore, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick up symptoms of disease or injury if your fish are always hiding.
I have found that one of the best methods of combating shyness in wilds, is to hand feed almost exclusively using tweezers or something similar to hold the food. Even the shyest of bettas is not able to hold out indefinitely, particularly when you have something appealing like a live blackworm wriggling around.
Each time I feed any of my wild bettas, I gently tap on the front panel of glass. All of my wilds associate a tap on the glass with food, and most will come out to eat, or at least come into view if they hear me tapping. This gives me the opportunity to check everyone over, and make sure that everyone is still where they are supposed to be.
You will find that some fish will become bolder if they are forced out into the open by a lack of cover. This is what I did with my wild-caught burdigala pair. By decreasing the amount of cover in the tank, I found they became more comfortable in my presence and I was able to keep track of them and their fry a lot more easily.
Perhaps most importantly of all, is that you give fish (particularly wild-caught stock and new arrivals) time to settle in. If you have had your wilds shipped to you, that in itself can be an extremely stressful and traumatic experience. Some fish are more sensitive than others, and while one may be fine in only a couple of days, another could take a couple of weeks until it is completely comfortable in your tank.
Plenty of human contact, plenty of hand-feeding and plenty of patience is generally all that is required to encourage even the most elusive fish into coming out of its shell.
Natural Fry Tank
My Betta palangkarensis pair have given me at least 50 fry from several spawnings that occurred within the span of a couple of weeks. It wasn't until I actually physically separated them that all spawning activity ceased.
Because I had been waiting what seemed like forever for them to spawn, I decided to separate the fry into two groups in case something happened to them. One group was left in the main tank (parents were both removed by this point) , while another smaller group was moved into a more traditional grow-out tank.
As you can see, the water in what I call the 'natural' tank is very dark. The decaying leaf litter (pictured above) has caused an explosion in the growth of infusoria and other microorganisms. This provides a constant source of food for the fry in between feedings, and as I have fry of all different ages in there, it takes some of the pressure off the smaller and younger fry. There's not as much competition for food as there would be in a more traditional grow-out when most of the infusoria is consumed fairly quickly and the fry are much more reliant on regular feedings.
Even when I don't feed the fry in this tank, they almost always have full, rounded stomachs, which shows they are actively hunting and consuming the microorganisms present in the water.
Their growth rate has been fairly consistent and I am starting to see some quite large fry now. They seem to be growing at the same rate (perhaps slightly faster) than the other group, even though they do not receive as large or as frequent water changes.
I have already noticed with my burdigala and uberis fry that those grown out in the tank alongside their parents (even without supplemental feeding) seem to grow at a much faster rate than those raised in a more traditional setting.
Like all coccina complex species, it will be quite a while before they reach adult size. However, I will be charting the progress of both groups as well as that of my other fry, here on this blog.
There are those people who absolutely hate live blackworms. They see blackworms as a harbinger of disease and destruction, and will not touch them with a ten-foot pole. Some won't even allow fish that have been previously fed on them into their tanks.
Then there are those who swear by live blackworms. They use them on everything from breeding pairs to finicky new arrivals. Their young fish are raised on them, and they see live blackworms as one of the ultimate conditioning tools.
I personally fall into the latter of these two categories. Every single fish that I own has been fed blackworms at some point in its life. In fact I breathe a little sigh of relief when my fry are big enough to be fed blackworms and I can stop wasting time with things like baby brine shrimp and live food cultures.
A lot of people think live blackworms are a 'dirty' food and that by feeding them, there is a risk of introducing disease into their tanks. I think as long as you purchase your blackworms from somewhere reputable and store them correctly, the risk of disease is fairly low.
If you are concerned about the quality of blackworms at your LFS, ask to see them before you purchase. Healthy worms should clump together and shouldn't have an overpowering smell. If there are a lot of dead worms or the worms have a very unpleasant smell, I would advise you to look somewhere else.
If you want to cut the middleman out altogether, I have found the wholesalers that produce blackworms, will often sell direct to the public. This way you can get your worms straight from the source and not have to be concerned about improper handling or storage.
I have to say, in the two or so years of using them, I have never run into any issues. In fact, the fish that are fed almost exclusively on live blackworms are some of the healthiest and most prolific in my fish room.
So if you have been considering incorporating live blackworms into the diets of your fish, I say give it a go. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Rearing Wild Betta Fry: Part Two
Most of my grow-outs for very young fry initially only contain around 2-4L of water. This water is taken directly from the parents' tank to avoid shocking the still delicate fry.
I generally use tanks in the 8-20L range, and over the course of a week or so I gradually raise the water level by doing daily water changes. I find it is very important to keep the bottom of my grow-outs clean, particularly when the fry are young and spend a lot of time down there.
Right from the beginning, I am fastidious in siphoning out uneaten food and waste from the bottom of my grow-outs. Water is returned to the tank using two pieces of airline tubing and a valve, to bring the level of flow down to a couple of drips a second. It is very important that this process is gradual when fry are still young as too rapid a swing in parameters or temperature can cause a mass die-off.
As the fry get bigger, the tank size is steadily increased. Most of my juveniles and sub-adults usually end up in tanks in the 40-60L range. However, this does depend on species, and the number of fry present.
When the fry are very young, I let them feed solely on infusoria. I have found the conditions I keep my wild bettas in, is very conductive to the growth of infusoria and other fry friendly micro-organisms.
Once the fry are around a week to 10 days old, I start supplementing their diet with microworms and freshly hatched BBS. Those fry that are still too small to take either of these foods, are usually fine subsisting on the infusoria until they are bigger.
As the fry get older, I start introducing grindal worms into their diet, followed by live blackworms, which I have found puts excellent growth on young fish. I can definitely see a difference in the rate of growth once fry transition from grindals to blackworms. After that I introduce pellets and frozen brine shrimp, so that my fish learn to accept both live and non-live foods from an early age. There is nothing more frustrating than an adult fish that will not take pellets.
It is interesting to note that I have never produced a fish with either missing or incomplete ventral fins. Even fry that have been fed predominately microworms have developed normally. I wonder if this is a problem linked solely to species from the splendens complex, or if my perhaps excessive siphoning prevents the build-up of excess food.
Rearing Wild Betta Fry: Part 1
Wild bettas are extremely prolific if given the right conditions. Some of my pairs are capable of successfully spawning at least two - three times a week.
However, I have found that most of the time I only get around 20 or so fry from a single spawning, and sometimes even less. Therefore, I have little need for multiple grow-outs or BBS hatcheries bubbling away at all hours of the day.
When I first got into wild bettas I killed a lot of fry because I simply did not know how to rear them. Nowadays, my success rate is a lot higher. I rarely end up with any dead fry in my grow-outs and those who fail to thrive or require culling, are usually the runts.
Over the next few posts, I will outline my method to raising wild fry. Others may disagree, but it works for me and I have dozens of healthy juveniles and adults to prove it.
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, I currently keep and breed a number of species from the coccina complex.