Chronicles of a Reluctant Breeder Cont.
Well I discovered today why my brownorum pair seem to have a dismal track record with spawning.
The female is an egg eater.
So far I have only ever seen three serious attempts at spawning and I never seemed to get any eggs. One time I did get some eggs but then when I looked in on them later, they were mysteriously gone.
As they were spawning this morning and afternoon, I watched the female munch her way through nearly every single egg that was deposited into the nest. This was all done in between wraps, and I also don't hold much hope for the handful of eggs that seem to have survived.
I'm only hoping that this isn't something she is going to do every spawn, as it is quite frustrating to know that they are spawning but I am not getting any eggs or fry out of it!
Chronicles of the Reluctant Breeder
At the start of January, I received a pair of wild-caught Betta brownorum. In the past, I had six Betta brownorum , but unfortunately had to euthanize them after they failed to recover from a nasty velvet infection.
While one of my previous pairs would spawn once every week or so, it seems that this pair is much less enthusiastic about getting it on.
The closest they got was when I found six or so eggs in the nest and them spawning beneath it. For whatever reason the eggs disappeared not long after that and their most recent attempt ended in disaster when I don’t think the female expelled her eggs properly and she became rather bloated and sick for a couple of days after.
There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with either fish, it just seems like the male is not all that interested in the female.
The female on the other hand, looks like she is very eager to spawn as she bars up, displays to the male, and tries from time to time to entice him up into the film canister. However, instead of reciprocating the challenge, the male will clamp his fins and swim off. This is extremely frustrating, as he will flare at and display to his reflection if you hold a mirror up to his tank, so he is obviously not a complete pacifist.
I have tried doing frequent water changes, tried doing infrequent water changes, tried turning the temperature up and tried turning the temperature down. I’ve tried water changes with cold water, and I’ve tried water changes with warm water. Everything that has worked on reluctant partners in the past, has failed with these two. The only thing I have up my sleeve now, is to do what I did with my palangkarensis pair and completely cover the bottom of the tank in leaf litter several inches deep and see if that won’t trigger anything.
If this fails, then I will be looking at replacing the male the next time our wholesaler gets this species back in stock. While my previous pair gave me dozens of fry, every single one ended up getting predated before I could get them out of the tank. Therefore, brownorum remain one of the only species to date that I have kept and not been able to rear at least some fry from.
If anyone has any tricks or tips on how to get these two into the mood, I am open to suggestions. I've never had such stubborn fish before.
Setting up a Wild Betta Tank
I have two preferred tank sizes that I use for pairs or small groups of my claret species. For particularly aggressive pairs or small groups, I use 45x27x30cm tanks. For less aggressive breeding pairs I use 30x30x30cm cubes.
While they can be quite fierce at times, coccina complex species (particularly male/female pairs) generally only require tanks in the 20-40L range to cohabitate peacefully.
I like to use peat moss (not sphagnum moss) as a substrate in my wild betta tanks. Not only does it have acidifying properties, but I have found that the resulting tannins and dark colour of peat moss brings the colours out on my fish a lot better than when they used to be kept on other substrates.
Unfortunately, if peat moss is not soaked first before adding it to the bottom of a tank, it will tend to float and look unsightly until it has absorbed enough water to sink. I usually soak my peat moss for a couple of days beforehand so that I can add it straight away to my tank.
Indian Almond Leaves
Another staple in my tanks, is Indian Almond Leaves (IAL). These are used by betta keepers worldwide, and I feel no wild betta tank is complete without them.
Having researched the natural habitats of the species I keep online, I have seen that many of them inhabit areas of quite dense leaf litter. Therefore, I like to provide a similar environment in my wild betta tanks.
The amount of leaves I use depends on both how deep I want the litter to be, and how dark I want the water to eventually be. IAL can be very potent and it may only take one or two leaves to give the water a tea-stained look. I find that if you gradually add in leaves over the period of a couple of weeks, you don't end up turning your water pitch black.
In nearly all of my tanks I have a considerable amount of cover. The clarets can be quite elusive fish, particularly wild-caught specimens, and so I like to have a lot of places that fish can hide and feel comfortable in.
My wilds usually have three main areas of cover: floating plants at the surface, the leaf litter along the bottom, and artificial hides such as terracotta pots and lengths of PVC pipe.
All of my betta tanks have sponge filters running in them. Most of these are run off a main pump as I have found this ended up being more space and cost effective.
Because of the extremely low pH in my tanks, the beneficial bacteria that is found in a cycled tank and processes ammonia and nitrites, is unable to grow.
Therefore, the only purpose for the sponge filter is to move the water in my tanks around and prevent it from becoming stagnant. I found when I left my sponge filters off, algae and other detritus would build up and it would make it not only an eyesore, but also difficult to keep eyes on things.
I also like sponge filters, because I can easily control the rate of flow. I find a lot of filters are much too strong for bettas and need to be modified before they can be used. With the assistance of a 40 cent control valve, I can easily slow or speed up the rate of flow depending on my needs.
One thing that continually astounds me, is just how productive some of my wild betta species can be.
Spawning seems to be a major affair with splendens. There is the initial conditioning, the often turbulent and sometimes violent courtship, and then the excruciating wait until the eggs are hatched and the fry become free-swimming.
There are often reports of males becoming depressed after being removed from their fry, and it does not seem to be all that rare that one or both partners may die either during or after spawning.
On the other hand, spawning wild bettas (at least of this complex) is a completely different affair.
I don't need to bother with separate spawning tanks, as my pairs are quite content to spawn wherever and whenever. In fact my captive-bred burdigala are so comfortable in my presence, they once started embracing while I was still pouring a bucket of water into their tank!
I've found males will recycle their previous nests if they remain intact, and spawn almost continuously in a very short period of time. They don't seem to be able to produce as many fry in one spawning as splendens can, and perhaps this is why they are able to successfully spawn with such frequency.
Male care also seems to be quite lacking once the fry become independent. From what I have read and learned from other hobbyists, splendens males that are kept in with their fry tend to be quite involved in their care even after the fry become free-swimming.
I've found my males will almost completely ignore their presence once the fry no longer return to the nest. They also seem to expend a lot less energy on defending the nest site from the neighbouring bettas as that seems to become the female's job. She will patrol the tank, only being chased away by the male if she gets too close.
Some of my females however, will build their own nests and either collect fallen eggs/fry or actively steal them. My palangkarensis female is a repeat offender and will make raids on the male's nest to see if she can't carry anything off. Like the male, she will carefully look after the eggs or young fry until they become free-swimming, and then is ready to spawn again quite soon after.
From what I have read and seen, it seems many splendens breeders will spawn only young pairs, and retire them fairly early on. I am not sure why this is the case, but I have to say that at two years of age, my Betta rutilans 'green' pair were still regularly spawning. It was only that I have since lost the female that I no longer get any fry from the remaining group.
I recall finding an article where the author also had a pair of coccina complex wild bettas that were still successfully spawning at two or three years of age. So far, it has been my experience that these smaller species do not seem to lose their willingness to 'go forth and multiply' even as the years go by.
These Betta uberis are from Hermanus, and I received them at the end of December last year.
The fry shown in these pictures, are some that have grown out naturally in this tank. In recent weeks they have started to look like miniature replicas of their parents complete with colour and attitude.
As well as the two shown here, there are several smaller fry that I catch glimpses of from time to time. There are also at least another 15 siblings growing out in a separate tank. However, these are only just being weaned onto grindals so they are still quite fragile and small.
Unfortunately, the female was not looking her best in these photos. Ever since her fry started showing adult colouration, she does not colour up nearly as nicely as she once did.
The Elusive Persephone
These photos were taken today. My Betta persephone have matured nicely, although it turned out to be a very male skewed spawn. Fortunately, it looks like I may have one or two females to use in the future.
These are stunningly beautiful fish, and a must have for any coccina complex enthusiast.
The ornamental form of Betta splendens, remains the most aggressive species of the genus Betta. While originally bred to fight, nowadays, Betta splendens are celebrated more for their beauty than for their brawn. However, this has done little to dampen the species' aggressive streak.
Aggression comes naturally to bettas. I have witnessed fry only a few millimetres in size sparring with each other over food. Often, fighting between fry and subadults is restricted to intimidation and display. However, sometimes physical damage can be inflicted. It is perfectly normal for fighting to intensify and become more serious as the fish near maturity, particularly in male dominant spawns.
I have found that with wild bettas, aggression tends to vary wildly between individuals. An example is the difference in aggression levels between my captive-bred and wild-caught Betta burdigala pairs.
While I rarely see any damage to the fins or scales on my wild-caught pair, my captive-bred pair can be extremely violent. The level of aggression peaks during courtship and occasionally when the male is guarding the nest. The damage shown below is very minor compared to what has been done in the past.
I think sometimes those new to this side of the betta hobby, mistakenly believe that wild species are completely nonviolent. From what I have experienced in the past couple of years, I would say that it is some of the smallest species of betta that can be the most aggressive. For example, the strain of rutilans I keep, can be particularly nasty. I once had a juvenile attacked and killed by its siblings and parents, and even in the grow-out tank they fight incessantly.
With that said, the majority of fights between my wild species, seem to be fairly short-lived. Usually the fight ends with a quick chase around the tank until the pursuer becomes distracted or loses interest. Quite often the whole 'fight' is just one giant chase with fish constantly jumping in and out of the action.
It's always good to provide some cover and hiding places for your wilds, particularly if you have individuals of various sexes living together. Even a thin layer of leaf litter can provide a place of shelter for a harassed fish.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that bettas are all individuals. While one pair may cohabitate peacefully, another pair of the same species may routinely tear strips of each other. Nothing is ever certain with these fish, particularly when it comes to sharing tanks!
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, I currently keep and breed a number of species from the coccina complex.