It's been around two months since I received my pair of Betta sp. apiapi, a possible undescribed species from the coccina complex. Therefore, I thought it was time for a more in-depth progress report.
If this turns out to be a completely new species, I am most likely the first person in Australia to work with it. Suffice to say I was eager to get things right!
However, it seems I needn't have worried. My pair spawned almost immediately upon arrival at my house, and have been spawning almost consecutively ever since. I was quite surprised to see how many eggs the female could produce in one spawning given that she is barely over an inch in total length.
I am inclined to believe that this is most likely an as of yet undescribed species. Both the male and female are unlike any other coccina complex species I have seen or owned, with the male's spade-shaped caudal and the white edge to the dorsal and caudal fins. This edge is present on both fish, although it is much more prominent on the male due to his brighter colouration.
The male has proven to be an excellent father, and like most species from this complex, neither fish have attempted to cannibalise their fry.
I would estimate that I have at least twenty fry of varying sizes and ages currently growing out alongside their parents. There is one quite large fry in there that I believe must have come from one of the first couple of spawnings as it is about a third of the size of its parents. I'm not sure if it has been predating its smaller siblings, so I have been making certain to keep everyone with full stomachs.
I have to say that my objectives for this pair and their fry are rather selfish. Firstly, I would like to get this current group of fry grown out to a sexable size without issue. I have had a lot of difficulty with oodinium in the past, and I am hoping that these fry remain healthy.
Secondly, I would like to retain at least three spare pairs to be housed separately so that if something happens to my original pair or to one of my spare pairs, I have not lost or compromised all of my breeding stock. The success of this goal would depend purely on sex ratios, as I have always found spawns from my coccina complex species to be very male heavy.
It's most likely only after I have achieved these two goals that I would look at distributing pairs to other hobbyists. For now however, my focus is strictly on maintaining the health of my pair and their offspring. It has been a long while since I have managed to grow out a fry to maturity without issue.
Based on what I have read online, a great number of people seem to think of wild bettas as nothing more than small, brown-coloured fish that live in rice paddies somewhere in Thailand.
That is if they have even heard of a 'wild' betta at all.
While Betta splendens have become one of the most commonly kept aquarium fish in the hobby, their wild cousins usually struggle to find a foothold outside of a dedicated circle of breeders and enthusiasts.
However, while it would be wonderful if one day you could step through the door of any fish store at all and purchase wild bettas, I often question whether this would be in the best interests of the fish. Perhaps it is better that wild bettas do find themselves predominately in the hands of dedicated hobbyists rather than those of Joe Public.
I've noticed that the more commonplace a fish becomes in the hobby, the less appreciated it is. Furthermore, because availability is intrinsically linked to price, the bread and butter species of this hobby are usually purchased for a pittance. Such fish become disposable pets, purchased on a whim and frequently left to live a brief and dismal existence. The ornamental form of Betta splendens, is a perfect example of such an attitude. It's a sad fact of life that few owners of these fish bother to educate themselves on proper care, because they can always drive down to the store and purchase a new one.
I am quite a vocal advocate for wild bettas. I enjoy sharing my experiences and photos with those who are eager to learn, and by doing so I hope to break down some of the stereotypes that surround these fish. Yet for all that, I think it would be sad day indeed if one could walk into a fish store and find wild bettas of any kind languishing in cups alongside splendens.
While I don't think that day is going to come any time soon, today's post did make me consider the often overlooked cost of 'popularity' within this hobby. It seems there needs to be a fine balance struck between securing the future of wild bettas in the hobby, and ensuring that our appreciation for these fish is not lost in the process.
Since I set-up my water aging tub, I have been looking at a cheaper and more concentrated alternative to IAL for some time now. While IAL is great in tanks, I found that it quickly loses its potency if I am frequently removing large volumes of water, as is the case with my tub. Therefore, when Leslie Dear made mention of rooibos on the Wild Betta Australia Facebook page, I was quick to give it a go.
As I have some rather rare and valuable species in my fish room, I didn't want to just go ahead and start adding rooibos to my tank water without checking that the specific brand I was using wasn't going to cause harm. Therefore, I decided to test it out on my Betta coccina group first.
I was a bit liberal with the dosage, but none of the fish reacted adversely to the addition of the rooibos. I used about 1 litre of extract in a 28 litre tank, and that was more than enough to turn the water a wonderful tea-like brown. The group of coccina seemed to appreciate the darker water. However, perhaps most astonishing was the reaction of the Betta brownorum that shares a tank with the group.
Normally, I would rarely catch more than a glimpse of this fish. Therefore, it was a surprise to see him venture out to the front of the tank and engage in some territorial aggression with the coccina female only minutes after the rooibos extract was added.
It's been a couple of days since this first test, and I have not noticed any ill-effects. Yesterday I brewed up a couple of litres of extract, and this morning I added a small amount to my Betta persephone tank. I have noticed that this group of fish prefer a tannin rich environment, so I am probably going to have to add a couple of litres of extract to get the water really dark.
Rather than extract, I am going to be using the rooibos tea bags in my water aging tub. The plan is to float a handful of these in the tub, and replace them whenever they start to degrade or lose their potency.
I picked up a packet of rooibos tea bags from Coles here in Australia. I think it was just under $5 for a small box, but I'm sure if you looked around you could get a better price.
Often the first question I get asked by visitors looking at my tanks is: "Why is your water so dirty?"
My answer is almost always the same. The water isn't 'dirty' in the sense that it is unclean or harmful to my fish. It only looks like a cup of unmilked tea because my fish like it that way, and as a fishkeeper that is what matters most.
Nearly all of the betta species I keep come from black water environments such as peat swamps, which is why I am so liberal with the use of tannins in my aquariums. Furthermore, I've always found tea-coloured water aesthetically pleasing, much as tannins seem to be maligned in this hobby.
My goal has always been to mimic as closely as I can, the sort of conditions my fish would naturally inhabit in the wild. When you are dealing with particularly sensitive species of fish, it is important that you take those steps to ensure that they feel as comfortable as possible in their tank.
Betta keepers the world over, espouse the anti-fungal and antibacterial properties of Indian Almond Leaves. IALs are claimed to do everything from harden the scales of fighting bettas, to inhibiting bacterial infections. While the validity of some of these claims remains to be seen, there is one thing I know for certain. IALs produce tannins, and a lot of them.
There are basically two ways of using IALs. The first is where leaves are steeped for several hours to create a concentrated 'tea' or extract. The second is where leaves are added directly to an aquarium and either replaced periodically or left to break down. I personally like to use a combination of both methods. The leaves in the tanks help maintain a stable level of tannins, while the addition of extract to water used for water changes replenishes the tannins that have been removed.
I think to see any of the species from the coccina complex at their best, you have to have tannins. The dark water juxtaposes nicely with the iridescence on these fish, and really makes it pop. Moreover, the acidifying properties of tannins become invaluable when you are dealing with species that have evolved to inhabit bodies of water with very soft and acidic conditions.
Peat moss is often used for the same reasons as IALs. While the environmentally-minded may protest its use in the hobby, I still feel peat moss is beneficial in creating the black water conditions required by many wild betta species. While I no longer use peat moss as a substrate, I have several filter bags worth of it floating in my water aging tub, and stocking peat moss 'balls' in each of my tanks. Based on my experiences, tannins from peat moss seem to give water a darker tint than those produced by IALs, which tend to be more yellow or orange depending on the concentration.
Whether you like them or loathe them, tannins go hand-in-hand with keeping wild bettas. If you really want to see your coccina species put on a show, simply chuck in a few IALs, sit back and watch the magic happen.
My Betta brownorum male has been working hard over the past couple of days to convince the female to join him under his nest. This provided me with the opportunity to take some excellent action shots
I have owned several pairs of brownorum in the past, and I think these two are my favourite pair. They are both extremely friendly fish, and I hope that I can continue to be successful in spawning them.
It's during courtship that most fish species will look their best. It's an exciting time for a hobbyist, as the displays that take place in the days or weeks leading up to a spawn, can make for some wonderful photo opportunities.
So how can you tell when your pair is ready to spawn? To make things easy for those who might never owned a pair of bubblenesting wilds before, I have written up a brief summary outlining some of the key behaviours I have witnessed in my own fish.
The very first thing you may notice, is that the behaviour of your pair changes. Quite often pairs will become more aggressive towards each other and engage in display related behaviour. The male may flare at the female, chase her away or even physically attack her.
Nonetheless, the female is by no means an unwilling participant in all this. In fact, she will usually give as good as she gets, and males can end up looking the worse for wear by the time the actual act occurs.
Both fish may suffer from torn fins, nipped ventrals and missing scales. However, unless the damage is severe enough that secondary infection is a concern, there is no need for intervention. Damage sustained during courtship/spawning tends to heal up surprisingly fast without any special attention required.
During the courtship process, females will often start to look plumper around the stomach area. Her ovipositor or 'egg spot' (the white tube that is located behind the ventral fins) may become more prominent, and the female will usually display vertical barring when in the presence of the male. These bars are referred to by many hobbyists as 'breeding bars', and as their name suggests, can indicate that a spawn is forthcoming.
While bubblenests can also be a good indication that your pair may be close to spawning, their presence is by no means a certainty.
Some males will build multiple bubblenests in the lead-up to a spawn, while some males may not even build a single one. When my Betta brownorum pair first spawned, the eggs remained on the bottom of the film canister because the male hadn't built a nest at all.
With that said, if you find a bubblenest in your tank, a spawn is most likely on the cards. The chance of a spawn happening becomes even more probable, if you notice the male actively trying to encourage the female to join him under the nest.
He may spread his fins, flare, flick his body and chase the female around in quite an elaborate display. It is usually at this point in time that your pair will put on their best show. This is the time to get out your camera and get as many photos as you can, because rarely are the colours on your fish going to be as intense as they are right before a spawn.
Of course, the above is based purely on my experiences with breeding coccina complex species over the past two years.
Some readers may experience something completely different with their fish, and that is one of the great things about this hobby. Each fish is an individual, and I have learned there rarely any hard or fast rules when it comes to successful fishkeeping. A lot of what I do is based on conjecture and trial and error. Therefore, it doesn't mean you are doomed to failure if your fish exhibit only one or two of the behaviours listed above.
Apologies for the not so great photos. These fish seem to build their nests in the most inaccessible parts of the tank. Also the male is not particularly comfortable with me being near his fry, so he was understandably not at his best in the below pictures.
There must be something in the water. Along with this spawn, I also have had spawns from my Betta hendra, Betta brownorum and Betta stiktos pairs over the past few days. My group of Betta persephone have also been nesting non-stop since I threw some spare film canisters into their tank.
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, I currently keep and breed a number of species from the coccina complex.