November 6, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The Siamese Fighting Fish, Betta Splendens

Mr. Sprinkles (My Betta Splendens)

Mr. Sprinkles (My Betta Splendens)
Mr. Sprinkles (My Betta Splendens)

The Siamese Fighting Fish, Betta Splendens was  discovered in Southeast Asia and became domesticated in the 1800’s in Thailand where they were bred for competitive fighting. The betta was named after an ancient clan of warriors, called the "Bettah."  The fish were given a combatant name after the fighting fish became popular in the mid-1800s.  In fact, the sport became so popular in Thailand that the former King of Siam had it regulated and taxed!  The biggest and bravest Betta was declared the winner, even if it was more torn up at the end of a fight.
At the end of the 19th century, Betta fish had found homes in Betta aquariums in Europe and eventually the United States. The evolution of Betta fish continued, with breeders introducing new fish with brilliantly colored bodies and long, flowing fins. Each new Betta Splendens was given a new name.
Bettas are  native to slow moving and stagnant, overgrown waters , the betta became accustomed to frequent storm flooding and devastating droughts.  The cyclic, drastic changes in its environment helped the fish to adapt - becoming a true labyrinth fish.  Betta splendens have an accessory breathing organ called the labyrinth organ that allows them to survive in waters with low oxygen content, by breathing air from the surface, allowing a betta to sustain itself in stagnant, oxygen-deficient water.  Although bettas can tolerate small spaces and poor water quality, they do best in small aquariums (at least two gallons) with regular water changes. 
Bettas have several different tail shapes, the "veil tail."  the "half-moon," "double tail," "short-finned fighting-style tail" and "crown tail." Bettas normally live 2 - 3 years, but have been known to hit the teenage years. The betta is known as "plakad" in its native Thailand and has often been referred to as "The Jewel of the Orient."
Bettas upturned mouths give them the ability to feed on the water's surface.  A good diet consists of dried bloodworms, brine shrimp or daphnia.  The Betta food or pellets that can be purchased at most pet stores are best because they contain a mixture of all three foods, in addition to vitamins and minerals. 
Most fish are schooling fish, but Bettas are not and they will fight with each other.Bettas like to swim alone and they hide in sea caves or plant forests to feel safe.
Each time you clean your Bettas tank be sure you only replace a third of the water in the tank with fresh water.  This enables the Betta to adjust to the temperature and pH of clean water – without messing up the biological balance of the betta’s environment.  This should be done about every three or four days for small bowls or tanks. Bettas prefer slightly acidic water (pH 6.5 to 7) and warm water. The optimal water temperature for a Betta is 76-82 degrees F.   Cold water can suppress the immune system and cause illness.An important rule of thumb when cleaning your Bettas habitat is to never use soap, hot water will work just fine.  To prevent the buildup of ammonia and bacteria use a small turkey baster to siphon debris from the bottom of the tank.
Siamese fighting fish are bubble breeders, which means the males build bubble nests at the surface of the water. During courtship , the male wraps himself around the female in a tight embrace during which he fertilizes eggs released by the female. He then gathers up the eggs in his mouth as they sink and blows them into the nest. This nuptial egg release repeats until the female has no more eggs. The male then tends the eggs until they hatch about 36 hours later.
This species is threatened by habitat degradation. Habitats across most of its range have been converted into intensive farmland, developed, or polluted, especially in central Thailand which is its centre of population. Genetic erosion from escaped farmed stock into wild habitats is a secondary threat.
Currently its exact extent of occurrence and area of occupancy are poorly known, but is locally uncommon in its suitable habitats. The species is considered vulnerable due to a perceived population decline of at least 30% across its range, and a declining area and extent of occurrence.
Captive breeding from wild populations is strongly recommended.

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