Hey betta lovers, do you know where betta fish come from? The truth will shock you!
Let’s return to the roots and uncover the unbelievable secrets of bettas’ origin, history, and natural habitats in the wild. Learning this can make you the best betta owner ever because once you know their ideal habitat, you know how to provide the best care for your pet fish.
Where Do Betta Fish Come From?
Bettas (betta splendens) come from freshwater in South East Asia. They are also known as Siamese Fighting Fish, and this is not a mere fun fact. The word Siamese means something related to Siam, the old name for Thailand (the country changed its name in 1939). The fish got its name because it mainly lived in the region of Siam (just like the Siamese cat and Siamese twins) and other South East Asian countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Since betta species are freshwater fish that prefer shallow water, they have evolved in lakes, rivers, and creeks, but you will now find wild ones in rice paddies and canals. People in South East Asia have been reverting rivers, building water canals, and flooding plains to create rice paddies for sowing and harvesting rice crops for millennia. Since the rice paddies’ water is shallow and still, with lots of hiding places and feeding options, it provides a perfect ecosystem for smaller fish to thrive, with less risk of falling prey to the more giant predators of the larger rivers.
Wild bettas have found their perfect home in these rice paddies, streams, and swamps in the slow-moving water. It’s their paradise, so no wonder they are territorial and aggressive to intruders.
Where Do Betta Fish Live in the Wild?
The Habitat Preferences of Wild Bettas
Wild bettas live in rice fields, rivers, water streams, rice paddies, and swamps. These tropical fish prefer warm and shallow, slow-flowing water with a lot of vegetation to help them hunt prey and hide from predators.
These aggressive fish fights off others who intrude on their territory. They are tough and adaptable within their environment but still sensitive to sudden changes in temperature and habitat. Without warm and clean water that is well-oxygenated, the native fish won’t have a good time.
Threats to Wild Betta Fish Habitats
While the wild bettas thrived in habitats created by the rice farmers of Siam over centuries, they may face new threats in today’s modern industrial world. Here are some habitat threats:
Industry and agriculture threaten wild betta’s habitat and may change or disrupt their environment. As an industrial society grows, it builds pipes, highways, train tracks, and canals over wetlands, forests, and marine or freshwater habitats for animals.
Overfishing is a threat to many species of fish. Especially fishing with a net can catch other fish than intended, which they call a bycatch, which is unnecessary and can have devastating consequences for the fish population.
More industry and production also cause more waste and potential pollutants, such as chemicals in rivers, and change the water conditions, which can cause disease.
Predators and larger fish from rivers may find and reach bettas easier as rivers get reverted, when people build new canals, or if someone destroys the betta’s natural hiding spots. The wild bettas are much less colorful than their domesticated cousins and use their darker and camouflaged colors and patterns to hide from threats.
Additionally, climate change and the spreading of other invasive fish species can pose a threat to wild bettas.
Maintaining a Betta Fish’s Natural Habitat in Captivity
Have you ever imagined what life might be like in an empty, solitary confinement glass prison? Don’t let that be the reality for your best pet friend.
Creating a natural habitat in your fish tank can benefit your domestic betta. It can reduce stress, improve water conditions, reduce the risk of depression and promote overall health and well-being. We all wish the best for your fish, so let’s talk about how you can mimic a natural habitat in your little tank for optimal betta fish care.
Recreating a Natural Habitat
Your best pet friend can thrive in captivity, given the proper circumstances and habitat requirements.
Wild betta species evolved to have plenty of hiding places, a stable warm water temperature, and good water conditions.
So your goal should be to make it as natural as possible by choosing the right size aquarium, water temperature, pH levels, clean water free from pollutants, suitable plants and rocks, and perhaps some tank mates if they can be friends.
Tips for Creating and Maintaining Habitat
Here’s a short list of tips to provide the best conditions:
- Use a tank that can hold at least 2.5 gallons of water for a single betta, but 5 gallons is even better. Add 2.5 gallons for every additional betta you want to have.
- Have the water be relatively shallow, with a depth of around 1 foot or 30 centimeters.
- Place live plants, rocks, and other decorations in the tank to give some environmental variation (wouldn’t you be bored swimming around looking at the same glass wall all day?)
- Have some open spaces with light for swimming.
- Have hiding spots or darker places that are safe to rest.
- Keep the water temperature between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 to 27 degrees Celcius to mimic a tropical climate.
- Change the water often to keep the water quality high.
- Monitor the temperature, pH levels, and other water conditions so you can make changes if it’s off.
- Give your bettas a varied diet with suitable food from the aquarium store (don’t give it human food).
- Consider a filter or bubbler to improve water conditions if the water is dirty or has low oxygen levels.
If you follow these tips, you are more likely to have proper habitat that captive betta fish will appreciate.
The History of Bettas in the Aquarium Trade
Domestic bettas survived in captivity for centuries in Asia, but more recently, in the 19th century, they became popular in the West.
Ever since the first rice farmers of Siam noticed the bettas take domicile in their rice paddies, they have been impressed by their unique characteristics and behaviors.
The fish then started to be traded, imported, and exported to be used in fighting tournaments against other fish, a type of blood sport entertainment similar to cockfighting.
But its aggressive behavior was not the only trait valued. The fish’s beautiful and unique colors and elegant movements made it a popular ornamental pet, being kept for display and adding visual appeal in aquariums.
As the bettas spread widely via rivers, canals, rice paddies, and eventually through trade and a long history of selective breeding throughout Asia and the world over centuries, they have evolved into many different species of domestic betta fish. Some have longer fins, different colors, and patterns than others, and they are one of the most popular choices for aquarium fish worldwide.
The Role of Human Intervention in the Distribution of Siamese Fighting Fish
It’s no secret that humans have played a big part in the distribution of bettas worldwide by breeding them in captivity for hundreds of years.
By building out canals for water management, as well as travel paths for boats, and later building up huge dams for hydroelectric power production, humans have flooded areas with water and connected distant riverways, creeks, and lakes with swamps, rice fields, and canals. These activities have spread the population of wild fish around.
But humans have had an even bigger hand to play in the spread of domestic bettas through the aquarium trade.
Human beings may threaten the ecosystems and habitats of wild siamese fighting fish. Still, they have also helped them survive, thrive, and spread by building out rice paddies and exporting them around the globe to be used as ornamental fish in educational aquariums and living room fish tanks.
FAQs about Wild Betta Fish Natural Habitat
What is the natural habitat of betta fish?
Betta fish are native to Southeast Asia and live in many habitats, including rice paddies, river streams, and swamps. They prefer slow or stagnant water with vegetation and hiding places.
Where do betta fish come from?
Betta fish are native to Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They have been kept in captivity for centuries and exported worldwide through the aquarium trade.
How do I recreate a betta fish’s natural habitat in a tank?
To recreate a natural betta habitat in a tank, you must provide hiding places, keep water temperature stable between 76 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, check that water conditions are good and change the water frequently. Adding live plants, rocks and decorations can help mimic the natural environment.
Are betta fish endangered?
Betta fish are not considered endangered, but their habitat in the wild may be at risk due to human activities such as industrialization, pollution, and overfishing.