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Betta Habitat; "Betta splendens" Wild Habitat


The Siamese fighting fish; scientific name, Betta splendens.

By Carl Strohmeyer
Updated 5/9/14

Natural Betta Habitat MapI am writing this Aquarium Answers post/article to hopefully help with all the controversies around the internet and elsewhere about wild Betta habitat and requirements.
I would like to qualify this and state that as with many popular aquarium fish (such as Angels and Discus), the domestic versions are often adapted to the environment that they have been bred for. In other words, many angelfish are originally from low pH waters but are now commonly bred in higher pH alkaline waters.

In the case of Bettas, these amazing fish come from a Tropical Habitat that is known for drastic swings in water availability, clarity, parameters, and even temperature. This makes for a fish that is naturally uniquely adaptable to a variety of aquarium environments and is in part a reason for their popularity.

River Drainage Basins and natural environment

The Chao Phraya River drainage is seen in the central Thailand area of the map while the Mekong River Drainage habitat is seen in Cambodia and Eastern Thailand

The Betta is a native freshwater fish from Thailand (formerly Siam) and Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea). Most native Bettas originate from the Mekong AND the Chao Phraya River drainage basins. These drainages are mountainous with agriculturally productive valleys found in the upper regions.
The lower region contains alluvial plains that are highly productive for agriculture. The Mekong and Chao Phraya Rivers drains from north to south.
Monsoon weather dominates, with a rainy season lasting from May to October and supplementary rain from occasional westward storm depressions originating in the Pacific.

Temperatures range from 15°C (59 F) in December to 40°C (104 F) in April except in high altitude locations. The basins can be classified as a tropical rainforest with high biodiversity. The lower parts have extensive irrigation networks and hence intensive rice paddy cultivation.
These rivers have a pH of 6.9 ranging to 8.2 and the nutrient level is low. In the Lower Mekong and Chao Phraya areas the river is turbid, especially during the rainy season.

With the very wide temperature swings it is easy to extrapolate that a betta can and will do well in a reasonable warm aquarium aquarium/bowl environment that does not exceed the temperature extremes found in the wild. This is not to say that a heated stable environment is not better for a healthy Betta (remember this IS a tropical fish).

The pH, GH, and KH also have wide swings, to which the Betta has adapted, however keep in mind that rapid changes in pH can still harm or even kill a Betta and should be avoided.
It is also note worthy that the pH scale is logarithmic, so a full point change in pH is tenfold increase or decrease in pH.

Please see this article for more about this subject:
“Aquarium Chemistry, GH, KH, Electrolytes, and pH in Aquariums”

The low water nutrient levels of these rivers lend themselves to a reducing Redox and lower nitrate levels, which means frequent partial water changes are important with bettas and if breeding on a large scale, a system in which the breeding sections are all linked to a large central system with a UV Sterilizer is also useful for both disease prevention and Redox (but not essential).

See this article for more about UV Sterilization:
How UV Sterilization Works in Aquariums and Ponds

Where to get: UV Sterilizer

Further Redox Info: Aquarium Redox

Being an anabantids, Bettas have a labyrinth organ in their heads that allows them to take oxygen directly from the atmosphere in addition to the oxygen taken from water via their gills which allows them to cope with the dry season in their monsoonal climate home.

All of the above environmental adaptation as well as breeding adaptation is why the Betta survives well in a small tank or even a reasonably sized bowl (with filtration), but also make no mistake about it the Betta merely survives the dry season and its harsh realities of water quality, so providing your domestic Betta a heated, stable, regularly maintained tank, with proper electrolyte levels (even if under 2 gallons) will go a long way in long term Betta health.

Wild BettaAlthough these beautiful fish were not seen in Europe until the 1800's, they have been cultured and kept in Thai households since the 1200's.
Bettas common aquariums have undergone centuries of selective breeding and have become far more aesthetically pleasing than the original Wild Betta, these “Domestic” bettas have also been adapted to the small aquarium environments in which they are often bred.
In the wild Bettas generally grow to 6.0 cm (2.3 in.), however many are now bred up to 8.0 cm (3.5 in.) in length.
A Bettas diet in the wild generally consists of insect larvae such as mosquito larvae. It is noteworthy that many of these insect larvae feed themselves on green organic matter, so a proper diet should consist of food that duplicates the digestive contents of these larvae as well.

Betta fish can live for up to 8 years in the wild, but this is rare with all the risks they also face in the wild. However, the average lifespan of a Betta fish is closer to 4 or 5 years in captivity under good care in a filtered tank with good nutrition, and proper chemistry (which includes positive mineral ions, which many Betta Keepers miss the scientifically proven importance of these electrolytes).

In Summary;
Take from this article which you as per the facts when it comes to how you house your Betta, however please keep in mind that even with smaller containers; utilizing an "under bowl/tank" ambient heater such as the Hydor Mini Bowl Heater is still needed to keep the Betta water temperature at least 60F (higher is better), partial water changes, maintaining ESSENTIAL positive mineral ions, limiting exposure to life threatening or lifespan shortening ammonia/nitrite levels by cycling your Bettas Aquarium Bowl are ALL still important as with any other fish regardless of aquarium size.

Product Source: Hydor Heater Designed Specifically for Bowls

What is more subjective is the size of the container you keep your Betta in assuming all the above objective/factual qualifications are met.
The argument is often made that a Betta is more happy in a larger aquarium, unfortunately unless you can speak to your Betta, this is simply an opinion.
From my observations with Bettas in 10 gallon or larger tanks versus Bettas I have kept in bowls, I have noticed often much more lively Bettas in the Bowls than in the larger aquariums where by they often hide in just one corner and not utilize all the "extra space", especially when other fish are present. But then others may have different observations, which then makes this only anecdotal evidence.

Back to facts, since I have performed so many controlled tests utilizing many of my large multi aquarium clients (both large and small aquarium), literally in the 100s going back to 1978, I can state categorically that lifespan and disease resistance were NOT any more lengthened by the Bettas kept in containers over 10 gallons versus those that were in aquariums under 5 gallons.
WHAT WAS A FACTOR in lifespan & disease resistance was the environment these fish were kept in as per water parameters and feeding, not the size of the tank.

These included:

The points above are the FACTS, which includes in the controlled tests actually introducing diseases into their environment and those Bettas not kept in the optimum water parameters and fed the best diet much more often and quickly contracted the disease, even than those in larger aquariums that were of less than optimum water parameters.
The tests showed no differences in the 2 gallon bowls with filtration (usually Sponge Filters which work as well in bowl as they do in a larger aquarium) versus the 10 gallon+ aquariums when water parameters and feeding were equal.
You can then draw any subjective conclusions from there.

Sponge Filter Resource: Sponge Filters

Orchid Male Half Moon BettaPlaket BettaSuzie Qs, Thai Half moon Betta

*Betta Care; Veiltail (VT), Plakat, Crowntail (CT), Halfmoon (HM)

Other Recommended Reference & Product Sites

Freshwater aquarium fish keeping, including wild betta
Freshwater Aquarium Care; including bettas

Everything you need to know about Sponge Filtration

Atison's Spa Clear; Indian Almond Leaf Conditioner

Clear Betta Spa contains wild almond leaf extract to simulate the natural environment of the native soft water fish.
Other natural botanicals, including Yucca extract, help control ammonia, reduce stress and maintain cleaner water.

Betta Specifics


Fish as Pets with articles & commentary of Interest to the Aquarium Hobby

A great forum for all your fish questions

ZooMed Betta Hammock

Allows your Betta to rest near the surface of the water just like they do in nature.

Wonder Shells; Regular & Medicated

Provides a constant supply of ESSENTIAL mineral ions for Bettas and other fish.
These unique Wonder Shell Mineral Supplements are sold EXCLUSIVELY at American Aquarium Products

AquaMaster ULTRA PREMIUM Mini Tropical Fish Foods

Dual-color slow-sinking crumbles specially designed for small tropical fish to enhance palatability and feeding rate.
Includes Probiotics added to help digestion and to reduce nitrates & water pollution.

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In Chronological order of writing with the newest at the top
  1. Aquarium or Pond Bio Load
  2. Tuberculosis in Fish
  3. PUR vs PAR in Aquarium Lighting
  4. Head Pressure in Aquarium and Pond Water Pumps
  5. Betta Fin Rot
  6. Angelfish Virus/Aids
  7. Activated Carbon
  8. Fish Baths/Dips as an aid to treatment
  9. Streptococcus gram positive bacterium in aquariums, Eye Infections
  10. Hydrogen Sulfide
    production in anaerobic De-Nitrification for Aquarium/Ponds
  11. Fish Shipping
  12. Aquarium Size, Fish Stunting
  13. Aquarium Algae,
    BBA & Brown Algae in particular
  14. Aquarium Salt (Sodium chloride) in Freshwater Aquariums
  15. Betta Habitat; Wild Bettas to Domestic Betta environment parameters
  16. HITH; Hole in the Head Disease
  17. Aquarium Protein Skimmers, Ozonizers
  18. Power Head/ Water Pump Review
  19. Molly Disease/ Mollies in an Aquarium
  20. Basic Fish Anatomy, Fin Identification
  21. Aquarium Moving/ Power Failures
  22. Octopus as Aquarium Pets
  23. Aquarium Nitrates
  24. Ichthyophonus protists, fungus in fish
  25. Aquarium and Pond Filter Media
    Types; Mechanical, Bio, Chemical
  26. Aquarium Water Conditioners (also Pond)
  27. Fish Parasites; Trematodes & Monogeneans; Annelids and Nematodes;
    Flukes, internal worms, Detritus Worms (often confused with Planaria), Micro Worms
  28. Aquarium Silicone Application;
    DIY Aquarium Repair & Glass thickness
  29. Pond Veggie Filters; DIY Bog Filter
  30. The difference between Plaster of Paris and Aquarium Products such a Wonder Shells:
    Identification, prevention & Treatment
  32. AQUARIUM TEST KITS; Use & Importance
  33. SEXING FISH; Basics
  34. Chocolate Chip, Knobby and Fromia Starfish
  35. Freshwater Velvet & Costia
  36. Usnic Acid as a Fish Remedy
  37. Aquarium Heaters; Types, information
  38. The Lateral Line in Fish, Lateral Line Disease
    or Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)
  39. Tap Water use in Aquarium; Chloramines, Chlorine
  40. Can Black Ghost Knife fish give an electric shock?
  41. Bio Wheel Review; Do Bio-Wheels really work?
  42. How do Fish Drink?
    Use of RO Water
  43. Cyclops, and Predatory Damselfly larvae
  44. Betta with Dropsy;
    Treatment and Prevention of DROPSY in all fish
  45. pH and KH problems in African Cichlid Aquarium
  46. Aquarium Gravel, which size?
  47. Blue green algae, Cyanobacteria in Ponds/Aquariums

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TMC V2 RO Filter systems; the very best you can buy with TDS meter:
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