Whether you’re interested in keeping betta fish (Betta splendens) for fun or as a potentially profitable hobby, there are a few things to consider before you get started.
While these colorful fish are great for beginning and beginning aquarists, mating them is more involved than just keeping a pet, so let’s talk about how to breed betta fish !
Should You Start Breeding Bettas?
Betta fish are not the easiest species to breed even though they make great pets. Small mistakes that wouldn’t harm an adult fish can spell doom for the mating or delicate newborn betta fry tank.Breeding is an exhausting process for adults and requires a month of preparation, so it is best left to aquarists who are:
- Familiar and comfortable with the process of setting up and cycling new betta aquariums and using test kits to track the pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and general hardness of the water in your tanks.
- Have experience caring for multiple aquariums at the same time, particularly feeding live foods, the nitrogen cycle and water quality monitoring, aquarium maintenance and record keeping.
- Have the physical space and financial means to establish and maintain various habitats, as you will need at least one tank for your male, a separate tank for your female or sorority group, and a special rearing tank set up for the actual breeding process. mating and rearing of fry.
Betta Mating Behavior Overview
Bettas are a bit difficult to breed because they are solitary animals that do not live in mixed groups in the wild. That makes it harder for betta breeders to replicate their natural conditions in captivity than it is for fish like guppies or freshwater snails:
- Wild male and female bettas only come together for a period of time to mate, with the female fish leaving the area immediately afterward.
- Female bettas actively avoid male fish except when they are primed for breeding (gravid) and are therefore «receptive» to aggressive advances from the male.
- If you just throw a couple of bettas into a tank and let them go about their business, you will end up with no babies, a dead female betta, and you might even lose your male fish.
How to reproduce Betta fish?
Before we can delve into the details of choosing and conditioning your adult bettas for breeding, let’s cover the highlights of the process. If you’ve ever wondered how betta fish get pregnant, the answer is no. In fact, bettas don’t even have sex ! So how do bettas mate?
- Bettas reproduce sexually, meaning they have two distinct genders with each parent contributing 50% of their genetic material to their offspring (ironically, sexual reproduction does not require animals to have sex).
- Bettas are species of breeding fish; The female bettas lay eggs and the males fertilize them in the water afterwards. Since the eggs are fertilized outside of her body, female bettas do not store sperm and cannot reproduce without further contact with a fertile male.
- Male bettas build bubble nests to attract females to spawn with them, and provide care for developing embryos until shortly after they hatch.
- However, once the fry are free-swimming, there is a risk that they will be consumed by the male, so you cannot breed your bettas in the male’s home aquarium, and must use a breeding tank instead.
What does it mean to condition a betta for breeding?
Conditioning your adult bettas prepares them for the mating process in several ways, and involves changes to both the diet and the environment in their habitats. You are basically mimicking the conditions that wild betta fish experience during their natural breeding season. When is betta fish mating season?
It depends on where the population is, but it usually starts in the spring and runs through the early summer months in Thailand. Feeding your adults a protein-rich diet of live foods like brine shrimp and bloodworms mimics their natural conditioning and improves your adult betta’s health and appearance.
However, conditioning is not limited to dietary changes. Wild bettas rely on other environmental cues to signal that the time is right to mate, so you may need to adjust your water chemistry and/or your maintenance routines to mimic these seasonal conditions in your betta tanks:
- Conditioning and breeding tanks should remain free of ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates, so test your water several times a week and change the water as needed to keep these toxins at undetectable levels.
- While pet bettas tolerate water with a general hardness (GH) of 4 to 20 degrees (d), for breeding they prefer softer water that measures 4 to 8 dGH with a test kit.
- Conditioning and breeding tanks should have slightly acidic water at a temperature of 80°F, and ideally, a pH that measures around 6.5.
- Floating an Indian almond leaf from the Terminalia catappa tree in your betta tank can naturally soften the water and slightly lower the pH. They are widely available in aquatic stores and online, and are commonly used in aquariums and breeding establishments.
Equipment, Supplies, and Setups for Breeding Bettas
Now that you understand the importance of conditioning your adult bettas prior to breeding and the ideal parameters for your tanks and breeding setup, let’s take a look at the equipment and supplies you’ll need to start the process!
To breed bettas, you will need:
- Two fully equipped and cycled tanks for adult fish.
- At least one male and female betta fish conditioned for breeding.
- A bare 10 gallon aquarium with a glass cover, heater, temperature gauge, and sponge filter for your rearing tank.
- Water analysis kit for pH, GH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
- Java moss, Indian almond leaves, plastic wrap, and a Styrofoam cup.
- Tall glass jar or vase (6 inches+), or a divider for your breeding tank.
- Bucket and siphon with hose or pipe for water changes and maintenance.
- Fresh and/or frozen foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and Daphnia eggs.
How to Choose Your Betta Fish Breeding Pair
What should you look for when buying a pair of bettas to breed? Your age is actually one of the most important factors:
- You’ll want to select bettas that are between 4 and 11 months old, as fertility declines dramatically after the first year.
- It is not worth the time and effort to condition bettas older than 12 months, as there is little chance of them successfully breeding.
You’ll also want to choose fish that have the characteristics you’re interested in. If you want to produce Double-Moon bettas, you will need to choose adults that have or carry that trait. Color can be much more complicated, which is why I recommend learning about betta color genetics and working with experienced betta breeders.
You can also make hybrid fish by crossing Betta splendens with a wild species such as Betta plakat. Since wild-type bettas are often more aggressive than the graceful splendens, their mating behaviors can be more difficult to manage, so this is not an ideal choice for your first mating.
How to choose the best male and female betta for breeding
When you’re comparing betta fish while shopping for your broodstock, how can you identify the best male or female in a group?Examine every betta fish in the store and compare their energy level, coloration, and overall body condition.
Choose Energetic and Active Bettas
Look for fish that are very active, bright, and energetic ! They must be curious, receptive to their surroundings, and have a large appetite. Avoid buying bettasappear listless, bored, or show little interest in food. Don’t buy poorly conditioned bettas or from a store that stocks them in small cups or dirty aquariums.
Look for the brightest and most colorful male Betta
While you will be further conditioning your bettas before mating, it is important to choose the most attractive breeding male you can find. In the wild, the female betta is in charge of the mating process and selects the ideal mate for her, so you will need to choose a male that is highly attractive to females!
- Male fish with deep, rich color are more likely to be healthy and free of parasites than pale colored fish.
- Female bettas are naturally less colorful and duller than boys, so focus on choosing females for their energy level and general condition rather than their colors.
Female bettas definitely prefer male fish with rich, jewel-like tones rather than pale or lighter shades. Similar to other species such as guppies being driven by female preferences for brightly colored males, there is some evidence that female bettas prefer males with the red/orange pigment more than any other color.
Fin size, body and condition
The male and female bettas you choose should have perfect body conditioning, with no scales or fungal patches in sight. They should be plump but not obese, and their fins should be smooth and free of ragged edges or wounds. Healthy bettas heal quickly, so damaged fins could be a sign of a sick fish.
It is best to match the size of your breeding bettas, so choose a female that is slightly smaller than your male betta. However, avoid choosing a female that is larger than her male, as that type of mating usually fails.
Where to buy your breeding stock
The best place to find breeding stock is to seek out experienced local breeders and buy fish directly from them. This is an ideal situation, as the breeder will know the exact age and lineage of your fish and can help you plan a good match.
Don’t waste your time or money buying generic bettas from the pet store for breeding. While these fish are fine as pets, they are rarely of the age or quality necessary for breeding. Many pet stores do not care for their bettas properly, so you may not be able to successfully condition or breed these fish anyway.
How to Condition Adult Bettas for Breeding
After allowing your breeding bettas to settle into their new tanks for a week, it’s time to start conditioning them! It usually takes 2-4 weeks to get your bettas fit and ready to mate.
Frequent water tests and changes
During the conditioning process, you’ll want to closely monitor the chemistry in your betta’s tanks as discussed above, but you’ll also want to do at least two 25% water changes each week, even if toxin levels are undetectable. This mimics the seasonal rainy conditions that wild bettas experience.
Betta Breeding Conditioner Diet
It’s best to feed your bettas 3 to 4 times a day while conditioning them, but give them less meal per meal so they don’t overeat. Offer them as much food as they can eat in one minute and try to feed them every 6 to 8 hours. It’s best not to fish fasted when conditioning, so feed 7 days a week:
- Offer one meal a day of a high- quality floating omnivorous flake or pellet diet.
- Feed daily three high protein and preferably live or frozen meals, alternating in a selection of foods including brine shrimp, tubifex or bloodworms, shrimp eggs and daphnia, mosquito larvae and insects.
How do you know when your Betta fish are ready to mate?
There are no hard and fast rules for knowing when your bettas have been sufficiently conditioned and ready to mate, as the most noticeable signs won’t be obvious until the fish actually interact with each other in the breeding tank. When your male sees a female or rival betta:
- If ready to mate, her male should turn a darker color and flash his fins at them, and may attempt to chase or attack the other fish.
Some females are more shy at first and may hold their fins tightly against her body, but she will often warm up to the male betta once she is looking at him in the breeding tank:
- The most obvious sign of a receptive or gravid (full of eggs) female is the white dot that appears next to her ovipositor tube, located behind her ventral fin. You should be able to see this spot while she is in her house tank, but it will become clearer once she is in the breeding tank.
- A receptive female will also darken when she sees a potential mate, and she will develop vertical bars or stripes on her abdomen. However, if the bars run horizontally, that is a sign that she is not ready to breed.
How to set up your breeding tank
Breeding tanks are very simple aquariums without any substrate and usually nothing more than a sponge filter or air stone and some floating plants like Java Moss for the female bettas and fry to hide in. Since betta fry are small and cannot swim very well, never fill the water in a breeding tank more than 5 inches deep:
- Avoid using substrate in a breeding tank, because it is more difficult for your male to see the eggs if they fall out of the bubble nest and it makes it difficult to care for the hatched fry.
- Avoid using powerful HOBs or internal filters because they create too much current and can damage delicate eggs and fry.
- Be sure to block the outflow of your sponge filter so there is no draft in the tank and the water is mostly still.
While you don’t have to use a filter in a breeding tank, I’ve found that the tip of a sponge filter is an ideal home for good bacteria, as long as you’re careful how you maintain it. Always rinse your brood or fry sponge filters in a bucket of conditioned water, or better yet, some water from a healthy betta tank, rather than using tap water (which might kill the good bacteria).
Breeding tank setup step by step
- Place your 10-gallon bare aquarium on a sturdy, aquarium-safe table or shelf in a quiet spot, away from bright lights.
- Fill with 3 to 5 inches of conditioned water (or toxin-free water from another healthy betta tank to help jumpstart the cycling process).
- Add an aquarium heater to the tank, tilting the tube to completely submerge the unit, and set the temperature to 80°F.
- Add a temperature gauge or sticker to the tank, making sure the gauge is positioned below the waterline.
- Put the sponge filter and baffle in the tank, or set up your air stone and connect it to the air pump with a plastic tube.
- Check your equipment and if everything looks good, connect the heater and air pump. Let your heater and filter run for 24 hours and then check and adjust the flow and temperature until they are in the ideal range.
- Add some floating plants like Java Moss or Moss Balls, or use fake silk plants with a fine texture (not the stiff plastic kind).
- To provide your male with a good place to build a bubble nest and help condition the water, place an Indian almond leaf or two in the tank. You can also cut a Styrofoam cup in half and float or tape it to the side of the tank (if you want to watch the embryos develop in the nest).
After two weeks, you can test the water in the breeding tank (and rinse the sponge filter with conditioned water, if necessary) to see how the cycling process is going, and do a 25% water change if necessary. Your breeding tank should be ready for your adult bettas!
How to breed betta fish step by step
Once your adult bettas are conditioned and your breeding tank is ready, it’s time to mate your fish! You will also need to grab the vase or tank divider and the roll of plastic wrap that was mentioned earlier.
1. Move the female to the breeding tank
Divide your breeding tank in half with a tank divider or place an open-topped glass vase or jar in the tank. Fill the vase with some water from the breeding tank and stand it upright on the bottom of the tank so that the water level is the same in both the jar and the tank.
Gently capture your female betta and move her to the jar or one side of the divider in the breeding tank. She let her acclimatize for 30 minutes to an hour.
2. Introduce your male and female Betta
Gently capture your male betta and place him on the opposite side of the divider from the female, or in the main part of the tank if you’re using the vase method. Your female should be able to see, but not directly interact with your male betta.
As soon as he sees the female, your male ‘s color should darken and he will probably start flashing his fins and showing off to get her attention. He may bite the glass or the divider that separates them, and that is quite normal and shows that he is interested in her.
Your female may not show any interest in the male at this stage, but she might flirt in response by flashing her fins and displaying or wagging her tail in his direction.
If your female is receptive to breeding, her color should also darken, she will show the vertical (not horizontal!) bars on her midsection, and the egg spot should protrude behind her ventral fins.
3. Watch the male build a bubble nest
In an hour or two, your male betta fish should be busy building his bubble nest. He will probably spend a lot of time darting between the nest and the divider/vase to show off to his female betta.
It takes the male 12-24 hours to build his nest, so you may need to return your female to her tank in the meantime if you’re using a vase, as she can’t stay in such a small space for too long.
Depending on the size of the container, leave her with the male for two to four hours and then return her to her own tank until the nest is ready.Do not feed any of the fish until they have finished mating, as it is normal for them to starve during the courtship process.
4. Get ready to mate your Bettas!
Once the nest is ready, it’s time to let the male and female bettas interact directly. If you are using the vase method, return your female to the vase and allow her to acclimate for another 30 minutes.
Before you remove the divider or release the female from the vase, check her receptivity to your male betta. Has its color intensified and can you see its vertical restriction pattern? Is she flirting with your man? If so, you can go to the next step !
If the answer is no, or if it shows horizontal bars or keeps its fins close to the body, stop.She is not ready. You have to start over with another conditioned woman or give your current woman a couple more weeks of conditioning and try again.DO NOT proceed if her female is not receptive to her male betta!
5. Release the female into the breeding tank and cover her with plastic wrap.
Remove the divider or tilt the vase to release your female into the tank with your male betta.
She will probably be swimming directly to the bubble nest to check it out. If she is not satisfied with the nest, she may swim away or destroy it. If she destroys the nest, you will have to remove it and try again the next day, but if she rejects the male’s nest a second time, you will have to start over with a new pair of fish.
As soon as he sees her loose in his tank, his male will put on a first class display and start chasing her around the tank. Male bettas can be very aggressive towards her advances, so keep an eye on things and remove the female immediately if she thinks she is in danger.
If things seem to be going well, cover the open top of your tank with plastic wrap to increase humidity inside, but keep an eye on things and be ready to intervene if your female is distressed.
If his female does not respond the way he would like, the male may bite her fins and chase her. This is normal mating behavior, but if your female refuses to interact and hides from her male fish, she’s clearly not ready, so return her to her home tank and start over with a female. different.
6. Breeding Bettas: Mating Dance and Nuptial Embrace
Your bettas will chase, bite and swim together for a few hours while your female betta prepares to lay her eggs in the bubble nest. Sometimes your female may rest on Java Moss or behind the Moss Balls in the tank, so it is important that there are plenty of hiding places for her to get to.
It can take anywhere from 2 to 12 hours for them to complete the mating dance and finish spawning.You’ll know things are on the right track when your fish swim side by side and flare their fins every inch or so. As the mating dance progresses, the male betta tries to turn the female upside down as he wraps himself around her, so he can fertilize the eggs as she releases them into the water.
This “ bridal hug ” lasts for a couple of minutes as your bettas float or even sink to the bottom of the tank together. Finally, the male releases the female and they begin another round. Your female will drop a few eggs each time she «squeezes» her into the male’s embrace. Female bettas often look listless or even near death as they float to the surface and release their eggs, but should recover quickly. Bettas generally lay 20 to 50 eggs per mating, but can produce up to 500, so it just depends.
Once your male stops trying to mate and starts collecting eggs and returning them to the bubble nest, it’s time to take your female betta out and put her back in her home tank. It will probably look quite ragged and may even have ripped or torn fins, so keep an eye on it and watch for signs of infection. Some breeders proactively medicate their betta fish after mating, but that too is stressful and often unnecessary. Your female betta may be too tired to eat, so she waits a day before offering her food.
Leave the male betta in his breeding tank to care for the nest, and re-cover the tank with the plastic wrap to keep the humidity high, which helps the eggs develop. It will also cover the eggs with cloudy milk to increase the chances of fertilization.
7. Observe male care of embryos
It takes about 3 days for the fertilized eggs to develop into embryos and hatch. During that time, her male may build a new nest and move the eggs around, or he may leave them where they are while he checks on them.
It is best to fast your male during this period, to reduce the chances that he will eat the eggs. Most male bettas show little interest in food while tending their bubble nests, anyway, so there’s no reason to let food spoil in the water, which could increase toxin levels and damage to the fry.
Every once in a while, a new parent eats all the eggs. If that happens, you’ll have to start over, but most male bettas figure things out by the second mating and don’t repeat the behavior.Don’t panic if you see your male eating an egg or two; naturally, they will eat eggs that are not fertilized or do not develop properly.
8. Incubate the eggs
When the eggs reach the correct stage of development, they will hatch, usually 3-4 days after laying. You will still be able to see the yolk sac that has been feeding the developing embryos, as it will not be fully absorbed into the fry’s abdomen for another 24 hours.
At this point, the fry usually hang near the surface of the water in the bubble nest with their tails pointing down and do not move much. For the next 36 hours, the betta fry absorb oxygen in the bubble nest. As the nest collapses, they sink to the bottom and are picked up again by the male.
Within 3-4 days of hatching, the fry are free-swimming and it’s time to return your male betta to its home tank for some well-deserved rest and recuperation. It takes 3-4 months to raise juvenile bettas until they are fully grown and ready for their new homes.
As you can see, it takes a lot of planning and preparation to breed bettas and they are certainly more challenging than live guppies, mollies and platys. Have you thought about or tried breeding bettas yourself? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below or visit us on social media.