Searching for information on rare or unique betta breeds can be a frustrating proposition. Not because there is a lack of information. Actually, it’s the opposite problem: there are so many varieties of bettas that it’s overwhelming for novice anglers!
If you’re trying to work out the differences between bettas, it’s helpful to have a primer like this to refer to. Europeans have been breeding bettas for their bright, intricate colors and tail configurations for over a hundred years.
When you add in some of the newer crossbreeds coming out of Thailand, your options for the prettiest betta fish get pretty dizzying. To avoid confusion, here is a detailed list of bettas, broken down by color, scale pattern, and tail type.
The ever-popular betta is pretty much the runway model of the freshwater fish trade.
Male betta fish are especially coveted by aquarists for their elaborate, flowing tails, unique patterns, and vivid colors. The female bettas are also very pretty but they lack the elegant fins and aggressive attitude.
I hope to cover as many betta varieties as possible here, but the truth is, I’ll probably miss a few. Breeders are constantly announcing new varieties, and types that were rare a few years ago can now be found in large pet stores.
The situation is constantly evolving and there are so many different types of betta that it can be difficult to keep up.
PET BETTAS: WHAT SPECIES DO YOU HAVE?
Before we can dive into the topic of betta varieties, it helps to understand a bit of the science behind betta classifications.
You may remember hearing about the scientific classification system in your high school biology class. It’s a huge and complicated way for biologists to explain how different living organisms are related to each other.
At one end of the scale, we have really broad categories like kingdom, phylum, and class. At the low end, we start to reduce relationships into smaller, stricter categories.
These are the classification categories you are likely to recognize: genus, species, and subspecies or variety.
WHAT ARE BETTA SPLENDENS?
The colorful and elegant type of betta that you will typically see available at pet stores and online aquarium stores is the betta splendens.
betta identifies the genus and splendens is the species, in the same way that your pet dog can be identified by the genus and Canis familiaris the species. If you have a betta fish, it is most likely a betta splendens as it is the most popular type of domesticated betta fish available worldwide.
betta splendens has a long and complicated history. We know that they have been bred for their aggressive and fighting ability in their native regions for hundreds of years. This is how they have earned the nickname Siamese fighting fish. We rarely use the term subspecies when talking about fancy betta fish and generally go for the variety, but the terms mean the same thing.
The variety of your betta fish will depend on their colors, patterns, and/or tail configurations. Some varieties include the Red Veil Tail betta and the Bi-Colored Double Tail Betta, for example. They may be different varieties, but they are all the same species.
HOW DID PET BETTAS BECOME SO DIVERSE?
The long, sleek tails and bold, bright colors that we think of when we hear “betta” were actually created by Europeans. Since the 19th century, collectors and hobby breeders on the continent have selectively bred generations with increasingly diverse traits.
LUXURY betta fish are THE DESCENDANTS OF MUTANTS
These traits or physical characteristics can be inherited and passed on to the fish’s offspring. But sometimes something in the mix of genetic material goes wrong.
A mutation or «deformity» can appear spontaneously in a line and unexpectedly alter the appearance of the offspring. The double tail and elephant ear betta fish are excellent examples. These fish are often prone to other health problems, such as swim bladder disease, that may be related to their genetic mutation.
Mutations in nature are usually a bad thing, because they are fatal (like a fish being born without a mouth) or because they make it difficult for a wild animal to survive and/or reproduce. Sleek male bettas, with those shiny, flowing tails, probably wouldn’t survive in the wild today.
But humans love to collect animals with strange or unique appearances. This is how animals like pug dogs and munchkin cats found their way into our living rooms. We pamper them and then help them spread their mutation to the next generation. The same goes for betta fish: breeders carefully collect and manage their population to produce a wide variety of colors, patterns, and tail configurations.
There is always a lot of excitement when a new hereditary mutation is discovered, even if these betta varieties are more likely to develop health problems.
HYBRIDIZATION ALSO PRESENTS NEW FEATURES
But mutation isn’t the only way new betta traits are discovered. Over the centuries, breeders have also intentionally introduced new traits to their lines by breeding their fish back into the wild. This is how the dragon scale betta came to be.
Some of the rarer traits have been introduced into the betta splendens fold by crossing domesticated bettas with selected wild specimens that have the trait the breeder wants.
The offspring, who are hybrids, are expected to inherit and pass on the trait themselves. But it is not always a smooth or easy process.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN BETTA BREEDING
Recently, breeders in Thailand have begun cross-breeding wild bettas splendens with their aggressive Siamese fighting fish population, resulting in new varieties of betta fish, such as the plakat.
Some of these hybrid varieties of Betta splendens have become very popular in the United States. They can be rare or hard to find and often have slightly different behavioral characteristics than traditional varieties.
VARIETIES OF BETTAS BY COLOR AND PATTERN
So what makes a betta fish so colorful, anyway?
Fish pigmentation is a complicated matter. Here is a very simplified version that will help you understand how color and scale patterns are related.
PIGMENT CELLS DETERMINE BETTA COLOR
There are three main types of pigments and they exist in special cells called chromatophores:
- red (erythrin)
- black (melanin)
- yellow (xanthine)
The color of a betta fish is partially determined by the combination of pigments expressed in its chromatophores and the depth of cells under the scales.
When black and yellow pigments are expressed, for example, a fish will appear brown. The deeper the chromatophores are below the scales, the darker and more vivid the color appears.
WILD VS PET BETTA COLORS
Wild bettas are generally not as colorful as their selectively bred cousins, although there are some amazing exceptions.
The pigment cells of wild bettas are constantly changing in size and shape, so the appearance of the fish is constantly changing. Domesticated betta cells don’t change as much, so their colors are more stable.
Wild bettas only show their brightest colors when threatened or breeding, but domesticated varieties are always colorful unless sick or stressed. It is one of the traits that makes tame bettas so desirable.
HOW ARE COLOR AND SCALE PATTERNS RELATED?
There are other types of cells that influence the color and pattern of your betta fish. They further alter the appearance of the fish and create many of the patterns that betta fish collectors find so desirable.
Fish also have cells called iridocytes, which give them a shiny, iridescent appearance.
Depending on the depth of these cells, a fish may appear to have metallic highlights or streaks, or may even appear almost white.
To further complicate matters, sometimes iridocytes and chromatophores combine to create new colors. If you take a xanthine-containing chromatophore and put it on an iridocyte, you’ll end up with a shiny gold metallic fish.
DIETARY AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS FOR BETTA COLORS AND PATTERNS
The color and scale pattern of betta fish depends on their genetics, but is also influenced by their diet and the environment in which they live. Since fish cannot naturally produce pigments, they must obtain them from their diet.
To keep your betta looking its best, be sure to feed it a high-quality, varied diet and keep its water sparkling clean. Water temperature also plays into this, so make sure your tank stays between 75-86°F.
VARIETIES OF BETTAS BY TAIL AND FIN CONFIGURATIONS
The trait that makes the male betta stand out among other aquarium fish is its elongated tail. Female bettas are pretty, but they are duller in color than the males and lack the elaborate tail or fins. So what’s the story with male betta tail types?
LONG TAIL BETTAS ARE DIFFERENT THAN SHORT TAILS
Fish have several individual fins and a pair of pairs of fins around their body, and bettas are no different. They use these fins to swim and orient their bodies in three dimensions underwater.
Certain betta varieties have been selected and bred for longer, wider, or specially shaped fins:
- The tail, or caudal fin, is the most common fancy feature in rare betta fish.
- Its lower or anal fin is another
- Some varieties may also have elongated or elaborate pectoral, dorsal, or ventral fins.
WHY DON’T WILD BETTAS HAVE THESE TRAITS?
One danger of elongated tails and fins is that it makes movement difficult when swimming through vegetation. The most graceful and beautiful betta fish would be at a severe disadvantage in the wild.
LIST OF BETTA VARIETIES
I have tried to put together the most up-to-date list possible of the different types of bettas. Various varieties may be known by various names throughout the world, so in those cases I will yield to the most common usage.
However, my descriptions of these varieties are not intended to convey the standards of the show. It is simply meant to give someone new to fancy bettas a solid idea of the many fascinating variations they could consider for their tank.
betta fish colors
Bettas come in a rainbow of solid colors, from bright reds to the deepest blacks to the purest whites.
Of course, many betta fish are not simply one color, but display several distinct areas of pigmentation. I cover some of these cases in the patterns section.
Some color varieties often have a two-tone appearance, where the body and fins can be different colors or shades, such as the chocolate betta.
Here is the most widely recognized list of betta colors that I could muster, including facts and information about each color variety and any health issues that may be known about them.
An albino betta completely lacks pigmentation. An albino betta should have off-white to light scales and fins, and pink or red eyes. Their muscles and organs can be seen faintly through their scales.
In the wild, albino animals are at a great disadvantage, because ultraviolet light from the sun causes a high rate of damage, often resulting in blindness and cancer. They often have other mutations and health problems as well.
True albino bettas are so rare that it is actually questionable if they exist. Most reports are probably clear/cellophane or actually white varieties. They are incredibly difficult to breed and have a low survival rate.
CLEAR / CELLOPHANE
The transparent or cellophane betta, as they are often called, also have whitish to translucent scales. The pink color of their muscles and internal organs can sometimes be seen through their scales. Their fins are usually transparent to opaque. His eyes must be a solid black color.
Unlike albino bettas, clear or cellophane bettas have one of three pigments in their chromatophores. The trait is not expressed, so the fish appears almost colorless.
White bettas should have solid white scales and fins, although the fins may be duller on some specimens. Unlike cellophane varieties, a white betta’s body should not look pink.
This may not sound very impressive, but the detail you can see in the body and fins of a pure white betta fish is absolutely stunning.
There are a few different varieties of black betta fish, and they have subtly different appearances:
- Black Melano bettas have the deepest, purest black bodies and fins. They are the opposite of an albino in that they have an overabundance of melanin pigments. This variety is usually sterile and can have health problems.
- Black Lace bettas have a dark body, but not as vivid as the melano variety. Their fins are usually wholly or partially cellophane-colored. They are usually fertile.
- Black Orchid bettas are a bicolor crowntail type, with a dark body and slight iridescence. Some may also interbreed with marble-patterned bettas, giving them a metallic or red hue on their bodies or along their fins. The Black Devil and Black Ice varieties are derived from crosses of black orchids.
- Black copper bettas are descended from a mix of a fertile female black melano and a copper betta. The offspring have a mixture of deep black and metallic scales.
Blue is not a very common color in nature, but betta fish are an exception.
The funny thing is that the blue colors are not caused by the pigments, but by the shape of the pigment cells and scales, and how light reflects off them. Fish usually only show bits of an iridescent blue, but bettas can be a deep, vivid shade of blue.
The colors of blue bettas that you will see most often include:
- Steel blue bettas, which are grayish-blue in color
- Royal blue bettas, which have a deep dark blue body and fins
- Turquoise blue bettas, with a rich, vibrant color and a hint of green
In low light, a copper betta fish looks brown or tan. But once you turn on the light, you will see the brilliant iridescence. These fish have highly reflective metallic scales and fins.
A chocolate betta has a brown or tan body that fades into orange or yellow fins and tail. They are usually a bicolor variety of betta.
Green bettas are usually a solid color, but you have to tilt the light at the right angle to really see the green. Their bodies and fins can appear black, turquoise, or blue at certain angles. Almost all green bettas also have a metallic wash that overlays their color.
Mustard gas bettas are very common and usually appear as a bicolor fish with a blue or green body that fades into orange or yellowish fins. The edges of their fins may also be shaded black. They resemble the chocolate betta but lack the brown bodies.
A pastel betta fish has a pale pastel body and fins with an off-white wash that overlays the primary color, giving it a paler appearance.
Solid orange bettas are quite rare and are usually a bright tangerine color. They are much less common than red or blue bettas, but more common than green or purple bettas.
- Orange Dalmatian bettas are a pale orange color with bright orange, almost red spots along the fins.
Purple bettas are one of the rarest colors, and if you find one, it’s probably the most expensive betta fish you can buy. True purple bettas are almost unheard of.
Many fish have violet colors that fade to blue, red, or lavender. Violet and pale lavender bettas are slightly more common, but are still a rare find.
Red is a common color in the fish world and one of the most common betta colors you can get. Many bicolor and other betta patterns have red highlights.
A yellow betta fish should have a bright lemon colored body and fins. Yellow bettas are not very common and are a bit difficult to breed.
PATTERNS AND DESIGNS TO SCALE
Bettas come in an ever-increasing variety of patterns, from solid bright goldfish to those that look decked out for a party.
Some fish have a prominent metallic wash that overlays their scales, giving them a shiny appearance. Others may have scales or fins edged with a metallic hue.
The most common scale patterns and designs are:
A solid color betta is one color. The color may appear deeper or more intense along the body than the fins because the pigments are deeper, closer to their muscles.
Solid bettas are very beautiful fish and are a good choice for breeding.
While a true bicolor betta fish will have a body of one color and fins of another color, some people use the term «bicolor» to refer to any fish with two colors.
This is one of the most common patterns to see in betta fish.
Butterfly bettas have a solid colored body with their cellophane shaded fins. In higher quality specimens, the line between the color and the cellophane will be sharp and very noticeable. They can be two or three colors, with between half and a third of their bodies showing each color.
Although this variety can also be bred with the variegated trait, it is considered undesirable in betta show business.
Cambodian-style bettas are a classic two-color fish with a white or pale pink body and blood-red fins. This type used to be quite common, but has recently become much harder to find.
This is a trait that was intentionally incorporated into the Betta splendens line of wild bettas. Dragon scale bettas have thicker scales, so you can see the outline of each scale on their body and head. The fish appear to have been covered in jewels, in fact similar to scale mail armor.
Dragon scale is a particularly beautiful feature and can be mixed with solid colors or other pigment patterns. Depending on the mix, a dragon scale betta fish can be quite spectacular!
Marble is a unique betta with a very frustrating quality. The marble feature does not appear immediately. It activates suddenly during the life of the fish, randomly. It causes its primary color to darken and pale spots to develop on the body and fins.
You’ll start with a fish with one color or pattern of colors, and all of a sudden they change. It can also be a very dramatic change. This trait is undesirable when bred with some others, such as the butterfly betta.
- Koi – patterned betta fish are related to marbles. This trait is most often seen in plakat-type bettas. Koi betta fish have been bred to resemble the koi fish often seen in Japanese ponds.
A mask betta has a head that is the same color as its body. Most bettas have a head that is a different color than their bodies, unless they have been bred for the half or full mask gene.
- Half Mask bettas have half their heads colored like their bodies and half another color.
The grizzle betta is a variety that has a 50-50 split between a lighter color and a darker color. They often appear to have been painted with fine brush strokes.
TRICOLOR / MULTICOLOR
Tricolor bettas have an uneven mix of three colors throughout their body and fins. Multicolored bettas have a mix of at least three colors and can have more than three. The mix tends to be random and unpredictable.
A Piebald betta has a white or flesh-colored face and a darker body. These fish do not have the albinism trait, unlike the pitted coloration in other animals.
TYPES OF BETTA FINS AND TAILS
Now that I’ve passed on everything I know about betta fish colors and patterns, it’s time to talk about their fins. Those sleek tails are one of the key features that draw people to these magnificent fish.
Let’s talk about betta varieties in terms of their fin configurations:
The most common type, and the variety most of us think of when we hear the word “betta”, is Veil Tail or VT.
The VT betta has a long, drooping tail that flows behind it when swimming like a sail dragging across the seas. These fish are beautiful, fertile, and generally healthy, although they may bite their fins when stressed.
A newer variety is the comb tail, which may also be called half sun betta fish. Instead of having a web that extends in the tail from one ray to another, the comb tail has a gap between each ray. This gives the tail the appearance of a wide-toothed comb.
This variety is generally fertile and healthy, but the cola sometimes suffers from lack of support. Some combtails develop droopy tails, which are not very attractive. This is not a health problem, but it can make the fish look a bit sad.
Another related variety of combtail is the crowntail betta. These fish also have a web that does not extend to the end of each fin ray. But instead of looking like a comb, its tail looks pointed or like an upside-down crown.
Like the combtail, the crowntail is prone to breaking its fin rays, and even shorter-tailed females can suffer from a kinked tail. But otherwise, crowtails are usually healthy and fertile. They also don’t usually pinch their own fins as the webbing is reduced compared to other bettas.
The delta betta is an interesting variety. When their tails are fully extended, they form an angle of less than 180 degrees from the base of the tail to the edges. They are named after the Greek letter delta, because their extended tails are triangular in shape, with straight edges.
Deltas are a beautiful and popular variety of fish, and they come in a wide selection of colors and patterns. They look similar to crescent bettas, and it’s actually hard to tell them apart. Both delta and super delta are generally healthy and no more prone to fin rot than other varieties.
- The Super Delta is similar, but its tails are wider and extend almost 180 degrees.
Also known as a twin-tailed betta, the twintail has wide and long anal, dorsal, and caudal fins. The tail fin actually looks like two separate tails, hence its name and nickname.
These fish are especially conspicuous and unusual, and can be considered a rare variety. They also usually come in a fairly wide variety of colors and patterns.
The double tails are the result of a mutation, and as a result, these fish suffer from poor health. They often have swim bladder problems and are prone to fin rot and other fin diseases. They are impressive bettas, but they don’t usually live like the other varieties.
The halfmoon betta, as I mentioned earlier, looks almost identical to the delta variety. A true crescent has a full 180 degree tail and can be any color or combination of colors. His tail is D-shaped when viewed from the side.
They are generally considered a longfin betta variety, except when specifically listed as a plakat betta.
Next to the VT variety, the halfmoon is the most common type of betta. You will see many of these types in pet stores and aquarium stores. They are prone to typical betta health issues, but are otherwise considered a healthy variety to own.
- Over Half Moon is a variety of betta where the tail extends past the 180 degree mark.
If you prefer bettas with the longest and outrageously wide tails possible, you’ll probably love the rosetail. These bettas have the longest and most elaborate dorsal, caudal, and anal fins in the betta family.
Its fins are so wide that they almost look slightly wrinkled along the edges, similar to a flower petal as it begins to wilt.
The downside of this variety is that it tends to suffer from health problems. The fins are prone to disease, and sometimes these fish bite their tails as well. Since they have been bred heavily for these showy fins, they can develop tumors and problems with their swim bladders.
The plakat is a newer variety of betta that has recently become a phenomenon in Thailand and other parts of Asia. These fish are bred from the Thai Siamese Fighting line of fish and have been crossed with their wild ancestors Betta splendens.
Plakats have the same color and pattern variations seen in long-finned varieties of betta, and many also have similar tail configurations. But the plakat’s tail is much shorter and resembles the wild type rather than the fancier, more tame bettas.
Novice betta keepers often confuse male plakats with long-finned female bettas. Since the plakat has been selectively bred from hybrid betta species, they have a different behavioral profile than the other bettas on this list.
Plakats are more aggressive and generally cannot be housed with other fish. They also prefer fresh foods and many will not eat commercial diets. They are generally healthy and do not suffer from fin problems like long-finned varieties do.
Similar to the rosetail, the feathertail has long, wide, wavy fins. Instead of being crescent-shaped, however, their fins and tail have triangles along the edges, giving them their «feathery» appearance. They are less common than rosetails and come in a variety of colors and scale patterns.
Like rosetail, feathertail is prone to health problems. They often bite their tails and swim bladder problems are common.
Similar to the crescent and delta, the roundtail is a popular and common betta fish often found in large pet stores. Their tails do not come from their bodies in a straight line, like the delta, but instead have a rounded appearance.
They are generally healthy fish, but are still prone to typical betta diseases and problems.