So, you want to try your hand at breeding your lovely finned jewels that have brought you so much joy with their well-timed wiggle dances and poutie lips that you just can't resist?! There is an overwhelming amount of information on the internet about breeding bettas and the different set-ups that might work. It is important to find a set-up and method that is best for you and your bettas. I will be describing the technique that has been successful for me, so successful in fact that my first spawning attempt yielded 471 fry from opaque parents!
When choosing your breeding pair, think goal, age, size and health.
What do you want to accomplish? Are you trying to improve on finnage? Are you going after a certain color? A particular pattern? Choose a pair that works towards your goal(s).
Bettas are in their reproductive "prime" from 4 months to 12 months of age, so choose bettas in this age range.
Be sure that your breeding female is a little smaller than the male so that when she fills with eggs, he will be able to wrap himself around her. If she is the same size or larger than him, then he won't be able to wrap himself around her when the huggin' starts (the "embrace").
Here is the spawning pair that I chose for my first spawn...
Opaque male, "Satin"
Opaque female, "Silk"
Other bettas making beautiful pair choices are...
Turquoise crowntail male, "Hardy"
Turquoise crowntail female, "Laurel"
Mustard Gas male, "Dijon"
Mustard Gas female, "Poupon"
Metallic blue and black double ray crowntail male, "Widget"
Royal blue double ray crowntail female, "Wheezy"
You will need to consider your pair's overall health before breeding them. No one knows your fish better than you, so observe them carefully. A betta that is showing signs of disease or one that has just recovered from an illness should be left in his/her current set up, rather than undergo spawning and egg tending that is so often stressful. Once your betta has remained healthy for several weeks , then he/she could be spawned.
You may want to choose an extra male and female, to have as a back-up in case your original male or female doesn't work out. Keep in mind that your "stand-by" bettas should have the same qualities that you desire in your original pair, in order to take you one step closer to your goal.
The purpose of conditioning is to allow the betta pair to store extra fat to rely upon for energy during the spawning process. If you choose not to feed the pair while they are in the spawning tank, the female may have to go up to 3 days without eating and the male up to 7 days without eating, from his introduction into the spawning tank until the fry are free-swimming and he is removed. I feed mine while in the spawning tank but in reduced amounts so as to not have excess waste. You should start the conditioning process 2 to 4 weeks prior to introducing the pair into the spawning tank.
Now that you have the "Chosen Ones", how do you go about beefing them up so they can take a spin around the spawning tank? Good food and lots of it! The best conditioning food is live food such as brine shrimp, blackworms, mosquito larvae, or earthworms chopped into very small bites. If you don't have access to live foods (or don't want to deal with the hassle of it or the *yuck!* factor), then frozen foods work well. I use frozen (but thawed) bloodworms, beefheart, and brine shrimp.
The pair get an extra helping at both the morning and evening feedings, but be careful not to overfeed as this can lead to constipation and swimbladder problems. You can also divide their feedings into 3 small meals instead of 2 larger ones.
Keep the breeding pair's water pristine during the conditioning period by performing additional partial water changes. Ammonia and nitrites, even at low levels in the water, can weaken a betta's immune system, so they must be avoided. Siphon out uneaten food and waste as soon as possible. A new/never-seen-soap turkey baster is great for this chore!
Be sure to condition your "stand-by" bettas in the same manner as you are the original breeding pair.
The beginning of the conditioning period of your bettas is also the beginning of YOUR conditioning period as well! You will need to begin gathering supplies for your spawning tank and look at options for feeding all of those hungry mouths that you will have. A discussion on the rearing of betta fry, including the equipment required, will take place in a future article. It is also never too early to begin collecting jars (e.g. Beanie baby containers) to house those feisty young males in!
In addition to obtaining a 10-gallon tank and an acclimating bowl, you'll need to find the following items...
You have your pair conditioned and all of your supplies, now what?
First, find a place for your spawning tank. The location should be away from direct sunlight, drafts, and should not be located where there is a lot of foot traffic or commotion. You don't want the couple to be constantly disturbed or distracted by what is going on outside of the tank but you will need to be able to check on them, so set up the tank where you can observe and access it easily. I locate mine on one of the kitchen counters since I am about the only one that goes in there for any length of time.
How does the Honeymoon Suite look so far?!
Remember to acclimate! Your pair needs to be introduced properly into the spawning tank. How long this takes will depend upon the temperature and pH of the water that the pair are coming from and going to.
Use separate bowls or jars that float to start the introduction phase.
I float mine on opposite ends of the tank with the stryofoam cup in between them, so that they cannot see each other and be tempted to take that flying leap out of their bowl! You can however acclimate them one at a time.
The bettas will be acclimated to temperature within about twenty to thirty minutes when floating. Acclimating to pH is different though because a betta's pH should only be altered by 0.2-0.3 per day. If the pH difference is greater than 0.3, then the acclimation process should be started several days before placing them into the acclimating bowls in the spawning tank. You can acclimate for pH by adding gradual amounts of the spawning tank's water to the betta's usual water and continue to monitor the pH until they are equal. Remember though, not to alter the pH by more than 0.2-0.3 per 24-hour period of time. If this process is going to take more than a couple of hours, be careful of ammonia build-up in the small acclimating bowls and counteract this by adding AmQuel®.
And let the male loose in the rest of the tank...
Make sure that the top of the hurricane lantern is 3 or so inches above the water line. My opaque female took a 2-3 inch jump out of hers in the middle of the night to swim with the male, which is fine if they are ready but if not, then there could be some severe aggression with one or both of them getting hurt.
While in the spawning tank, the male and female are fed 2-3 small frozen (but thawed) bloodworms in the morning and evening from the flat end of a toothpick. I have found that if the male is fed too far from his bubblenest the food will not be eaten and will contribute to ammonia build-up in the tank. For this reason, I feed the male right next to his nest because he is very aware of anything within the perimeter of his newly constructed masterpiece. Even though it is controversial to feed the male during spawning, because some think that this makes the male more likely to eat the eggs or fry, I have not found this to be the case. If the female is still in confinement within the hurricane lantern, then she is fed there. If the female is swimming loose within the tank, then she is fed on the opposite end of the tank from the male, near the plant, which is where she is usually hiding out. Any uneaten food gets sucked out with a turkey baster within 1 hour of feeding.
Now, sit back and relax, and watch the
male show off and the female flare right back at him!
The courting process usually lasts about 1-3 days and at first is marked by the male swimming around the female, who is in the hurricane lamp...
And he flares at her with his big bad self...
During this time, you may notice that the female starts to loosen up a little bit and begins to interact with him more. Usually she flares back, flirts and wiggles her little rumpus in a fashion that puts all other wiggle dances to shame!
The male will start scouting out a good spot for his nest, which hopefully will be under the cup. Some males will not build a nest until the female is released but the majority of the time, within 2-3 hours of introduction, he will start constructing one. He may blow a few bubbles, go flare at her, blow a few more bubbles, swim around the hurricane lamp, go flare at her some more, and so on.
Sometimes, the male, like Sir Bentley, will build his nest under the almond leaf...
As final preparations, Sir Bentley anchored his nest to the tank wall...
Made it thicker...
And put in LOTS of bedrooms!
How will you know when it is time to release her into the tank? You will be watching for certain cues from the pair, which will let you know that it is time to release her.
The male will start swimming more snake-like in an "S" shape and may race up to her, wiggle, then swim back under his nest looking behind him to see if she has followed there. The male is trying to entice her to the nest.
If your female is dark bodied, she will start showing dark vertical bars on her belly, which is where the ovaries are located...
And she will become bloated from egg production...
The female also becomes submissive keeping her head down at a 45 degree angle with fins clamped when he approaches.
Light bodied females will not show vertical breeding bars or horizontal (fear) stripes, so you will have to pay close attention to her posturing, indicating that she is becoming ready.
As long as the male is ready, the female can be released when she is eggy, has vertical stripes and swims in the submissive downward 45 degree angle. More than likely her first destination will be to check out the nest if he allows her to.
You will want to observe the pair for a while when she is first released into the spawning tank and check on them often until you feel comfortable that they will not severely harm each other. At this point, you will see some chasing and maybe a couple of nips here and there but the male should be set on finishing his nest and then trying to entice her under it.
If he is really aggressive, then she usually hides behind the plant until he mellows out and comes to get her. If he or she is acting extremely aggressive and is relentlessly chasing or nipping at the other, then you need to put her back in the hurricane and try again later.
Remember that every fish has its own temperament and will react differently during spawning. One pair may have a peaceful, gentle spawning, another pair may put nips and tears in each others fins, while in another, the male may set out to kill her and likewise, she may attempt to kill him!
Once they are both ready and she has agreed to follow him over to the nest, he or she may give a couple of gentle nudges to the other...
... then circle around each other a couple of times, and she will relax and you may notice her tip slightly to one side. This allows him to slide over the top of her with his head and place her in position to gently squeeze her.
This is known as "the embrace"!
It may take a couple of squeezes before eggs come out but he will keep trying. After the embrace, she will float stunned...
...in a stiff "S"-shape underneath the nest...
This gives the male time to collect the eggs before she comes to...
The male fertilizes the eggs as they are squeezed out of the female. He then may collect the eggs on his caudel fin, but they will float downward after he releases her. The male quickly collects the fallen eggs in his mouth...
He then blows the eggs from his mouth into the bubblenest...
Sometimes, after he has collected what he can, the female will search for stray eggs that he might have missed and will usually eat them but the female sometimes will help the male collect eggs and blow them into the nest. The bare-bottomed tank allows for the eggs to be easily seen by both and gathered (or eaten, as the case may be! ).
The pair can have over two dozen eggs per embrace, each lasting 8-10 seconds. The spawning itself can last anywhere from 2 hours to up 12 hours, so you can imagine how many fry that there may be left for you to raise!
You may notice that the female wanders farther away from the nest or the male is starting to become aggitated with her presence and begins to chase her away. She will need to be removed immediately when spawning is complete or he may hurt or even kill her. Take extra care not to destroy the bubblenest when removing her. Do not let her recouperate in a community tank even if she has always lived in one. Have a single tank waiting for her with clean conditioned water. She will need to be acclimated into her tank slowly especially if you have used anything that alters the pH in the spawning tank, such as an almond leaf, or are moving her into a different water temperature.
Some breeders will add BettaMax, Maracyn, Maracyn-Two or Kanacyn into the female's recovery tank to prevent a bacterial infection that may take hold in her weakened state. This is where you will need to use your best judgement. If it was a gentle spawn, then clean conditioned water alone will suffice. However, if he has done damage to her body, such as bitten scales off or shredded fins that could possibly lead to an infection...
Then, it may be a good idea to add an antibiotic, such as Maracyn-Two or Kanacyn to help her heal.
Try to keep his surroundings as peaceful as possible during the next few days because things are going to become quite hectic!
The male may be eating any unfertilized or fungus covered eggs at this point to keep them from contaminating the healthy fertile eggs. You may also notice him letting portions of the bubblenest go, and only concentrating on the portion of the nest that has eggs in it.
The white eggs can be seen amongst the bubbles of the nest...
From a father's point of view, looking at the bubblenest from underneath it...
The fry getting ready to hatch look like little brown worms in the bubbles!
As the fry develop, the bubbles appear to have eyes!
About 36 hours after the spawning is complete, you should see tails sticking down from the bubblenest.
Congrats, you have Betta fry! They will start wiggling and popping bubbles in the nest and will spiral down to the bottom out of control in a vertical position. The male goes to the bottom and picks them up and blows them back into the nest...
Don't worry about the fry, because falling out of the nest is normal for them, since their swimbladders have not developed fully yet. This is the time when the Daddy betta's work becomes very tedious because no matter how hard he tries, he will have some fry that refuse to stay in the nest, requiring him to rescue them!
The fry continue to develop and have been living off of their yolk sacs. At three days of age, the fry have developed to this stage...
Next, your exhausted male is about to lose his mind because the fry are scattered all over the place! You must remove him once the fry are "free swimming", that is, swimming horizontally or he may begin to look at them as a food source.
When the fry become free-swimming, this is an indication that they are ready to hunt for food themselves. When removing him, it is best to try to distract him away from his nest with a juicy bloodworm or his favorite treat. Dad may have fry in his mouth when you remove him, so be on the lookout for stray fry when he is back in his tank. Remember to slowly acclimate him back into his tank for both temperature and pH.
Your male has not slept for a few days now and is probably very stressed out. You may notice him sulking about, acting depressed, or constantly searching the bottom of his tank. This is normal behavior for a male that has just spawned and may last a couple of days. Keep an eye on the proud parents to ensure that their normal behavior returns.
Pat yourself and your bettas on the back! You have just had a successful spawn!
And here's the rest of the family, aka The Wall of Wiggles!
Breeding bettas can be as comical to watch as your favorite cartoon show! Here are some bloopers from some first time spawners.
HAPPY COUPLE #1:
I have figured out that it is easier to name a betta once you have seen it spawn. My turquoise crowntails were named Laurel (female) and Hardy (male), and for good reason! Now mind you, I give Hardy his much deserved props for his bubblenest building abilities... frankly, stunning! There was a little chasing and one nip on the female but it was an otherwise peaceful courtship for their first time at it.
The first giggles came when Laurel chose to use the almond leaf for cover... not UNDER it, but OVER it! She flipped on top of it and sank the leaf just enough to cover herself with a little water, while she laid on her side. Laurel gets props for originality and the poor guy had NO idea where she went!
Hardy set out to prove to Laurel that even though this was his first time, that he really did know proper spawning technique, from the video that Satin let him borrow.
After the first few attempts at embracing her, he stuns HIMSELF, floating lifeless under the nest, and she can only look on in bewilderment.
"Hey, aren't we supposed to embrace UNDER the bubblenest??", asks Laurel.
Finally, even the clueless can get manage to get their mojo workin'!
Hardy gathered eggs after he got over being stupified that he actually got it right! The happy couple spawned for another 2 hours and produced 335 fry.
HAPPY COUPLE #2:
Laurel was released to swim free with Widget on Saturday. This is now, what, Tuesday? They had decided to just be friends for a few days and if they didn't spawn today, then they would have to be taken out and put back in their regular tanks. Laurel and Widget have both spawned before but with different partners, so you'd think that the second time around would be a breeze. Not with my fish!
As a last ditch effort to get these guys
to spawn, I slipped an R. Kelly CD in the stereo, dimmed the lights and
kept my fingers crossed. It worked!!
Widget breaks the news and lays a little of his magic on Laurel...
When happy couple #1, Laurel and Hardy were spawning, Hardy did a practice embrace, solo, to show Laurel his moves. Word on the street has it that it worked, so Widget decided to try it too!
Practice makes perfect, except in Widget's case! Notice that her oviposter is facing away from him and downward.... uhhhhh, that would be a "no", Widget!
Uhhhh, that's not it either!
Widget's getting closer but he managed to stun himself like Hardy! What's up with these guys?!
He FINALLY gets it right and SHE finally is stunned, but he panics!
After they got their mojo workin' correctly, they spawned for 4 hours and I saw her release more then 4 dozen eggs in one embrace, so he may end up with his fins full! Laurel has requested that I refrain from setting her up on any more blind dates.
Flippers 'n' Fins breeding mascot, Elton, the betta fry!
Authors: Sarah, Dr. Barb &
Sarah can be reached regarding her betta stock for sale at www.coloradocrowntails.com.