Our natural world has many wondrous living phenomena. Thanks to the processes of evolution, adaption, and epigenesis, there are so many ecosystems with countless varieties of life. These vast ecosystems have billions of different animals and plants that went through adaptation to survive in their current environment. These ecosystems can exist as far as the deepest parts of the ocean. Also, as near as your own backyard.
You may not realize it, but fish don’t just come in different species. Most species of fish show different traits that give them a classification of subspecies.
For example, in the local river near where I live, there are plenty of catfish. However, a local fisherman once showed me, that there were different subspecies of catfish based on the pattern marks on their back. Some of them had lines, others had dots, and some had a combination of the two. Why that was the case, I didn’t know, but I found the whole thing fascinating.
But you don’t need to live near a river to see examples of subspecies of fish. You can find other examples of fish subspecies in your local pet store. There are even different varieties of betta.
What makes betta fish appealing to potential pet owners is their various tail shapes and bright colors. But just what sort of subspecies are there? What are their names? How many are there? And why is there such a variety in the first place?
Today, we are going to take a close look at what determines adaptation, and the different betta tail types that exist.
Why are there Different Betta Tails?
To get to the answer to the question, we first need to discover what dictates biological variety. The short answer to that question is genetics.
When a multicellular organism is born from a set of parents, it is given a set of chromosomes from each parent. These chromosomes are made up of tightly coiled DNA which is made up of a series of genes. These genes are the potential ways that a specific trait can be expressed. Depending on the combination of genes from both parents, as well as, environment, nutrition, or the presence of natural predators, certain traits will turn ‘on’ and ‘off’.
There have been various examples of this in different species of animals through processes of both natural and artificial selection.
Variations in the Wild
Natural selection is more about favored genetic traits that suit a given environment.
For example, a fry could have been born into an area with a better food source than usual and live in an area where there is less competition or natural predators. Without the need to compete for food or space, the betta will probably grow large in size. It will most likely not need a flashy tailor color since there is little competition to ward off. This big, unchallenged fish will live long enough to reproduce, and their offspring, under the same circumstances will probably have those same characteristics.
But if you were to put the same fish into a smaller area with heavy competition and less available food and space, chances are it will do poorly. It would not live long enough to mate with a female to produce offspring. Instead, smaller and more agile bettas that carry traits more suited to competition like brighter color schemes and flashier tails will likely live long enough to pass on their genes.
We may not know everything that dictates the specific purpose behind each betta tail shape. All that we do know is that this sort of variety usually involves an environmental advantage.
Variations in Domestic Captivity
Artificial selection is less about genetic traits that favor survival and more about genetic traits that are bred for a specific purpose. Humanity has been domesticating plant and animal life since we stopped hunting our food exclusively. This sort of genetic manipulation is what gives us a variety of fruits and vegetables that we have today. It is also what has given us several subspecies or breeds of domesticated animals.
When people find a favorable trait for things like food production, aesthetics, or domestic behavior, they pair up animals with those traits and encourage them to mate to produce offspring with that trait. Then, when that offspring grows, breeders further encourage them to mate with a partner that carries the same genetic trait to increase those odds of that trait appearing in theiroffspring. Breeders do this until they get the desired trait they want.
One of the major drawbacks of single trait breeding is that people often forget that genes are not in isolation of one another. If one gene changes then there is a good chance the rest of the genes surrounding it are going to an alteration. For better or worse.
So, are betta tail types a natural thing or an artificial thing?
The domestic betta that is a regular in fish tanks, BettaSplendens, and their tail variety is a result of artificial selection.
Their wildlife ancestors were a common sight in flood fields and rice patties of Thailand. They were picked up by a French aquarium fish importer in the late 1890s and were crossbred with other betta varieties from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. From there, they went through selective breeding for tail type and vibrant colors.
What Kind of Betta Tail Shapes are Out There?
Pronounced pla-cat, Plaket, or pla-cot, this betta is the closest version of their ancestral form. They are easy to spot with their shorter fins, gill beards, strong jaw, harder scales, sharper teeth, and more aggressive behavior. They are common species for breeding in Asia, controversially, for their fighting ability more than for showmanship. Because they are closer in genetics to their original ancestry, they are less prone to disease and injury. At least compared to their domesticated counterparts.
Plakats are often confused for female bettas, thanks to their shorter tails and less bright color palette. But a trained eye can tell them apart from a female by their flaring behavior when presented with a threat of a foreign object.
There are a few Plakats that are specifically for traditional showmanship. Those tend to have a longer body shape, that is less suited for fighting situations.
If you were to ever come across this type at a pet store, they often bear the nickname “King Betta”. This sort of betta is not ideal for beginners. It would most likely not do well with any sort of partner in the tank. They stick to a carnivorous diet, with the occasional pellet or frozen food as a good supplement.
This subspecies is more active than the rest of their subspecies counterparts, so make sure to get them a tank with plenty of room.
You can tell this type of betta from the others by looking at their long tail that drapes like a bridal veil. They have long fins and come in a variety of colors like reds, yellows, blues, oranges, black, and green. Veiltails are the most dominant of betta genetic traits, so they are quite common among the beta world. In fact, they were the first domesticated species of betta in America.
They are often the most common species in pet stores. This is because this subspecies is not specifically a byproduct of breeding for either showmanship or fighting. While they are classified as “mutts” by the betta show community, they are certainly more mellow in temperament than other subspecies. This means that veil tails are much easier for beginners who want to start out in owning pet betta.
However, just because they are easier doesn’t mean that the owner should compromise too much with space. A 10-gallon tank is ideal, even if the minimum requirement is
They still have the carnivorous diet that would be common for a betta, so feed them plenty of betta appropriate food, in spite of their more relaxed nature.
The Halfmoon betta is a more desired breed of betta for those in the fish show circuit because of its long fins and beautiful 180-degree caudal tail. When bred correctly, the tail will make a “D” shape that fans out behind the rest of the fish.
The breed was first introduced into betta shows by Peter Goettner in 1982. After entering a green fish with the same caudal shape into a competition, he revealed to the betta community that he had bought the fish from another breeder, Parris Jones. He was working with another breeder Chuck Hale, as well as several French breeders to produce the Halfmoon subspecies. It was certainly a topic of interest, but it did not become important to the show community until the late 1990s after one of the Halfmoon bettas won “Best in Show” during the International Betta Competition. The Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine covered the winner in an article spreading the news worldwide. Ever since its popularity exploded.
While this tail type is desirable, it is important to note that this sort of tail type is technically large and unnatural for the fish. This has lead to some problems. Their fins are easier to damage, given their length. There is also some buoyancy issues because the fins are so weighty. It is also harder for them to breed with females because of the difficulty of wrapping their fins around females.
While they aren’t aggressive, it is best to give them plenty of space on their own, to make up for the extra room their tails take up.
Deltas and Super Deltas
The only major difference between delta fins and half moon fins is the angular degree of the caudal fin. While a half moon fin takes up a whole 180-degree spread, Deltas and Super Deltas take up less than that. The range is from 120 to 160 degrees, with Delta being the smaller of the two.
The fin of the caudal tail is also attached to the bottom of the fish. Instead of making a “D” shape it looks more like a fan facing downward.
These fish are genetically heterozygous, meaning they carry both a dominant and recessive gene for tail shape. They aren’t as popular among the show community like the Halfmoon. However, they are easy to find on the occasional in the circuit.
Their color schemes err on the side of cooler tones, like dark blue, green, and turquoise.
This subspecies of betta are visually distinct in comparison to other subspecies of betta. While it does have the 180-degree spread of the caudal fin, it also has long stringy tail rays with shorter webbing in between. This creates the visual of a sun or a crown. This distinction makes this type of betta very popular among both show breeders and pet store buyers.
The Crowntail is a variety that was an accidental discovery in 1997 Indonesia. The breeder, Achmad Yusuf called it a “cupang serit koi”.
This tail trait is recessive by nature. It has become so popular in the Betta show circuit that Crowntails are now a subdivision of betta judging categories. They have even further characterized it in subcategories.
- Single ray – In the ‘SR’ CT, web margins are, ideally, uniform and webbing reduction is equal between primary rays and rays with branches.
- Cross Ray – The crossing of rays (‘CR’) is manifested by pairs of ray extensions that curve over each other.
- Double Ray – In the ‘DR’ CT, webbing is reduced at the two levels: one between a pair of rays and the other, more profoundly, between two ray branches. Breeders put a premium on double-ray and 4 ray extension Crowntails. These traits are to be regarded as neutral and are not to be pointed above single ray extended Crowntails. Four ray and even eight ray extensions are less common and the effect is almost always confined to the caudal fin only.
- Double Double Ray – ‘DDR’ is double double ray, hence a four ray extended branching.
- Random Ray – The term ‘RR’ basically means that the caudal spread has mixed single ray, double ray, 3 rays, and 4 rays extended branching all mixed up. It is used to describe those whose extended ray patterns are not fixed.
The Double tail is another recessive genetic mutation that has been a result of artificial selection. It is a trait that is sometimes in combination with Plakats, Half-moons, and Crown Tails. The Double tail is a genetic mutation in which there are two lobes leading to two smaller tails instead of one lobe leading to one large tail.
This sort of genetic mutation causes the body to be shorter and the anal and dorsal fins to be longer. This shortened body length is problematic enough to cause swim bladder issues in adult betas and decreases the chance of fry survival rates. While this trait is rare and is something to admire by a few people in the show circuits, it is imperative that breeders do not make this specific mutation an end goal. This is because this kind of mutation spells out poor health for the animal. Double Tails are more susceptible to disease and will likely need special care.