Betta fish are wonderful and adorable pets, and the babies are even cuter. Unfortunately for them, they are also extremely small, making them easy targets. Luckily, they have parental protection, but can the parents turn on the children?
Betta males in the wild make great parents, aggressively protecting their offspring for the first few weeks of their lives. However, there are certain factors that would lead to them eating their young, which we will discuss in depth. When it comes to domesticated bettas, they have a much higher risk of eating their eggs and babies.
We will discuss the breeding behavior of captive bred fish, betta parental roles, good vs bad fathers, bubble-nesters vs mouthbrooders, and the behavior of baby bettas.
Captive Bred Fish
When captive bred fish spawn, they tend to make mistakes. They are removed from their natural habitats, which can lead to some confusion. Even if they have been domesticated for hundreds of years, like goldfish, they will mess up on the first few attempts.
This is most common in cichlids and wild caught fish. Cichlids are normally domesticated, but often get confused and either fail to fertilize the eggs or just eat them. Wild caught fish often don’t breed since they don’t receive natural signals to do so. When it comes to bettas, all of these are possibilities.
When bettas breed, the male wraps around the female, which triggers her to release eggs, and he then releases milt. Some male bettas entirely fail to fertilize eggs, some female fail to release eggs. This often leads to devastating consequences when it comes to the aggressive betta.
When one fish fails to spawn properly but the other wants to spawn, the one that wants to spawn will attack the other fish. This can lead to the death of the fish, so making sure both are in top breeding condition is essential before attempting to breed them.
If either or both fish become stressed, they will do one of three things. They will either fail to spawn, eat the eggs, or become aggressive to one another. You can reduce stress suffered by the fish by keeping the tank dimly lit, avoiding walking by the tank, and not checking on them too often.
Betta Parental Roles
In the wild, bettas have massive territories. Each single male can have a territory ranging from 1-3 square meters, or 3 to 9 square feet. The male defends his prime territory while females swim around and generally do not establish territories. The females swim from one male’s territory to the next and pick their mate. The choice may be due to the best real estate, the best coloration on a male, or the best bubble nest.
Once the female picks a mate, they will “dance” under the bubble nest. The male will embrace the female, she will release eggs, and he will fertilize them. The male will then start to carry eggs up to the bubble nest and the female may help. Some females don’t help, but this does not have a massive impact.
After spawning, the male often chases away the female, or she leaves by herself. However, in some rare cases, she will make her own bubble nest and care for half the spawn. In captivity, breeders remove the female after the spawning process is complete because they tend to eat their eggs. The male will stay with the eggs to take care of them.
He will pick up the eggs and babies that fall and spit them back into the nest. He is responsible for keeping them aerated and healthy. Once they hatch, they are often too weak to swim for a long period, so he brings them back to the nest. He will continue to try and bring them back until they escape.
Good Fathers vs Bad Fathers
As with all species, some parents are better at caring for their young than others. When it comes to bettas, there aren’t nuances, and bad fathers are easily distinguishable from good fathers.
The good fathers will stop eating while taking care of their young and devote all their energy to defending their babies. The males will keep a constant watch over their nest, and if any babies fall, they will bring them back up. They will blow more bubbles and build up the nest or build multiple nests.
When the eggs start hatching, they are called “wigglers” since they can’t yet swim but will wiggle around. This is a major obstacle for the male, since once they start to hatch, he will frantically be bringing babies back up 24/7 for two to three days.
The bad fathers are the ones that either fail to care for the babies or eat them. There isn’t much middle ground when it comes to bettas. They tend to either care for the young or eat them. Most of the time they eat them within a few days and the babies don’t make it to the wiggler stage.
Experience can often turn a bad father into a good father, but some start out being good parents. Some breeders continue trying to get a spawn with a bad father, and sometimes it works out wonderfully, but some bettas will not learn. It is worth giving a bad father 3-5 chances, especially if he is high quality. If the male has an aggression problem, try using a more aggressive female. If he flat out eats the eggs, there isn’t much you can do to fix it except giving him several chances.
Bubble-Nesters and Mouthbrooders
You will most likely be dealing with a bubble-nester, but we will mention mouthbrooders as well. Since there are almost 100 betta species, they have different reproductive strategies. These two methods aren’t the only ones, but they are the most common.
Bubble-nesting species blow bubbles and create large “nests”. The bubbles will pop over time, so the male must make more every few hours. This takes a great deal of dedication from the males, and they typically do not eat while taking care of their young. The male puts the young inside of bubbles where they float until the bubble pops or they swim off.
Mouthbrooders are species of bettas who hold eggs in their mouth. The eggs incubate inside the male’s mouth, which means they have less eggs. Since the eggs have to all fit in the male’s mouth, they only have 5-40 fry. The males are generally the ones who take care of the eggs.
The mouthbrooders are not domesticated species, so breeding them is a bit of a challenge. The main challenge is they often feel incredibly stressed since they have less space than they did in the wild. They often have less cover and the water parameters are different, which leads to stress. Therefore, stress is a leading cause of wild fish eating their young.
The good part is that they tend to be much less aggressive than Betta splendens, so stress doesn’t cause them to attack each other. However, stress often causes the male to swallow the eggs. Brood cannibalization is unfortunately very common when attempting to breed these fish in captivity.
Baby vs Baby
Even if the baby bettas avoid dying at the hands of their parents, they are not out of the woods yet. Baby bettas grow at different rates since there are so many. Some will be able to get more food than others, making them stronger. The stronger ones will always be able to get more food than the weaker ones, so they will continue to grow at faster rates.
Betta splendens is a highly aggressive species, and this also applies to the young. The larger babies will often attack the younger babies, and if the size difference is great enough, they will eat the smaller ones. This is a rare instance, but it does happen. In order to prevent the larger ones from harming the smaller ones, the babies must be separated by size.
In summary, bettas can eat their babies, but if they have the proper instincts and conditioning, they should not. Most bettas make great parents, both males and females, but remember that not all do.