Wild Bettas

Wild Betta

Certainly, you’ve seen gorgeous and colorful betta fish in every pet store, but there are alternatives. Wild bettas are a unique alternative and are less aggressive. They come in a wide variety of colors, though there is little variation within a species. The domesticated betta comes in the widest variety of color, but the wild bettas are still beautiful in their own way.

While they may be lacking in color, they do better in community tanks and it is possible to keep multiple males together, if the tank is large enough. For some species, their care is similar to that of the domesticated betta. For others, it is quite different. However, no matter which betta you choose, you will have a wonderful pet and an interesting experience.

In this article, we will discuss the average natural habitat of a betta, proper tank set up, seven of the more notable wild betta species, and their food.

Habitat Overview

When it comes to wild bettas, the areas in which they live are as diverse as the colors they display. They live in areas with dense vegetation and leaf litter. Another notable factor in their habitat is a low pH, sometimes as low as three. For reference, the human stomach has a pH of two!

Dense vegetation allows the bettas to hide easily and establish territories around certain plants. Since bettas are small fish, the presence of near constant hiding areas makes them feel more secure. They can also hide under the leaves, and the leaves help lower the pH of the water. Granted, the fallen trees do more than the leaves, but the leaves still help.

Some bettas, such as Mahachaiensis, are actually from brackish areas. They live in areas that are brackish and tidal, but still have many plants to hide in and among. Even though the areas are tidal, they are still slow moving with very little current.

In addition, most of the bettas, with the exception of brackish ones, have very little dissolved minerals in their water. As a result, the pH will be lower, as low dissolved mineral content correlates with low pH. They also live in very dim lighting due to dense vegetation both in and out of the water.

Keep in mind that many of these bettas are on the verge of extinction. Because of habitat destruction, the bettas have suffered a major setback and they have been forced to either relocate or die. However, some of the bettas live in unique areas, and relocation is impossible for them. In other words, please try your best to buy captive bred wild bettas, as we cannot afford to take any more from the wild.

Proper Tank Set Up

Specific care for each species will be discussed below, but here we will cover general tank set up. The tank needs a leaf litter bottom. Sand or gravel can be below this, but other than leaves, the substrate is not necessary. In fact, if you are trying to breed them, you will want to use just leaves.

Sand gives a more natural look than gravel, and wild bettas are a very natural looking fish. For example, you can make an amazing blackwater set up with them. Moreover, their natural brown stripes won’t match well with neon backdrop, and they likely won’t feel as secure.

The actual water is one of the more challenging parts of keeping these bettas. They need blackwater setups in order to feel secure. Blackwater aquariums are aquariums that have dark brown or dark yellow water, often resembling tea. The “black” water comes from tannins, which are released from decaying vegetative matter.

Tannins are a type of acid found in vegetation. They have great antibacterial and antifungal properties will help reduce the stress of your new fish, and lower the pH. The darker water also lowers the amount of light getting down to the betta, better replicating their natural habitat.

The tank should have a sponge filter for filtration, as this type of filter has the lowest flow. You should also provide a planted aquarium with primarily stem plants. There are many great stem plants available for beginners, so this should not be a challenge.

Unfortunately, most tap water has a moderate to high dissolved mineral content, so you may have to find a different water source to keep them. A reverse osmosis unit or distilled water may be necessary to mix with your tap water in order to lower the dissolved minerals and pH.

B. Splendens

Betta Splendens is the common species found in most pet stores. However, the ones you find in pet stores were cross bred with Imbellis and Smaragdina way back when to get all their beautiful colors. Luckily, there are still some beautiful, unhybridized members of this species still exist.

While they lack the same colors and tail variants you will find in stores, they do have a decent variety. However, most of the ones you will find have hybridized with other wild betta species. Again, they tend to be a mix of either Splendens and Imbellis or Splendens and Smaragdina, though they are much purer and may have been through only one cross.

These are one of the hardiest wild betta species and a good starter. Therefore, if you want a great centerpiece for a community tank, these are a great option. Their hardiness allows them to adapt to most tap water sources.

However, they do need high temperature, somewhere between 78-82 degrees, and they cannot live with other labyrinth fish. Keeping the pH between 5 and 7.5 is the best for these little fellows. The only exception is similar betta species, if the tank is 20 gallons or above.

For example, you can keep two males and five females in a 20-gallon tank. This would be perfect for a species only tank, but it is possible to do a community tank with this many fish, though a 30 gallon would be better suited for this. Even though Splendens has gotten a bad rap for being aggressive, the wild ones are much less aggressive than their domesticated counterparts.

B. Imbellis

These bettas look very similar to wild Splendens and Smaragdina. They have beautiful blue and green metallic scales on a dark body with bright red, blue, black, and green fins. The coloration follows the contours of the rays on their fins.

If you keep any of the bettas in a standard community aquarium, they can only have peaceful tank mates. Additionally, not all bettas are able to live with other fish due to their delicate nature, but Imbellis can. Similar to Splendens, they can get along with other peaceful tank mates.

For example, they can be kept with celestial pearl danios, Microrasbora, and corydoras catfish. In fact, most peaceful, small fish that live in temperatures between 78 and 82 and a pH range between 5.0 and 7.5 should make good tank mates. This does exclude most invertebrates, such as commonly kept snails and shrimp.

Betta fish prey upon fish and shrimp in the wild, so mixing them is not a good idea. Some domesticated bettas get along fine with invertebrates, but the wild ones will not get along with them. Since they are used to actively hunting prey, they will hunt the snails and shrimp. Some snails will be able to survive, but they will constantly be under attack and will have their antennae bitten off.

Betta Imbellis love blackwater, low light, low pH, and low mineral content. Leaf litter is the preferred substrate for this species, and once you see them diving under the leaves and popping up a foot away, you won’t want anything else! They are an incredibly amusing and interactive species and an absolute joy to keep.

B. Smaragdina

Unlike the others, Smaragdina have been selectively bred long enough to have a few color variants. Most of these variants are based off the metallic shine of their scales. They tend to have darker hues of blue, red, and green than Splendens and Imbellis. They are less flashy but have a body that is redder than brown, which creates an intriguing color pattern.

These bettas are also called the “emerald betta” due to their green metallic scales. They also have a metallic gold variant called “copper”, a blue variant, and a “guitar” variant. The guitar variant comes from a group of Smaragdina bettas that live in faster moving water than their counterparts. Unlike other bettas, their fins have adapted to swim at the top of the water and through faster moving water.

These prefer slightly faster water than other bettas and can be kept with a Hang On Back (H.O.B.) filter or a sponge filter; one more option than the other bettas. However, H.O.B. filters do have a major problem; they create a gap in the lid. Wild bettas are prone to jumping so the lid must be as secure as possible.

Betta Smaragdina also requires leaf litter to be a part of their substrate. Similar to the others, they too need a high temperature between 78 and 82 degrees, blackwater, low pH, and low dissolved mineral content. They appreciate heavily planted aquariums and are the last species we will cover that can live in a community aquarium. Betta Splendens, Imbellis, and sSmaragdinaall have similar care requirements and are compatible with one another.

B. Mahachaiensis

These bettas have one major requirement that is different from the rest. They need either brackish water or very hard water. Salt greatly increases the dissolved mineral content, much higher than most of the bettas can survive in. Some have been able to replace this with rock hard water, but they do prefer a brackish set up.

However, brackish tanks come with their own problems that freshwater tanks do not. Similar to salt water tanks, evaporation is very dangerous in brackish tanks. Evaporation takes away water and leaves behind the salt, and if left long enough, the salt level will increase to lethal levels.

In order to combat this, you will need a refractometer to measure the proper salinity, then you should mark the top of the water on your tank. When the water drops below the mark you made, you need to top it off. Most importantly, do not add salt to the water you top off with, and it is best to top off with reverse osmosis or distilled water.

This betta also prefers blackwater, low pH, leaf letter, stem plants, and temperatures between 78-82 degrees. Most commonly available aquarium plants can live in the level of salt that these bettas need. If you simply throw the plants into brackish water, they will suffer osmotic shock and die.

Since more dissolved solids (in the form of salt) exist outside the plants than inside, water from the plants will be drawn outside them and they will wilt. Because of this, they need to be slowly acclimated to brackish water over several weeks. Finding freshwater plants that have been acclimated to brackish water is very rare, so you will have to do this yourself.

B. Macrostoma

These bettas carry a hefty price tag and a very sought after. They are one of the mouthbrooding species of bettas. In other words, this means the male takes the fertilized eggs into his mouth and releases them a two to four weeks later once they develop. This limits the number of babies they can have at one time, which is part of the reason they are so rare and expensive.

When you first take a look at them, you may have a hard time identifying them as betta. Their body and head shape are unlike any store betta. For instance, their heads and mouths look more like that of a grouper or bass and they can open their jaws wider than other bettas.

They have a long, red based body with rounded fins. The dorsal has a black spot surrounded by yellow and edged blue while the tail fin has black and yellow stripes. On the other hand, the females are yellow in color with brown horizontal stripes.

Unfortunately, these bettas are not for beginners, as they have difficult care requirements. In addition, their pH must be between 4.0 and 6.0, eliminating most municipal water sources. Repeatedly getting a different and exact source of water is difficult for any hobbyist, but it will be more difficult for beginners.

They need leaf litter and shaded areas like the other bettas, but their temperature is different. On the other hand, they need cooler water, somewhere between 70 and 77 degrees, which may require a chiller in the summer months. Their maximum size is 4 inches, unlike the 2 to 2.5 inch maximum of the others.

B. Brownorum

In this section, we are back to a betta that looks more like your average betta. They have longer, thinner bodies and shorter fins, but look much more like bettas than Macrostoma. These bettas hail from peat swamps and blackwater streams with extremely low pH, often 3.0 or 4.0. Blackwater and leaf litter are necessary to keep these bettas, and you will need an alternative water source with extremely low mineral content.

They tolerate warmer water than most of the other bettas, from 77 to 86 degrees. The males are a lovely dark red in color with a beautiful, iridescent blue circle in the middle of their bodies. These are best maintained in a pair or small group in a species only aquarium. They are so small and shy that you will not see them if kept with other fish.

This species greatly appreciates heavy vegetation, as they are rather shy and hide often. Firstly, they must become more accustomed to your presence and the concept of living in a much smaller space. After that, they will begin to emerge. The time this takes depends on the individual. Some will come to the front of the aquarium as you get close in just a few days, while others may take months.

Given their finicky water requirements and initial lack of interactivity, they are not recommended for a beginner. They, like many other wild bettas, do require live food, which can be a daunting task for a beginner.

B. Albimarginata

These bettas are often called “white seam fighters” and closely resemble the appearance of Betta Macrostoma. The primary color difference is the males have a white band around the edges of their fins and the females are a dull blue/gray in color.

They are slightly more tolerant in terms of pH and temperature than Macrostoma. They prefer their temperature to be between 74 and 82 and their pH to be between 4.0 and 6.5. Betta Albimarginata loves leaf litter and plants, just like the other bettas. These will be wild caught, so you will have to feed them live food at first.

When it comes to breeding, they have incredibly small spawns. They are a mouth brooding species, so this is part of the reason, even though other mouth brooders have larger spawns. If you breed them, you will probably end up having less than 10 fry. Additionally, another major issue with mouthbrooders is the tendency for the male to swallow the eggs.

In some species of mouthbrooding cichlids, the breeder will take the eggs out of the male or female’s mouth and raise them separately. The breeder may instead take out all the other fish and leave the male without competition and predators. For bettas, the male and eggs are too small to safely remove the eggs without injury to either and removing other fish will likely stress the male. Excess stress will lead to him swallowing the eggs.


Many of these bettas will be wild caught, which means they have no idea what a pellet or flake is. Until they learn that these are food, you will need to feed live food. Try feeding the pellets along side live food that stays at the top of the water, such as flightless fruit flies. However, it is possible that you will get a great importer who trains them to eat pellets for you.

The five best and easiest live food to keep and culture are blackworms, white worms, daphnia, baby brine shrimp, and flightless fruit flies. Blackworms and daphnia are cultured in water, brine shrimp are hatched from eggs, and white worms and fruit flies are terrestrial.

Blackworms are a great food because if your betta doesn’t find them, they will live and reproduce in the substrate. They reproduce asexually in captivity, so even if just one gets away, your betta can get an extra meal or two. White worms live in dirt or coconut husk and should be rinsed before going in the tank. They can live for several hours in water before drowning.

Fruit flies don’t do well if submerged but will walk across the top of the water, attracting the bettas. Daphnia is called water fleas because they bounce and twitch around, similar to how baby brine shrimp move. Daphnia survives indefinitely in freshwater, while the brine shrimp will only live a few hours.

In summary, wild bettas are absolutely gorgeous fish and the best candidate for a blackwater aquarium. Some species are hardy and can be kept by beginners, while others need more advanced care. No matter which species you go with, you will not be disappointed.

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