Last Updated: February 27, 2023 by Flora Gibbins
You love and admire their colorful fins and tails, but do you know where betta fish come from? Where do betta fish live in the wild, and which betta species created the domestic bettas?
More on that below…
This post will discuss everything you need to know about wild betta fish: their natural habitat, reproductive behavior, and diet. It will also briefly talk about the wild betta’s domestication and how they ended up in pet stores.
Where are Betta Fish From?
The answer to this depends on whether you’re asking about domestic bettas or wild bettas. Of course, domestic bettas came from the wild at one point, but they’ve been domesticated and hybridized enough to differ from wild bettas, which you just can’t expect to suddenly place in an aquarium.
We’ll talk about pet bettas later, so let’s focus on bettas in the wild for now.
What is a Wild Betta Fish?
The genus betta consists of 73 species with 13 complexes. Bettas in pet stores are a mixture of some betta species but not all of them, and wild bettas are bettas that originally lived in the wild.
A wild betta often comes from the Betta splendens complex, which include Betta splendens, Betta mahachaiensis, Betta smaragdina, Betta imbellis, Betta siamorientalis, and Betta stiktos. They exhibit characteristics and behaviors similar to pet bettas, but their diets and appearances slightly differ.
Other lesser-known but common wild betta species include Betta bellica, Betta pugnax, Betta hendra, Betta coccina, Betta picta, Betta albimarginata, and Betta macrostoma.
Wild bettas are darker than domestic bettas, featuring natural gray to green shades with a dark background behind their scales. They’re often plainly colored, and they tend to have short fins and tails.
Betta Fish Natural Habitat
Betta fish in the wild live in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. As you may already know, betta fish are tropical fish, so these warm places are perfect for them, even during winter.
Their natural habitats include river basins, small streams, canals, drainage ditches, swamps, and rice paddies. These areas are shallow, so they tend to warm faster than others. They also contain low amounts of oxygen, which explains why bettas have a labyrinth organ that allows bettas to get oxygen from the air itself.
A betta fish’s natural habitat will often feature plenty of plants and vegetation, which supplies them with oxygen and allows them to hide from each other. Wild bettas are just as aggressive as domestic bettas when it comes to territories, so it suits them.
Betta fish on the island of Borneo live in low-oxygen and shallow habitats, while bettas in Indonesia are in highland streams. Bettas in the other mentioned countries live all over the place, but betta fish in countries outside Southeast Asia tend to be fish escaped from farms or released by pet owners.
Betta Behavior in the Wild
Even in the wild, bettas prefer to live alone. They tend to claim at least a square meter of territory and aggressively attack other fish. Males exhibit this behavior more than females, but this earned them the name “fighting fish” or sometimes “biting fish.”
A betta fight lasts no more than 15 minutes in the wild instead of the hour-long fights that its cultivated counterparts do.
However, it’s important to note that not all betta species are aggressive. In fact, a species that naturally thrive and grow in the wild, Betta imbellis, is known as a peaceful betta. These fish tend to be calmer and friendlier than other bettas.
Besides their hostility, bettas are also known to survive dry weather and water conditions. They can bury themselves in their dried, muddy habitats and live within moist cavities until the water comes back.
Wild Betta Reproduction
This means the male builds a bubble nest using his labyrinth organ. Of course, the male betta does this in his territory so he can heavily guard the eggs once they’re in the nest.
The betta fish mate by starting the same as other animals: the male betta fish enacts a choreographed dance to court a female.
Once the female accepts the male betta, they dance as a pair, flashing their intensifying colors and spreading their fins. Then, they nudge each other’s sides with their snouts, and the male turns the female on her side and wraps himself around her.
After that, the male turns the female upside-down and leaves her to position himself beneath her. The female will then begin laying whitish eggs, three to seven pieces at a time, which could result in up to 350 eggs.
The male betta will catch those in his mouth, coat them in mucus, and then swim to his bubble nest and blow them into the bubble mass. This process will take hours, but as soon as the female finishes with the last batch of eggs, the male will force her away.
Reproduction is now done, and the male betta will heavily protect the eggs on its own.
Once the fry hatch, they will still be under the male betta’s care and would have to wait three days before they’re big enough to swim free. On that third day, the fry can start eating small microorganisms like infusoria, and eventually, when they’re one week old, they can eat bigger prey daphnia and insect larvae.
Other wild bettas are mouthbrooders.
The courting and mating process is the same, except the male bettas will use their mouths as incubators to hatch the eggs. The eggs can take up to two weeks to hatch, as opposed to a bubble nester’s few-day hatching time.
Unlike bubble nesters, mouthbrooders also produce fewer eggs. However, these eggs are bigger.
Wild Betta Diet
Bettas living in the wild often observe a steady diet of plant matter, insects, and insect larvae. The wild is overflowing with all kinds of plant matter and live animals for them to choose from, and if you’ve ever kept a betta, you’ll know they basically eat whatever can fit in their mouths.
More often than not, wild bettas stick to eating meat, with plants as their occasional meal option. Their favorites include bloodworms, mosquito larvae, daphnia, and brine shrimp.
If you capture and keep a wild betta, you can eventually train it to accept other types of food, like pellets and flakes. It’s best to ensure they’re on a high protein diet to keep them healthy.
Betta Fish Discovery
We’ve talked about everything you need to know about betta fish in its natural habitat. We’ll discuss how bettas became pets, who discovered bettas, and how did they domesticate them?
Siamese Fighting Fish and Betta Splendens
Thai children basically discovered these beautiful fighting fish. Almost two centuries ago, these children would collect betta fish from rice paddies and watch them fight as soon as they were placed together.
Soon enough, the adults caught on to it, and betting on the sparring fish became common. Thailand was then Siam, and eventually, the betta fish would be known as Siamese fighting fish for their behavior and location.
The king during that time, Rama III, decided to regulate and tax betta fish fighting. The king was passionate about the sport himself and would later gift a pair of his prized fish to Dr. Theodore Cantor, a Danish physician.
This doctor would breed and study the fish, identifying them as Macropodus pugnax or Betta pugnax. But since fish by that name already existed, Charles Tate Regan renamed them Betta splendens, which translates to “beautiful warrior.”
Betta Fish Fame and Domestication
The betta fish’s popularity continued rising, and sometime in 1892, a French aquarist named Pierre Carbonnier brought the first betta fish to France. From there, bettas would eventually reach the United States in 1910 when Frank Locke brought them to California.
As mentioned earlier, domestic betta comes from various betta species. No one knows the exact species bred to create domestic bettas. However, they’re labeled Betta splendens, like the wild Betta splendens, because their base genes are similar.
Essentially, they’re hybridized versions of their wild counterparts that will not naturally occur without human intervention.
What fish live with betta fish in the wild?
If you’re looking for tankmate ideas, figuring out what fish live in the wild with bettas is a good idea. These fish include rasbora, gourami, and barb.
How long do betta fish live in the wild?
Bettas live for around two years in their natural habitats.
Can wild betta fish live together?
Some bettas can live together, while others can’t. Wild males and domestic males will fight if they’re kept in one fish tank, so if you’re planning on keeping a few bettas together, consider placing one male betta and two female bettas instead.
Remember to place them in a large tank to ensure they have plenty of space to roam and hide.
Now, you can confidently answer if someone asks you, “where are betta fish from?” Wild betta fish thrive in different countries in Southeast Asia, though they’re a little different from the domestic bettas we’re used to seeing.
However, there’s no denying that they’ve had such a journey to be in our tanks, undergoing selective breeding and cultivation to be suitable as pets. They’re also just as beautiful as the bright, domestic bettas we’ve grown to love in their own way.