BETTA SPLENDENS AND The Dance of Life
When a male Betta Splendens is ready to spawn, its appearance, physiology and disposition changes markedly. The prominence of its stripes suddenly diminish. Instead of showing aggression, it now seems somewhat timid and almost shy. It begins to build an elaborate bubble nest.
Here, to tell the story of the Betta Splendens Dance of Life, follows a series of stunningly beautiful images taken by the Bulgarian fish photographer supreme, Hristo Hristov.
Please note that we are using these photographs with Hristo’s permission, but that his work is under copyright and should not be copied off this site!
And then, at last, the male begins to court the female.
It is a sight to behold! The male now flares its gills, twists its body, and spreads its fins in a magnificent display of his interest in the female. In reciprocation, the female responds by darkening her colour and curving her body back and forth. Quite clearly, at this time she is as eager as the male for what is to come – a slow tango that will ensure their genes being passed on to the next generation.
At the signal of her cooperation, the male begins to coax the female male to his bubble nest, repeatedly engaging in the astonishing Betta courtship dance.
Aptly, the act of spawning itself is called the “nuptial embrace” – for the male wraps his body around the female until she is barely visible. During each such embrace, the female releases between 10 to 40 eggs, continuing until her entire supply of eggs is completely exhausted. In turn, the male releases his milt into the water directly above the eggs – a surprising external fertilisation process that in nature would be fraught with danger. But for the male the work has only started, because during and after spawning, he must use his mouth to retrieve each precious sinking egg and safely deposit them all in his bubble nest. Sometimes the female may feign her assistance, but often, if she is hungry, she will simply devour all the eggs that she manages to catch.
Once the female has released all of her eggs, the romancing is at an end – the male will aggressively chase her away from his territory. His priority now is the safekeeping and care of his progeny. In captivity she is usually removed from the breeding tank at this time.
He will continue to reinforce his nest and make sure that not a single egg fall out and sinks to the bottom. It is an exhausting job and it lasts until the fry become free agents. Incubation lasts around 24 to 36 hours; the newly-hatched larvae remain in the nest for the next 2 to 3 days until their yolk sacs have been fully absorbed. As soon as this happens, the fry leave the nest, swimming freely and able to sense danger, seek hiding spots and see food.
It is common practice in the aquarium hobby to remove the male at this point, so that he will not eat his young – although it has been suggested that this danger is overrated, and that nothing will happen if the male is properly fed.
During this early period their lives, the fry are totally dependent on their gills; the labyrinth organ which allows this species to breathe atmospheric oxygen typically develops fully only at around 3 to 6 weeks of age, depending on the general growth rate, which can be highly variable. If they are fed well and kept in optimal condition, they can reach sexual maturity at an age as early as 3 months and be ready to engage in the Betta Tango of Life themselves!
Of course, words cannot describe how beautiful this process is – and as always, we have to concede that each picture is worth a thousand words. So here are the next eleven thousand words!
What an apt ending: The devoted Betta Splendens father collects even the last stray egg!
It is truly breathtaking, is it not?