Betta Splendens are egg layers. The male fish builds a bubblenest and the eggs are placed there until they hatch. Then after 2-3 days the eggs hatch. At this point the fry swim vertical. In the next couple days the fry will begin to swim horizontal when they absorb their yolk sacs. At this point the male needs to be removed and the fry need to be fed immediately.
It is a bit more involved than this but I want you to get a picture of the plan before we get into major detail here. Please note that betta fry are very, very, very tiny. They make guppy ( link here) fry look huge.
Breeding bettas poses a few problems and therefore is considered a bit of a challenge, especially if this is your first time or even second, 3rd, or 4th. Even experienced betta breeders have failures. There are also more things to be considered.
You will need the space to house 50 or more male Bettas and be able to take care of them properly.
You will have to cull fish or sell fish that have less than desirable traits.
You may have to sell your fish to pet stores and actually see them being taken care of poorly.
You will have less time to spend with your spouse or to work on other hobbies.
You may end up with very few fish or even none at first that meet your standards, especially if you buy pet store quality fish.
Here is a list of things you will need:
At least 1 choice male specimen compatible with at least one female specimen. (compatible meaning it will give quality offspring).
At least one female Betta compatible with your selected male.
10 -20 Gallon Aquarium
25 50 Watt Submersible Heater
Two + Thermometers
PH test kit
Variety Of Live And Frozen Food
Brine Shrimp Eggs & Hatchery
Vinegar Eel Culture
3 Way Gang Valve
Black Water Tonic or Wild Almond Leaves (optional)
Plants (for female to hide behind)
You will also need a pair of fish. Getting at least one back-up male and female is also suggested. Bettas do have personalities. Sometimes they dont like the female you like or sometimes the male just wont do the job. Choosing a male that makes a bubblenest in his jar is one consideration in selecting your male. Others will be color and fin style etc.
You will need to condition your fish 2 weeks or more before breeding. By conditioning you will be feeding your fish 4 times or more a day possibly. If you have been feeding your fish twice a day with quality live or frozen food you may be able to condition in as little as 1 week.
To start conditioning, select the fish you want to breed for the color and fin combination. You may want to look into betta genetics before buying fish. I suggest getting high quality fish of compatible colors and fin styles. I also suggest buying fish in pairs when possible. Now start feeding your fish 4 times a day and make sure you clean their tanks or containers after every feeding and when you see fecal material. You will want to perform partial water changes every day even after each feeding if necessary. We always do at least partial water change after feeding frozen bloodworms. Bloodworms are a great frozen food. Bettas love them! The thing is they cloud the water up and create bacteria plumes if unattended, so keep those containers clean.
You will want to let your males and females see each other. Nothing gets a male to building a nest like the presence of a female. This nest building behavior should continue on through the conditioning period. You may also want to let the male rest once in a while by placing a piece of cardboard or paper between containers when the male looks over worked and shows signs of stress such as torn or blown fins.
Once the fish are conditioned they will show it. The male and female will have a more plump appearance. The reason for conditioning your fish is because the male is going to spend days without eating and the female needs enough protein to produce healthy eggs. Healthy fish make healthy offspring. The females ovipositor will be clearly showing. It is a small white dot on her underside and this is where the eggs come out.
We like to let the pair see one another and watch how they react to each other. If they fancy each other, they will flare, dance, and strut. They will spend lots of time looking at one another. This seems to help induce feeding and gets the fish a little more ready to mate. Keeping the fish near 80 degrees will also help prepare for breeding.
Now would be a good time to set up the breeding tank. We prefer 10 gallon tanks for breeding. They are the perfect size and very inexpensive. Clean your tank thoroughly. Then put in 5 gallons of water. You can add black water tonic to the tank water if you choose. You can also float a single wild almond leaf on the water surface. It is believed that the leaves contain minerals and nutrients that induce spawning activity and overall vitality to the fish. This theory comes from the Orient where the fish originate from. There is a location where many of these wild almond trees are extremely plentiful. The people from the area noticed the fish are more colorful, bigger, and more healthy than fish from other locations. It is believed that the tannins from the leaves make a more tranquil environment for the fish. The tannins make the water dark which creates a more natural breeding environment for the fish at any cost.
Place your submerged heater on the bottom of the tank in the middle. This will allow for a more even distribution of heated water. Keeping your breeding tanks in an environment with a more stable temperature will help you control the tank water temp better. Use at least 2 thermometers at different locations so you can make sure your tank temp is somewhat even. We like to keep a lid on our breeding tanks and even put a towel over the lid. Do not let forced air from your furnace or air conditioner come in contact with the inside tank air. We do not run the filter during mating; start the pump when the male is removed.
Seeing the female and being in water with the proper temperature and conditions will stimulate the male into building a super nice nest. You will want to give him a nice stable structure to build his nest under. We use a styrofoam cup cut in half the long way and float it on the water. You will need to tape it really well as tape inside a humid tank tends to let loose. Sometimes the male will build his nest elsewhere. This is usually due to commotion in the breeding room. Bettas like their privacy. Dont bother them much and this process will go much smoother trust me. If you make your fish feel uneasy and disrupt them often, they will not spawn. Remember if this is your first time you have a good chance of failure. Being overzealous can be very negative, not only causing spawn failure but could end up injuring or even killing a fish. This is all very interesting, especially to a beginner and it is very easy to disrupt your fish.
Make sure you add some plants. We prefer live plants for a couple reasons. The main reason is that the plant creates a natural food source for the fry. Live plants also cannot tear fins or cause injuries. We like to feed our betta fry live food such as microworms, vinegar eels and baby brine shrimp. If you do decide to use live plants, buy them from a live plant distributor that does not sell or raise fish so that you do not run the risk of the plants carrying disease. This is the same reason we raise our own guppies. The initial fish (guppies) are brought home and quarantined until we are certain they are disease free.
It is a good idea to monitor the behavior of your mating pair initially as the male can become extremely aggressive. Put your sponge filter in the back, kitty corner from the nest area and hook up the pump. If you want to run the filter for a day or 2 before you get the temperature set, its ok but not usually necessary.
So now you have your tank set up. The temperature is constant. Slight fluctuation of a degree or 2 can be all it takes to cancel the show for the male. Did someone say show? Yes they did, and what a show it is. The male bettas are never more beautiful than when they are performing their mating displays and dances.
Now will be a good time to get your brine shrimp hatchery set up. Brine shrimp are a staple food for betta fry but are often too large for most betta fry in the first few days. Having microworm, vinegar eel, daphnia and wingless fruit fly cultures going will help greatly in keeping your betta fry alive, especially for the first 3-7 days. We like to offer freshly hatched baby brine shrimp as a food for the betta fry large enough to consume them. For this reason we normally mix microworms with brine shrimp. Another great thing about these 2 live foods is that they will live for a good while in the breeding water. We also like to get some vinegar eels in the fry feeding program when we have them. Feeding these live foods helps prevent bacterial build up from decayed uneaten food particles. It also provides a well rounded diet for your fry. We believe fry that are properly fed grow much faster and end up a bigger healthier fish in the long run .
If you are limited on space you could choose to feed mainly baby brine shrimp to start with. Doing this will cull the batch quickly as the smaller fry wont be able to feed and die. You will HAVE to remove ALL the dead fry. When feeding in this manner we have noticed that a higher than normal percentage of fish with deformed mouths arise. This leads us to believe that the baby brine shrimp are just to large for many of the fish. Although these fish could be culled, we prefer to just feed the fry food they all can eat. This helps ensure a more healthy spawn by giving the fry more variety. Once the fry are large enough, baby daphnia and other small live foods can be fed to the fry.
Continue to condition your fish. Make sure you condition some back-up fish as mentioned earlier. Once your fish are conditioned its time to introduce them to their tank. Once again you acclimate the fish as described earlier. If the fish are already in the same water as the spawn tank this will take less time and be less stressful on your fish. Just remember to acclimate any time you put a fish in a different kind of water. Keeping your fish in the same type water as your spawn tank will help induce spawning, especially if you have been keeping them in black water.
Now we like to put the female in first. We believe this helps out with his territorial nature. We could be wrong and have done this both ways and have had success. Putting her in first helps with the space issue of acclimating also. So we dont think its a huge deal which fish you introduce to the tank first; just remember to acclimate. The male should be very glad to see his new girlfriend! He should start flaring, dancing, prancing and most importantly building a nest. He will decide how to divide his time between nest building and displaying for his new spawn mate.
This is about all he will do now if he is a good fish. Dont forget to feed him during this time but DO NOT over feed. If you do, you have to clean immediately. Wingless fruit flies and adult daphnia are perfect foods right now as they dont create a big mess and are easy prey. Guppies can get the male excited enough that he will destroy his nest which happens easy enough as it is with his displaying activities. Feed the female as well through this part of the process. Be sure to remove all fecal material as well as food waste from the breeding tank.
The female should be responding in a positive manner also. She should get vertical stripes unless she has a colorless body such as an opaque or Cambodian type fish. She may get horizontal stripes for a at first but that should only last for a short while. Vertical stripes indicate readiness to spawn. Her ovipositor should be showing as well, but this is usually visible long before she is actually ready to spawn. Horizontal stripes indicate fear and/or irritability or uncertainty.
Once the male has finished his nest he will most likely start spending lots more time displaying for his girlfriend. When a female is ready to spawn she will be quite plump. This plumpness is actually from the infertile eggs inside her. After spending this time together both fish should be ready to spawn when the nest is complete. Just check for the obvious indicators as mentioned. It can be a little tougher on light colored females but the full body and her response to him should be a good indicator she is ready.
Now when the nest is finished and the female is looking responsive it is time to release her into the main tank. At this time many things can go awry, but lets keep our fingers crossed. You can expect to see some violent behavior usually from the male. You may notice the female gets horizontal bands when she is being so aggressively pursued. This is normal. She will go hide and eventually both fish will usually come around. If this is the bettas first time they will probably take longer to figure it all out. This especially holds true for the male. Often the nest gets damaged and the male goes back to repairing it. The female will go hide behind the plants or other cover. If either fish gets injured, it is back to the jar with MarOxy and or aquarium salt. You can replace either fish or both and try again if you have back-up fish ready. Just start all over.
What usually happens is this scenario: The female is released into the tank. The male senses she is in his reach and can physically get her. She will swim to his nest and normally will not be ready for all this yet. He seems to prefer to let her know he is king and ruler first and foremost. Once she shows submissiveness the spawn can occur. The female after being violently tormented will swim very slowly nose down. She appears to kind of float through the water displaying total submission. This is when the male will accept her and the spawn can take place.
Watching your bettas spawn is quite a sight to say the least. Now you will witness another awesome site most people never see, the actual mating. The female will kind of nudge the male softly in the side. He will roll her over gently now and kind of squeeze her in an embrace that lasts a few seconds or so. The first embrace rarely produces any eggs and it may take 5 or more embraces to start producing eggs.
After each embrace the female floats stunned in ecstasy for some time after the male snaps out of his. The male will swim down and collect eggs in his mouth. Then he will swim up to the bubblenest and place the eggs in the nest. Often the female will snap out of her haze and help the male collect eggs and place them in the nest. Sometimes she will eat the eggs she finds on the tank bottom, if so there is nothing you can really do. Sometimes they both eat the eggs. This is not usually the case in my experience. Natural instinct seems to be the norm unless heavily inbred.
Spawning can last several hours, usually 2-3 hours though. Some people claim to have witnessed 12 hour spawnings. The pair are done mating when the female no longer produces eggs. At this time immediately remove the female from the breeding tank and put her in a tank or jar with aquarium salt and/or MarOxy.
After the spawn it is time to get your brine shrimp hatchery set up. You should also have your microworm, vinegar eel, and daphnia cultures producing well.
Now the male has the honor of taking care of things while he patiently waits for the eggs to hatch. He will work on his bubblenest and retrieve eggs that occasionally fall from the bubblenest. It takes from 24-36 hours for the eggs to hatch. When the eggs hatch, the fry will swim vertical kind of jumping in the water like a mosquito larvae. When they jump out of the nest the male will swim to them and pluck them up and replace them back in the nest. This will go on until the fish begin to swim horizontal and even after. When they majority of the fry are swimming in a horizontal position, it is time to remove the male who should be very hungry by now. Put him in a container with aquarium salt and/or MarOxy treated water.
As soon as you remove the male, introduce some clean microworms into the tank. On the next feeding mix some baby brine shrimp in with the microworms. You can substitute vinegar eels for microworms or use in addition to microworms and brine shrimp. Be careful not to overfeed your fry. Do not remove fish from the water until they are big enough. A good indicator is when you see torn fins. Aggressive males must be removed from the community at this time.
Put them in their own containers and take care of them like a show fish! At a certain point you will have all the males jarred. Most of the females can be kept together and the water level raised. Remove aggressive females from community tanks and jar them like males. Females can be kept together like this if you move them to a larger tank or remove some and use 2 tanks to rear them in. We like to move to a 20 gallon tank or larger. That frees up our breeding tank for another round of fun! If you move the females to a larger tank do it quickly. Isolating even female bettas can make them aggressive toward other fish. Keeping many females in one tank is more convenient but they need to be properly fed and cared for.
We wish you the best of luck and hope this information helps you breed high quality Bettas!