Many people want to breed the popular Betta fish, whether to make a profit or because they simply love these fish. However, there are a few things you need to know before you embark on this journey of breeding bettas.
I’ve bred these fish several times, and it’s been immensely rewarding each time. However, I must warn you that they can test your patience too! I’ve shared all the tips I have to help you skip the frustrating parts of the journey. Especially about males roughing up females, and raising the fry successfully.
Once you get to the part where your fish are spawning, the entire process becomes exhilarating. I’d absolutely recommend giving it a try at least once.
- Breeding bettas is easy, but requires patience. Raising the young may be more difficult.
- You need a pair of healthy bettas that have strong physical characteristics, and are between two and six months old.
- A successful betta breeding produces between 100 and 500 young bettas.
- Male bettas need plenty of floating anchors to build bubble nests
- It’s best to keep females separated from the male until the nest is complete, using a transparent divider or large glass jar
- Feed bettas plenty of live foods for two weeks before attempting to breed them
- The breeding tank:
- Should be at least 10-gallon
- May be planted
- Should have gentle filtration
- Should have soft, mildly acidic (6.5-7.5) water
- Needs a temperature of 80-86°F
- It takes around a month to breed bettas successfully:
- Two weeks to condition the male and female
- Two to seven days for the male betta to build a nest
- A day for bettas to spawn when the nest is complete
- The fry hatch two to three days later
- Two to three days more for the fry to become free-swimming
- Betta fry eat mainly live foods and you can raise them using either the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, or:
- Brine shrimp nauplii
- Vinegar eels
- Daphnia and Cyclops
- Blended live foods like bloodworms and tubifex
- You’ll need to split the bettas into individual containers at two months old, to prevent the males from fighting.
Lets get into it.
When you’re preparing to breed your bettas, there are a few things that you can do to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
When preparing to breed betta fish, you’ll need the following:
- A transparent divider or large glass jar
- Gentle filtration, like a sponge filter or platform filter
- A heater to maintain the water temperature
- Plenty of floating plants or other floating objects as nest anchors
- An aquarium net for removing the female and male at the appropriate times
- Plenty of small live foods for feeding the fry after they become free-swimming
Setting up a tank for breeding bettas is fairly simple. In my experience, a 10-gallon aquarium will meet your needs, while remaining easy to clean.
From what I’ve seen, you can use a smaller aquarium, but the maintenance required to keep the water clean increases as the tank size decreases.
I bred a pair of bettas in a tiny three-gallon once, and it was an absolute nightmare. From removing the female to removing the male when the fry were a week old, it just made everything harder.
While most fish are fairly adaptable when it comes to water conditions, you need to provide optimal breeding conditions when trying to breed them.
Bettas require soft water for breeding, so I’d suggest using Reverse Osmosis (RO) water. Hard water quickly hardens the eggshells. This can cut down fertility levels significantly since the sperm can’t penetrate the eggs easily.
Ph And Tannins
You’ll need a pH of around 6.5-7.5, and many seasoned hobbyists also add tannins to the water. Tannins are the result of certain types of decomposing vegetation.
The most common way to add tannins is to incorporate a few grape leaves into the aquarium (also believed to help fertility). You can also use a small amount of peat moss in the filter, or a mild teabag like redbush tea (make a cup of tea, without milk or sugar, then add the used tea bag to the filter).
Temperature is essential when you’re breeding bettas, and a range of 80-86°F will work. I’d recommend aiming at a temperature of 84°F since this seems to be their optimum breeding temperature.
You don’t need to pay any special attention to water changes when breeding bettas. Just keep the tank clean as you normally would.
Some people believe in making many small water changes in the time leading up to spawning. From what I’ve seen, betta fish don’t care about water changes when they want to breed.
Bettas are fairly undemanding in terms of decorating their tanks for breeding.
Plants are almost always beneficial for breeding tanks. However, in my experience, it’s best to ensure that the tank is well-established if you’re planning on using a planted tank.
If you do go this route, try to use plenty of floating plants and cover plants. This helps give the male places to anchor his nest and gives the female spaces to hide. At the very least, hiding places like small caves are essential to give the female a retreat from the male.
Small water lilies, like Nymphaea “Helvola”, can be an excellent plant choice. Male bettas love to build nests under the leaves of this type of plant. In a non-planted tank, I’ve found that a large, shallow lid (like the type you get on instant coffee tins) makes an excellent substitute.
However, you set up the aquarium, offering floating materials that the male can build his nest around or under is essential. This may be anything from floating plants to non-toxic styrofoam packing peanuts.
The substrate you use should be fairly fine. Coarse gravel is the largest you want to go, though sand would work as well. Larger substrates make it harder to keep track of the fry once they hatch since they slip into the resulting gaps.
Selecting Betta Fish for Breeding
Choosing the right breeding stock for your project can mean the difference between excellent fry and mediocre ones.
Do Betta Fish Cross Breed?
This question has no clear answer, in my experience. Betta taxonomy and phylogenetics are a messy field that many biologists are still struggling to navigate successfully.
Many of the bettas we see in captivity are very closely related. Some taxonomists even argue that some independent species are just other forms of B. splendens. There are some undeniably distinct species, however, like B. pugnax.
While some of these distinct species can cross, or hybridize, it’s not something we’d suggest trying in captivity. As for ‘types’ or ‘breeds’ like the fish usually sold as King betta or Giant betta, you can easily cross-breed them with other types of Betta splendens.
When selecting a male betta, you need to look for both good physical and behavioral characteristics, including:
- Strong, healthy finnage with the shape you want
- Active behavior and a healthy swimming style
- Good coloration
- A laid-back personality, not prone to aggression
- A healthy appetite
Female bettas are generally a lot plainer than males, but you essentially want the same characteristics:
- Not aggressive, but not overly timid
- Disease-free with a strong body and fins
- A robust form that attests to her health, and breeding potential
- Bright coloration
- Active, with a good appetite
Conditioning Betta Fish
When preparing to breed bettas, you should condition them for two to four weeks before the breeding attempt. Conditioning essentially means that you feed them a high-protein diet rich in meaty live foods like:
- Mosquito larvae
- Tubifex worms
This diet mimics the abundance of live foods they’d naturally experience during the rainy season in the wild. An abundance of food tells wild fish that it’s time to breed, sending their body into a frenzy of producing eggs and sperm.
Domestic fish still have the same triggers and, my breeding efforts with these fish indicate that conditioning them before introducing them to each other, can lead to a more successful breeding process. In my experience, raising the temperature slightly can help as well.
You’ll know that your fish are well conditioned when the male starts building bubble nests in earnest, even in the absence of a female. Female bettas will fill with eggs and may look like they’ve swallowed a large marble. You’ll also begin to see vertical banding on her flanks.
Breeding: Preparation and Courtship
Once you’ve prepared the tank itself, and the fish, the breeding process should be a relatively easy process. Let’s go through it, step by step.
Introduction Of The Male And Female
First, introduce both the male and the female to the breeding tank. In my experience, it’s best to introduce the female first and give her a few hours to settle in. This way, you avoid the aggression of the male, who might otherwise be exceptionally territorial.
You have two options for introducing females:
- Introduce the female, and rely on an abundance of hiding places to spare her from the male.
- Use a transparent divider or large jar (floating in the tank with the female inside) to keep the female where the male can see her but not hurt her.
There’s no particular technique to adding the male.
Removing The Divider
I have used the second technique above with great success as it prevents stressing the female too severely. As soon as the nest is done, and both fish show signs of readiness, release the female gently into the tank. I.E. The male will display it to the female, and the female will try to reach him.
You can do this by slowly inching up the divider, so you don’t disturb the nest. If she’s in a jar, just tilt the gar gently over on its side so the female can swim out.
If you are using a transparent divider, you may consider lifting the divider enough so the female can swim through underneath it, without removing it entirely.
After spawning, you can lift the divider so the female can swim back to the other side, and slide the divider into place. This will make removing her less stressful, and provide protection from the male.
How Do You Know When Your Betta Fish Is Ready To Mate?
When the nest is completed, and both fish are ready to breed, you can rely on certain signs.
A male that’s ready to breed will darken in color, and he’ll swim around the female flaring his gills. This display serves to show off his size and coloration, telling her that he’s a good, strong mate.
A female that’s ready to breed will also become darker, but she’ll simultaneously develop dark vertical barring on her flanks. At the same time, you’ll be able to see her ovipositor (egg-laying tube) in the form of a white spot between her ventral fins.
Both the male and female may seem somewhat frenzied, swimming up and down and trying hard to reach one another.
Breeding: Bubble Nests
Male bettas build nests out of saliva-coated air bubbles. They tend to build bubble nests, even when not exposed to a female. When exposed to a female, however, and given enough anchor points to build among, he’ll usually build a complete nest in a matter of days.
Once the nest is complete, the male will start displaying to the female, and she’ll respond excitedly. At this point, you can release the female, and she should head straight for the male.
The male will take the female beneath the nest, and then wrap his body around hers. They’ll turn upside down as the female releases eggs and the male releases sperm to fertilize them. He’ll then take a break to gather the eggs and place them carefully in the nest.
After this, they’ll repeat the process several times. When the female has released all the eggs, and the male has fertilized them, the female will go into hiding to rest and recover.
How Many Babies Do Betta Fish Have?
Betta females can lay between 100 and 500 eggs when spawning. However, that doesn’t translate into as many babies. For one thing, only around 90-95% of the eggs will be fertilized.
So, let’s say that 90% of 100 eggs are fertilized, that’s 90 fry. Betta fry also have a mortality rate of about 10 percent, so you can expect to lose another nine or so while raising them. That means you can expect around 81-405 fry in optimal conditions.
Of course, conditions are rarely optimal, but that’s still a lot of baby bettas.
When Things Go Wrong: Warning Signs
Like I mentioned earlier, bettas can test your patience when you’re trying to breed them. There are three things you should look out for:
1. An Overly Aggressive Male Or Shy Female
Some males are very forceful, and some females aren’t very outgoing. This can be a lethal combination. While some aggression is normal, if it seems like your male is hurting your female and they don’t spawn soon after getting together, remove the female.
2. The Female Is Unhappy With The Nest
In some cases (fortunately, it’s not common) the female may decide that the male’s nest isn’t good enough, and start tearing it apart. In this case, remove her back to her side of the divider.
While I’ve never seen this with bettas, I have experienced it with paradise fish. Often, if you separate the female, she’ll spawn quite happily later on. I removed my paradise fish female to a large jar floating in the tank, and they spawned successfully when I released her back into the tank.
3. The Females Shows No Interest In Mating
Some females are shy, or have a low interest in breeding. If you release her into the breeding tank, and she doesn’t head for the male and nest, remove her.
You can try again later, and see if she’s ready to breed. She may not be, though. It’s advisable to condition more than one female, so you have a backup if required.
Removing the Female from the Tank
In my experience, it’s best to remove the female betta directly after egg laying is complete.
You’ll know that this part of the process is complete when the female betta looks incredibly thin, and the male chases the female away from the nest.
Domestic female betta fish have no maternal instinct, and the male considers her a threat to the nest. If you leave her in the breeding tank, the male will torture her, and may even kill her.
In my opinion, the best way to remove the female is to trap her in a net, away from the nest, then carefully scoop her out.
Gently scoop some water from the tank, and place it in a plastic bag or jar. Then, place the female inside and float the bag on top of the tank you’re moving her to. Allow the female to float for 20 minutes, so temperatures can equalize, before moving her into the aquarium.
Caring for the Fry
After you remove the female from the breeding aquarium, the male will continue to care for the eggs. He will continuously move the eggs around with his mouth, and blow extra bubbles, to ensure that the eggs stay safe.
Between 24 and 48 hours later, the fertile eggs will turn dark. You may notice that some of the eggs remain milky white. These eggs are unfertilized, and the male will eat them out of the nest.
Around day three (there may be some differences, depending on ambient conditions) the eggs will hatch. You’ll see the fry hanging tail down from the nest.
Around 48 hours after hatching, the fry will become free-swimming. Up until this point, they’ve been feeding off the remains of their yolk sacs and hanging at a vertical angle. From here on out, they’ll be swimming horizontally and will need food.
Thus far, the male’s been tending to the fry and keeping them in the nest. After this point, he may start seeing them as a convenient snack, so it’s best to remove him.
Feeding The Fry
Newly-hatched betta fry are incredibly tiny and, just like their parents, they’re mainly carnivorous. To raise them successfully, you need a wide array of live foods and plenty of them..
Let’s take a brief look at how the live foods should progress as your fry grow:
- Day 1-3: Nematodes and infusoria
- Day 4-14: Brine shrimp nauplii
- Day 14-21: Vinegar eels, microworms, Cyclops
- Day 22+: Grated live foods like Daphnia, Tubifex, and bloodworms
As soon as they reach a size of around ½ to ¾ of an inch, you should be able to introduce mosquito larvae, small bloodworms, and other aquarium standards.
If you don’t have access to really tiny live foods like nematodes, you can successfully raise fry (at least for the first two weeks) by using egg yolk.
Simply hard boil an egg, then remove the yolk and run it through a blender with a tiny bit of water. You can then use a dropper to feed a few drops of the mixture to the fry at every feeding.
The mixture is only viable for around 24 hours, so you’ll need to boil a new egg every day, or freeze some of the mixture and defrost it before using it.
I have found this feeding option very useful in a pinch and raised some happy, healthy, betta and paradise fish fry this way.
It’s important to note that young fry can’t eat much at a time. Rather than offering large feedings once or twice a day, you should try to feed smaller amounts every two to four hours.
When the fry reach around two weeks of age, you can start making the meals larger and increasing the time between feedings. I’d recommend doing this gradually, by changing from four-hour intervals to six-hour intervals, then to eight-hour intervals a week later.
One of the main challenges, when you raise fry, is that they eat little, but you’re forced to feed them a lot to make sure everyone gets food. This leads to water that quickly deteriorates.
When you’re raising betta fry, one of the keys is not to replace too much water at once. Young bettas are very sensitive to changes, and can easily go into shock.
In my experience, it’s best to replace around 5% of the tank’s overall volume every day, with water that’s already aged and at the right temperature. You can use a thin length of standard aquarium tubing to siphon the floor of the tank and remove any uneaten food.
It’s advisable to siphon into a transparent container so that you can see if you’ve accidentally siphoned up any fry.
From around two weeks after the fry become free swimming you can start spacing the water changes out to 15% every second day. Week three can become 20% every third day, etc. until you reach standard water change schedules for bettas.
You’ll still want to perform more water changes than you usually would, just because there are so many fry.
Protecting The Labyrinth Organs
Around the time that the fry reach a month old, they’ll start developing and using their labyrinth organs. As with all labyrinth fish, these organs allow bettas to breed atmospheric oxygen, but they’re incredibly sensitive when they first form.
During weeks four to six, it’s essential that you keep the tank covered with a pane of glass, plexiglass, or even cling film, instead of the regular aquarium lid. Doing so will keep the air above the water at the same temperature as the water itself. This will protect the fry from chilled labyrinth organs and possible death.
Separating The Fry
When they’re about two months old, males will start developing their iconic finnage, while females will keep their short, rounded fins.
At this point, it’s vital to separate the males. If you don’t, the males will start fighting and killing one another.
You can generally keep the females together for longer. However, some males may take longer to grow their fins and it can be tricky to tell them apart.
I’d suggest separating each fish into its own container, then combining the females again later. Most hobbyists use simple jam or honey jars because they’re cheap and the fish can already breathe the air.
If you live in a cold place, and can’t risk keeping the fish at room temperature, then you can float the jars in a heated tank half full of water. The ambient temperature of the surrounding water will help keep each jar warm and protect your fish.
This is a good time to start selling your bettas because doing water changes on a couple of hundred jars every few days gets tiring very quickly.
Purpose of Breeding Betta Fish
I have found that people usually breed bettas for one of three reasons:
1- Hobbyist Interest
Most betta lovers try to breed their fish at least once, because they love the fish, and want to experience breeding them. Because it’s a passion, hobbyists sometimes breed some of the best pet-quality bettas.
2- Potential Profit
People also breed betta fish for profit. While there’s a certain profit margin in breeding these fish, you’re unlikely to make a huge profit as a hobbyist. Large fish farms are generally better equipped to feed and raise fry for a low cost.
If you breed small live foods (like Cyclops and Daphnia) yourself, you can increase your profit margin significantly.
3- Selective Breeding
People also breed bettas to practice selective breeding. Some breeders may breed bettas to obtain longer, flashier tails. Others may want a specific coloration or fin shape.
Thanks to selective breeding, the betta appearance is incredibly diverse today. This remains one of the main reasons why people breed bettas.
Final Thoughts and Considerations
Breeding betta fish is a highly enjoyable thing to do, and a wonderful opportunity to learn more about them. However, you should always consider ethical considerations before breeding any fish. After all, you’re committing to your betta’s future offspring.
Ask yourself, can you make the financial and time commitment it will take to raise the babies to maturity?
If the answer is yes, the next question is what you’re going to do with so many bettas. It can be deceptively difficult to make a break into the pet trade. And, while you’ll likely find homes for most of the males with relative ease, you may be stuck with several females at the end of the day. If you’re okay with that idea, I see no reason not to breed your bettas, and I wish you all the best with it.
About the author
Hi, I’m Johanan! I love animals of all shapes and sizes, but especially fish. I’ve gone from working at a pet store as a teenager to keeping and breeding Bettas and other fish at home. My passion for fish is endless!
You can find my articles here.