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The Different Types of Black


Sherolyn-Basement Bettas

One of the most confusing issues for newcomers into our hobby is the different types of black bettas, and how they work from a genetics perspective. The further confound matters, when they ask the questions of more seasoned breeders, they information is they receive is often disjointed and misleading. Unless a particular breeder is working with the type of black in question, he or she may not have a clue as to what it is or how it behaves genetically, and therein lies the problem. (Photo: Very deeply-colored black melano betta by Mark Ibara )
To help reduce the confusion, I've spoken to several different breeders from all over the world who specialize in the types of black we are discussing. In addition, I have personally worked with most of these types myself, and can offer a first-hand perspective of what they are, and what the breeder can expect. 
In wild type bettas black is a color that is often covered by other colors. The distribution of black pigment is all over the fish except for most of the caudal fin and the abdomenal area. This dispersion is of medium density but is not usually obvious because of other overlaying colors.
There are currently several different types of Black bettas available today, but if we cut out using the various strain names of many different breeders, we are left with the most popular:
- Black Melano
- Black Lace
- Black Orchid, Black Devil, Black Ice
- Copper based black (newest trend)

Black Melano

This is the most popular type of black in bettas. In melano bettas, a mutant gene has caused the black pigment to be greatly increased in density and coverage area. The mutated gene that causes increased black color is recessive to the normal black gene. This means that if a melano betta were spawned to a normal betta that does not have the mutated black gene all of the offspring would be multicolored. These offspring would be carrying the gene for melanism, but it would not show in their coloration. These are called 'melano genos' and they are indistinguishable from normal multicolored bettas. Recessive characteristics only become visible if both parents pass down the mutant gene to their offspring. Melano females can not be used for breeding purposes, and therefore the color has to be perpetuated using females of other colors that carry the mutant gene for melano, usually iridescent (royal, steel, green) colors. Unfortunately, these crosses inevitably introduce iridescence into the body and fins of the melano fish, which is considered a fault by IBC standards.


The melanophores from melanos grow very differently from that seen in black lace and wild type. They pile up and are very sticky, which is why they produce such a dense black. If you were to look closely at a melano, you would notice that they have a lot of speckling throughout their fins that that make them look so dark. These are 'balls' of melanophores. Preliminary studies have shown that these melanophores have extra adhesion proteins. One hypothesis is that these proteins are also responsible for female infertility. Melano females will produce eggs during the act of spawning like a normal female, but something happens during the hatching process that causes the fertilized egg to rupture. 

The appearance of the Melano black betta is a very dense, dark black (often approaching the 'blue-black' color of a raven). Spawning a melano male to a melano-carrying iridescent female (blue, green, or steel) will produce 50% black melano and 50% iridescent which carry the melano gene. Of these numbers, only 25% of the black melano offspring can be used for breeding, since it's been established that black melano females are incapable of producing viable young.

Black Lace

The 'Black Lace' betta is a dark colored fish that rarely approaches the depth and intensity of the melano black. Most Black Lace fish display too much iridescence in body and fins to be competitive in the Black class, and are instead relegated to Dark Bicolor. The ends of the fins of Black Lace fish should be clear or cellophane in color, causing the 'lacy' look that gave this type of black its name. Amateur hobbyists in particular need to be careful not to confuse Black Lace with Melano Butterfly, the fins of which can also fade to clear or smoke. Unlike the Black Lace, the Melano Butterfly will still maintain a very dark black or blue-black body color, and are still genetically melanos. 

It has been claimed that the Black Lace originated from the Orient from non-red stock, and perhaps there once was a pure strain. The ones that are prevalent today generally come out of marble strains and like all other marble based blacks they can be difficult to accurately predict. 

Like melano, fertile black are recessive to normal dark color; however unlike melano, the females of Black Lace are fertile. Crossing between Black Lace and Melano do not give 100% blacks in the first few generations since the genes controlling the black appearance of these strains are on different sets of alleles. Very recently, top breeder and exhibitor Connie Emery has been working crosses of Black Lace and Melano black and producing what she calls 'Double Black' - a more intense black with fertile females. 

Black Orchid, Black Devil, Black Ice

Henry Yin first coined the name Black Orchid to describe his particular development of dark bicolor Crowntail, which was (so I've been told) NOT a marble-based black but a melano type with excessive steel iridescence, particularly in the fins. The name has since been applied to any fish of similar coloration in a multitude of forms, from HM to Plakat, but these almost always come from marble. Essentially, the Black Orchid betta is a dark black color with streaks of steel blue in the fins, often forming almost a butterfly pattern. The iridescence is not always limited to the fins, and many Black Orchids also develop red wash (another indicator of the marble gene messing with this line). Increasing the red wash has given a new type of 'black' - the so-called 'Black Devil', which is a marble type black with red in the fins instead of iridescence. They do not breed true, and the production of the Black Devil betta seems to be very much the luck of the draw. The Black Ice betta is also derived from marble, and can appear randomly in marble spawns. It is a black fish which varies in intensity and possesses generous iridescence in the body and the fins. The iridescence in the Black Ice fish can be either steel, royal, or green. Selective breeding has increased the percentage of Black Ice offspring from Black Ice pairings, but it still does not breed true. (Photo: Original type of Black Orchid from the Indo Betta Splendens Club )

Copper Based Black


With the advent of the copper types, it became popular to cross the solid coppers onto every conceivable regulated betta color imaginable, including melano. The first copper/gold female I was able to acquire (in 2003) was bred to a melano HM male from Bonnie McKinley lines, and produced 100% metallic green. Subsequent generations saw the return of the melano color, with some modifications: while most of the blacks from this line had heavy coppery iridescence, they were curiously free from most blue or steel iridescence normally seen (and faulted) on melano bettas. Selective breeding increased the intensity of the black color while keeping the line relatively free from blue or steel, and eventually produced black females which had enough coppery iridescence to be fertile. Although many fish from copper melano lines have too much copper to be considered ideal for IBC showing purposes, there are still individuals who exhibit a perfect solid 'mollie' black color without a trace of metallic or blue iridescence. It remains to be seen how enterprising breeders can isolate these ideals and begin producing solid black bettas from metallic lines that are consistently competing at top levels. (Photo: Copper based black from Wasan Sattayupun )


So there you are, Black Betta Lovers! Pick your favorite black, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. The true solid black Halfmoon betta is still elusive enough to be intensely sought-after, and the different lines are sufficiently challenging to keep a breeder busy for many years. Let's see who can produce the very best black!
Category: Genetics Study





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