Whether you have a domesticated species of Betta splendens or a rare wild type, you might want to give your fish a display tank that is as natural as possible.
One of the ways to do this is by creating a biotope habitat.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about where bettas come from, creating a biotope, and how to bring a slice of the wild into your own home!
What is a biotope?
A biotope is a habitat, or in other words, an area that has distinct environmental conditions. Biotopes contain a wide range of species, some of which may only be found in those specific conditions and locations.
More recently, ‘biotope’ has been used to describe the process of taking a slice of a wild environment and transplanting it to a new place that does not have the same conditions.
For example, aquarium hobbyists make specific biotopes depending on the fish or plants they want to keep. The tank is then set up around those species to best capture how they would appear in the wild and make their aquarium pleasant.
These biotopes can cover a large ecosystem, replicating the expansive terrain of a country. Or they can be as secluded as one puddle of water in the middle of the rainforest.
However, the more niche the biotope, the more difficult it is to research the native species and natural conditions.
What is a betta fish biotope?
The same idea can be applied to Betta species in the aquarium hobby.
With close to 100 different species of betta fish, many unique and interesting betta biotopes can be brought into the home aquarium tank.
The main idea is to create the perfect home for your betta by making it seem like it never left home!
A betta biotope aquarium is more commonly used for Betta species outside of Betta splendens. They are usually shyer and might have even been directly imported from those natural habitats.
What is your betta fish’s biotope?
Betta splendens originate from Thailand, but the rest of the species within this genus cover a wide range and can be found in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic.
Even though these fish are found in many countries, they seem to be found in very similar environmental conditions across the board.
For the most part, bettas are found in slow-moving rice paddies, swamps, and ponds littered with leaf matter and fallen branches. While these tannin-stained bodies of water are shallow, they can be very expansive in area, allowing many fish to set up separate territories.
Overall, wild betta fish can survive a wide range of tropical water temperatures, pH, water hardness, and dissolved oxygen contents. Some bettas, like Betta mahachaiensis, even prefer brackish water conditions though this is not common.
How to make a biotope for your betta fish
While you can switch over to a biotope from an already established betta aquarium, it will be much easier to decide on a biotope and then set everything up.
Biotopes can take a lot of research, and having a full list of species you want to include is the key to success; it should also be noted that while this list is great to have, actually finding sellers of those species can take some time and importation might not be immediate.
Betta fish do not need much space as they naturally set up small territories that they hardly move from.
While some bettas might be able to survive in 2.5 gallons (9.5 L), a 5 gallon (18.9 L) aquarium is recommended as the bare minimum. This is because you will want as much space as possible for sunken logs and leaves, which can take away from the swimming space for your fish. A ten-gallon bowfront aquarium is worlds better than the fishbowl your betta was in when you bought it.
Width is also more important than height when it comes to choosing an aquarium for your betta. Again, these fish come from very shallow water and much prefer to have horizontal space to swim.
Picking a substrate for a betta biotope can be tricky. In the wild, the substrate is usually a sandy-soil mix or even peat.
However, aquarium soil becomes very messy and offers little to no long-term benefits for fish or plants. Instead, some hobbyists choose to cap soil with sand or gravel.
For the most realistic, mess-free approach, though, we recommend a sand-only substrate.
This sand should then be covered with a healthy coating of leaf litter, like Indian almond leaves; these leaves will slowly leak tannins that lower acidity and give the water a natural brown coloring.
The leaf litter should last several months but might need to be replenished once it has begun to disintegrate.
Next, you will want to look at native plant species. Even more so, you will want to look at what lives your betta’s exact habitat, whether it be a river, rice paddy, or another shallow body of water.
For example, some species endemic to Thailand would be:
- Hygrophila corymbosa
- Pogostemon helferi
- Rotala rotundifolia
- Cyperus helferi
While Java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) and Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri) are not native to Thailand, they are invasive species found in most betta waterways now.
Floating plants, like water lettuce (Pistia spp.) and duckweed (Lemnoideae family), will also make your betta biotope come to life.
If choosing to keep a betta from outside of Thailand, you will want to research the plants endemic to those specific areas.
Filtration and equipment
The secret to creating a natural biotope is removing all traces of human intervention. You want the aquarium to look dirty and as it would appear in the wild. This does not mean that you want poor water quality, though.
Instead, you will want to plan your tank so that you cannot see any filtration or equipment. Some hobbyists choose not to use any filtration since these tanks are usually heavily planted and nutrients balance themselves.
If you would like to keep some element of additional filtration, a sponge filter or other small internal filter that decorations can cover is the ideal aquarium filter.
An aquarium heater should also be hidden and/or incorporated into the filtration if possible.
Besides natural plants, you will want to include lots of broken twigs and branches. A dim light will also create the murky conditions these fish are found in.
In this case, some aquarium-specific driftwood might be fitting, though you may even choose to harvest your own driftwood for a truly natural aquascape.
This can be done by carefully selecting pieces of wood and curing them before placing them in your aquarium.
For a full guide on how to collect and cure your own driftwood, make sure to check out our DIY guide here.
Putting it all together
Now that you’ve research which betta species you want to keep, the types of plants found in that location, and have enough leaf litter and driftwood to create a completely natural betta home, it’s time to put it all together.
Just like other fish, betta fish need a fully cycled aquarium. The tank may be cycled with the plants and driftwood in it as the plants will help take up nutrients, and the driftwood will create more surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.
Keep in mind that some betta species and plants might need to be imported, which can take up to a few months at a time. It is best to have a schedule of when items become available and when they are shipped.
Once all is said and done, it’s time to introduce your betta into its new biotope home. With any luck, your betta will happily live for many years to come!
No matter if you want to keep a domesticated Betta splendens or another rare species of betta, a betta biotope will allow your betta to shine in its natural habitat.
If you want to start a biotope, considerable research is needed to ensure that plant species and water conditions are accurate. However, once set up, these systems are self-sustaining and incredibly rewarding.
If you have any questions about wild betta fish, other biotopes, or have had experience bringing a piece of a wild ecosystem into your own home, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!