Betta pugnax

Betta Pugnax: Interesting Facts and a Complete Care Guide

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The Betta pugnax, or Penang betta, is a species of gourami that comes from Southeast Asia and inhabits fast-flowing forest streams.

I spotted these fellows for the first time in a tiny creek in Thailand. They were so well disguised among dead leaves that I only noticed them when one of them flared up at me!

In this guide, I will share my years of experience keeping and breeding these amazing fish so that you too can enjoy them in your own home.

Betta Pugnax Characteristics

Scientific NameBetta pugnax
Common nameForest betta
SpeciesB. pugnax
Size2.6 inches (6.7cm)
Lifespan2-3 years
Tank SizeAt least 10 gallons
Water Temperature71.6 - 78.8°F (22 - 26 °C )
pH Level5.9 - 6.5
Water Hardness4 - 12°N (71.43 - 214.29ppm)
OriginSouth Asia
Aquarium LevelsMiddle levels

Betta Pugnax Origin & Habitat

The Penang bettas originate from Southeast Asia and are common in swiftly flowing jungle streams of the Malay Peninsula, Thailand, Sumatra, and the Riau Islands.

These fish species also reside in many areas of Peninsular Malaysia, including Kedah, Terengganu, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Selangor, and Johor, as well as Singapore.

In addition to their natural range, they live in Guam, where they reside in vegetation growing along banks or other bodies of water.

In Penang, you can spot them swimming around in shallow (10-80 cm deep) areas of clear water hill streams and foothills.

In Johor, the Betta pugnax dwells in rivers with high levels of submerged vegetation. The water is stained with humic acids and other chemicals from decaying organic matter.

Betta Pugnax Size

These Malayan fishes are actually very small species that only grow up to 2.6 (6.7 cm).

Betta Pugnax Lifespan

The average lifespan of this Latin pugnax is 2-3 years in captivity when you provide them with the proper care and diet.

How To Care for Betta Pugnax?

If you’re looking to own a Betta pugnax, there are some things to take into consideration when it comes to their water requirements and tank setup.

Water Requirements

Water Quality

These Penang betta fish dwell in very clear water streams, so the water quality is very important.

For this purpose, you should do water changes of 20-30% every week and remove all the uneaten food and waste from the tank.

In my opinion, it’s best to find a filter with a flow rate of 4-5 times the volume of your aquarium. I use the Eheim Pickup 160 Internal Filter and recommend it highly.

In case you’re unsure about the toxins level in your tank, you can use test strips to measure the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

Water Temperature

The waters where these guys swim are warm all year long and have a temperature range of 71.6 – 78.8°F (22 – 26 °C ).

To recreate these water conditions in your aquarium, you can use an aquarium heater. I recommend using the Elite Thermostatic Heater.

pH Level

Pugnax bettas are used to living in acidic waters with a pH level of 5.9 – 6.5. To ensure your aquarium’s pH level is within the required range, you can use a pH meter.

If necessary, you can make the water even more acidic by using phosphoric acid or something similar.

Water Hardness

These species prefer living in water that is slightly acidic with low carbonate hardness with a dGH of 4-12.

If your home’s water doesn’t meet these conditions, you can use a reverse osmosis unit or another method to get soft water.

Tank Setup

Tank Size

Although they’re small fish, Penang bettas still need enough space to swim around and feel comfortable. For this reason, I recommend using a tank that is at least 5 gallons (19 liters).

If you plan on keeping more than one fish, you should increase the tank size accordingly. For example, if you want to keep a pair of bettas, you will need a 10-gallon (38-liter) tank.


The natural habitat of these fish is densely vegetated jungle streams. So, when setting up their tank, you should try to mimic their home as closely as possible.

To accomplish this, you can use some live plants like Microsorum, Taxiphyllum, or Cryptocoryne.

Besides this, driftwood roots, dried leaf litter, and branches can create a few shady spots. Additionally, you can clay plant pots or lengths of piping for extra shelter.

Aside from that, the addition of dried leaf litter creates a suitable environment for microbe colonies to grow through decomposition.


Like others in the genus, betta pugnax resides in shallow, shaded waters away from the sunlight. Therefore, you should provide them with dim lighting.

Tank Lid

The Betta pugnax is a very active fish that loves to jump out of the water. For this reason, you need to make sure their tank has a secure lid.

Betta Pugnax Diet

In the wild, these fish typically prey on both land and water-dwelling invertebrates.

Even though captive fish will eventually eat dried foods, you should still give them live or frozen foods often – like Daphnia, Artemia, or bloodworm larvae. This way, the fish will stay healthy and vibrant.

Betta Pugnax Compatibility

Even though Betta pugnax are peaceful fish, they’re better off when they’re alone in the tank. These fish are solitary by nature and don’t do well when kept with other fish.

However, if you want to keep them with other fish, ensure that the fish are peaceful and won’t outcompete them for food or territory.

Some small cyprinids and loaches that live in similar environments in nature can be suitable, but you need to do your research before buying them.

Betta Pungnax Gender Difference

Male Betta pugnax grow larger than females and have more iridescent scaling on the head. Also, they have a broader head shape and more extended fins.

Betta Pugnax Breeding

Breeding Betta pugnax is easy if you provide them with the right conditions. To breed these fish, you will need to set up a separate breeding tank.

In addition, you should make sure that the aquarium lid is very tight (some breeders use clingfilm / plastic wrap) since the fry needs a layer of warm, humid air to help develop their labyrinth organ. After that, you can introduce a healthy male and female to the breeding tank.

When spawning begins, male and female betta will wrap around each other to release eggs and sperm. Sometimes, it takes a few tries for this process to be successful.

Consequently, this bad boy fertilizes the eggs by catching them on his anal fin. Then, the future mummy collects them in her mouth before releasing them back into the water for the male to catch.

Once your guy has gathered all of the eggs, it’s time for him to repeat the operation until the female is exhausted of eggs, which might take some time.

Within 9-16 days, the eggs will hatch releasing free-swimming fry. At this point, you can remove or leave to develop alongside the parents at this time.

When the baby bettas are robust enough to consume food, you can offer them microworms and Artemia nauplii right away.


Are Betta Pugnax Aggressive?

Betta pugnax are not aggressive. They are peaceful fish that do well when they are alone or with other peaceful fish.

Do Betta Pugnax Need a Filter?

Yes, they need a filter to keep the water clean and circulated. Additionally, the filter will help keep the water oxygenated.

Do Betta Pugnax Need a Heater?

Yes, they need a heater to help regulate the water temperature. The ideal water temperature for these fish is 71.6 – 78.8°F (22 – 26 °C ).

Do Betta Pugnax Need Plants?

Yes, Betta pugnax do need plants to replicate their natural environment. Plants also provide them with hiding spots and shelter.

How Many Betta Pugnax Can I Keep in a 20 Gallon Tank?

You can keep four Betta pugnax in a 20-gallon tank. If you want to keep more than that, you will need a larger tank.

Do Betta Pugnax Jump?

Betta pugnax are excellent jumpers. They are known to jump out of the water when they are startled. That is why it’s important to have a tight-fitting lid on your tank.

What Is a Betta Pugnax Egg Spot?

It’s their ovipositor and it becomes visible when the fish reaches sexual maturity at 3 months old. It’s between the ventral and anal fins, which are nearest to the head.

Do All Female Betta Pugnax Have an Egg Spot?

All female Betta pugnax have an egg spot. This is how you can tell the difference between a male and female fish.

What Is a labyrinth Organ in Betta Pugnax?

The labyrinth organ is a respiratory organ that allows the fish to breathe air directly from the surface.

Wrapping Up!

The Betta pugnax is a beautiful and peaceful fish that makes a great addition to any aquarium. Just remember to provide them with plenty of hiding spots and live food.

Also, be sure to keep them alone or with other peaceful fish that won’t outcompete them for food.

With the right care, you can successfully breed Betta pugnax and enjoy watching their fry grow up!

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