With their vibrant colors and low-maintenance demeanor, betta fish make great, eye-catching pets for both first-time and well-acquainted fish owners.
For the seasoned fish owner, it may be tempting to take the next step and start breeding your own, either to achieve a specific look or to sell them yourself.
However, these fish are not known to do well in pairs, so it’s important to understand exactly how to choose the right mates, create an optimal environment, and make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Knowledge Is Key!
Breeding betta fish is no easy task, but it can be done if you follow the guidance and recommendations of experts.
You also need to be able to recognize what your adult fish want or need during the process.
The entire process takes about a month of preparation and can be an exhausting and potentially dangerous process for the parent fish.
Before you start your journey to being a betta breeder, it’s advised that you are already familiar and comfortable with the conditions required of bettas, know how to set up and maintain multiple tanks at once, and are able to identify the behavior and body language displayed by your adult fish.
While small and beautiful, bettas are notoriously aggressive, and for good reason. Even in the wild, these fish are independent, and females will always steer clear of male bettas unless they are ready to mate.
Unlike some other animals, if you just put a male and female betta together without any preparation, there won’t be any babies and you may lose both adults in the process. While males are larger and more territorial than females, both sexes are fighters.
From choosing the right pair to maintaining optimal conditions to avoid a fight, this guide is here to help you have a smooth and successful experience breeding your bettas.
How To Choose a Breeding Pair of Betta Fish
When choosing your pair, you’ll want to know exactly what kind of offspring you’re looking to achieve, which may include certain colors, patterns, or fin shapes.
These beautiful creatures come in many different colors, so you will want to research reputable breeders to ensure that you know all of your options and their commonality.
Optimal Health Conditions
Next, you’ll want to be sure that your prospective parents are in good health and at optimal breeding age. The optimal age for breeding bettas is between 4 and 12 months.
Any younger and they may not yet be sexually mature, and much older may result in failed mating attempts.
You’ll want to check for any physical deformities, abnormalities, or signs of disease, such as white spots or lethargy (slow swimming, lack of energy, etc).
Because of the amount of energy required by both parties, it’s important that both bettas have the strength to make it through the process. If the female is unresponsive and unable to fight back, the male will likely attack her. If the female does not see mating potential in the male, she may attack him.
Knowing if the Pair Get Along
The final step to knowing if you have the right pair is knowing if they will get along for long enough to mate.
Male bettas are notorious for fighting other males on sight, but female bettas are also known to be aggressive. The male may not discriminate against fighting a female it sees as a threat.
It’s often the safest option to introduce the pair in separate tanks where they are close enough to see each other, but with a barrier so they can’t physically interact. You’ll want to observe how they interact through the glass for a few days to be sure they aren’t acting aggressively towards each other.
It’s important that these tanks are separate from each other and the mating tank. You want to maintain the clean conditions of the mating tank until it’s time to introduce the couple.
It’s also important to make sure the male and female are in separate, covered tanks. While unlikely, you don’t want the possibility of one being able to get to the other’s tank.
Preparing To Breed Your Bettas
The next step in the process of preparing your bettas for mating is an important one: knowing if they’re ready and being prepared for when they are.
Bettas are very particular, and it’s important to make the mating conditions as close as possible to the conditions they would experience in the wild.
By doing this, the bettas will be more comfortable in their environment and with each other, which will greatly increase the chances of producing offspring.
Conditioning Bettas for Mating
Just like humans, bettas’ bodies need to be in optimal condition for the highest chance of successful breeding. This process is known as conditioning.
For at least 2 weeks before your bettas mate, you will need to increase their feedings to 2 to 3 times per day, but in smaller portions to avoid overfeeding or constipation.
The mating bettas will also need to eat a special diet to prepare, often high in protein and meats, such as worms and insect larvae.
This diet is similar to what they would eat in the wild and will give them the strength and energy needed to mate. If you’re not a fan of live worms, frozen and freeze-dried will work as well, but fresh is usually considered more beneficial.
Some high protein choices include:
- Brine shrimp
- Glass worms
- White worms
- Wingless/flightless fruit flies
- Black worms
Conditioning the Tank for Breeding
While you condition your bettas, you will also need to condition the breeding tank, which should be separate from the regular tank and contain no fish until it is time to mate.
As pretty as they are, you don’t want any rocks, substrate, or other decorations on the floor of the tank. This is important for the development of the eggs after mating.
What you’ll need:
- 10-gallon aquarium with glass cover
- Water heater
- Temperature gauge
- Sponge filter
- Water test kit (pH, GH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite)
- Plastic wrap
- Tall jar or tank divider
- Siphon for water changing
- Java moss or other floating, tank-safe foliage
Maintaining optimal water conditions is especially important for the breeding tank, including temperature, pH levels, and nutrients in the water. Many breeders will also cover the top of the tank in cellophane plastic wrap in order to maintain humidity.
To set up the tank, you’ll want to be sure it’s on a steady base in a quiet place, away from bright lights.
Next, fill the tank with no more than 5 inches of conditioned water. Once the baby bettas, or fry, hatch, they will not be able to swim very well for a few days. Shallow water is the safest way for the fry to learn how to swim.
Place the water heater into the tank, making sure the entire unit is submerged. If the water is too shallow, tilt the heater until it is submerged and secure. Set the heater to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 degrees Celsius). Now, place the temperature gauge below the waterline and make sure the temperature stays consistent.
Once the heater is set up, go ahead and set up the sponge filter. Adding a filter to a breeding tank is not a required step as it’s usually a temporary stay, but it can help maintain good bacteria and is usually recommended. If you’re going to leave the fry in the mating tank indefinitely, you should set up the filter now.
After you’ve checked that everything is secure, turn on the heater and filter, allowing them to run for at least 24 hours before adding any fish. You can add small floating decorations, such as Java moss, for the female or fry to hide in if they need some privacy.
Giving the female these places to hide or rest during the mating process will also make her more comfortable and more receptive to the male.
How Do You Know When Your Betta Fish are Ready to Mate?
Once you’ve set up the tanks, made sure that the potential mates get along well enough, and fed them their special diet, it’s time to think about actually putting them together to mate.
This step in the process is the most important and has the most room for error. You won’t be able to leave the pair alone for long once they’ve been introduced, and you will need to be ready to separate or remove the adult fish when necessary.
Bettas — like all fish — lay eggs that are then fertilized outside of the female’s body. Both the male and female are required to produce offspring.
It’s very rare for a female to lay eggs without the presence of a male, and these eggs will be almost immediately eaten by the female most of the time. The process of introducing the two is somewhat tedious but important to ensure that they want to mate with each other.
Adding the Female
You should always introduce the female to the breeding tank first to make sure she is comfortable and has time to adjust without feeling territorial.
To do this, you’ll want to place her in the tank in a tall jar or something similar that the male can’t get into, or place a divider in the tank that can be removed. Give the female a few hours to see her new surroundings before adding the male to the tank, and keep the two separated until it’s time for them to mate.
Adding the Male
While keeping the two fish separate, it’s time to add the male to the tank, either on the opposite side of the divider or in the main tank outside the jar.
Once the two are close together, they’ll start displaying signs that they are ready or not ready to breed. It may take some time, but as long as they aren’t aggressive towards each other, the bettas will usually begin to know each other and start displaying their mating signals.
Signs Bettas Are Ready for Mating
As is the case with many animals, and in fish especially, once the male is ready for mating and finds the female he wants to mate with, he will begin to try to gain her attention.
To do this, his colors will become more vibrant and he will dance and show off his fins to show he is a valuable mate.
He will also begin building a bubble nest. This will be one of the determining factors for the female to decide if she wants to mate with him, as well as where the eggs will be cared for once laid.
While less vibrant to begin with, the female’s colors will also become more vibrant if she wants to mate with the male presenting to her. Dark stripes will also appear on her, but be careful. These stripes should be vertical, NOT horizontal.
If the stripes are horizontal, she is not receptive and not ready to breed. If she is ready to mate, you will also notice a white dot appear behind her ventral fins. This dot is the end of the ovipositor, or the “egg tube”, which is where the eggs will come out.
If neither of the fish displays signs that they are ready to mate, you should remove them immediately. If you have another fish of that sex already conditioned, you may be able to try again without starting the entire process over, but make sure you take your time to prevent any aggression.
How Long Does It Take for Bettas To Breed?
Now that the two are together, you’re much closer to the end of the process, but there are still a few crucial steps both the breeder and the potential mates must take before there are baby bettas.
Thinking in terms of humans, you may want to think of the mating stage as more of the delivery process, as many things could go wrong, either party could get hurt, and you have to keep a close eye on the female especially.
The Bubble Nest
As part of the male’s display of his mating potential, he will begin to build a bubble nest, which is quite literally a nest made of bubbles, protected by the male’s saliva.
The size and shape of the nest will vary, but will usually be complete in 12-24 hours. During this time, the male is showing off his ability to care for their children, as this nest is where the eggs will develop, as well as shaking his tail fins towards his mate for a bit longer.
The female will be observing his behavior and making her decision to mate with him. The male will work on the nest until it’s finished, so you’ll want to keep an eye on him during this time to know when he’s done.
Once the nest is complete and the two are still receptive to each other, it’s time to release the female. As soon as she’s released, the female should go directly towards the bubble nest and inspect it carefully. If she approves, she will stay. If she disapproves, she will either destroy the nest or simply swim away. If this happens, you’ll need to separate them again.
If the female disapproves, the male will start building his nest again to please her. Follow the steps from before to observe their behavior and wait for the nest to be finished.
When the male is done with the new nest, release the female again. If she approves, she will stay this time. If not, you may need to reconsider your match-up, as these two are probably not going to breed.
If the female approves of her mate’s first or second attempt at the bubble nest, she will stay near the nest for the male to court her. This is the first time the two will be able to interact with each other, so you’ll want to keep a close eye out for aggression (while giving them some privacy, of course).
At first, the male will simply swim around the female and dance. Once he decides it’s time, the male will begin chasing the female around the tank as a sort of mating dance.
This may seem jarring to first-time breeders, but this is a normal part of the breeding process for bettas. While normal, you’ll want to make sure that the female doesn’t get injured.
While it may just be the male chasing and nipping at the female, she may play back. It’s important to know the difference between their mating dance and aggressive behavior.
The mating dance could go on for up to 3 hours as the female prepares to lay her eggs. You won’t want to disturb them during this time, including for feeding.
Once the female indicates to the male that she’s ready to lay eggs, he will turn her over and wrap himself around her, “squeezing” the eggs out of her. This position is referred to as the “nuptial embrace.”
The male may or may not fertilize the eggs as they come out of the female. Once all the eggs are out, the male will collect them and make sure they’re safely in the bubble nest. If the male didn’t fertilize the eggs as they came out, he will at this time.
After the eggs are released, the female may go limp or even float to the top of the tank. Don’t panic. This is normal and she will recover within a few minutes to rejoin her mate, but keep an eye out for anything fishy.
The first time the pair embrace, there may not be any eggs laid, but the nuptial embrace will be repeated several times until the female has released all of her eggs.
Bettas will lay an average of 20-50 eggs during mating but can lay up to 500 at once. The male will know when the process is finished and will not try to mate again, knowing it’s time to care for the eggs.
As soon as the pair are done mating, you’ll need to remove the female from the tank. After the process is finished, the pair’s instincts will return to normal.
The female will often try to eat the eggs she has just laid, and the male will become territorial and protective of the eggs and may attack the female, even unprovoked.
In bettas, the father cares for the eggs and young until they are able to swim on their own. The eggs will take 2-3 days to hatch. During this time, the father will make sure that they stay within the nest, retrieving any that may fall out.
You may see the adult fish eat some of the eggs, but this is normal. The male can identify which of the eggs have not been fertilized and disposes of them by consuming them.
Once the eggs hatch, the baby bettas are known as fry. For the first few days after hatching, they will stay in the nest, as they need to develop the strength to swim.
If they fall out of the nest during this time, the father will put them back in until they are strong enough to swim. When the hatchlings are strong enough to swim on their own, the father should also be removed from the tank, as he may become territorial.
It’s generally safe to leave the fry in the mating tank for around 2 months after hatching before they begin to show signs of aggression. As the offspring begin to grow and develop their adult instincts, it’s important to watch for signs that it’s time to separate them. Make sure you’re prepared for this time with either your own separate tanks or buyers ready to take home bettas of their own.
Can I Breed Bettas in a Bowl?
While possible, it’s highly discouraged to use fish bowls for any reason, but especially for breeding.
A typical fish bowl is no more than 2 gallons, and in such close quarters, the male will likely see any other fish, even a female, as a threat and attack.
For successful breeding, it’s important that both the male and female are as comfortable as possible in their environment and with each other.
While you may have kept a goldfish in a fish bowl as a kid, it’s usually recommended to give your fish at least 5 gallons of space to swim around in.
Bettas are especially territorial, and will certainly never get along in such small quarters. For successful breeding, your bettas will need the space of a 10-gallon tank with proper heating and filtration.
How Much Space Do I Need to Breed Betta Fish?
A 10-gallon tank is the recommended size for breeding bettas. You’ll probably want to look for one that has more horizontal space than vertical. For breeding, you only want the water to be about 5 inches deep, so it won’t quite be 10 gallons of water.
Bettas are fairly small, so the adults will have plenty of space, but the shallower waters are safer for the fry once they hatch, as they will need time to develop their strength to swim.
In terms of total space, you’ll need at least three tanks to successfully breed your bettas: one for the female, one for the male, and one for mating and the fry.
If you want to breed multiple bettas, remember that you cannot keep more than one adult in the same tank, regardless of sex. Each individual adult will need a tank with plenty of space, heated and conditioned water, and a good filter to maintain optimal breeding conditions.
If you’re breeding your bettas at home, you may want to dedicate a room to them. Especially during courting and mating, it’s important that the bettas are in an environment free from distractions, bright lights, or loud noises.
If you have small children or four-legged pets, you’ll want to make sure that they cannot access, touch, or otherwise disturb the fish.
Betta Cross-Breeding Chart
Before you can get started on your betta-breeding journey, you need to decide what your desired outcome is.
Bettas are adored for their vibrant colors, distinct patterns, and various fin types. It’s important to understand what kind of parent betta fish you need to potentially reach the outcome you want. For example, if you want a purple betta, it isn’t as easy as trying to mate a blue and a red one.
AusAqua, a group of fish hobbyists in Australia, designed this easy-to-follow chart that you can use as a reference when determining the best mating pair.
Remember, betta biology can be complicated, and you may not get the outcome you want on the first try, but don’t give up! If you’re patient and do thorough research, you’ll be a betta expert in no time.
Bettas are beautiful creatures with seemingly endless potential for different color and pattern combinations.
These colors have been perfected by years of selective breeding, either by human breeders or the fish themselves by choosing a mate, but it’s a tricky process.
If you’re thinking about breeding bettas yourself, either to sell or just to grow your betta collection, you’ll need to be sure you follow the right steps to ensure that your colorful friends stay happy and healthy through what can be a very tedious process.