Betta fish come in a vast range of rainbow colors, including black. If you’re a fan of black bettas, you may be interested to know more about the genetics of these beautiful fish, especially if you’re interested in breeding them.
Finding reliable information can be challenging, and there’s a lot of misleading, disjointed data out there. Unless a breeder is working with the specific variety of black betta in question, he may not have a clue about what variety of black betta he’s working with or how it behaves genetically. Therein lies the problem.
So, to clear up some of this confusion, we’ve put together this informative article using data from professional betta breeders from around the world who specialize in producing the varieties of black betta that we discuss here.
Types of Black Bettas
In wild betta fish, other colors typically obscure black coloration. The black pigment is distributed over the whole fish, with the exception of most of the caudal fin and the fish’s underside. The color dispersion is of medium density, although it is not typically obvious, owing to the other overlaying colors.
There are several different forms of black bettas available today. However, removing the strain names coined by breeders, you have the most popular strains. These are the black variants of the melano, lace, and orchid as well as the Black Devil, Black Ice, and Copper-based Black, which is the latest trend.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these strains.
The black melano is the most popular type of black betta.
Producing the Black Melano
In melano bettas, a mutant gene causes the black pigment to significantly increase in density and area of coverage. Black melano bettas are very dark black in appearance. And the coloration is so dense that it sometimes approaches the blue-black color of a raven’s wing.
The mutated gene that causes the greater concentration of black color is recessive to the regular black gene. That means that if you were to cross a melano betta with a regular betta lacking the mutated black gene, all of the spawn would be multicolored.
Those offspring would carry the melanism gene, but that would not be apparent in their coloration. These bettas, “melano genos,” are indistinguishable from regular multicolored betta fish. The recessive characteristics will only become apparent if both the spawn’s parents pass on the mutant gene to their offspring.
Melano female betta fish cannot breed. So, the color has to be disseminated by using female fish of other colors, which carry the mutant melano gene. Those fish are usually iridescent steel, green, or royal blue in color. Unfortunately, those crosses generally introduce a degree of iridescence into the body and fins of the melano betta, and that is considered to be a fault by International Betta Congress (IBC) standards.
The melanophores produced from melanos tend to grow very differently from what you see in wild type and black lace bettas. Those melanophores tend to pile up and become very sticky, which is why they produce such a dense black coloration.
If you take a close look at a melano, you’ll observe that these bettas have a high degree of speckling throughout their fins. It’s that marking that makes the fish look so dark in color. Those speckles are actually “balls” of melanophores. Early studies of these fish show that those melanophores have extra adhesion proteins.
One theory is that the proteins are also responsible for infertility in melano females. Female melanos do produce eggs during spawning, just like a normal female betta. However, something takes place during the hatching process that causes the fertilized eggs to rupture.
Crossbreeding a melano male to an iridescent, melano-carrying female (steel, blue, or green) will produce offspring that are 50% iridescent and 50% black, which carry the melano gene. Of those, only 25% of the black melano offspring will be suitable for breeding, as black melano females are not able to produce viable fry.
Black lace bettas have dark colorations. However, their color very rarely gets close to the intensity and depth of that seen in the melano black betta.
Most black lace fish have too much iridescence on the fins and body to be competitive in the pure black class for showing purposes. Thus, showing rules relegate them to the dark bi-color classification. The ends of the black lace fish’s fins should be cellophane or clear in color. That coloration gives the fins the lacy appearance for which this attractive variety of betta fish is named.
Newcomers to the betta-keeping hobby must be especially careful not to confuse black lace with melano butterfly bettas. The butterfly’s fins can also fade to smoke or clear. However, unlike the black lace betta, the melano butterfly will always maintain a blue-black or very dark black body color. Plus, they are still genetically melanos.
Some breeders claim that the black lace betta hails from the Orient, deriving from non-red breeding stock. There is also a theory that perhaps there was once a pure strain of black lace betta. However, the black lace fish prevalent today typically come from marble strains. Just like all other marble-based black bettas, black lace spawn can be tricky to predict accurately.
Like the melano betta, fertile black is recessive to the regular dark color. However, unlike the melano, black lace female bettas are fertile. Crossing black lace bettas and melanos does not produce 100% black fish in the first few generations. The genes that control the black appearance of these strains are on different sets of alleles.
Recently, top exhibitor and betta breeder Connie Emery carried out work on crossing black lace and melano blacks. That crossing produced what she dubbed “Double Black” betta fish. These bettas had a more intense black color and the females were fertile.
Black Orchid, Black Devil, Black Ice
Breeder Henry Yin coined the term Black orchid to describe his own development of a dark bi-color crowntail betta. That fish was not a marble-based black but more of a melano type that showed excessive amounts of steel iridescence, especially on the fins.
The tag, black orchid, now describes any fish of similar coloration in many different forms from HM to Plakat. However, these bettas almost always derive from marble.
Essentially, the black orchid betta is a dark black with streaks of steel blue in the fins, typically forming a pattern that is almost a butterfly. The black orchid betta’s iridescence is not exclusive to its fins. A high proportion of black orchids also develop a red wash, which is another indicator of the marble gene’s influence.
The increase in red gave rise to a new type of black betta, known as the black devil, which presents as a marble-type black that has red in its fins, rather than iridescence. Black devil bettas do not breed true, so the production of one of these beauties appears to be rather down to luck.
The black ice betta is another variety of black that derives from and appears in marble spawns. The black ice varies in intensity and has a lot of iridescence present in its body and fins. The iridescence in black ice betta fish may be either green, royal, or steel. Over time, selective breeding has increased the percentage of black ice offspring that come from black ice spawnings, although this variety still does not breed true.
The advent of copper types saw the popularity of crossbreeding solid copper bettas into every conceivable regulated betta fish color imaginable, including melano.
The results of such breeding are interesting. In one case, a copper-gold female was crossed with a melano HM male that was derived from the lines of Bonnie McKinley. That mating produced a spawn containing 100% metallic green fish.
Subsequent generations from that line saw the return of the melano color, together with a few modifications. Most black bettas that came out of this that line had heavy coppery iridescence. Interestingly, they were free from most of the steel or blue iridescence that typical of melano bettas.
However, selective breeding increased the intensity of the black color, while keeping the line pretty free from steel or blue. Eventually, the breeding produced black females that had sufficient coppery iridescence to be fertile.
Many fish from copper melano stock have too much copper color to be suitable for showing under IBC rules. Still, there are a number of individuals that exhibit a perfect solid “mollie” black coloration with no trace of blue or metallic iridescence.
However, it remains to be seen whether enterprising breeders are able to isolate those ideals and use metallic lines to produce solid black bettas that can consistently compete at the very top levels.
So, there you have it, black betta enthusiasts!
Choose your favorite black variety, roll up your sleeves, and set to work. The true solid black half-moon betta fish is still very hard to come by and is therefore intensely sought after. Also, the many different lines available for crossbreeding are challenging enough to keep a breeder occupied for many years.
Good luck in your endeavors to produce the very best black betta. We look forward to hearing about your results in the comments box below!