red bettas

Red and Extended Red Betta: Genes Explained

Whether you are new to keeping bettas or you’ve been an enthusiast for some time, the myriad colors and forms of these beautiful fish can be overwhelming, especially if you are interested in breeding from your stock.

If you’ve been reading up on breeding bettas and betta genetics, you will almost certainly have come across the term extended red betta. And you may be wondering what exactly that means. Much confusion surrounds the definition of an extended red betta. In this article, we seek to clarify the term for you.

What is an extended red betta?

The extended red gene describes the presentation of an unusually large spread of red, black, and non-red pigment on the fish. It’s rather like the spread of the iridiocyte gene. The latter gives the fish those dazzling iridescent colors that betta addicts love so much.

However, various other factors influence the appearance of the betta. For example, the presence of a non-red gene causes the fish to show non-red in unexpected areas. A betta that carries the extended red gene might not even be red at all!

There are a number of other factors that shape the perfect red betta. Those factors include the amount of black pigment present, the amount of iridescence (or lack of it) on the fish, and the intensity of the red color.

So, the term “extended red betta” simply means a fish that carries the gene. It does not necessarily describe the perfect red betta fish. That said, the perfect red fish must possess the extended red gene.

Breeding the perfect red betta

Anyone who is interested in producing perfect red bettas finds themselves confronted by two main obstacles:

  • Removing the black edge and random black scales
  • Maintaining the intensity of the fish’s red coloration

Unfortunately, the two problems go hand in hand. Getting rid of the black usually leaves you with a less vivid red coloration on the fish.

Most professional breeders deal with the black scale problem by introducing the Cambodian gene into the line of extended red bettas. That does get rid of the black. However, it also results in a fish with a paler body color than is ideal. More success is often achieved by using the blonde gene. That gene preserves the characteristic vivid blood-red coloration of the fish, although it usually does not eliminate all the black. 

In theory, it is possible to remove the black coloration from all the extended red lines. That can be done by increasing the spread of red so that it covers all of the black layers, or through getting rid of the black layer completely.

The first theory is based on the assumption that the traditional Cambodian fish is caused by two genes, rather than just one. The first fish would be a regular Mendelian that has the effect of removing all black pigment from everywhere on the fish except its eyes.

The second idea is based on the theory that using a non-Mendelian gene will determine the spread of red over the whole fish. In traditional Cambodians, the gene shows itself as red on the fish’s fins only. 

Eliminate iridescence

Also, the perfect red betta should have no iridescence, and that can cause problems. Breeders who are seeking to improve the finnage of their red line have tried outcrossing to the “power fin” iridescent colors and then bred the red betta back from there. The next step would logically be to eliminate the presence of any iridiocytes from the red line. That can be achieved in several ways.

The most obvious way of removing iridescence from red bettas would be to outcross the line to a red line that has less iridescence, gradually breeding it out of the spawns. Alternatively, crossing the line with a good (non-red) yellow betta; ideally, one that carries extended red and no Cambodian genes would also remove iridescence from a true red betta.

Finally, it is possible to create an almost perfect line of red bettas by outcrossing them onto orange fish.

Common problems with red bettas

Breeding red bettas can be particularly frustrating because they do have a tendency to display a clear or white edge to their fins, most often the caudal. Fortunately, the pale outermost edge of the fin usually fills in as the fish matures. However, in some cases, the flaw remains, leaving the breeder gritting his teeth and fighting the urge to remove the offending portion of the fin with a pair of blunt-nosed scissors!

Also, reds can be problematic in a spawning tank because they can be extremely feisty and more prone to displays of extreme aggression, rather like some red-headed people! Unfortunately, that can lead to fighting between the would-be courting couples. And when the warring factions have finally spawned, you can be left with a tank full of battling juveniles, meaning that you will have to separate them much earlier than you would expect to do with other colors.

The red coloration in these fish can be late to appear too. Often, the fins begin to show red streaking, which continues to develop until the fins are completely covered, leaving the fish looking like a traditional Cambodian. 

After that, the fish’s body begins to redden. Breeders have found that the fish that begin to redden the soonest finish up with the most intense final color. Some bettas look as though they will remain Cambodian or mature as yellow, before suddenly coloring up. Those specimens are usually the ones that are the most satin red shade, although it is usually paler than the ideal, being evidence of the Cambodian gene at work.

Final thoughts

Breeding the perfect red betta fish is not as straightforward as you might at first think. 

However, like most betta breeding adventures, producing a flawless red is challenging and not without mystery. If you tried out any of the theories in this article and have successfully bred a perfect red betta, share with us in the comment box below!

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