Betta enisae, a "New"
Species of Mouthbrooding Betta
by Michael Hellweg
The Missouri Aquarium Society, Inc. July 2002
Late in 2001, I was in one of the super-dooper pet
stores looking for crickets since our local, privately owned pet
store went out of the "Cricket Biz". While I was waiting for the
clerk to count out a dozen crickets, I wandered around looking at
the fish. In one tank, I spied what appeared to be a large Betta
dart up to the surface for air. It quickly darted back to the
large decoration on the bottom of the tank. A quick glance at the
label on the tank told me what it was: a "Giant Ugly Betta".
From the quick glance that I got it appeared that it was some type
of larger wild Betta species, I guessed
probably B. pugnax.
When the clerk finally returned with the 12
crickets, I told him I wanted that Betta. He pointed out that
there were some beautiful male Bettas in the display over on
the other side of the department. He couldn't understand why I
wanted that big, ugly thing. When he moved the decoration, there
were five more - males and females, all three to four inches long! I
told him I wanted them all, after all, they were only $4.00 each. He
looked at me like I was crazy, but bagged them up for me.
When I got home, I looked at them more closely. They
appeared to be a pugnax-type Betta wherein the males
have a long, pointed tail; but NOT like the pugnax I had seen
before. And, even better, one of the males had a dark blue head and
appeared to be holding eggs! I put them into a 50-gallon tank that
was empty, and, since things were so crazy at work, I forgot about
them except at feeding time. I expected the male that was holding to
eat or spit the eggs, especially since he had just been netted and
moved. He was up eating with the rest of the fish the next day, so I
figure that is what happened. I never saw any fry in the tank and
became too busy at work to worry too much about them. Aside from the
coloration of the holding male (a bright blue head with a black
stripe from eye to eye) they all remained a plain red-gray color. I
added a dozen plastic flowerpots for hiding places.
Several weeks went by, and two males turned up dead,
looking like they had lost a heavyweight fight. I checked the water
parameters - nothing amiss there. I figured maybe there was some
aggression going on, after all they are Bettas. I added
several clumps of Water Sprite and a clump of Java moss, did a 50%
water change, and pretty much forgot about them again.
A few evenings later, I caught a flash of color when
I was feeding the fish. Upon closer inspection, there was a
beautifully colored male dancing a
round with a dark colored female in one of the flowerpots! The
male was gorgeous. The entire body had grown a handsome dark
fins were outlined with a wide electric blue band, which was
further outlined by a narrow black line, tipped in white. His long,
pointed ventral fins were bright blue-white. His head was bright
green-blue with a black band running from eye to eye through the
lips. There were several other black lines and blotches all over the
head and body. The female had grown dark, almost a chocolate color,
but though she had some of the body base color in the fins, she had
no color to rival the male.
The female was obviously in control. As the male
waited in the flowerpot, she approached him when she was ready for
him to embrace her with the typical Anabantoid embrace. In between
embraces, she would chase off the other two Bettas, who kept
coming closer to watch. There were several "false embraces" with no
eggs released. Then they got down to business. As they completed the
embrace, she released a few eggs, and the male shivered a little bit
(I assume he was releasing his milt to fertilize the eggs). While
the eggs fell towards the bottom, the male swam down and began to
pick them up one by one. The female floated upside down in a daze
for 10 - 15 seconds, then righted herself and went to chase the
other fish. After several embraces, she began to help the male
gather eggs. She picked them up and spit them at the male, who
caught them in his mouth. Amazingly, though this fish is over twice
the size of Betta splendens, their eggs are exactly the same
shape, color and size as B. splendens - a slightly flat oval,
whitish creamy color about 1.5mm in size.
I would estimate that in a little over an hour, they
had laid and collected about 100 eggs, maybe a few more. The
spawning ended with the male refusing to take any more eggs as the
female spit them at him. She made a few attempts, then swam off,
leaving the male in the flowerpot by himself. I could see that he
was "chewing" the eggs, rolling them around in his mouth as he was
breathing. But his head did not look swollen, like so many other
mouthbrooders do when they are holding eggs or fry.
Over the next few days, he spent most of his time
sulking in a flowerpot or hanging in the Water Sprite near the
surface. After four or five days, he was eating normally with the
other adults, and I saw no fry. I assumed that he had eaten the
eggs. Oh well, back to the drawing board!
A couple of weeks went by, and while I was doing a
water change I noticed that there were several smaller Bettas
about a half-inch long coming out of the plant thickets to see
what was going on! The spawning had been successful! Since the first
spawn I witnessed, they have spawned several more times. Each time
the male is up and eating within a day or two of the spawn, even
while the eggs are still in his mouth. So don't let this discourage
From subsequent spawnings, I have observed that the
fry will take baby brine shrimp upon release about 9 or 10 days
after spawning. They also graze upon the microfauna on the plants.
The fry grow quickly, and start making their first breeding attempts
at about 2-1/2 inches when they are around 6 months old.
Normally when you think of a Betta, you think
warm, acid water, right? Well, with most of the mouthbrooders, and
Betta enisae in particular, the truth is just the opposite.
Most of the mouthbrooding Bettas come from moderately flowing
streams. That may be one of the reasons why they have developed
mouthbrooding - it's too hard to keep a bubble nest together on a
stream! Betta enisae in particular comes from a cool mountain
stream in the Indonesian State known as Kalimantan Barat on the
island of Borneo. Kalimantan Barat is almost entirely mountainous,
except for a narrow strip along the coast. The type locality where
Betta enisae is found, Sungai Santik, is listed as a
tributary of the Sungai Towang in the Kapuas basin area (neither of
these bodies of water is large enough to show up on any map that I
could find!). The water is cool, less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit,
and the pH is around 7.0 or slightly above. When they spawned for
me, the tank temperature was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with a pH
of 7.2 and a total hardness of 125ppm, mostly from carbonates.
If you get a chance, give a mouthbrooding Betta
a try. They are interesting, beautiful, and challenging endash
what every aquarist looks for!