Betta coccina, Vierke 1979
By Stefan vd Voort

betta coccina

Betta coccina is a small red betta found in Jambi (Sumatra), Johor and Malakka – in Malakka the species is now extinct – (Malaysia) and was first described by Jörg Vierke in 1979. The name Vierke gave the small betta, coccina, means wine-red or claret, a description that perfectly suits the fish if you look at its color. The only difference between the species from Malaysia and B. coccina from Sumatra are little color differences which are common for most type localities.

Betta coccina was the first fish of the B. coccina group to be discovered and a true revolution since we only knew B. splendens varieties with such a beautiful red color. Plus this species had another unique mark which will be described later.

This species habitats peat swamps that lie deep in the forests. These swamps have extreme water conditions, fish have been found in water with a pH between 4.0 – 6.0, a dH between 0.0 – 4.0 and a kH of 0.0 with the water temperature being around 24° to 27°C. The reason why the temperatures are that low compared to the savannah habitats of B. smaragdina and B. splendens is because the puddles, in which Betta coccina lives are surrounded by trees that stop almost any direct sunlight resulting in shaded, cool water. The water is tea-colored as a result of leaf litter that falls in the water providing the water conditions described above. In water this soft and acidic there’s not much chance for plants to survive with the exception of the few Cryptocoryne species.

These habitats are known for drying up during the dry season when there is no rain. All that’s left are small puddles and wet layers of leafs both in which this species manages to survive until the next rainfall. This is characteristic for the B. coccina group.


B. coccina reaches a total length of 5,6 cm, both sexes share that length although females can be a little smaller than males. The first description refers to the male. The body is sometimes slender and sometimes more B. smaragdina shaped, it depends on the individual fish. The color of the body can differ from light to dark brown but also from bright to wine-red. It’s common that male shows a dark brown body with two horizontal lighter brown bars running from the eye to the start of the caudal fin. Their eyes are bright blue. The dorsal, anal, caudal and pelvic fins are bright to wine-red and in adults the dorsal and caudal fins have a white edge which is black in the anal and pelvic fins. The quills are gold to red. Both sexes possess wine-red, blackish spots in the dorsal and caudal fin that sometimes also has white spots in male specimens. The pectoral fins are transparent. The unique mark that this species and a lot of other species of the B. coccina group have is a bright blue blotch on their sides! Only young males possess such a spot and as the male grows older the blotch slowly disappears. Now and then the blotch may also chance in a blue, bar like figure. However the spot is not a rule for Betta coccina, there are a lot of recordings where the males did not have the spot and it’s even been described some males have the spot on one side of their body but not on the other!

Conspicuous is the fact that the lateral blotch is a spot where other B. coccina target their attack on, mostly just gentle pushes with the mouth.

B. coccina females. Pictures by Jirapat Chunthapong.

Females are duller versions of the males, shorter fins and less colorful but by all means not less beautiful when ready to spawn. Their horizontal stripe pattern, a female her most common pattern, runs from the beginning of the caudal fin over the whole body and through the eye and on the lips, creating a beautiful mask like image. Males also show this mask like image though rarely. I don’t think it’s necessary to go in deeper on the species their appearance, the pictures speak for themselves.

This species is not a very peaceful one but several males can be kept together. They do tend to be even more aggressive when the male is constructing a nest or when they are spawning and of course after. In the two latter the female becomes more aggressive also, sometimes even more than the male which is kind of uncommon since it’s in the male’s character of most betta species.

This species can be very shy and if so tends to hide all the time and rarely come out but there are a few tricks to reverse that which will be discussed later on.

Differentiation from Betta livida.

B. coccina looks a lot like B. livida which is from Selangor and the latter has often been mistaken for Betta coccina. The reason why can be noted from the pictures of both species. However there are small differences between the two species, mainly coloration differences. In B. livida both sexes possess the lateral blue blotch and in B. coccina only the male has such a blotch plus in the latter named species it’s easy to tell whether it’s a male or a female while in the first named species both sexes look so alike it’s close to impossible to determine the sex based on coloration and fin length. Another, however minor, difference is that B. coccina has black tipped pelvic fins where B. livida has greenish, white tipped pelvic fins and the species grows somewhat smaller, 5 cm, than B. coccina. What also helps to differentiate Betta livida from B. coccina and other species is that B. livida has two vertical gold bars on the operculum. Both species seem also to be different in their breeding behavior. B. livida is easier to spawn and cannibalism has not been witnessed in B. livida. Another conspicuous difference is that both parents tend to the fry for the first few days.

The B. coccina tank

Betta coccina requires more attention than B. splendens. I’m aiming towards the water conditions that must be maintained and monitored at least twice a week to make sure the water has the right pH, dH and kH values, and if the water is not polluted what can result in death on longer terms and disease in shorter terms.

Water changes with prepared water, meaning that the same conditions are gained as the water in the tank, should be carried out at most once a week or at least once in two weeks with caution. The amount of water to be changed should be around 20% to 30%. All the values mentioned earlier will do. B. coccina are not very active fish so a small sized tank will do fine. Personally I use 60 x 30 x 30 cm tanks for all my betta species. Height of the tank is very important because this small red betta needs to come to the surface for air and it’s best to make his swim as short as possible. Remember that Betta coccina lives in shallow puddles sometimes less than 20 cm deep! A tank with 30 cm in height is the maximum for me. Also make sure the tank is covered because they are great jumpers! The tank can do without a filter when you do regular water changes but even if you do I still recommend using a small, slow running filter. All that there needs to be in the filter is highly active peat granulate and a layer of filter wool to catch the dirt.

The tank itself must resemble their natural habitat, meaning to heavily plant it and dim the light as much as possible. Instead of heavily planting the tank but filling it with leaf litter would be more natural but I’m not too fond of that because the leafs will start to decompose within a week or two. That means the leaf litter constantly has to be replaced by new litter what will disturb the fish. Instead, a heavily planted tank will do great as a substitute with maybe a few oak leafs where one likes it.

Betta coccina likes to stay near plant cover and will try to avoid the open water as much as possible. To create as much darkness as possible the best thing to use at the bottom of the tank is black gravel and make sure the back of the tank also has a black background, all this will make B. coccina feel good and a little less shy. The plants that can be used form only a small list; Cryptocoryne species, Microsorium pteropus, Anubias species, Ceratopteris pteridiodes, Ceratopteris thalictroides, Vesicularia dubyana and on the surface Salvinia natas, Salvinia auriculata and Riccia fluitans will do great. Bog- and driftwood can also be used and gives a very natural effect if placed effective.

A young B. coccina male displaying. Picture by Horst Linke.

If such an environment is created the species will show their most beautiful colors and their most interesting behavior. In hardly decorated tanks they will appear with diminished colors and only their fins will be colored red with the lateral blotch hardly being perceptible. They will often remain in corners or near the closest thing to cover. The tank will hardly be an encouragement to spawn. But kept under the right circumstances it is one of the most interesting species known and if all goes well, as described in the breeding chapter, they will spawn.

Betta coccina likes to lean on plant leafs, a piece of wood or sometimes just holding still in open water without moving a fin in any of the mentioned situations. They hold so absolutely still they can appear to have died unless a closer look will be taken. You can find B. coccina throughout the entire tank. Near the bottom, where they like to lean on the gravel like they do on plant leafs, but also in between floating plants near the surface. This species, as all other betta species, form territories after a few days. That is, the males form territories. Until that time B. coccina could be hardly described as aggressive, they chase each other now and then but it won’t come to real damages to the scales and fins. Only pushing each other with the mouth and occasionally displaying can be observed. That changes as soon as the males have formed their territories, more serious chases take place and the occasional bites, yet nothing that will result in severe damages or worse. A simple flare or look in the other’s direction is usually enough to scare the other away.

These red bettas eat black and white mosquito larvae, Artemia and Tubifex. Preferably live foods but frozen will also be taken without any problems. Tubifex is a food you should be careful with to prevent the fish from choking and make them fat, even though it’s their main menu in their natural habitat. I advice to feed them carefully in small amounts per fish and monitor them instead of stuffing each fish full of food. That way you; a) prevent leftovers from rotting in the tank and b) each fish will get enough food individually. Also maintain a scheduled day when the fish are not fed, it’s good for their health and their system. They approach their food very slow to suddenly take a dive at it. Immediately after they captured the food they dive back into the plant cover waiting for more.

Breeding Betta coccina

B. coccina is a very difficult species to breed. The problem lies in the fact that the pairs select themselves, and if they don’t like any of the other fish nothing will happen. Because of this it’s recommended to keep a few fish together until they form pairs and then they can be separated from the others and put in a breeding tank. But even when good pairs eventually form the whole process may take several months!

Adult B. coccina male. Picture by Kei Sasaki.

To bring Betta coccina in spawning condition they must be fed well with foods described above and here also, pay close attention to the water its condition and values.

If all is going well the pair can be placed in a breeding tank that is at least 40 x 15 x 15 cm but larger is of course no problem. The breeding tank doesn’t need as much decoration as their normal tanks, a few plants and some floating will do just fine. It is advised to create some hiding places so they can hide from one another. B. coccina is a bubblenester and the male builds his nest under floating leafs, floating plants or in the tank placed tubes. The little trick that was mentioned earlier is to place one or more of these items in the front of the tank, that way the fish will show themselves instead of hiding most of the time if you have shy specimens.

If the fish are in spawning condition the female will show her brightest colors and won’t differ much from the male, that is, with some specimens. Her now red body will show four to five dark vertical bars and a lighter horizontal bar that runs from the beginning of the head all the way to the beginning of the caudal fin. A small white genital papilla will also be present. This coloration can be seen before the actual spawning. During spawning the female’s color is more red brownish without any bars on the flank but with bright greenish scales here and there. From the top of the head to the dorsal fin and from there to the caudal fin runs a white bar as if there are no scales, chased B. coccina display the same bar. The male keeps the same color whether he is constructing the nest or to the point of actual spawning. The only difference between spawning colors and normal colors are the bright green bluish scales of the male, with the blue spot, if he possesses one, being brighter than normal and than the scales at this moment. It may also occur that the fins have a brighter red color than usual.

B. coccina spawning, a good image of the male.

femalecoccina. Photo by Kei Sasaki

Male embracing the female. by Kei Sasaki

The female in the rigid mating stance. Photo by Kei Sasaki

Ready to spawn females can be become aggressive towards a male that is not ready even though they form a good pair. In an article by Jörg Vierke it is explained that such a female could even attack or kill the male. Before and during spawning males are very aggressive towards the female what results in damage to the female’s scales and fins. Yet the female does not seem to mind and doesn’t leave the nest. This aggressive behavior by the male occurs after numerous pushes on the side of female B. coccina with the mouth to induce spawning. This particular behavior occurs in both sexes while spawning, the female will gently push the male’s blotch with the mouth to induce spawning. If all goes well the male will be at his nest as the female approaches him, or if not, she lures him over to the nest. The two fish may swim around each other for a while of spread their fins and send waves to one another as a sign they are ready. The male embraces the female on the traditional betta way. This only lasts a few seconds and the male ends the embrace while the female stays in the rigid mating stance for a few more seconds. Meanwhile the male looks for eggs which he will bring to the nest. The bubblenest of B. coccina isn’t very large what can be seen on the picture beneath. This species is not very prolific and the number of eggs in total is small, 20 to 50 eggs, as is the number that a female releases at one time. The latter differs from one to three eggs. The eggs themselves are white and rather large like eggs of B. bellica, B. simorum and mouthbrooders. This is the case in more species of the B. coccina group. After spawning the female gets chased away by the male who will take care of the eggs and it’s wise to remove the female at this stage. After 36 hours the eggs start to hatch. If the nest is built on the underside of a floating leaf or underneath floating plants it might happen the eggs won’t hatch. Then it’s advised to darken the area above the nest to make them hatch the next time. Now most species from the B. coccina group are known for leaving the fry alone and for good parental care for their fry in the free swimming stage. B. coccina does usually not live up to that expectation so it’s best to either remove male also or relocate the fry to a small tank when they reach the free swimming stage, which is reached in two to three days.

B. coccina bubblenest and eggs. Picture by Kei Sasaki.

Raising the fry

After taking the fry to a small tank with some floating plants and Vesicularia dubyana they’ll go in search of food. The first three days they will find enough themselves and on the fourth day freshly hatched Artemia salina can be offered to the fry. The young don’t grow very fast and reach a length of 2,5 cm in 140 days.

Water changes in the fry tank must be carried out very careful otherwise this could lead to significant losses. If there are different batches of fry of different ages in the same tank the older fry must be separated from the younger fry when the older fry reaches a length around 3,8 cm, because unlike others from the group this species their fry do eat their younger brothers and sisters.

Betta coccina male. Picture by Arend van den Nieuwenhuizen.

Other species of the B. coccina group (Newly discovered species are left out.)

All water conditions were monitored in the species their natural habitats.

Betta rutilans, Witte & Kottelat 1991

Two B. rutilans males. Pictures by Horst Linke and Jirapat Chunthapong.

Locality Anjungan
Water conditions pH 4.5, gH 1.0, kH 1.0, temp 22° – 26°C.
Maximum size 3,5 cm
Behavior Very aggressive to other fish and they hate their own kind.
Breeding Difficult. Bubblenester.
Picture by Horst Linke and Jirapat Chunthapong

Betta brownorum, Witte & Schmidt 1992

Left: B. brownorum male. Picture by Dr. Jürgen Schmidt. Right: A female. Picture by Eric Naus.

Locality Sibu, Matang, West Kalimantan
Water conditions pH < 5.0, very soft water, temp 22° – 26°C.
Maximum size 6 cm
Behavior Peaceful in general.
Breeding Bubblenester. Mouthbrooding has also been reported.
Pictures by Dr. Jürgen Schmidt and Eric Naus

Betta livida, Ng & Kottelat 1992

B. livida male. Picture by Raffle Museum of
Biodiversity Research, Singapore.

Locality Selangor, Perak
Water conditions pH 3.5 – 3.7, soft water, temp 22° – 26°C.
Maximum size 5 cm
Behavior Peaceful in general.
Breeding Bubblenester.
Picture by Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

Betta tussyae, Schaller 1985

A male B. tussyae. Picture by Horst Linke.

Locality Kuantan, Chukai and Rompin
Water conditions pH 4.0 – 5.0, gH 1.0 – 2.0, temp 21° – 24°C.
Maximum size 5,5 cm
Behavior Peaceful in general.
Breeding Bubblenester.
Picture by Horst Linke

Betta burdigala, Kottelat & Ng 1994

Betta burdigala male
Photo by Michael Schlüter [2]

Locality Banka, Kubu
Water conditions pH 4.5, gH 0.0 – 1.0, kH 0.0 – 1.0, temp 27°C.
Maximum size 5 cm
Behavior Peaceful in general.
Breeding Bubblenester.
Picture by Michael Schlüter

Betta miniopinna, Tan & Tan 1994

Left and right: B. miniopinna males. Pictures by Kei Sasaki.

Locality Banka
Water conditions pH 5.8 – 6.5, soft water.
Maximum size 3,2 cm
Behavior Aggressive.
Breeding Difficult. Bubblenester.
Pictures by Kei Sasaki (Betta House)

Betta persephone, Schaller 1986

B. persephone. Picture by Arend van
den Nieuwenhuizen.

Locality Ayer Hitam, Muar
Water conditions pH 7.0, dH 10.0, temp 23° – 28°C.
Maximum size 3,2 cm
Behavior Aggressive.
Breeding Bubblenester.
Picture by Arend van den Nieuwenhuizen

Undescribed species (The following pictures do not represent the only known undescribed species)


Not yet described species. Left: B. cf. rutilans “Green.” Right: B. sp. aff. burdigala “Pangkalanbun.”


Left and right: another new species, B. sp. aff. burdigala “Sukadana” from Kalimantan.
Pictures by Team Borneo.


Betta coccina male. Picture by Jirapat Chunthapong.


Pictures by … (In order of display)
(The pictures may not be reproduced in any way without the photographer’s permission.)
Picture 1: B. coccina male, taken by Horst Linke
Picture 2: B. coccina females, taken by Jirapat Chunthapong
Picture 3: B. coccina young male, taken by Horst Linke
Picture 4: B. coccina male, taken by Kei Sasaki (Betta House)
Picture 5: B. coccina spawning, taken by Kei Sasaki (Betta House)
Picture 6: B. coccina spawning, taken by Kei Sasaki (Betta House)
Picture 7: B. coccina bubblenest, taken by Kei Sasaki (Betta House)
Picture 8: B. coccina male, taken by Arend van den Nieuwenhuizen
Picture 9: B. coccina male, taken by Jirapat Chunthapong
Pictures of chapter ‘other species’ by: See chapter.

Special thanks to
E. Naus for helping me obtain Betta coccina.
The rightful owners of the pictures.

Vierke, J. 1979. Betta coccina nov. spec., ein neuer Kampffisch von Sumatra.