Betta coccina, Vierke 1979
By Stefan vd Voort
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 holdi