When someone mentions the name “betta,” most fishkeepers immediately think of the fancy-finned brightly colored Betta splendens often found in small jars in pet shops around the world — however, there are more than 60 other species in the Betta genus. If you know that Betta splendens builds a bubblenest, you might think it is the same for all the other species. Surprisingly, most known Betta species are actually paternal mouthbrooders (the male carries the eggs in his mouth), not bubblenesters.
Betta ocellata come from Borneo. They are found in the mountainous northeastern corner of the island, primarily in the area of southern Sabah (Malaysia) and northern East Kalimantan (Indonesia). They are occasionally found in streams but most often in small, isolated pools in the mountains. They are excellent jumpers, and it is speculated that they get from one pool to another by jumping and flipping across the land.
Their diet in the wild is primarily insects, though they will also take aquatic invertebrates when they are available. Like most Betta species, the eyespot betta is a “lie-in-wait” predator, waiting patiently for food to land on the surface. When food appears, they dash out and grab it. In the aquarium, their food should reflect this wild diet. They will eat frozen and freeze-dried bloodworms, Mysis shrimp, krill, pinhead crickets, live blackworms and other similar fare. They will eagerly take flakes, but they will not breed on a flake diet. I think this is why they have a reputation for being difficult to breed. If given a meaty diet with live foods, they spawn regularly.
More Interesting Betta Species
Males grow to about 4 inches and have a metallic blue on their gill covers and scattered about on their flanks. They also have a greenish-yellow scale just behind the top of their operculum. Their heads and mouths are large, and they look like they’re wearing black lipstick. The heads of females are more in proportion to their body. They grow to about 3 inches. Both sexes sport a black ocellus, or eyespot, on the lower caudal peduncle.
Betta ocellata does well in community tanks, as long as there are no small fish (neons, cardinals and similarly sized fish), which they will eat. I prefer to keep them in a single-species tank, where they thrive. I use a tightly covered 20-gallon long. Keep one female and several males together. Females will fight, and the dominant female will kill the weaker ones. Males stage ritualistic combat, yawning at one another and thrashing side to side to show their strength.
No real harm is done.
The tank should have a large number of caves and include a 4- to 6-inch flowerpot turned on its side. The tank can be planted with Java moss (Taxiphyllum sp.) or Java fern (Microsorum sp.), and floating water sprite (Ceratopteris sp.) will complete the picture.
Eyespot bettas are mountain fish and prefer temperatures in the upper 60s to low 70s Fahrenheit, so no heater is needed, unless the room temperature will go below 65 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods of time. Filtration can be provided by a simple box or sponge filter or slow-flowing canister filter. Waterfall-type filters provide too much water movement for these fish. Water parameters, such as pH and hardness, appear to be unimportant. Equal success has been reported in soft, acidic water and hard, alkaline water.
When provided with husbandry as described, upon reaching sexual maturity (at 18 months or so), the eyespot betta will spawn regularly. The female initiates spawning and leads the chosen male to the flowerpot. A typical anabantoid embrace follows, with up to a half dozen or so eggs laid at a time. The eggs are often laid upon the male’s anal fin, but just as often, they fall to the bottom. The female picks up the eggs and spits them to the male one at a time. He catches them in his mouth. This continues until he can take no more. I’ve had large males holding well over 100 eggs.
At this time, the female will chase the male off. If she still has ripe eggs, she might spawn with another male. I’ve had as many as four males holding at one time. The males generally head off to a quiet part of the tank near the surface. At this point, I’ve found it is best to gently move them to another tank set up with water from the main tank. I use a small plastic dish (with a cover) to gently move them in water, so they don’t spit out the eggs. They often do but will pick up the eggs again as soon as things quiet down.
The male broods for a little over two weeks, then releases tiny free-swimming fry. He will provide them no further care, so he should be removed at this time. Don’t put him right back in the main tank, as he just might spawn again before he has time to put on weight — and eventually he’ll starve to death.
The young fry will take microworms and newly hatched brine shrimp right away. They need live foods for the first couple of weeks. They grow quickly and will reach an inch or so in just over six weeks. At this point, they are ready for you to find homes for them. If you have built up a good rapport with the owner of a local fish store, you will likely be able to trade them for food and also other supplies.