Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Siamese Fighters

A few days after introducing Rex my brother asked me ‘Why is Rex a Fighter?’ I found myself unable to answer him. Therefore the question posed in this discussion is
‘Why are bettas known as “Siamese Fighters”?’
Male bettas are territorial. In the wild, if a male encountered another betta, the weaker of the two would leave to avoid injury. A body of water less than 1000 gallons that contains two males is an arranged funeral for either of the 2, as they would fight to death for the territory. After spawning, the male betta would chase the female away form his territory as she would eat the eggs because of her hunger. In some Asian countries, betta fighting is an actual sport and people mainly watch and bet on the betta fights making it a form of gambling too. It is not recommended to replicate these fights as it leads to injury and death. The safer way to replicate the same type of aggressive behaviour is to place a mirror facing the aquarium of the betta. The betta would then attempt to intimidate his reflection by flaring out his dorsal, caudal (tail), anal/ventral and pelvic fins as well as the branchiostegal membrane, creating the effect of a seemingly larger appearance. This kind of response also occurs in males and females during courtship to impress the other interested party. When trying this experiment with Rex, I found him to be very aggressive and frustrated as he could not physically attack or injure his ‘opponent’. All his fins and his membrane flared out, his colour seemed to get brighter too. This behaviour did not cease so after a couple of hours I removed the mirror.

Where does Rex come from?
Bettas originate from Siam, formally known as Thailand. The collecting of bettas began before the 1800s and the indigenous communities referred to bettas as ‘plakat’ which means ‘tearing or biting fish’. These fish were commonly bred for fighting in gambling as domesticated bettas would provide the audience with a longer match. In 1840, the King of the Siam licenced the fish and gave his bettas to Dr. Cantor, who gave the Siamese Fighters their original scientific name, Macropodus Pugnax. In 1909, Mr Regan renamed the fish, Betta Splendens, as a species with that name existed already. The wild ancestors of Rex are indigenous to the rice paddies of Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia.
General guidelines about Rex and caring for him:
Rex is considered to be a tropical fish. Bettas grow approximately 5 cm in length. In the wild, bettas have short fins and domesticated bettas have a wide variety of ling fins which resulted from selective breeding. If cared for well, a betta can last for 2 to 4 years in captivity. There are approximately 50 other types of bettas. Betta Splendens enjoys water temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius and a pH level of 6.5 to 7.5. Betta fish have an organ called the Labyrinth Organ, which allows them to breathe air at the water’s surface. This organ develops as 3 to 6 weeks of age. Bettas reach sexual maturity at 4 to 5 months of age. Bettas belong to the Anabantidae family. Rex loves swimming at the top of the aquarium and making water bubbles. He uses his Labyrinth Organ while eating too as he eats his food while it is floating on the surface of the water to breathe.
Betta fish are vibrant in colour and are active. They are easy to care for and they are low maintenance. This makes it a popular fish for first time fish owners and people who want fish but do not have alot of time to care for them. The most important step to take in caring for a betta is to be observant. Know his/her behavioural patterns so that if something is wrong you will know about it.
1.      Have a jar or bowl that is proportionate to the size of the betta, preferably 1 cm = 1 litre and ensure that the fish has enough surface area to breathe. The recommended tank volume is 20 to 40 litres.
2.      Keep the water as clean as possible, there is no nedd for a filtration or cycled system, just change the water every two or three days and add some water conditioners to keep those bacterial infections away!
3.      Do not place your betta fish with other betta fish.
4.      Clean the jar or bowl without any detergents and rinse all objects placed in it with freshwater.
5.      pH level of the tank should be 7.0.
6.      Cover your tank or bowl to keep him in the tank and not beside it!
7.      Do not decorate your betta bowl with marbles or rocks as they may get stuck between or underneath it.
Buying a Siamese fighter:
Most bettas are imported from overseas and depending on your country, imported fish have to pass inspections and time in quarantine before it is introduced to the public. Choose an energetic betta who displays his/her fins well. Ask the seller what diet the betta is currently on and follow it for the easiest transition, also observe the tank’s water quality and any symptoms of health problems such as fin rot.
Feeding my betta, Rex:
Rex has had no objections to his frozen tubiflex worms, although I have tried changing his diet to flakes, he did not seem to enjoy it as much. I doubt that he actually cares what he eats, all he wants is to be feed.
Siamese fighting fish are primary carnivorous surface feeders and they have upturned mouths. Wild bettas feed on zooplankton, crustaceans and larvae. Commercial betta pellets are a mixture of mashed shrimp, wheat flour, brine shrimp, fish, bloodworms and vitamins, 3 to 4 pellets should be given to the betta daily. Although some bettas are reluctant to accept processed foods. These dried or flake foods may contain vegetable extracts to intensify the colour of red to attract the betta. Siamese fighting fish will also eat live or frozen bloodworms, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp or daphnia. Hatching brine shrimp is a common way to serve live food to bettas. Brine shrimp are easy to procure, hatch and cultivate. This food type is particularly beneficial to bettas in their early stages whilst attached to their yolk sack.
What illnesses is Rex subjected to?
Bettas are  extremely sensitive to ammonia, long exposure to it lead to a bacterial infection of the fish. Ammonia is also more prevalent in smaller containers. Physical symptoms are a swollen stomach, lethargic behavior and a lack of interest in food. Small containers are also more susceptible to rapid temperature changes which causes the fish stress. A common disease amongst bettas is known as the ‘white spot’ or the freashwater ich. If untreated this disease could be fatal. It begins as a single spot and is highly contagious. To prevent contracting this disease do not share the betta’s net with a new fish that has not passed home quarantine.
How would Rex reproduce?
Courtship: Male bettas flare their gills, spread their fins and twist their bodies if interested in a female. The female will darken in colour and curve her body back and forth in response. The male will then build a bubble nest at the surface of the water.
Nuptial Embrace: Is the act of spawning, as the male wraps his body around the female, each embrace releases 10 to 41 eggs  until the female is exhausted of eggs. The male then releases milt into the water and externally fertilising the eggs.
During and after the spawning the male with the female’s assistance retrieves sinking eggs and deposits them into the bubble nest. The male then chases the female out of his territory. The male then continues to retrieve and repair the bubble nest for the entire incubation, which lasts for approximately 24 to 36 hours.
The newly hatched larvae stay in the nest for 2 to 3 days until all their yolk sacks are absorbed. Afterwards, the fry break free from the nest and swim. These fry are dependent entirely on their gills for breathing as their Labyrinth Organs only form at 3 to 6 weeks of age. Fry, if ill are difficult to treat as they have a higher intolerance to medications and changes in water parameters.
A red fish?
Wild bettas only show intense colours when agitated, but through selective breeding, people have benn able to make this colouration permanent. The colours include red, blue, turquoise, orange, yellow, green, bright blue with pink highlights, cream and white. Colours like blue, green and turquoise are iridescent as it seems to change colour depending on the viewing angl and light conditions because light is refracted by a layer of translucent guanine crystals. Breeders also developed colour pattersn like marble and butterfly and metallic shades like gold and copper through hybridising Betta splendens and other betta species.
Rex the Crowned King of the Betta Splendens!
In the wild bettas have short fins but through selective breeding domestic bettas now have long structurally different fins:
·         VeilTail (extended finnage length and non-symmetrical tail; caudal fin rays usually only split once)
·         CrownTail (fin rays are extended well beyond the membrane and consequently the tail can take on the appearance of a crown; also called fringetail)
·         Half-Moon (caudal fin that forms a 180 degree angle) The edges of the tail are crisp and straight.
·         RoseTail (halfmoon variation with so much finnage that it overlaps and looks like a rose)
·         Short-Finned fighting style (sometimes called "plakat")
·         Double-Tail (the tail fin is duplicated into two lobes and the dorsal fin is significantly elongated; the two tails can show different levels of bifurcation depending on the individual)
Rex, do you need fish friends?
Male betta splendens should be alone in an aquarium. Placing a male and a female together is not recommended as they will often attack each other. Female bettas can be put in groups of 3 to 7 with other fish like algae eaters, guppies or corydorus catfish, Platies,  Neon Tetras and Zebra Danios.
Rex and I have become very close. He likes to swim to the surface when I feed him and when I am in the vacancy; he swims up to the glass and moves in the direction I am in. He eats every single bite of food up and sleeps at the top of the jar.
I have changed the position of the plant twice to observe his reaction and the amount of time it took him to orientate himself. I have noticed that if I change the position of the plant, he swims around the jar for approximately 5 minutes then he slows down. The problem arises when I move the entire jar to a new location, he panics and takes a few hours to calm down and find direction. Rex allows me to touch him lightly before swimming away, in the beginning he used to swim right to the bottom of the tank as soon as he saw my hand approaching the surface of the water or when feeding him. He makes more air bubbles now than before and he is more active during the day than at night. Rex looks as if he has grown by 1 cm or so and his colour seemed to have intensified. I think that I will need a larger tank soon.

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