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Betta /ˈbɛtə/ is a large genus of small, often colorful, freshwater ray-finned fishes in the gourami family (Osphronemidae).[1] By far the best known Betta species, however, is B. splendens, the Siamese fighting fish.


Purple female Betta splendens

All the Betta species are small fishes, but they vary considerably in size, ranging from under 2.5 cm (1 in) total length in B. chanoides to 12.5 cm (5 in) in the Akar betta (B. akarensis).[1]

Bettas are anabantoids, which means they can breathe atmospheric air using a unique organ called the labyrinth. This accounts for their ability to thrive in low-oxygen water conditions that would kill most other fish, such as rice paddies, slow-moving streams, drainage ditches, and large puddles.[2]

The various bettas can be divided into two groups, based on their spawning behaviour: some build bubble nests, such as B. splendens, while others are mouthbrooders, such as B. picta. The mouthbrooding species are sometimes called "pseudo bettas", and are sometimes speculated to have evolved from the nest-builders in an adaptation to their fast-moving stream habitats.[3]


Much confusion in terminology often occurs regarding these fish. Siamese fighting fish, B. splendens, are frequently sold in the United States simply as "bettas". Fish fanciers are thus often unaware that, as of 2006, around 65 species are classified within the genus Betta. A further source of confusion is that while the generic name Betta is italicized and capitalized, when used as a common name it is usually neither italicized nor capitalized.[4] The common name of B. pugnax, for example, is thus Penang betta.

Siamese fighting fish, B. splendens, is often referred to as betta in the U.S., leading to some confusion

The name Betta (or betta) is pronounced /ˈbɛtə/;[4] the first part is the same as the English word bet. By confusion with the name of the Greek letter beta, the name is often pronounced /ˈbeɪtə/ in American English, and may be misspelled with one 't'. The name of the genus is unrelated to that of the Greek letter, being derived from the Malay word ikan betah ("persistent fish").[5]


The betta is native freshwater fish from Thailand (formerly Siam) and Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea).[6] Wild bettas can often be found in a small pond, river, or drain.


Wild Betta fish are hardy and can eat almost anything in their environments, including worms, larvae of mosquitoes or other insects, and even smaller fish. Their natural environment is often resource-limited, so many Betta species have little choice of food.

A red female B. splendens


While many Betta species are common and B. splendens is ubiquitous in the aquarium trade, other bettas are threatened. The IUCN Red List classifies several Betta species as Vulnerable. In addition, B. livida is Endangered, and B. miniopinna, B. persephone, and B. spilotogena are Critically Endangered.[7]

The United Nations Environment Programme lists an unconfirmed species, Betta cf. tomi, as having become extinct in Singapore between 1970 and 1994.[8] This likely refers to the extirpated Singaporean population of B. tomi, which continues to exist in the wild in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as in captivity; the Red List classifies it as Vulnerable.[9][10]


There are currently 73 recognized species in this genus. The currently described Betta species can be grouped into complexes for conservation purposes. (This grouping of species makes no claim at representing a phylogenetic reality.) The complexes of the associated species are:[1] [11] [12]



  1. ^ a b c Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2014). Species of Betta in FishBase. February 2014 version.
  2. ^ Marcus Song, Caring for Betta Fish Lulu Press, 2006. ISBN 1-4116-9365-5
  3. ^ Fernando, Yohan. "Betta edithae - a Pseudo Betta?". International Betta Congress Species Maintenance Program. Retrieved 2006-06-30. 
  4. ^ a b "Betta". American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.). Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  5. ^ "Common Names Summary - Betta picta". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  6. ^ # posted by Carl : 12:59 PM. "Retrieved 2011-12-14". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  7. ^ "2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. they are amazing.... -> male betta". Retrieved 2006-06-30. 
  8. ^ "Extinctions since 1970". United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-01. 
  9. ^ Kottelat, M. (1996). "Betta tomi". 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2006-07-01. 
  10. ^ "Betta tomi". International Betta Congress Species Maintenance Program. Retrieved 2006-07-01. 
  11. ^ "Species Complex Management". International Betta Congress Species Maintenance Program. Retrieved 2006-07-01. 
  12. ^ "Betta". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 30 June 2006. 
  13. ^ Tan Heok Hui (2009). "Betta pardalotos, a new species of fighting fish (Teleostei: Osphronemidae) from Sumatra, Indonesia". The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 57 (2): 501–504. 


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