Historically speaking, Betta Fish are said to have gotten their name from an ancient clan of Asian warriors called the “Bettah.” They were given these warriors’ names because about 150 years ago people enjoyed participating in a popular sport that involved the fighting of two of these warrior fish. (In fact, the sport was so popular that it was regulated – and taxed – by the King of Siam!)
One interesting note about Betta fish fighting is that, unlike cock or dog fighting in the west, at Siamese fighting fish tournaments, the actual fight was more to test the bravery of the fish, rather than a fight to see how much damage would be inflicted, or a death match.
Spectators bet on how long a particular fish would fight, and which one would give up first. (In fact, most fish would only fight once or twice, and then live out the remainder of their lives being pampered and used for breeding.)
A Betta fish’s natural habitat is in shallow, tropical water. This is because they need to be able to surface frequently, in order to breathe air. They can be found in nature in rice paddies, drainage ditches, slow moving streams and fresh water ponds. Betta fish have even been known thrive in large puddles! Their natural food source is insects and mosquito larvae.
How Breeding Began
According to historical accounts, a close friend of the King of Siam, Dr. Theodore Cantor received a pair of breeding Bettas from the king in 1840. The doctor bred them and studied them for several years, and then wrote a scientific paper about them, giving them a Latin name of “Macropodus Pugnax.” However, shortly after his paper was published, Dr. Cantor discovered that a species by that name already existed, and so the fish were renamed “Betta Splendens.”
Several breeding pairs of Bettas where sent to Germany in 1896 and then in 1910, Mr. Frank Locke of San Francisco California imported several Bettas to the U.S.A.
One of the fish that he received had unusual red fins – and he excitedly thought he had discovered a new species, and named it “Betta Cambodia.” In reality, he had one of the first of the Betta splendens that had naturally developed new colors and characteristics through breeding.
Since that time, breeders have been able to develop Bettas with all of the vibrant coloring and varied fin shapes that we find today. Betta breeding has become a profitable and ongoing passion for many people today, many of whom started with just one or two Bettas in a small aquarium.