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Bettas in Peril:  The Mahachai Situation

Written by Gerald Griffin

“From the IBC SMP, Species Complex Management Program.

With the status of Betta sp. Mahachai being in peril, immediate action must be taken.  The SMP emphasizes the importance of creating a stable captive population to reduce the need for the wholesale capture of wild specimens to fulfill the whims of aquarists.  Through it’s efforts, the SMP announces with great pride that we are able to distribute captive bred pairs (from SMP Spawn Number 1 (please visit our website for additional information (http://www.ibc-smp.org/))of this species to breeders willing to join the SMP.  Conditions for obtaining these pairs are outlined below:

- These fish will be distributed for a voluntary donation, plus shipping.  The amount of the donation is dependant upon your ability to help the program.  All funds from these donations will be used to acquire additional stocks for distribution under the same terms (please note, in the case of stock that SMP must purchase, the SMP will distribute at cost, plus a voluntary donation, again the amount of the donation is dependent upon your ability to help the program.

-The stock we send out will become the responsibility of the individual. The breeder will keep the data for the stock and will contribute stock back into the SMP stock bank.  The requirement will be 20% of the spawn or 10 pairs, whatever is smaller.  The remainder of the stock is at the breeders discretion, they can sell, trade or donate to other breeders as they see fit.  However, we at the SMP do not endorse or condone the exploitation of endangered species for profit.” 


That was one strong statement but the fact remains that the Mahachai Fighter Betta sp. Mahachai is in dire straights right now.  Its primary problem is the fact that is lives in such a restricted area, a place where no other Betta species can live is slated for economical and industrial development and since the species is not officially described cannot be afforded any protection.  As such then entire species is likely to become extinct before it officially becomes a species.

The species debate

Is Mahachai a valid species?  Some argue that the Mahachai fighter is a hybrid of splendens and other local wilds like imbellis, or a hybrid of wild splendens and domestic splendens.  Despite these claims many feel that Mahachai is a valid species because no other wild bettas can live in such an inhospitable environment.  Mahachai are found in a tidal area, subjected to a daily influx of saltwater they exist in an area not habitable by the other members of the B splendens complex.  The people native to the Mahachai area describe the “Mahachai fighter” as the “green plakad”, while wild splendens is described as the “red plakad” and they note that the two are never found together, the “green plakad” is found in brackish water and the “red plakad” is found in fresh water.  In distribution Betta sp. Mahachai is totally surrounded by Betta splendens yet maintains its genetic identity.  This does qualify it for species status.

The Mahachai Situation

The Mahachai situation is easy enough to understand.  Mahachai is thirty minutes from Bangkok and is the largest city in the area so it is a logical place for development.  The area itself situated by the Gulf of Thailand and subjected to flooding by the Tha Chin River.  The area is best described as a brackish water swamp. 

Now the Mahachai area is undergoing vast development, which will drive the local wild betta into extinction.  The swamps where they once thrived are being filled in to build factories, salt fields, and shrimp farming.  The once important flooding is now being controlled so that natural cycle is gone.  The factories are polluting the waterways which changes the environment of the swamp.  Also the “green fighter” has become quite popular and is being collected quite extensively from their natural environment.  And in addition to those perils Nonn has also reported that two introduced species are also having an impact the common guppy Poecillia reticulata and the water fern of the Azolla sp.  Since Nonn first reported on finding Betta sp. Mahachai in the wild the area in which he first found them has become overgrown with Azolla and he feels that this will contribute to their extinction due to the fact that the fish cannot reach the surface due to the thickness of the Azolla.

Due to the efforts of Nonn Panitvong Betta sp. Mahachai have found its way into the skillful hands of Ralph Tran who has spawned them and has distributed this species to various breeders across the world.  As Nonn states, “this fishes only existence may be in jars”, and unfortunately for this species it may very well be the case, extinct in the wild before described.  At least the species will survive in captivity, many betta breeders will see to that.

Mahachai in Captivity

Keeping the “green plakad” (Betta sp. Mahachai) in captivity is not hard.  In their natural environment they come from waters where the pH is 7.8 and hard, with salt.  These are tough little fighting fish which will thrive in a number of environments.  Most of the United States has water that is very suited for their needs.  Most localities could use dechlorinated tap water with the addition of one half teaspoon of salt per gallon. 


Pairs would be best kept in 10 gallon aquariums, larger aquariums could house more pairs.  In a nice roomy environment that is well planted with some hiding spots such as clay flowerpots or other types of caves the pairs will color up nicely.  Females can be just as colorful as the males.  When spawning it is best to separate individual pairs and spawn them in much the same manor as splendens except that separating the female is not necessary.  They are best kept at 78 to 80 degrees F.  Turning the temperature up a couple of degrees also encourages spawning.


This is a bubblenester of the splendens complex, so spawning will be in the same manor with the exception that for a wild bubblenester the nest is compact.  In my experience the male will place the eggs just outside of the “spawning area” in a temporary nest until complete, then he will drive off the female and move the eggs back into the “spawning area” nest.  The female does develop the same vertical bars before spawning but during spawning will color up much the same way the male does.  The female approaches in the head down position the same as splendens and embraces are the same.  I have noted that the females clamp their pelvic fins so most of the eggs do not drop so the male can pick them from her clamped pelvic fins.  Hatching time is the same as splendens and the fry are free swimming in 4 to 5 days.  The young can be fed baby brine shrimp and grow quickly. 


This is one of the most beautiful wild bettas in captivity in my opinion.  This species is in a very bad place to be and its extinction seems inevitable.  Between pollution, introduced species, habitat destruction and harvesting for the pet trade and the fact it is still undescribed so it has not protection, this species has little hope.  It does appear that Nonn’s prediction may very well be correct.


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