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Mouth Brooder Betta of Thailand
Copyright MMII Nonn Panitvong

Betta splendens or Siamese fighting fish (Pla Kat) is one of the most popular fish in the aquarium world. They are originally from Thailand and South East Asia. In their home land, the fish are very popular for people of all ages who raise them for both pleasure of seeing them and for the fighting game. It sure not an over statement to say that Plakat is a part of Thai culture. It is sad, however, that their mouth brooder Betta cousins which have very interesting behavior do not get as much attention as they deserved.

Generally we would all be familiar with bubble nesting Betta, but there is another group of Betta that brood their eggs and youngs in the mouth. These species live in the habitat where water surface does not stay still which making bubble nest building impossible.

There are currently 4 described species and 1 undescribed species of mouth brooding Betta in Thailand.

  • Betta pi
  • Betta pugnax
  • Betta simplex
  • Betta prima
  • Betta sp. "Southern Thailand"

Betta pi TAN, 1998

Betta pi

This is the largest species of mouth brooding Betta in Thailand. They can reach the size of 12 Cm. Pi come from the swamp (Pru in Thai) area in the southern part of the country namely Pru Toe-daeng, which is the only area in the world that they can be found. In their habitat, they live in tannin strain water that have pH around 5-6. Although they don't mind higher pH in aquarium, I doubt if they will breed in such water. Tannin can be added to the water by mean of commercial "Black Water" or you can use dry Oak Leaf. In Thailand, we use the dry Indian Oak Leaf (Terminalia catappa), if not available dry banana leaf will also do the trick. To be save, I normally boil the leaf to extract the water from it. I do not put the leaf in the tank directly. This also avoid the hassle of having to deal with the decaying leaf in the tank as well. Another method that work well for me is to put a piece of drift wood in the tank. The drift wood can be attached with Java fern (Microsorium sp.) and Java moss (Fantinalis sp.) which will help absorbing nitrite from the water and also act as cover for the fish. Alternatively, flower Pot will also work well for the fish.

Betta pi

The name Betta pi come from the fact that this fish have the pi (Pi is a Greek letter and a mathematical symbol for 3.124) mark on their chin. Being so big compare to other species of Plakat, this fish is called "Plakat Chang" by the natives. Chang means Elephant in Thai.

The habitat of B. pi is constantly under pressure from the surrounding farming area (rubber, oil palm) so for those who keep them, please try to breed them. I have not heard of captive breeding report of B. pi anywhere. You might be the first person!

Betta pugnax (Cantor, 1850)

Betta pugnax

Betta pugnax is another large mouth brooding betta from Thailand. They can reach the size of 7-8 Cm. B. pugnax can be found in the high land stream in Southern Thailand all the way down to the island of Singapore. The water in the stream is rather clear with almost neutral pH (7.1-7.5). The bed is reported to be gravel and the betta can be found in the dense vegetation along the shore line where the water current is not so strong. B. pugnax is one of the easiest mouth brooding betta to keep and breed. It is highly recommend to the beginner.

Betta pugnax

This is picture of a female B. pugnax. You can notice how she differ from the male in the first picture. You can separate male and female mouth brooder betta from the following point:

  • Female tends to has smaller head structure
  • Female tends to has smaller build overall
  • Female tends to has less attractive color
  • Female tends to has shorter fins

Betta simplex KOTTELAT, 1994

Betta simplex

The only known habitat of B. simplex to date is the stream in the Krabi Province, southern part of Thailand. They are medium size Plakat that will grow to about 5 Cm. The stream where B. simplex live have neutral pH and mud floor that sometimes cover with carpet of Cryptocoryn crispatula.

Betta simplex

In the first picture above the male is having a mouth full of eggs. In mouth brooding Betta, it is the male that hold the eggs in his mouth for 7-10 days before he release the fry out. These huge fry, compare to those of the bubble nester, can normally take baby brine shrimp or microworm right away. The picture right above is a 2 weeks B. simplex fry taking refugee on a Java fern leaf.

Betta simplex

Betta prima KOTTELAT, 1994

Betta prima

B. prima is a rather plain looking mouth brooding Betta. They can reach the size of about 5 Cm. They are found foraging along the dense vegetation bank in the stream where the pH is neutral with gravel bed. The known distribution rank to date is in the central plain of Thailand east ward to somewhere in Cambodia. They are easily bred and will shown their best color -iridescent blue green shine- in the dark tank with dense vegetation.

Like all other Plakat, B. prima will enjoy live food such as mosquito larvae, daphnia, blood worm, tubiflex worm and Brine Shrimp. If you use brine shrimp, make sure to rinse them well in fresh water as the salt is very bad to the kidney of fresh water fish.

Betta sp. "Southern Thailand"

Betta sp. Southern Thailand

For an obvious reason, the exact habitat of this fish is being kept secret by those who found them. They are currently under the description process by Mr. Kottelat. The paper is due anytime soon or have it been published I'm not sure. Anyway, they are said to come from southern part of Thailand. This fish look very much like B. prima, but the main different is in their mid caudal fin ray where it is extended to form the ace shape while the tail is rather rounded in B. prima.

Betta sp. Southern Thailand

The picture above is mouth brooding male. In mouth brooding Betta it is the female that initiate spawning process. She is the one who guard the surrounding area while the male - who do not eat anything during brooding period - will keep very low profile. He will look as though he have difficulty breathing all the time. I normally remove the female once the spawning is done and I try to leave the male alone as much as possible. If you bother him too much he might eat the eggs. This particular male spitted out at least 7 fry on his 8th days of brooding. Probably first success captive breeding report of his species in the world!!!??? :-D

Betta sp. Southern Thailand

Male and female mouth brooder, like this pair, will sometimes "dance" side by side during the courtship. The female with her fin all flare up will also dance around the male to get his attention. She will defense the breeding ground. This particular female had to put up with the nosy Betta bellica neighbor on the left.

Betta sp. Southern Thailand

This is a rather blur :~( image of B. sp. during the copulation. The male is always the one on the bottom. His anal fin will act as a receiver of the eggs. After that the female will take the eggs into her mouth and split it to him. The whole process can last several hours.


Goldstein, Robert J Ph.D.. 2001. Bettas A complete Pet Owner's Manual, Barron's, New York

Special Thanks to:

K. Mee and Noung of Ta Pien Tong fish store, Seven Days Plaza

Mr. Anuratana Tejavej

Mr. Arthit Prasartkul and Pernill

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