Introduction: How to Breed Bettas: Betta Breeding 101
This guide is for the aquarium hobbyist that is just starting out at breeding bettas.
A single pair can produce more than 400 eggs at a time, however not every single fry will make it to adulthood. That is why it's essential to learn these important steps, to ensure sure you have a successful batch.
It will be a fun and yet challenging project for any betta hobbyist.
Here you'll learn:
- What items you'll need
- How to select and condition the breeding pair
- How to spawn you betta pair
- How and what to feed your betta fry
- How to raise your betta fry
Step 1: Step 1: Betta Breeding Equipment List: Essential Items You'll Need
Most fish keepers may already have most of these items lying around, but here is a comprehensive list of all the items you'll need:
- Breeding Aquarium: 10 Gallons (38 Liters)
- This will need to be a separate tank from the ones you use to keep your breeding pair in. It'll be used to house the betta fry during the first couple of weeks after hatching.
- Fry Rearing Aquarium: 30+ Gallons (114+ Liters)
- This will house the fry when they are 2-4 weeks old, and will allow them to grow. The larger tank will also make is easier to maintain good water quality.
- 5 Gallon Aquarium Kit (2x)
- To house the adult breeding pair.
- Sponge Filter
- This is essential to maintain ideal water quality, as it provide both mechanical and biological filtration. Beneficial aerobic bacteria will colonize the sponge and break down harmful toxins produced by fish waste (ammonia).
- Air Pump
- Airline Tubing
- Air Regulator
- To control the air pump's air flow rate, it should not be too strong otherwise it'll disturb the male's bubblenest and will make it difficult for the fry to swim.
- Heater: 25w
- The heater needs to be automatic - meaning it turns on/off by itself to when it reaches the set temperature. Also needs to be fully submersible, which is important as the water level will be very low within the first few days - as we will later discuss.
- Breeder Net
- This will house the female within the first few days of placing her in the breeding tank - this will safely separate her from the male while he builds his bubblenest.
- Indian Almond Leaves
- It is highly recommended by betta breeders, not only does it naturally buffer the pH - but it also releases tannins in the water which are believed to prevent fungal infection from taking over the eggs and the adult breeding pair.
- Java Moss
- Help aid in the water quality - as it'll consume some of the toxins produced by fish waste. Make sure it receives 6+ hours of light per day to keep this plant alive.
- It'll also provide hiding places for the fry.
- Microworm Culture
- As the name suggests, this is a culture of live microworms that will serve as food for the fry during their first days. They are the perfect size for the fry's mouths, and they wiggle - which will encourage the fry's natural instincts to eat.
- Oatmeal & Active Dry Yeast
- This is will serve as the breeding media and food for the microworm culture. As the media ages, the microworms will consume the yeast that will be produced.
- Small Container with Lid
- To house the microworm culture
- Brine Shrimp Eggs and Hatchery
- Small saltwater shrimp that will serve as food for the fry after the first couple of days.
- Plastic Soda Bottle
- For the brine shrimp hatchery
- Jars & Containers (Minimum Quantity 20x)
- Minimum 1 quart (1 liter) in volume. You'll need these to house the male fry once they start displaying aggression.
- Fry food
- Adult Betta Food
- Should be quality nutrient-enriched food, to condition your breeding pair for spawning and to feed your fry when they reach adulthood.
- Fish Net
- Biological Conditioner
- Contains beneficial biological conditioner that will aid in neutralizing harmful toxins produced by fish waste.
- Water Conditioner
- Remove chlorine and other toxic heavy metals found in tap water, making it safe for fish.
- Aquarium Salt
- Helps prevents diseases/infections.
- Adult Betta Pair
- Should possess the ideal characteristics you are looking for in their batch.
- Turkey Baster
To suck up food and remove any dead fry.
- Patience and Responsibility!
Step 2: Day 1: Selecting and Conditioning the Pair
It can take up to 4 months to raise a batch of fry to adulthood, so this guide will be set up according to the tasks that will need to be performed each day. It's imperative that you have all of the items listed in step one to ensure you have a successful batch of fry.
DAY 1: Spawn Tank Setup, Conditioning the Pair & Live Food Cultures
You will want to select a healthy and good quality pair. That means they must fit into the following criteria:
- Active - rather than lethargic. They swim around in their tanks rather than sitting listlessly on the bottom of their tanks
- Young Age - they can't be old fish otherwise they won't breed/produce successful batch. You can usually tell a betta's age by its size (large bettas are usually a sign of old age), color (older bettas tend to be duller in color), and activeness.
- No Signs of Disease/infection - make sure they do not show any signs of infection. Sick bettas are usually lethargic. You can find a list of 13 most common betta diseases here.
- Color, Fin Shape and Genes - you'll want to select bettas with striking characteristics that you'll want breed. Personally speaking, It's recommended breeding halfmoons, plakats, doubletails and crowntails - as they are usually harder to come by.
- Female's Size - should be slightly smaller than the male.
After you have selected a healthy pair of adult bettas, you will need to condition them. In the betta breeding community, this means you want to ensure they are in top health by feeding them with quality nutrient-enriched foods. Breeding will require a lot of hard work from the pair, so you'll want to ensure they have the proper nutrition that will fuel this. It's also recommended to feed protein-rich thawed frozen fish food. Make sure their water is in pristine conditions by performing water changed regularly. Your betta pair needs to be conditioned for a least 10 days prior to breeding.
Step 3: Day 1: Breeding Tank Setup
You'll need to setup your breeding aquarium at least 10 days prior to breeding. You'll assemble the tank using the items listed in step 1.
- Clean and rinse the 10-gallon breeding tank with warm water only. Do not use soap/detergent as it may leave behind residues that will kill your fish.
- The tank should NOT have any gravel/substrate, as you'll soon learn, because when betta eggs are released they can get stuck in the gravel and the male (whose job it is to retrieve the eggs) may not see them. The tank should have a bare bottom.
- Place the tank on a spot that will not receive direct sunlight, is not directly under air conditioning/heating vents. Make sure the area is strong enough to withstand the tank's weight (a completely filled 10-gallon tank will weigh over 100lbs/50kg).
- Clean and rinse the sponge filter and airline tubing with warm water. And assemble the sponge filter in the tank, then connect it to the air pump with airline tubing and the air regulator to control airflow (follow the manufacturer's instructions). This specific type of filter will not suck up/trap/harm the small betta fry as with other filters. They safe to use in breeding tanks, and will not produce too much flow that would disturb the male betta's bubble nest - which will be later discussed. Place the sponge filter in a corner of the tank.
- Place the heater in the tank and set the temperature to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 degrees Celsius), anything below that and the breeding pair may not be induced to breed and it'll take much longer for the eggs to hatch - anything above that and it increase the breeding pair's metabolism inducing them to eat the eggs/fry - as well as increase the changes for fungal infection to occur within the eggs. Do not turn it on just yet.
- Fill the tank with 6 inches of clean conditioned water (dose the tap water according to the water conditioner manufac.) This water level is ideal for the male to pick up any dropped eggs. Then add the biological conditioner and aquarium salt to the water - following the manufac. directions.
- Add a few almond leaves to the tank, not only does it naturally buffer the pH - but it also releases tannins in the water which are believed to prevent fungal infection from taking over the eggs and the adult breeding pair. Float 1 leaf in a corner for the male to build its bubble nest. See the image above.
- Assemble and add the breeder nest (cleaned and rinsed). Place the net close to the almond leaf where the male will build its bubble nest, and so that he can see the female.
- Add the java moss.
- Turn on all the electrical equipment.
- Adjust the air regulator to let out 1-3 small bubbles per second. It should not be too strong otherwise it'll disturb the male's bubble nest and will make it difficult for the fry to swim. As the fry grow (3+ weeks), this air flow rate can be increased.
Step 4: Day 1: Microworm Culture
On the first day, you should start your microworm culture for your fry. This is because you want to give your culture some time to multiply to a size that will suffice the fry's needs. The microworms are the perfect size for your newly-hatched fry. Their wiggling movements will encourage the fry the to eat.
- To start out your microworm culture, get a clean container and add a 1 inch layer of cooked oatmeal.
- Let the oatmeal cool out overnight in room temperature, then mix in 1 tsp of the active dry yeast.
- Add the microworm culture to the cooked oatmeal - this will have a slightly fermented smell which is completely normal.
- Slowly mix the culture into the oatmeal. As the oatmeal ages, the microworms will feed off of the produced yeast.
- Put a lid on the container, make sure to poke some holes on the lid to let air in - otherwise the culture will die.
- Stir the culture once a week to keep it alive.
Step 5: Day 10: Adding the Pair to the Breeding Tank
After conditioning your breeding pair for 10 days, they are ready to be placed in the breeding tank. You'll begin by adding the male first to the breeding tank. Followed by the female, which will be placed in the breeding net. Make sure you acclimate them first, to not stress the fish. You can watch a video on acclimating fish here.
Both fish should show interest in each other. After a few hours of seeing each other, the male will start building a bubble nest under the almond leaves or any other floating debris, formed by individual bubbles coated with saliva the male will blow with his mouth. This is where the male will instinctively guard the eggs.
It is important not to disturb the tank otherwise the bubble nest risks falling apart.
The nest should grow larger and larger, and it should take 3 days for the fish to be ready to breed - by then the female should have produced enough eggs within her body.
It's recommended that you cover your tank with paper/plastic to give the pair some privacy. If you pass by the tank frequently, you might scare/distract and discourage them from breeding.
Step 6: Day 13: Releasing the Female
By now you should have the following:
- The bubble nest should have grown substantially.
- The female has a dark-colored body, she should be displaying vertical bars showing she is ready to breed.
- The female should have a plumper body, indicating she is full of eggs.
- The female's egg tube, a small white spot on her abdomen, should be displayed.
- The female, in the presence of the male, should swim with her head down showing submissiveness.
If you don't have all the items listed above, your pair is not ready to breed yet. Give them another day to see if they show these signs. If within a week nothing happens, then condition them for 2 weeks and start the whole process again.
If there is a lack of a bubble nest the second breeding trial, then replace the male betta with another one.
If the female doesn't show these signs the second breeding trial, then replace the female.
But if everything played out smoothly, then you may release the female into the tank. After they realize there is no longer a barrier between them, they will act aggressively towards each other. Usually the male will chase the female into hiding - but there have been occurrences of the female chasing the male. Fin nipping and ripping is completely normal. But keep your eye on them for the next hour - as there have been occurrences of the male killing the female.
Keep your aquarium lights on 24/7 for now.
This aggressive phase should last 2-3 days. If it extends beyond that and they do not breed, then remove them from the tank and try again in 2 weeks. After this aggressive phase comes to an end, the actual breeding will begin...
Step 7: Day 14: Egg-Laying
After the chasing period stops, and the pair finally decides to breed, the female will submissively swim towards the male - with her head down.
The male will try to wrap his body around the female, and they will try various angles until they hit the sweet spot. Once they do, they will sink to the bottom while "embraced" - and the female will release her eggs while the male fertilizes them.
The male will pick the eggs up with his mouth and place them into the bubble nest. They will repeat this process over and over again until the female is out of eggs.
Once the female stops releasing eggs and seems uninterested in breeding, the male will start acting aggressively towards her. It is now a good idea to carefully remove the female - being careful not to disturb the nest.
Step 8: Day 15: Waiting for the Eggs to Hatch
Congrats! You now have eggs!
The male should be looking after his eggs and nest. He will pick up any fallen eggs and place them back into the nest - he will also blow new bubbles to make "repairs" on the nest.
Continue to leave the aquarium light on 24/7.
You can either:
- not feed him - so it won't entice his appetite making him eat all the eggs
- feed him very small portions - so you don't pollute the water
The eggs will take anywhere from 36-72 hours to hatch. As they develop, you begin to see small black dots on the eggs - which are the eyes.
The male may eat some of the eggs, which is completely normal. They are most likely unfertilized eggs and have started to rot.
At this point, 2 things can go wrong:
- The male will eat all of the eggs
- The male stops looking after the eggs, and they all fall and the nest collapses.
If this occurs, they you should remove the male and try looking after any eggs left. Though the chances of survival are very low.
Step 9: Day 16: Newly-Hatched Fry
After 36-72 hours, you should now have some fry beginning to hatch. And they will begin sinking to the bottom.
If the male has responsibly looked after his eggs at this point, he'll try to catch the fry and place them back into the nest.
Newly-hatched fry still have their yolk sacs which contain vital nutrients, and still can't properly swim. It'll be 36 hours until they are free-swimming.
Step 10: Day 19: Free Swimming Fry
The fry should have absorbed most of their yolk sac by now, and are becoming more active and are beginning to swim more.
- Remove the male - his job is now done. Left him rest for at least 2 weeks before breeding, medicate him to treat any wounds made from breeding.
- Feed the fry - 2-4x a day with microworms.
- Scrape the sides of the microworm container and place them in a small cup of conditioned water. Using a small syringe/baster, suck up the microworm from the cup. This will prevent the oatmeal culture from polluting your tank water.
- Feed the fry in small portions, it's alright to leave a FEW worms in the tank for the fry to feed on during the day - as the worms can last 2-3 days underwater. Leaving too much food can pollute their water.
- The fry have a very high metabolism - so they must constantly be fed otherwise they can die of starvation.
- Microworms will be their main source of food over the next 2 weeks.
- Turn off the lights at night - now that the male is no longer in the tank, you can let your fry rest.
- Remove any dead fry - with a small syringe/baster.
- Keep a lid on - make sure there aren't any openings in the tank. The fry will need to breathe air with high humidity - dry air isn't healthy for the fry. Cover any holes or openings with saran wrap.
Step 11: Day 30: Raising Two Week-Old Fry
Your fry are now 2 weeks old!
- Slowly fill your tank - over the next 7 days.
- Emphasis on slowly! The fry are very fragile and won't react well to changes in water parameters. Add new water in small portions evenly distributed over 7 days.
- Start you Brine Shrimp Culture - your fry are now large enough to eat them.
- Setup the hatchery according to the manufac.'s instructions. The baby brine shrimp (BBS) will hatch after 18-30 hours. Remove the floating egg shells, and refrigerate the BBS. This will slow down their metabolism, keeping them alive longer.
- Feeding - As soon as your BBS are ready, feed the fry 2-3x/day with microworms and 1x/day with BBS, they have a very high metabolism - so they must constantly be fed otherwise they can die of starvation.
Step 12: Day 37: Raising 3-Week-Old Fry
Your fry are 3 weeks old!
- Change their tank - you can now add them to the 20 gallon tank.
- Now that their 10 gallon tank has been completely filled, they're ready to be transferred to a larger tank to grow out.
- Make the new tank's water parameters match up with the old one.
- If you have the option of scooping them out with a cup rather then netting them, it'd be safer for them.
- Slowly acclimate them to the new water.
- Begin daily 10-30% water changes - start out with 10% and gradually increase to 30%.
- The fry are very sensitive to changes in water parameters - slowly pour in the clean water. If it's possible to slowly drip the water in, it'd be better for the fry.
- It's important to perform daily water changes, as the fry release growth inhibiting hormones as an evolutionary trait - which will stunt the growth of its siblings.
- Stop feeding microworms - feed them BBS 2x/day.
- Start feeding dry fry food - 1-2x/day.
Step 13: Day 51: Jarring and Sexing the Fry
Your fry are now 5 weeks old!
- Color and fin - The fry are now beginning to show color and display it's fin characteristics.
- Agression - You will occasionally see some fry flaring and each other and displaying aggression.
- As soon as you can identify the males (longer fins and "beards"), separate them into jars.
- It's best to place the jars inside a large container that will be filled with water and a heater- this way you can maintain a set temperature for all jars. The males during the first few months should also be able to see each other.
- 50% water changes - Do daily 50% changes in the fry tank and jars to encourage growth and maintain good water quality - otherwise the excess growth hormone produced by the fry will greatly prevent growth.
Step 14: Day 128: Raising 4-Month-Old Fry
Congrats! Your fry are now 4 months old!
They are practically fully grown - they will only reach their adult size at around 6-8 months.
You can now select the best specimens to continue your breeding line!
By now they should be eating dry food for adult bettas.