Betta is the name of one of the many genera in the Osphronemidae family. In the aquarium trade, the name Betta will usually refer to the most popular Betta species of them all – the Betta splendens (Siamese fighting fish). The word Betta is actually derived from the name for this particular species in one of the local Siamese languages, “Ikan Bettah”. Today, most people in Thailand do however call the Betta splendens “Pla-kad”. Macropodus Pugnax is an earlier scientific name for Betta splendens that is today obsolete.
Betta splendens is still kept as a fighting fish in Southeast Asia, but these fishes are quite dissimilar to the Siamese fighting fish that we find in the aquarium trade. Aquarists appreciate vividly colored specimens with a long and delicate finage. During fights, the coloration is not important and an elaborate and sensitive finage would only be in the way. The fishes used for Betta fights in Asia will therefore typically display a quite dull and brown coloration with a tinge of green, and have small fins.
The reason behind Betta splendens popularity as a fighting fish is that the males from this species are highly territorial and very violent. In the wild, a weaker male can give up the territory and leave before he is killed, but this is naturally impossible during a fish fight in a bowl. The same thing is true in an aquarium unless the aquarium very big and decorated in a way that makes it possible for each male to claim his own territory and stay clear of any other male. Keeping more than one male Betta splendens in the same aquarium is therefore generally unadvisable. Some keepers have managed to prevent bloodshed by separating the aquarium into two parts using a glass wall or a net. The mere sight of another male can, however, be stressful, and male Betta splendens are known to attack even its own image in a mirror.
As mentioned above, the genus Betta does not have only the Siamese fighting fish species. The genus contains over 50 different species, and some of them are kept by aquarists. Even though most Betta types have been kept in aquariums with great success, it is only a few of the 50 species that you can find commonly at aquarium shops and trade. One example of less well known, but still comparatively obtainable, Betta species is the Peaceful Betta (Betta imbellis). The Peaceful Betta originates from the warm waters of Malaysia and should be kept in a tropical aquarium where the water temperature is between 24 and 28º C (75 and 82° F). The pH should be from 5.5 to 7.0.
Just like the name suggests, the Peaceful Betta is not as belligerent as its famous relative Betta splendens, and will fit in well in most community aquariums with likewise peaceful and non-confrontational fish species. Since its native Malaysian waters are densely grown, a similar set up with lots of plants is recommended for the aquarium. Plenty of hiding spots is important to reduce stress.