TOPIC: male betta raising fry

Q: how does the father raise and protect the offspring, and for how long?

above question submitted by kels, Elkins - WV

Hello kids :), Sunday morning and I am finally getting around to updating our column. Before I tackle this week's betta topic however, I have to say that my morning has been thus far, quite entertaining... My 19 year old dog, who with age, has a bad tendency to have pluming "challenges" desecrated my entire fishroom last night (I'll spare you the oh so extremely very gory details)... So I woke up, dry mouth, you know the drill, stepped to the kitchen to get a glass of water (next room over from fishroom) and the corner of my eye caught what I would best describe as... No. There are actually NO words to describe what Poopie did to my fishroom. My jaw dropped like, 5 feet or so and since I am only 5'4", it basically hit the floor. I JUST couldn't believe it!!! Next thing I remember, I was curled up in a ball in the corner of the kitchen, and had turned catatonic (well, except for the occasional sob "I want my mommy").

Few hours later LOL, I rolled up my sleeves and entered the scene of the crime. The bettas all looked totally repulsed: "I didn't do that!" each of them said as I passed by rows and rows of jars... One even muttered "and to think they called mammals the more "evolved" ones! Huh! No respectable betta would be caught committing such monstrosity." 

Well, that was an hour ago, fishroom looks much better now, but I seem to have lost my appetite... (You too? sorrrrry.... Share my pain a little, will ya? LOL)

OK, so that's how it goes when your doggie gets really really old... But God bless her little doggie heart, I do love my dog with all my little human heart, and it seems it is not that small after all ;) cause I have already forgiven her (well... Almost...)

OK so time to put this traumatic experience behind me and move on with this betta column. Today we are going to talk about fatherhood. Betta fatherhood that is. 

Bettas are family men. (or should I say family fish??). They have no problem with commitment (which in betta culture only lasts like 4 days or so) (while in human culture, it usually last like a night or so LOL) and raising a family (large). They tackle the task like it is a walk in the park (or a swim in the lake) and, let's face it, are "naturals" when it comes to caring for a "few" (well.... As "few" as 400) kids. Unlike most species, it is the male betta that will do most of the work when time to comes to procreate. The male will:

  • select the spawning site
  • build the nest (bubble nest that is)
  • court the female (actively) 
  • convince her to surrender to his ever so irresistible charms
  • use force if necessary ;)
  • squeeze the eggs out
  • fertilize the eggs
  • 'run' after the falling eggs
  • retrieve the eggs one by one and place them in his mouth
  • carefully arrange them in nest 
  • repeat the same process until the female is out of eggs
  • chase the female away
  • protect the eggs from the female
  • protect the eggs from fungus by cleaning them regularly with his mouth and moving them around
  • protect the eggs from his ignorant, silly, human owner LOL
  • protect the eggs from the female (still) until the ignorant silly (and now also clumsy) human owner removes her (and it's about time !!)
  • protect the eggs from fungus until the eggs, one by one pop open and the fry uncurl and start darting around
  • hunt down and capture any stray fry, place them in his mouth (careful - do not swallow!) and place them back in the nest
  • repeat above step about 1287000 more time
  • never give up, never surrender!
  • do this day and night for about 3 days
  • stare at the ugly silly human owner's face as it is pressed against the spawning tank constantly now it seems... Yuk!

Sheeeesh.. This has been a busy week for Mr. Betta Dad. With all these rambunctious kids running around (and all of them so fidgety!), he has a lot on his plate. No time to eat, rest or even think... And it does take quite a lot out of him...

Mr. Betta will not however feed the fry. Basically his fatherly functions are limited (although limited seems like such an unfair choice of word) to the above. When they first hatch, the fry cannot swim. They are very limited as to what they can do, basically all they can do is whip their tiny tails to move forward. And depending on which way their head is pointing, the fry will swim up, or down (and never sideways). Their swimbladder has not formed yet and they still carry around their yolk sac, sorta like eggs sunny side up on the go LOL. The yolk sac causes them to be quite clumsy when "swimming" but it also does feed them for the first 3 days of their lives. Once they have finished absorbing all the content of yolk sac, the fry become much lighter and can begin to level. Meaning that instead of being always with head pointing up (usually stuffed up the bubble nest), they can actually start to be in a horizontal position. This is what we (knowledgeable betta people - yeah, right! LOL) call "free swimming stage". Now, free of the yolk sac, the fry can swim, as in really swim, meaning, target a location and move from point A to new location point B and do it with rather great accuracy for such itsy bitsy tiny little thangs.

As soon as the fry are free swimming, they also become free munching LOL meaning they show their little finned piglet side, gobbling up anything in sight. It is quite amazing to see a fry, which just a few hours earlier could not do more than spiral up and down uncontrollably, turn into a perfect little hunter a few hours later. Live Baby brine shrimp are immediately spotted and swam after and gobbled up. It is rather funny to see betta fry look at their live food for the first time. It only takes them a hint of a second to figure out they are supposed to capture the brine shrimp. When very young, the fry cannot swim very fast because of their tiny size and also, I suppose, lack of practice and strength. Some brine shrimp will swim quite fast and the fry engage in a high speed police chase for a while, only to realize that they cannot catch up and finally give up LOL. The brine shrimp will not get such lucky breaks for long tough, as in just a few days, the fry will graduate from race fry driver/master hunter school. And they will gobble up the baby brine shrimp faster than you can gobble up peanuts, turning into little peach bellied balloons. 

That is another cute thing about the fry: they are somewhat clear. When first hatched, you can see their heart (if you had a real powerful lens that is), and even as they age, you can tell what they had for dinner by just looking at them: peach bellies? Baby brine shrimp. White bellies? Microworms.. LOL

But what happened to Dad? You ask.... Well Dad can lose focus real quick and appears, like most males (huhum LOL) to have a rather short memory. (Selective memory as I call it ;) ). So a male that has been taking care of his fry as though they were the apple of his own two eyes, will soon start looking at them less like his kids, and more and more like his (soon to be) snack... Yum...  So after all this hard work to raise them and bring them to a free swimming stage, Dad will gladly gobble them all up (yop, EVERY SINGLE LAST ONE OF THEM) if he is given the chance. That is when the  ignorant (well... Not SO ignorant anymore, since he/she reads LOL) silly (and regrettably STILL clumsy) human owner removes him. :) (as soon as the fry are free swimming, which to answer your question precisely will be about 3 days after hatching, and about 5 days after eggs are laid).

Before I let you guys go, I want to add that I have prepared everything I need to attempt a LIVE SPAWN on the webcam YEYYYYY!! Notice that I said "attempt". There are no guaranties whatsoever that the bettas I select will be willing to spawn, let alone spawn in front of a multitude of strangers! ;). But we will give it a shot. So STAY TUNED as I intend to get the pair set up probably as early as THIS week!! I have a few more surprises in store if my webcam software will cooperate that is, so for now I will hush hush and leave it at that. ;)

OK, I'd better run and check up on Poopie and see what other kind of mischief she might  have committed while I was not watching her LOL. (she is a very creative doggie :)) )