Betta patoti, the Tiger BettaAuthor: Colin Dunlop
One of the most stunning, impressive, and interesting members of the “wild bettas” group is the tiger betta Betta patoti. This mouthbrooding betta hails from Western Borneo and Palau Laut Island in Southeast Asia and was once commonly called the black betta—quite an unusual moniker for a fish that is normally a peachy-orange color! It got its original common name of “black” betta due to the fact that preserved members of this species are uniformly black when in formaldehyde. However, “tiger” suits the species much better, as when they are in good condition the base color is complimented with dark tiger-stripe bars on the flanks. This fish really can show off its beauty in sunlight when it frequently shows iridescence of green, blue, and purple hues.
Betta patoti was described as a species in 1992 by Weber and De Beufort and named after W. J. Tissot van Patot, who apparently sent fish to the authors. The species has been placed into the unimaculata complex with well-known species such as Betta unimaculata (which patoti was once thought to be synonymous with)and the “Brunei beauty” Betta macrostoma.The most recent additions to the complex include Betta ideii and Betta compuncta, which were only described in 2006.
Despite the fact the tiger betta belongs to the same genus as the popular Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens, it is a very different fish both in looks and natural history. Unfortunately, unlike Betta splendens, Betta patoti isn’t easy to find in the hobby, and it’s often expensive when you do find it. However I’d still argue that it is a must-have for anyone really interested in anabantoids, so it’s worth a good search. Perhaps this is an idea species for the betta connoisseur?
This species of fish gets much larger than the more familiar bettas, and both the males and females may reach upward of 130 mm (5 inches). They show little in the way of sexual dimorphism, with males and females often looking frustratingly similar. They are somewhat cigar-shaped, and their length makes them an impressive fish in an aquarium, with an impressive mouth to match. A 100-mm (4-inch) tiger betta can eat a full-grown guppy with little difficulty; a full-grown B. patoti could eat a full-grown B. splendens. Luckily they are not overly aggressive to tankmates or conspecifics, but they should not be trusted with smaller, bite-sized fish.
Possibly the least troublesome aspect about this fish, compared to other wild bettas, is in regards to its preferred water parameters. Many of the mouthbrooding bettas need water that is very soft in nature, with a pH range from 3.5 to 6.0, if you want to encourage breeding. There is no doubt that this discourages some people from keeping wild bettas, but in the case of Betta patoti, and much to the relief of many aquarists, this fish is perfectly happy to live and breed in a neutral pH with moderate hardness. In fact, the untreated water I normally use to keep my blackwater species of bettas is so soft it has to be buffered to keep this particular fish happy. Likewise, if you are using reverse osmosis or rain water, you should either mix it 50/50 with dechlorinated tap water or buffer with aragonite.
For those of you who think all bettas live in stagnant pools and ditches, think again. These bettas appreciate the inclusion of a powerhead in their tanks because in the wild they live in flowing streams. They seem to prefer this water movement in captivity, and although I have kept them in tanks with small air-operated sponge filters, they always seem more interested in life with a bit of a current. As labyrinth fish they have an organ that enables them to breathe atmospheric air, yet they do not seem to surface to breathe as frequently as more familiar bettas. Coming from flowing waters, they can use their gills to extract oxygen from the water. In their aquarium the water should be well aerated and of a temperature in the range of 22° to 25°C (72° to 77°F).
The size of the aquarium should be reflective of their eventual size and somewhere in the region of 100 x 30 x 30 cm (40 x 12 x 12 inches) for a pair. The overall height of the aquarium isn’t too important, but make sure that it is securely covered at all times. Even if you are doing a water change, do not leave the tank uncovered and unsupervised for any length of time. They can and will jump out! It is worth making sure that there are no gaps where the covers meet the airline and heater cables, etc; plug them up! Also watch out for them jumping during feeding times and going “carpet surfing.” I unfortunately lost one of my original trio to such an incident. Despite being warned about the consequences, I left a cover with a slight gap during the night and came into the fishroom in the morning to find one dead on the floor. Now I am extra careful with all my betta tanks; too little, too late for that poor fish, though.
Feeding tiger bettas doesn’t pose too much of a problem, as they will eat, or try to eat, most things you drop into the tank. I always feed a staple diet of prepared foods such as a sinking granules or floating pellets for cichlids, or even good quality fish flakes. I find that these foods give the fish all the trace elements and vitamins needed for healthy growth and behavior. As a treat and a supplement to their diet I will frequently give them some frozen bloodworms or frozen shrimp like Artemia or Mysis.
They are particularly fond of garden earthworms collected from areas where I don’t use fertilizer or pesticides. It is not uncommon for me and fellow wild-betta keepers to give their fish a fast day at least once a week. This allows the fish to clear its system and can prevent obesity in bettas, although as a whole Betta patoti is not as guilty of this as some others, such as the members of the Betta waseri complex. Bettas can become fat if they are fed too much and become no use for breeding with ultimately a shortened lifespan.
Aquarium decor should ideally offer a selection of hiding places and open areas of water. My own personal preference is to use a substrate consisting of a thin layer of fine sand over the base of the aquarium and caves made from clay plant pots and cut lengths of aquarium-safe plastic pipes. As this species of betta lives happily in neutral pH water, there is a bigger selection of plants available as opposed to trying to plant up a betta tank with a pH of 4. Species such as Microsorium, Vesicularia, and Hygrophila are hardy and easy to grow. I am also fond of offering surface-living species of plants, as it can prevent fish feeling nervous and jumping. I tend to use Salvinia and Pistia for that purpose.
I have kept Betta patoti with a few species of fish. It is often said that they are more likely to breed when there are some dither fish in with them. There is a fine line between choosing tankmates that are too big to eat and in return are not going to be a threat to any future fry. At present my adults are in with large adult guppies, Brachyrhaphis and Danio kyathit.
For the most part, the husbandry of Betta patoti is fairly easy. However, breeding the fish is still a challenge worth taking up. If you can buy a small group and grow them up together you are more likely to get a compatible breeding pair and successful spawning.
The actual spawning process is very interesting. The couple embraces near the bottom of the aquarium, and there are a few hours of displaying, circling, and practice embraces before any eggs are released. Then Betta patoti females release two different kinds of eggs; one kind is large and fertile and will develop into an embryo; the other smaller eggs are nourishment for the male. This is because the male is a paternal mouthbrooder, and for the next 14 days or so he is going to be swimming about the tank with a mouthful of up to 80 eggs. It seems that he can manage to differentiate between the two kinds of eggs and feed on one type while incubating the other.
It can take several spawning attempts before the male gets the hang of oral incubation. It is quite common for males to swallow all the eggs before day three of the incubation period, but this is fairly common in a few of the mouthbrooding bettas. Practice makes perfect and so does giving them peace and quiet. Do not place them in a busy part of the house (I have even found that covering the tanks of brooding males makes them feel more secure and more likely to go full term).
Eventually the male will spit out somewhere between 10 and 80 fry, depending on how big and experienced he is, and although the pair show no further parental care they do not see the fry as food and will largely ignore them. Fry from subsequent spawnings are also ignored by their older siblings as long as there is plenty of food and hiding places. Newly spat out fry are just less than 10 mm long and can fed on newly hatched brine shrimp, microworms, and grindal worms. Raising the fry is unproblematic, and they can be up to 6 or 7 cm long within only a few months.
In closing I’d say that Betta patoti is a superb fish to keep if you like keeping fish that offer little hassle in day-to-day husbandry but still offer challenges in other respects. If you can get these breeding, there will always be other hobbyists keen to get some of your progeny.
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