Facts About The Dazzling Siamese Fighting Fish: Thailand’s National Aquatic Animal
Betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish, are small, colorful fish that are native to Southeast Asia and are common in the pet trade.
In Thailand, people call betta fish “pla kat,” meaning “fighting fish,” and there could be no name more appropriate than this. These pretty fish you often see swimming alone in tiny bowls at pet stores and carnivals are highly aggressive and territorial but strikingly beautiful. Siamese fighting fish have a long and rich history. If all you know about this fish is that they fight, here’s a crash course in all things Betta.
Where do they come from?
Siamese fighting fish originated in Siam, the nation that became Thailand in the mid-20th century. The fish are native to the central part of Thailand, but these are also found further north and south and in nearby countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Siamese fighting fishes are usually small, from 2.4 to 3.1 inches long, and live for about two years on average. The species that most people are familiar with is Betta splendens and these originate from the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins in Thailand.
How are they bred?
No one is sure how long people have kept Siamese fighting fishes in captivity, but the tradition of breeding and fighting them goes back at least a few hundred years in Thailand. People took note of how the wild fish were highly territorial and attacked other fishes that encroached on their space, and began arranging fights between the fish as entertainment.
The first Siamese fighting fish in Europe were Royal pets
By the 1800s, Betta fighting was such a popular pastime in Siam that even the country’s monarchs kept the fish and watched them battle. In 1840, King Rama III gave a few fish from his collection to Theodor Cantor, a Danish doctor, and zoologist. Cantor brought them home to Europe, where they were bred and introduced to aquariums around the continent.
Those colors are not natural
Wild Siamese fighting fish are normally drab brown or olive in color but can take on more intense colors as signals of aggression or as part of their courtship. After the fish’s introduction to the West, American and European breeders developed the range of colors seen in these fishes today, from intense reds to pastel blues, through careful and selective breeding.
They can live out of water
During the dry season in their natural habitat, Siamese fighting fish can survive in the beds of dried-out streams and ponds by retreating to cavities with a little bit of water or even burying themselves in the muddy bed.
Note that these spectacular multi-hued fishes are often referred to as “The Jewel of the Orient.”