August 7, 2015
Happy Friday! By the time you read this, I will have been out of the office enjoying the summer for a couple days – the weather has turned lovely here, not too hot and not too cold, and it’s the perfect time of year here for stargazing – particularly as the Perseid meteor shower is peaking early next week and we’re lucky enough this year that it coincides almost exactly with the new moon. If you’ve got relatively dark skies near you, I strongly suggest you head out to gaze on Monday or Tuesday night – bring warm blankets and enjoy!
Anyways, I’m not actually here to inform you of astronomy, but rather of fish, and my goodness but we received some beautiful ones this week. I’m not sure if you’re all aware of my love of labyrinth fish – around the workplace I’m sometimes referred to as “the Betta girl” – but if you’re not, you’re about to become acquainted.
It’s been quite a bit since we’ve had Sphaerichthys acrostoma “Sharp Nose Chocolate Gourami” from the Indonesian parts of Borneo. This is definitely the largest Sphaerichthys species I have personally seen. They are absolutely beautiful fish – their silhouette is nearly almond-shaped with a fascinating elongate and upwardly pointed mouth. While their resting color is a pleasant latte brown with a dark band running from their mouth to behind their eyes, their display markings include a dark line along their center, running from just behind their pectoral fins to their caudal peduncle. This line is bordered along its top by brilliant silver-white, a coloration that also extends to rim their ventral edge. The dark markings on their face are replaced by bright red spots. I constantly find myself amazed by these gorgeous fish and wish that I had space at home for a group of them. A biotope with this species would be a fascinating project – they occur sympatrically at their type locality with Puntius foerschi “Foersch’s Barb” and these two species would make an amazing display.
Ctenops nobilis “Noble/Fragile Gourami” are even more elongate and pointed than S. acrostoma, with a long, extended snout and lean body. They have coloration reminiscent of any chocolate gourami, bearing a dull brown coloration at most times and a mottled and banded patterning of deep brown and silvery white when aggressive, breeding, or defensive. In full breeding dress, males sport a sunny yellow anal fin while the female shows darker, redder coloration. In the wild, these fish live in temperate climates with air temperatures ranging from 60° to 90°F – a typical water temperature of around 75° should work well, though as long as the temperature is stable it isn’t too critical. It’s said that higher temperatures may incite heightened aggression in this species or even cause the fish to stop eating, so it’s best to keep their water temperature closer to the median temperature. As with many other Labyrinth fish, a slow or gentle current is recommended, though clean water is a must – remember your weekly water changes for this species! While the common name of Fragile Gourami may seem to imply this species is difficult to maintain, it really is not – take care when acclimating your fish to its new neutral to slightly acidic home and they will be as sturdy as can be. Feed a varied diet of small live and frozen foods and, with time, they may be weaned to micropellets or other small prepared foods.
Moving away from the Gouramis, we have Betta brownorum, known as the “Scorpion Betta” or “Brown’s Betta”. These are a member of the Coccina complex, known for deep red coloration, green iridescent spots on their sides, and diminutive adult size. The Scorpion Betta is a perfect example with a deep, wine red coloration with a distinct, large green spot on their flanks just below their dorsal fin – this coloration is common to both males and females. These spots are clearly bordered and nearly as big as the fish’s body is tall. Sexing these fish can be tricky and, without the proper equipment to spotlight the fish to look for ovaries, the best method is by the shape of the fins. The male’s dorsal and anal fins are elongate and pointed on their trailing edge, while the females appear rounded and blunt. These fish can be differentiated by the other members of the complex by distinct features – they sport a very narrow dorsal fin that covers about one sixth of the body length, the distinct green side spot, and white tips to their ventral fins. In the wild, these fish relish pH values from 3.0-6.0; this can be difficult to attain in the home aquarium and we’ve acclimated our specimens to a pH just over 7.0. Of course, a lower pH is known to encourage spawning, so it may not be a terrible idea to acclimate them back down to a more natural environment using peat or Indian Almond Leaves.
Finally, the fish I consider our crowning jewel of Betta species at this time – Betta mahachaiensis, the “Mahachai Betta” or “Blue Dream Betta”. These fish have been known to science for about fifteen years as B. sp. Mahachai, but were only formally described in 2012. While they are a member of one of the most well-known species complexes, the Splendens complex, these are some of the most unique Bettas you will ever encounter. Unlike other species, they are the only Bettas to live exclusively in brackish estuary environments. While they will readily adapt to somewhat hard and alkaline freshwater (pH 7.0-8.5), a small amount of salt is appreciated – natural salt levels in the estuary area vary daily with the tides, so pinning down an exact amount is difficult; as this fish can be kept without salt, a very low salinity may be best. Areas with dense nipa palm (Nypa fruticans, the only palm species adapted to estuary growth) groves are ideal and males will make use of the plant’s bracts (leaf growth points) as nest sites, protected from the main water way.
As one can see from the picture, the fish appears to be living in a small area and some hobbyists and fish purveyors incorrectly cite these images as supporting the proposition that Betta species can and will be comfortable in jars, bowls, vases and other tiny containers. However, keep in mind that these estuaries are highly affected by oceanic tides and water levels will rise far enough to allow the Betta to travel in and out of his bract home as needed twice daily as well as refreshing the water in the bract, and Betta species are excellent jumpers and easily able to leap from these bracts to the water body below. In the following image, while a nest can be seen in a bract barely cut off from the surrounding water, one can see the distinct water line on the plant itself indicating a higher level during tides.
Using these images without taking into account the changing tides in the estuary environment is an incomplete comparison – choosing to present some facts, that the male Mahachai lives in these bracts, while ignoring that he can escape at any time and likely does not live his entire life in these protected coves, renders the argument logically unsound. Just before I get off my soap box, please keep your fish in adequately sized containers, even if bowls are common practice. Betta mahachaiensis needs ten gallons for one pair or twenty gallons for a group and even your Betta splendens should be housed in as large a home as possible – they need exercise and enrichment as much as a pet dog does.
Well, sorry to ramble on about housing your Bettas – we at the Wet Spot Tropical Fish pride ourselves on educating hobbyists, but even the majority of hobbyists can’t agree on the point of Betta housing. I hope you all have a great weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!