Frank’s Bettas – Wild Variety Bettas and Bloodline Conservation

Frank’s Bettas – Wild Variety Bettas and Bloodline Conservation12 min read

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Tal Halperin
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betta splendens
Image from Franksbettas

For our second installment of Aquarium Spotlight, we had the privilege of speaking to Frank of Frank’s Bettas. He is the only breeder and bloodline conservationist of wild betta fish in Thailand. Did you know there are many other types of wild bettas apart from the common betta splendens which is found in pet shops?

We spoke to Frank about the other betta varieties, the conservation issues facing them, and how he has managed to help prevent their genetics from vanishing due to habitat loss, pollution, and other challenges. Read on to learn more about the history and wider family of this beloved fish and how there is more to them than meets the eye.

FB: Hello guys!

I’m Frank from FranksBettas, a wild betta hobbyist and breeder from Thailand. Since I was as young as I could remember, when we were small children in rural Thailand, we did not have the things that many kids around the world have – so our playground was nature. We always knew that wild bettas existed but did not know how to find them.

One day an older boy told us that he knew where these wild bettas could be found, we were very excited and asked if he could take us to catch some. The only bettas we ever knew were the domestic fighter plakats, which were bred purely for fighting. That’s all bettas were used for back in those days – which was to keep and condition them for fighting against each other.

We grabbed our nets and small plastic baskets which we will use to scoot for fish and traveled on our push bikes for many kilometers to the nearest habitat which at the time used to be on the edge of a quarry where there were a large area of marshland with thick vegetation and algae growing in shallow water. we had no idea yet but those small shallow pools of water had the betta smaragdinas, one kind of wild betta, which are native to the eastern region of Thailand. This is where it all began.

So let’s start!

1. You Specialize in Breeding Wild-Type Bettas. What Is Different Between These and the Regular Bettas That People Commonly See in Pet Stores?

Betta smaragdina Guitar
The original wild Betta Splendens was bred by breeders mostly from Southeast Asia to become more vibrant in colors and different traits were line bred. Image from Franksbettas

FB: Wild bettas are the original genetics of the domestic splendens you guys see commonly in pet stores such as Halfmoons, kois, and the endless variety of colors that you now get in the hobby today, those variants are the results of decades of selective breeding.

The original wild betta splendens was bred by breeders mostly from Southeast Asia to become more vibrant in colors and different traits were line bred. For example, being redder in color, or for longer fins. After years of hybridization in captivity, some different morphs and mutations started showing and then those desirable traits were also line bred.

Before all these different types and colors were bred the only bettas in SE Asia, over a 100 years ago, were the original wild bettas. They are naturally found in Thailand and some parts of other countries in Asia. These wild bettas look very different from the fancy bettas today and have a much more natural form.

These are the currently known species from the splendens complex that are found in Thailand.

  • Betta Smaragdina
  • Betta smaragdina Guitar
  • Betta splendens
  • Betta siamorentalis
  • Betta imbellis
  • Betta Mahachaiensis
  • Betta Stiktos

The different traits of these bettas, compared to the fancy splendens, is that these Wild bettas are naturally smaller in size with shorter fins. This is since they do not benefit from larger fins, a trait that was selectively bred for in captivity. Yet in the wild, due to the trouble of swimming in their densely planted natural habitat, this is not a suitable trait. Large fins could potentially slow their movement when navigating through thick vegetation underwater. Wild bettas’ colors are also duller compared to fancy bettas, since having less attractive colorations is a survival tool when you are trying to avoid larger predators.

However, they do have iridescent green with some turquoise on their scales and fins such as the Betta Smaragdinas. These are naturally found in the eastern region of Thailand. Some species like the Betta Splendens that are found in the mid-region of Thailand will have some green scaling with a darker body and reddish wash in their fin. It is a myth that the wild betta is dull colored – it’s just different.

2. What Made You Want To Start Breeding Wild-Type Bettas? Was There a Particular Moment That Made You Decide?

Wild-Type Bettas
Years passed and I began having the urge that I wanted to keep these wild betta fish again as pets. Image from Franksbettas

FB: Like I describe in my childhood experiences, many people fought wild bettas since it was a very common cultural sport in Thailand and was mainly used as a form of gambling. Since children back then, including myself, did not know any better we used them for fighting. Yet kids are kids, and after a while each hobby becomes dull, and we forgot that they even existed again.

Years passed and I began having the urge that I wanted to keep these wild betta fish again as pets. Yet when I returned to the original location I first encountered them, most of the habitat had now been excavated by a quarry. The habitat no longer looked like it did and I realized most of the fish must have died. No matter where I searched in that area I caught only a few pairs. This was probably the moment that made me decide that I should see if I can breed them – and so I began breeding them.

At first, I began breeding them only to keep them, but after becoming better at breeding and having more fish that survived, I did not have room to keep them all. The only thing I could think of was rereleasing them back into newer locations where they could potentially thrive and start a new colony. Back then I only bred this line of wild bettas – which was the only surviving genetics for their line. That’s where the conservation part really started but at the time – I did not do so intentionally.

3. On Your Site, You Mention Issues With the Conservation of Bettas. Can You Tell Us a Bit More About This?

habitable area of wild bettas
When I rerelease fish into a new potentially habitable area, I try to find an area which can sustain wild bettas. Image from Franksbettas

FB: Habitat destruction is the main reason that these fish go extinct. Pollution is also an issue but it’s not as bad as farmland being built. This is because a habitat could be totally filled in by excavators in a single day, whilst pollution takes years to really have an effect.

When I rerelease fish into a new potentially habitable area, I try to find an area which can sustain wild bettas. I look for areas that are marshland-like environments with a constant flow of water that seeps from under the ground. This ensures that the habitat will not dry up during the summer, which is a key factor in the habitat of wild bettas, since these are the only areas that they can live in.

In recent years I have been trying to fund a permanent habitat construction on one of my own bits of land. This could potentially hold a colony of wild bettas and allow them to thrive without the fear of it being filled in, unlike farmland, which belongs to farmers.

We also cannot blame farmers for this destruction – sometimes they do not even know these fish exist, and they are only expanding their farms to make a living.

4. What Has Been Your Favorite Part of Creating and Growing the Business ‘Frank’s Bettas’?

Betta Smaragdina blue
Without the support from my followers, I would not be where I am now without them – and I have to thank these little fish for that. Image from Franksbettas

FB: I never once thought that one day I would have this as my job!

I only gained recognition when I first started showing my adventures and habitat exploration in Facebook groups and on YouTube. At the time, I was the first to ever show this type of content to do with wild betta fish. Many people were very curious about how their natural environment looked and what the wild versions of the bettas they keep looked like. As a result, I quickly gained a following of new friends and followers from across the world, some of whom I still talk to until this day.

I was doing conservation without even knowing what conservation meant for years, without any benefit of any kind. I was doing so just purely because of the love for breeding and keeping these fish all out of my own expenses.

Things really turned into a business only 4-5 years ago, which was when I started to breed other species from different regions of Thailand. That’s when people wanted my captive bred lines.

Many people wanted to help conserve the genetics of the different lines I had, but back then I did not even know how to send them elsewhere! After researching, I managed to send some wild betta fish to many places around the world like United States, Australia, and Europe. At first, I sent them for free and just asked for the recipient to cover the shipping

But as time went people offered money for them I decided to start breeding and working on my captive-bred lines. This was so that they would be of a higher quality for people who wanted to keep them as pets. In the meantime, I was still breeding F1s to rerelease back into the wild, whilst I was selling the established captive lines to also help fund the conservation. Ever since then, this is what I still do to today.

I never once thought that breeding bettas would be the thing that gave me and my family the opportunities that it has given us today! Without the support from my followers, I would not be where I am now without them – and I have to thank these little fish for that.

5. Lastly, What Does Your Average Day Involve?

The ones I’ve rereleased to are in fact slowly increasing in numbers! Image from Franksbettas

FB: My day involves mostly checking on the adult fish which have been separated into their separate tanks for conditioning after they are large enough. There are also water changes – lots and lots of water changes! Some days I take photographs of my captive-bred wild betta fish that are for sale which are grown enough, that people may be interested in them.

I also check the natural cement ponds that hold the wild lines that I release every rainy season, which I still breed and work with. Today the habitats around my area are still hard to find but the ones I’ve rereleased to are in fact slowly increasing in numbers!

The closest habitat near me is probably going to be filled in by the local quarry in the next few years to come sadly. Yet, if that happens we still have the genetics from this location seeded elsewhere so we will always have this line alive.

You can find the video exploring this habitat on my Youtube, and if you want to look up my work you can check out FranksBettas on there.

Thank you so much to Frank for sharing with us this incredible story! Many people do not realise the complex and varied history of the betta genus, and we have really enjoyed hearing him share more about this. You can check out his youtube channel at the link above, take a look at his website and Facebook Page here, and take a look at some other articles on betta fish in our section here.

Sydney Perry

Sydney Perry has loved fish since she was a child and has enjoyed keeping many varieties over the years, ranging from black moors and shubunkins to betta fish. As a lover of nature and of Japanese culture, her dream tank is an Iwagumi aquascape, combining fish with carefully crafted aquatic landscapes in miniature.