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White-Seam Bettas

Although the white-seam bettas, Betta albimarginata and B. channoides, look very similar, they are separate species.

By Ted Judy

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Aquarium Fish International Magazine
Common names of fish may vary, but they are usually accurate descriptions of the fish they represent. This is certainly the case with the white-seam bettas (Betta albimarginata and B. channoides). The males of these mouthbrooding species display red, black and white, looking almost identical when compared to each other. This has led some hobbyists to the mistaken conclusion that they are the same species. There are actually many differences between them.

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White-seam bettas don't show hesitation to interbreed when in the same setup with the opposite sex
If presented with an oppositely sexed Betta channoides in the same setup, this Betta albimarginata won’t hesitate to interbreed, possibly resulting in hybridization. Photo by Ted Judy.
White-seam bettas are set up best for breeding with live foods
Live foods are best when conditioning white-seams for breeding. Pictured is a Betta channoides.
Photo by Tony Terceira.

Both species of white-seam bettas are found in the Kalimantan Timur area of Borneo, Indonesia. They were first collected in 1993 by Swiss ichthyologist Dr. Maurice Kottelat, who then described both white-seam bettas species, with Dr. P.K.L. Ng in 1994. The species are separated by mountain ranges. There is no doubt that they are closely related. Maybe at one time there was only a single species, and the geographic isolation that separates them now has resulted in enough speciation to develop the differences between the white-seam bettas species today.

The two white-seam bettas species will readily hybridize and produce viable offspring. Notable differences between the species are seen when comparing the fry to each other, the color patterns of the breeding females and displaying males to a smaller extent. The only notable behavioral difference between them is that B. channoides is more timid, and it usually only comes out from hiding when feeding or seeking a mate.

White-Seam Betta Male Differences
The physical appearances of the white-seam betta adults change, depending on behavior. Male B. albimarginata that are not displaying will be a drab brown with some dark spots on the head and some mottling in the body. The fins will be reddish and darken to black toward the edges, which will show a small amount of white on the tips of the rays. A black spot may be present just behind the gill plate. Betta channoides males that are not in display have a light gray body color with the fins being just slightly darker. The edges of the fins will appear slightly iridescent.

When displaying, the male white-seam bettas of both species turn a bright orange-red color. The black markings become pronounced, and the edges of the fins are lined in bright white or cream. The appearance of these white “seams” is where the fish get their common name. The black in the caudal fin of B. albimarginata extends through every ray from the bottom edge to the top. The tail pattern of B. channoides is different, in that the top two rays are devoid of black. The overall appearance of B. channoides is cleaner, with sharper edges between the colored and black portions of the body. The proportional size of the black regions is greater in B. albimarginata than in B. channoides. This gives the B. channoides’ body an appearance of being a lighter orange-red than B. albimarginata, but this may be an optical illusion because B. albimarginata has more black. Both of these freshwater fish species grow to about 2.5 inches in length, but B. channoides grows more slowly.

White-Seam Betta Female Differences
There are more noticeable differences between the patterns of the females of the two white-seam betta species. Betta albimarginata females in display become darker brown with brick red fins that are trimmed in black, and there may be a few white tips on the fin rays. Older B. albimarginata females will usually have two parallel dark stripes that run the length of their body when they are not displaying. The female B. channoides display shows some irregular, dark vertical bars on a light gray body. The fins in B. channoides are also reddish. Female B. channoides not in breeding colors are a neutral gray color with a few dark markings or faint bands.

White-Seam Betta Captive Care
A 15-gallon aquarium is a suitable space for a breeding group of two female and four male white-seam bettas. They will not fight much, though they will flare their gills at each other in defense of some personal space. Flowerpots, driftwood and halved coconut shells make excellent territories. A covering of floating or suspended aquatic plants completes all the aquarium decor the fish need. Lighting should be dim, but these fish will get used to brighter lighting, as long as disturbances outside the aquarium are kept to a minimum.

White-seam bettas are not picky about water chemistry, as long as the water is in the soft to moderate range (total dissolved solids of 50 to 200 parts per million, KH 0 to 3, pH 6.0 to 7.2). The temperature should be 74 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Slow water movement is better than current, so a small air-driven sponge filter will provide plenty of filtration. Weekly partial water changes of 20 to 30 percent with clean, aged water are sufficient to maintain a healthy habitat.

White-seam bettas readily accept all types of fish food. Live foods are best for conditioning the fish to breed. The best live foods are those that will not disappear into the substrate too quickly. Daphnia, baby brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) and mosquito larvae are relished, and the presence of those foods in a densely planted aquarium will keep the bettas occupied hunting for them. Live worms, such as blackworms, whiteworms and Grindal worms, are also excellent conditioning foods; if they are, however, able to crawl out of sight, the bettas will not find them.

Blackworms should be chopped to a size that is easier for the white-seam bettas to eat and to prevent the worms from crawling under objects. If live foods are not an option, the next best choices are frozen or dehydrated Daphnia, bloodworms and mosquito larvae. Flake and small pellet foods will do the trick in a pinch. Do not overfeed them on nonlive foods because the bettas may not eat the food that is sitting still on the bottom. Neither species spends much time near the water surface; floating fish food may be ignored until it sinks. In fact, even though they are anabantids, they rarely venture to the surface for a breath of air.

White-Seam Bettas Breeding
Both Betta albimarginata and B. channoides are old enough to begin reproducing at 4 months. They are not fully grown at this age, but letting them spawn when young is not a detriment to their health. White-seam bettas are paternal mouthbrooders, and in both species, the female initiates spawning. The female will cruise from one male’s territory to another and advertise her willingness to spawn by showing off her breeding dress. The males respond by displaying to the female.

The act of spawning requires that the white-seam bettas curl their bodies around each other so the vent of the male is very close to the ovipositor of the female. After the eggs are released by the female and fertilized by the male, the female collects them in her mouth. After several batches of eggs are in the mouth of the female, she will transfer them to the male by spitting them up in the water above the male’s face so that he can catch them as they sink toward the bottom. This behavior is a lot of fun to watch and worth staring into the aquarium for hours waiting to catch the moment.

Keeping white-seam bettas in colonies ensures that when individuals are ready to spawn, there is a willing partner at hand. Another effective strategy is to keep a male and female separated for a few weeks, and then place them together. A mature pair will usually start to court each other almost immediately and will spawn within 24 hours. Occasionally with this method, however, the female becomes so gravid that she lays too many eggs for the male to handle, and the spawn may fail.

White-Seam Bettas Male Mouthbrooding
The number of eggs a pair of white-seam bettas will produce varies with the size of the adults. Betta albimarginata parents will produce broods of up to 20 to 40 fry. The smaller B. channoides lays fewer eggs, with 15 to 25 being the average spawn size. Betta albimarginata males will incubate the eggs for 12 to 16 days, depending upon temperature. Betta channoides are a little faster at nine to 12 days. The fish fry are released a few at a time. The best way to tell if all the fry are out is to see if the male eats, which he will not do until all the fry are no longer in his mouth.

The best way to ensure that the white-seam betta fry will not be eaten is to carefully move an incubating male to a smaller aquarium just a few days before the fry are released. If the male spits out the partially developed fry as he is being moved, put the adult fish and the larvae in the smaller aquarium as planned. A male will usually pick his brood back up; if he does not, some of the immature fry will continue to develop and grow while sitting on the bottom of the aquarium.

The white-seam betta fry aquarium needs a thick tangle of suspended plants for the babies to hide. As long as they can bury themselves deep into plants, it is unlikely that the male will eat them before he is removed. If the fry are released in the community aquarium, the other adults will hunt them down. If there are enough plants, however, some may survive. The male needs a rest after incubating a brood. Isolating the male in a recovery chamber (a breeder net in the community aquarium will work) will let him regain strength before spawning again.

White-Seam Betta Fry Care
The best fish food for the one-eighth-inch newly free-swimming white-seam betta fry is freshly hatched baby brine shrimp. Other acceptable foods include vinegar eels or microworms, though neither are as nutritious as baby brine shrimp. The fry grow quickly and will reach a half inch in the first month, as long as there is plenty of food and good water quality is maintained.

The white-seam betta fry are ambush predators, and they will not move very far to find food. As a result, dead foods will mostly go to waste. A smaller space means that less fish food is needed to maintain a food density that is high enough for all of the fry to find enough to eat. Frequent small water changes facilitate fast growth and are especially important when feeding a lot of fish food in such a small space. A 10-gallon aquarium is large enough to raise a brood through adolescence. Provide them with a lot of structures so that they can hide from each other as they mature. These bettas are not gregarious, and they like their privacy even at this young age.

The fry of B. albimarginata are black, and the fry of B. channoides are a very light gray. As they grow, the B. albimarginata remain dark until they start to mature. Betta channoides fry stay a uniform light gray until they start to darken. At this point, the juveniles of the two white-seam betta species are almost impossible to differentiate. The males that mature the most quickly in a group will become apparent at about 2 months of age and three-quarters of an inch long, but the fish that look like females at the same age and size may still be males that have not started to change color. It is best to wait until three months and until they are 1 inch long to try to identify the females. One trick is to move the males into a bachelor aquarium. When one aggressive, dominant male is taken away, the next most dominant male will change color. Eventually you’ll have an aquarium of males separate from an aquarium of females.

Both of the white-seam betta species are uncommon in the hobby. Their rarity and beauty combine to make them highly desirable and valuable. Neither species is proving to be hard to breed, so the availability of both species should increase. Neither B. albimarginata nor B. channoides is common in their native range, and those ranges are not large areas. Hopefully, there will come a time when captive-raised specimens of both of these betta species are well-established in the hobby. Both species are worth the efforts of aquarists to help get them to that point.

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