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Adaptations in the World of Bettas

When you hear about Siamese fighting fishes or bettas, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Many people immediately think of the range of colours that this variety of fish has. Others might think of the fact that two bettas cannot be kept together in the same tank due to aggression.

The scientific name of this beautiful fish is betta splendens, and it is among the oldest species of domesticated fish. Let’s find out three interesting facts about this fish that is native to Southeast Asia, and see how the Science concept of adaptation can be applied to them.

1. Bettas living in the wild are usually a dull green or brown colour to help them camouflage from predators.

Bettas found in the wild do not have striking colours or flowing, ribbon-like tails. Instead, wild bettas are a dull green or brown. They are also smaller with shorter fins. This is an example of structural adaptation, with the bettas’ physical characteristics helping them to blend in better among river plants and hide from their predators.

However, through a process called selective breeding, captive bettas have been bred since the 14th century to be more colourful with delicate, ribbon-like fins. That explains why the bettas we see nowadays are so colourful with beautiful tails!

It is also interesting to note that while bettas are now kept as pets due to their stunning appearance, they were originally bred for fighting purposes, as a source of entertainment for people.

2. Bettas have a special organ to help them survive in low-oxygen waters.

Wild bettas can be found in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. They live in habitats such as stagnant pools and rice paddies, which have warmer freshwater that is shallow and slow-moving.

However, water in habitats like these tend to be low in oxygen. So how do the bettas survive in such an environment? They are able to take in a breath of air from the surface of the water through a ‘labyrinth organ’, which is another example of structural adaptation. This special organ, which is only found in a few species of fish, allows the inhaled oxygen to be absorbed by the betta.

3. Bettas flare their fins and gills to make themselves look bigger.

When bettas get aggressive, they flare their fins and gills at their opponents. Doing so makes them look bigger and more intimidating in order to chase their enemies away. This form of behavioural adaptation helps enhance their chance of survival, as their enemies may be scared off without a fight, which can cause injuries.

Bettas are very territorial, especially male bettas. It would not be a good idea to have two bettas in the same tank as they will get aggressive over things like space and food. With no place to retreat to safety, it can result in serious injuries to the bettas and even death when they fight. This is why betta fish that are for sale in pet shops are usually kept in separate tanks with opaque pieces of paper between each tank.

We hope this article has helped you to not only learn more about the stunning betta fish, but also have a clearer understanding on structural and behavioural adaptations.

At MQ, we integrate real world knowledge into our Science lessons to provide our students with a fun and enriching learning experience. Find out more about how we nurture a love for Science in your child!


“About Betta Splendens.” International Betta Congress, July 6, 2018.

“Betta Fish, Facts and Information.” Animals. Accessed July 5, 2023.

“Betta Splendens.” UWL Website. Accessed July 17, 2023.


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