Once you’ve seen one Betta, you’ve seen them all…Right? As it turns out, there are a number of intriguing new Bettas coming to a local pet store near you. And the Alien Betta is my personal favorite! With its vivid metallic sheen and black undertones, it looks like no Betta you’ve ever come across. What is this Alien Betta, anyway?!
About Alien Bettas
One look at an Alien Betta and you know you’re seeing something out of the ordinary! Their jet black and metallic colored scales are eye catching. And the alternating pattern and iridescence definitely looks out of this world…But what are they, really?
Alien Bettas are the anabantoid equivalent of the Flowerhorn Cichlid. In case you’re unfamiliar, many fish species are better described as species complexes. In high school biology, we’re taught that a species is a distinct boundary between two different organisms.
But as Nature loves to remind us, these boundaries are rarely so neat. A species complex is a group of closely related organisms that fulfil just about all of the traditional rules for different species – yet may interbreed or have other qualities that make it worth grouping them together.
Alien Bettas are hybrids of several Bettas within the B. splendens species complex. The most familiar to you by far is the Common Betta (Betta splendens). As one of the most popular fish in the world, they already come in a wide array of stunning colors.
Of course, fish breeders are always trying to improve their lineages. And one way that’s especially popular with East Asian breeders (home of the Flowerhorn) is breeding the type species with closely related cousins that have interesting traits to add to the genetic stew.
Many wild-type Bettas are small, drab fish. But many have traits that are just as beautiful as any aquarium-bred Betta. None of them naturally have the long fins that we associate with Bettas. But they do have brilliant metallic colors and a reticulated scale pattern that aren’t nearly as vivid in traditional Bettas!
Betta mahachaiensis and B. smaragdina are the most likely sources for these new Alien Betta genetics. It’s not entirely clear which species and in what proportions are involved, nor does it matter overly much unless you’re looking for pure fry to sell.
However, we do know that Betta splendens are involved as they tend to be just as aggressive as any tank-bred Betta towards other males. Many wild Betta types are much more relaxed towards other males but not Alien Bettas. They also come in torpedo shapes suggesting yet another Betta species that contributed its genetics.
Often, you’ll see the label “Wild” applied to Alien Bettas but this is a slight trick on the part of the dealers. These fish do have genes from wild Betta species. But they remain captive bred hybrids; Alien Bettas aren’t found naturally.
- Common Name: Alien Betta
- Scientific Name: Betta splendens complex (B. splendens, smaragdina, mahachaiensis, etc)
- Origin: Thailand
- Length: 3 inches Aquarium Size: 5+ Gallons
- Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-Aggressive
- Ease of Care: Very Easy
Alien Betta Care
Alien Bettas may be a mixture of different Betta genes but they are almost identical in care requirements to Common Bettas!
Like most of their kind, Alien Bettas thrive in aquariums as small as 5 gallons. Larger is certainly appreciated but Bettas are overall excellent fish for desktop 5 gallon tanks. Even a tank as small as 3 gallons can make a fine home so long as you have a heater and adequate filtration. Just be aware that smaller tanks will fluctuate in water conditions much more rapidly than larger tanks.
A single overfeeding can cause ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates to spike rapidly. Whereas in a larger 20 gallon tank, your beneficial nitrifying bacteria are more likely to keep up with the pollution pulse.
A larger tank also makes it easier to keep tank mates alongside an Alien Betta. While they are fairly peaceful towards other fish, occasionally a lone male may decide to chase around his tank mates. This happens a lot when there are other fish that have the same color as him. However, all Bettas are rather slow swimmers and don’t have the teeth to do any real damage so it’s mostly for show. So long as your tank is spacious enough, that is.
Alien Bettas also prefer aquariums with little to no current. In the wild, Bettas of all kinds live in hot, stagnant waters that are very low in dissolved oxygen. Their ability to breathe atmospheric air using their labyrinth organ lets them supplement what they take in with their gills.
Other fish can’t compete with Bettas in these conditions, giving them sole access to the near-infinite amounts of insect larvae and other invertebrates that Bettas love to eat! Gouramis are also anabantoids and you’ll see both of these fish regularly rising to the surface for an occasional gulp of air, which holds up to a hundred times more oxygen than freshwater,
That said, you should never provide your Betta with stagnant water conditions because it also puts them at risk of developing bacterial and fungal infections like Fin Rot, ammonia burns, and other problems. Always provide a filter for your Betta as well! Even a sponge filter gives your nitrifying bacteria a place to colonize and speeds up the breakdown of nitrogenous waste products!
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You will often see Bettas kept in tiny unheated cups in pet stores but these aren’t the conditions they do well in. They simply tolerate being mistreated like that. Instead, make sure you have a heater for your Bettas as they are Southeast Asian natives. Alien Bettas prefer temperatures of 75-84℉. Giving them higher temperatures ensures they display better colors, remain active, and are much more likely to breed!
All captive bred Bettas are undemanding otherwise when it comes to water chemistry. However they prefer neutral to slightly acidic conditions (pH 5.0-7.0) but they will do fine in alkaline conditions as well (pH 7.0+). Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate should always be as close to 0 ppm as possible!
Plants and Substrate
Wild Bettas live in hot, shallow, thickly planted waters where they can find mosquito larvae, bugs, shrimp, and other tiny invertebrates to eat. If you can provide them with similar conditions in your aquarium, they will thank you with all kinds of natural behaviors. It’s fascinating watching a Betta thread its way through a planted aquascape, occasionally pausing to rest on a leaf, before continuing its search for food!
That said, not all plants appreciate the intense heat that Alien Bettas prefer. Beyond 80℉ many aquarium plant species slow or halt in growth. However, any plants suitable for Discus or Angelfish tanks will do well in a warmer Alien Betta aquarium!
These lists include equatorial plants like Amazon Swords, Java Moss, and Java Fern. These plants also tend to be extremely hardy and not demanding in terms of carbon dioxide or supplemental fertilization.
Bettas aren’t too concerned about the substrate you choose; gravel or sand will work just fine. However, your plants may prefer one or the other, so choose accordingly.
Decorations that work well for Alien Bettas include rocks and driftwood. I love using driftwood because most kinds slowly release tannins into the water column. These humic acids help buffer the pH towards acidity and provide beneficial natural substances that bolster the immunity of your Betta.
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They will tend to turn your water a dark tea color over time, however. If you don’t want a large piece of driftwood occupying the bottom real estate, you can also try Indian Almond leaves! They provide a different look as well as a healthy dose of plant tannins for your Alien Betta.
Feeding Alien Bettas
Alien Bettas do look unique but they are just as undemanding as any other Betta when it comes to feeding! As micro predators they do prefer invertebrates above all else. So things like brine shrimp, daphnia, blood worms, and tubifex are by far their favorite things to eat. Live and frozen foods also provide nutrients that prepared foods often lack and help condition your Alien Bettas for spawning.
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However, you can still use a convenient flake or pellet-based food as the base of their diet. I always suggest reading the ingredients labels to find brands that have high quality, animal based protein, such as Fluval. They use soldier fly larvae and salmon; two excellent, highly digestible sources of protein for an Alien Betta.
Feeding once or twice per day is more than enough, depending on how much you offer per feeding. If your Betta tends to get more than his fair share of food, cut things back to once per day.
Tank Mates for Alien Bettas
Alien Betta males can be quite aggressive towards each other but tolerate most freshwater community fish of the same size or smaller. This includes Dwarf Gouramis, Platies, Tetras, Guppies, Barbs, Danios, and the like. Fin-nipping Barbs and Tetras can cause problems for standard long-finned Bettas but Alien Bettas don’t have the tempting fins they crave.
Bettas inhabit all levels of the aquarium but they will also ignore bottom dwellers like Corydoras, Plecostomus, and Kuhli Loaches. All three of these popular bottom dwellers also love the warm conditions Alien Bettas prefer. Just stick to smaller Plecos like the Clown Pleco, Dwarf Otocinclus, and Rubber Pleco.
Dwarf Cichlids like Blue Rams and Apistogramma can be a little problematic because they have a similar form and habits. Both are fairly territorial as well and likely to display towards fish that share their body structure. In a large enough tank your Betta and Cichlids should get along but if either of the two are breeding, you may see some issues.
Good Tank Mates for Alien Bettas:
- Dwarf Gouramis, Livebearers, Tetras, Smaller Barbs, Danios, and other peaceful Community Fish
- Corydoras, smaller Plecostomus, Kuhli Loaches, and other bottom dwellers
- Snails and larger shrimp
Poor Tank Mates for Alien Bettas:
- Dwarf Shrimp
- Other Betta males
- Dwarf Cichlids (except in medium sized or larger tanks)
Breeding Alien Bettas
Once you’ve provided your Alien Bettas with warm, clean, stable conditions, you’re pretty much guaranteed success in spawning them! The only thing you’ll need now is a female. Interestingly, female Alien Bettas are much more brilliantly colored than most Betta females.
They are still noticeably smaller but they have many bright, iridescent scales with black webbing, just like the males. They still tend to be somewhat more subdued in color but they are very attractive fish in their own right! Female Bettas are usually visibly plumper as well since their ovaries take up quite a bit of space within their body cavity. Unlike males, you can keep several females together in a Betta sorority. In fact, if you have the space, keeping multiple females is a good idea when trying to breed them.
Male Bettas can be very intense in their affections once they are ready to spawn. If you only have one available female and she’s not too interested, his lust may turn aggressive and he may simply start chasing and biting at her. Several females not only increase the chances of one having eggs when he’s ready but also diverts his attention so they all get a break.
Alien Betta males build bubble nests in the quietest corner they can find in your tank using plants as an anchor (another reason to provide low flow and live plants). Once he’s built his nest up, he will then try to entice a ready female to meet him beneath it, where they begin a courtship dance.
They then embrace and release their eggs into the water column. The male Betta quickly scoops them up in his mouth and spits them into the waiting nest where the fry will develop over the course of 36 to 48 hours.
Betta fry are extremely tiny and need the smallest food you can raise: infusoria! This culture of microscopic organisms (paramecium, amoeba, etc) is very easy to grow, though, and will get them to the point where you can offer them brine shrimp nauplii and other moderately sized foods.
Once they’re eating brine shrimp, it’s only a matter of waiting until they are large enough to eat crushed flakes. Breeding Alien Bettas can be a very lucrative business as they are still fairly new to the hobby and can sell for quite a few dollars more than common Bettas!