Caring for Siamese Fighting Fish


Siamese Fish History

Siamese Fighting Fish History

Accessorizing with siamese fighting fish was not what the people of Siam originally had in mind when they started collecting Siamese fish prior to the 1800s. Known as Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta Splendens), the Siamese fish of that time were not the same elegant fish that we see today. With much smaller fins and a dirty greenish brown hue, they were bred for competitive fighting and not for the magnificent finnage and colors that they are now famous for. Native to Siam (now Thailand), Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and parts of China, these fish became accustomed to water temperatures that were often above 80°F (27°C).

The Siamese fighting fish history shows that for the children of Malaya, in southern China, collecting these Siamese fighting fish was a favorite pastime. Able to catch 50 fish in an hour, from the paddy fields, these children would conduct siamese fish fights in order to determine who the village champion was. Usually, it was the biggest fish that they had. Once the wounds healed on the prize-winning fish, he would go into competition again against a new opponent. This pastime diminished significantly when agricultural chemicals and mechanized plowing were introduced for the harvesting of the paddy fields. The fields were not the only place where one could find Siamese fighting fish however. They were also living in ditches, stagnant ponds and gentle flowing streams.

Known as pla kat, which means tearing or biting fish, the wild Siamese fish generally would have short-lasting fights of only a few minutes or so. However, once the Siamese started to breed them specifically for fighting, these matches could go on for hours. The winner was determined, not by the wounds that he inflicted, but instead by his willingness to continue fighting. The losing fish retreated and the match was over. Damage to the fish generally was nothing more than torn fins, with serious damage rarely seen. However, damage to the families of the men betting on the fish was sometimes substantial, with potential losses as great as his money, his house and, on occasion, his wife or other family members!

Seeing the obvious popularity of these fights, the King of Siam started licensing and collecting these fighting fish. In 1840, he gave some of his prized fish to a man who, in turn, gave them to Dr. Theodor Cantor, a medical scientist from Bangor. Describing these fish in an article nine years later, Dr. Cantor gave them the name Macropodus Pugnax. In 1909, Mr. Tate Regan renamed those Betta Splendens, noting that there already was a species with the name that Dr. Cantor had given to them. It is believed that Mr. Regan got the name from a warrior-like tribe of people named "Bettah".

By the last quarter of the 1800's, the Betta Splendens (Siamese Fighting Fish) were introduced into France and Germany and in 1910 they were first seen in the United States. Seventeen years later, Frank Locke of San Francisco received his first Siamese fish. They were light-colored with brilliant red fins and he gave them the name Betta Cambodia. With the variety of colors and color combinations that were being introduced, these fish were considered to be different species, thus a long list of alternate names was created.

The siamese fighting fish history spans back over many years, and today, Betta Splendens (Siamese Fighting Fish) are the most popular fish with breeders in the U.S. and Japan. Commercial Siamese fish farms in Malaya and Singapore breed both display Splendens and fighting Splendens with the breeding of the fighters producing the most revenue. Fighters are often discarded following their matches and new ones are bought, whereas display Splendens do not need to be replaced for quite some time.