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 Understanding betta flaws  

                                                                                     author: Faith
                                                                                                                 date: 09/09/02


OK, so you are about to unpack your newly purchased betta and you just can’t contain your excitement. In a way, it is a bit like a blind date ;). Will it be all you imagined it to be? You have had time to live this moment in your head over and over again. You even already ‘pictured’ in your mind what your new finned friend will look like. How did you achieve that? Well, you surfed the net for several days and devoured every yummy color photo you could lay your eyes on. Your brain has had a serious overload of sensory delight and now it has forever retained in its memory bank an imprint of what a betta should look like. Picture perfect.

 Stop. You haven’t opened the bag yet and Mr. Betta is having a total anxiety attack. How could it possibly live up to your ever so great (and ever so unrealistic) expectations? The poor lad doesn’t stand a chance!

 OK, let’s take a small break and open a very necessary and helpful analogy. Have you ever opened a fashion magazine and gazed at all the beautiful, picture perfect people in it? And wondered how come YOU do not look like them? The more you flip through the evil pages, the more like poopoo you feel L. You look in the mirror and suddenly you do not feel so cute anymore. You become convinced your hips are too fat, you are too short, your lips are not voluptuous enough and your waistline… Well, let’s not even go near your waistline LOL. You scrutinize every possible flaw and promptly manufacture a few more while you are at it. You go back to the magazine and flip through a few more pages… Make it to the end of the publication and it’s Depression Galore (with a capital D – and make that BOLD) J (And to think you actually PAID them money to make you feel that way! ). Fortunately, your reason kicks in just as you reach for a rope to hang yourself: “Hey, the little voice inside your head says, how many people do you think REALLY look that perfect?” And come to think about it you cannot produce a single of your relatives/friends/co-workers/neighbors names. Cause the truth is, the perfect people are one in a zillion and then there is the rest of us J. They are the exception that confirms the rule: We do not live in a perfect world.

 Well, bettas are people too. And just like people, they are not perfect. Every now and then, an outstanding betta will pop up in a spawn. These near perfect beauties are often immortalized via photo which ends up somewhere in a fish magazine or on the internet. Although such bettas do exist, they are rare and if the breeder was willing to part with them, it would not be for cheap. Prices for top pairs can easily climb up into the hundreds ($200 to $400 to be more specific). And there is never any guaranty that such beauties will spawn for you. Not very many people can afford to pay such high prices, so for us normal people who must live on a normal paycheck, we have to compromise. If we cannot afford to spend $200 but can swing $60, then one should obviously be realistic and not expect to receive a $400 perfect betta. Some compromise is going to be necessary. Which brings us to the heart of this article: When it comes to bettas, which flaw is acceptable and which should be considered a deal breaker?

 After years of buying, selling, breeding and evaluating bettas, I have concocted my very own list of ‘can live with’ and ‘will not touch with a 10 feet pole’ betta flaws. So let’s go over some of them.
-Please note that we are looking at breeding stock, not stock you are sending at an IBC show (which would be a whole different E-Magazine article of its own).


 Minor flaws you should not lose sleep over (ones you can work with) 

  1. The betta is small. Smaller bettas will grow if given time and proper foods. Even if in the end they do not end up quite as big as others, it still will not affect their ability to spawn. Small females have been known to produce a surprisingly large amount of eggs. Small females are easier to breed than larger ones. A small betta will not produce more small bettas. Offsprings will be of normal size. For all above reasons, I never worry if a betta is small. If it has he genes I am looking for and will get me the results I am seeking, I will use it.
  2. The ventrals are not perfect. Ventral defects may include: uneven length, a ventral that curls or that is bent, or even lack of ventrals altogether. It is quite common for bettas to not have perfect ventrals, especially as they mature and the ventrals grow longer. I wouldn’t worry about such defects, because they are not genetically transmissible. Meaning that even if your betta has no ventrals at all (which would be your worst case scenario), it will produce normal bettas with ventrals. Many have attempted to start a strain of bettas that would have no ventrals, breeding selectively bettas with such trait, but couldn’t produce offspring of the likes. So as you see, ventrals defects are harmless.
  3. The fins are damaged. That one can really work in your favor because the betta will more then likely be somewhat discounted (however do keep in mind that you generally pay for the betta’s gene pool as much as you pay for its looks. Hence fin damage may only save you 10 to 30% of the total price. Still could be worth while). Such a damaged fin betta’s breeding potential is unaffected and you can get a lot more betta that way for quite a bit less. Anyone who has ever bred bettas knows that the pair will suffer from some fin damage during spawning, ranging from mild to severe. Fins do mend, sometime they grow right back and even if they don’t your bettas will breed just as well. So I would not worry, and sometimes even select a lot with such a flaw.
  4. The BF pattern is not perfect.  I loooove the look of a good Butterfly (BF) pattern (fins are half one color and half another. I always breed the most perfect BF males I have (cause I have that luxury since I have so many to pick from cause I breed them LOL). But if I had to purchase one and was short on funds and perhaps couldn’t afford (or find) a male with a real good pattern (which is going to cost quite a bit more), then I would gladly buy one that is priced less and has a partial pattern. Why? Because the BF pattern is variably expressible, meaning that when breeding BFs you will get a bit of everything, from solid to solids with only a hint of pattern, all the way to perfect pattern (rare) and even some marbles. So an imperfect BF will produce a few perfect ones and visa versa. Not as nice to look at, but still will get you from point A to point B ;).  
  5. Finnage is lacking.  The more the finnage is impressive, the more a betta will cost. If you can afford it, I would recommend always paying more and getting bettas with better finnage. But if money is an issue and you are limited, you cannot expect halfmoons or big finnage. Finnage is less an issue if you are breeding for pattern (such as marbles, BFs etc). Also a betta with grade B finnage but real great color may be worth going for if you are going to cross to say, a betta of yours with big fins but perhaps not so good color. Even if a betta is cheaply priced because it is a grade B with poor finnage, it could still be a good buy if you just need a pair to try your hand at breeding with. The experience gained at spawning and rearing the fry will be exactly the same whether a pair is a $40 pair or a $400 pair. Oftentimes the $40 pair may be easier to spawn (Murphy’s law J ). Having said that, if you intend to show or sell the fry, then by all means always start with the best pair you can possibly afford (cause in the end you do get what you pay for).


Now let’s look at some flaws that are a big no-no in my book: 

  1. Body is deformed.  Although that may sound like a ‘duh, pretty obvious!”, I must immediately bring to your attention that not all deformities are easy to spot. Some are very slight and may go unnoticed unless your eye is trained. The experienced breeder can spot such a flaw immediately, while the novice may not detect it and end up breeding such deformed betta. And, worst yet, selling the spawn to you over the net! L Deformities are genetically transmissible, so you will be very sorry. Here again I must stress how important it is to purchase from a reputable, experienced breeder.
  2. Spine is crooked. This flaw is easier to spot and once again a deal breaker in my book. Now again I must clarify that when working with Double Tails (DT), one will inevitably have to deal and possibly work with such flaw, because it is part of the territory. I intend to write a separate article focusing on DTs, but for now suffice to say that a slight (and I said SLIGHT) spine deviation is acceptable if working with a DT line, because almost all DTs have that trait. If the trait is exaggerated, then I would stay away from the stock. Not acceptable if dealing with a Single Tail (ST) betta as far as I am concerned, even if the deviation is super slight. I have been fortunate enough to start a lot of my DT lines with fish from Bonnie McKinley who was extremely selective and had very flawless DT strains. One does not always have that luxury, though. I have seen a lot of DTs on the market with noticeably crooked or bent spines and I would personally not touch them or ever sell them.
  3. A Double Tail has uneven lobes.  Another big no-no. Of course I am referring to noticeably uneven, especially when the upper lobe is pointing upwards. I would never buy such a betta. This trait is highly transmissible and will ruin your lines. Stay away!! Having said that, just like all people have one foot a bit longer than the other, most DT bettas have an upper lobe a hair narrower than the bottom one. That is normal. A DT with truly even lobes will be priced higher because it is not common.
  4. A betta has a veil tail. I have heard many complaints from people who purchased bettas through auctions on the net and received veil tails. By veil tail I am referring to a betta with a long, very narrow tail that curves downwards and ‘droops’. You can see such bettas by the hundreds at your local pet store. Veil tails are not to be confused with fan tails or deltas which sometimes, as they grow longer, may also seem to droop some (and could be mistaken for a veil tail if you are inexperienced). Although a veil tail is not a ‘flaw’ per say, it is an old fashion tail shape that we no longer breed and that is not qualified to enter a betta show now a day. It is a sign of very poor quality and will ruin your line. So it is a huge no-no in my book.


Although you cannot and should not expect your bettas to look like the top notch, best of the best, crème de la crème bettas often pictured on betta websites, you should learn to know where to draw the line when it comes to common betta flaws. Because although no betta is ever perfect, there are some things you can live with and some you should never have to.

 I hope this article will help you choose wisely. 

A footnote from Faith:

I wrote this betta article while driving in the R.V from Los Angeles to San Francisco (no I was not the driver LOL). The road was pretty bouncy and as a result of that I KILLED my eyes. The next day I was walking in a zigzag pattern all over Chinatown cause my whole equilibrium was off. I kept laughing and telling Mr.181: People are going to think I am drunk!! Morality of the story: If given the choice between a laptop and potato chips while on the road, go for the potato chips!! LOL