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Home > Breeding Bettas > A Look Inside the Bubblenest
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|A Look Inside the Bubblenest|
By: Victoria Parnell
The Bubblenest has always been right up there at the top of the list of betta lore. It has been shown that bubblenesting is the oldest form of spawning for all species of Betta, although certain other members of the Betta family have since evolved into mouthbrooders, presumably in response to predation and an increase in water current that would make bubblenesting impossible. You can easily see this evolutionary leap when you observe male B. splendens take their eggs and fry into their mouths temporarily if they feel that their safety is threatened.
|A male betta's nest is a unique construction that can vary considerably from individual to individual.|
|Here's a familiar sight to most betta owners -- the nest in the jar!|
|This nest has eggs in it, visible as solidly-colored specks among the bubbles, like pretzel salt.|
The male betta constructs his bubblenest by gulping air from the surface of the water and forming sturdy bubbles with his saliva, which contains special adhesion proteins that contribute to the longevity and security of his bubbles. The fry are born with special attachment cells that run from their heads to their anterior trunks which helps keep them from falling out of the nest.
In the wild, male bettas begin building nests as soon as they reach adolescence, between 8-12 weeks old. Hobbyists will also attest to this fact, as they watch tiny little males, newly-jarred, building their first nests. In the wild the largest and most dominant males are the ones that attract spawn partners, so even wild bettas probably do not begin actively spawning until they are well into adulthood, even though the young males are equipped to do so far earlier.
A male will first stake out territory through intimidation or active combat. The choicest territories go to the largest and strongest males, well out of the way of predators and with good surface cover. Smaller males are often failures in their first spawn attempts due to dangerous nesting sites, not because of ignorance or inexperience, but from circumstance. Given enough decent territories, even a very young male will choose a nesting site based on the criteria that makes it safe from predation, competition, and the elements.
Most hobbyist-breeders are familiar with the concept that male bettas prefer building their nests under floating objects. In the wild this represents an instinctual response to the environment, as an object floating on the surface will provide protection from the rain and wind as well as adequate cover for keeping the fry secure. It has been proven that the nest itself attracts infusorians, which, no doubt, become the first foods for the fry as they absorb their yolk sac and gradually take on a horizontal swimming position.
As soon as a male stakes out or wins a new territory he will begin construction of the nest. During this time he will court females who may wander into the territory as well as chase off rivals. When he isn't interacting with other bettas or feeding, his primary focus is building his nest. Based on observation, a male betta doesn't wander too far from his nest-site and will generally not go out actively seeking females. It is the sexually mature females who wander in and out of territories, examining nests and assessing the males until they find a situation that they approve of. The male will court any female that enters his domain, and if she is unreceptive to his advances will chase her off. Females approach the nest in the typical head-down position when they are ready to release eggs, and spawning commences as usual. Although a male will usually chase away any other betta, male or female, during the actual act of spawning, it has been reported in fishrooms that certain males will spawn with two females at the same time, alternating the embrace between the two of them. (One of these eyewitnesses also noted that whatever female was not motionless from the embrace would eat her rival's eggs as they were released if the male didn't get to them in time.)
When spawning is complete the female will retreat from the nest, but will usually stay in the general vicinity for some time. The male will display typical post-spawn behavior of patrolling his perimeters and attacking intruders, but in the vast expanse of a betta's natural habitat it is fairly easy for the female to avoid these attacks. Further study is required on the subject of why the female remains, but it has been theorized that she stays within range of the nest site in the event that, if something happens to the male or he abandons the nest, she may provide parental care for the eggs and fry. It is also interesting to note that, although the male will chase his mate if he finds her in his vicinity, he shows far less aggression to her than he does to other females, and to males.
The male will continue to repair and add to his nest, but now he has the added responsibility of his clutch of eggs and, later, his new fry. There are behaviorial differences that vary from individual to individual, as some males seldom leave the nest itself and others continue to leave briefly to check for intruders. Both types of males will viciously attack another betta that comes into his territory. He will not actively look for food during his vigil, but if food presents itself within easy reach, he will eat it. It was hypothesized by a fellow breeder that wild males may have several fry from different females in his nest, at various stages of growth. This was based on an experience I had in a controlled spawn with one male and two females. After spawning with the first female, neither female was removed. On the 2nd day the male was observed spawning with the 2nd female. After that spawning was complete, both females were removed, because the fry were important to me. However, I have to conclude that that experience was anomalous, as the male's natural aggression toward intruders during the paternal vigil would prohibit another female from approaching the nest site. If this were to happen in nature, I think it would have to occur directly after the first spawning, since studies have shown that the male's aggressiveness toward intruders increases incrementally as the fry in his nest age.
The presense of a nest in the tank of a non-breeding male is usually associated with general health and well-being, and is an indication that the male has staked a territory and is prepared, both mentally and physically, to spawn. Some non-dominant males never seem to have nests in their jars, but will construct them when exposed to a female in a spawning situation. The typical domestic spawning set-up itself is unnatural to bettas, as the male is not given an opportunity to win a territory and begin his nest prior to seeing a female. In many cases the males are given very limited exposure to other bettas before being introduced to his prospective mate in the spawn tank. This can cause abnormal spawning behavior, including excessive damage to the female, failure to build a nest, and cannibalism of eggs and fry. A breeder that has had problems in the past with this type of male is advised to add the betta to the spawning tank about a week prior to adding the female, feed him well, and let him see other bettas, both male and female, for about an hour every day. Once he has a good nest going, you can introduce his intended mate into the tank, protected by chimney or divider. Feed both fish well, and when the female has become gravid and is showing spawning readiness, gently siphon and replace half of the water in the tank (taking care not to destroy the nest) and release the female. Spawning should proceed smoothly from there.
There is a lot of speculation as to the purpose of the bubblenest and its necessity in the development of the fry. The first theory is that the fry need to be near the surface of the water column in order for the swim bladder to develop properly, and it has long been said that fry that later exhibit swim bladder disorder (these are sometimes called 'fallers' or 'jumpers') were those that were not near enough to the surface during the crucial phase of swim bladder development. However I have never found this to be the case, and I have observed spawns in which the male did not retrieve fallen fry from the bottom of the tank at all grow into hale and healthy adults with no swim bladder problems. The fry just seemed to lie on the bottom until they were able to swim horizontally and leave the nest site. I believe the purpose of the bubblenest probably has more to do with protection of the offspring, since the male does not have to leave his nest site to take the necessary air from the surface. The bubblenest also attracts infusorians, which become a betta's first meal. The fry will leave the nest in their search for food as soon as they become free-swimming, but the male will continue to try to keep them in the general vicinity of the nest site, usually by swimming around and collecting them in his mouth, and then releasing them back into the nest. Based on my spawning techniques that involve leaving the father with the fry long-term, I believe that wild betta fry probably stay under their father's protection in his own territory until they are too large to be eaten by other bettas. As soon as the fry have abandoned the nest, the male will again begin courting new females. Once he has a new spawn to look after he will stop trying to retrieve and tend his previous offspring.
So as you can see, the bubblenest, as uncomplicated as it seems, is an important part of almost every aspect of betta behavior and interaction. From attracting a mate to cradling the fry to the social standing of the male itself, that tiny cluster of bubbles in the corner of your betta's tank is a many-faceted and fascinating expression of nature.
|Category: Breeding Bettas|
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HEJSAN FROM SWEDEN EVERYONE! Everything in Sweden is going well, although I'm still busy learning the language and coping with a newborn, so it will be a bit before I'm as active as I'd like with the fish. This is a Facebook update! I have created a new BettySplendens Facebook page that will be used exclusively for betta-related networking. On the 16th of August I will be going through and deleting most of the people on my personal Facebook page who are not actual friends or family (many of you have become friends through the course of the hobby, and of course will not be deleted). If for any reason you wish to remain on my personal page, please let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or FB email. Otherwise, go to the new BettySplendens Facebook page and click the 'like' button for more betta-related news and updates :).
Tack så mycket (that's ''Thank you very much'' in Svenskie-land ;))! ~Victoria~
Slight change of plans! I have decided that, instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm going to create a personal FB page and use the old one purely for betta stuff. So if you're on the original page (now called BettySplendens Bettas), please stay put! :P
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