Betta fish live natively in southeast Asia. Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Laos have incredible populations of wild betta fish – as do Borneo and Indonesia.
Ranking right up there with goldfish, it’s hard to imagine a more popular option for starting an aquarium than a betta fish.
Beautiful, brilliant, and relatively hardy – not to mention simple and straightforward to take care of and they don’t require oversized aquariums to lead happy and healthy lives – millions of people start their underwater worlds with betta fish for good reason.
At the same time, the overwhelming majority of folks are familiar with betta fish only in a pet store sort of experience.
Some might not even imagine that betta fish live in the wild, flipping around and zipping around in waters all over the world.
If you’d like to learn a little bit more about betta fish in the wild, though – where they live, what their habitat is like, what they eat in the wild, and more – this is the perfect guide for you!
Where Do Betta Fish Live in the Wild?
Betta fish have an almost otherworldly look to them, a unique sort of flowing appearance that separates them from goldfish and makes them a real attractive option for beginners that want to keep fish.
And while these fish have become a bit of a global phenomenon over the last 30 or 40 years, it used to be that you would have an impossible time tracking betta fish down unless you went to Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Laos have incredible populations of wild betta fish – as do Borneo and Indonesia. These fish really seem to thrive in shallow water conditions that don’t have quite as much oxygen as other waterways.
Believe it or not, betta fish do really well in rice fields, too!
The most common wild species of betta fish can be found in Thailand and Cambodia, though.
Described as “mouth brooding”, these wild betta fish played a huge role in the creation of the domesticated betta fish (more on that in just a moment). This is where a lot of the worldwide pet stock started. All six of the “betta splendens” varieties can be found in this part of the world.
You see, today’s modern pet store options are hybrids of these wild bettas – betta fish that never have (never could) have existed in the wild.
All different kinds of Thai and Cambodian betta fish were bred and mixed together, so much so that the “genetic soup” of today’s hybrids is really difficult to unravel. But this is where those fish can trace their lineage too!
Breaking Down the Wild Betta Habitat
Wild betta fish do really well in shallow water, thriving in the same kinds of conditions that the domesticated hybrid versions of this fish enjoy as well.
It’s not at all uncommon to find these fish in pools of water, swamps, shallow rivers and streams, creeks, and especially rice fields. The shallow water conditions warm up faster, making it much easier for the wild betta to thrive.
A big part of the success wild betta fish have in shallow water is the development of a labyrinth organ. That organ allows betta fish to breathe air, pulling oxygen not just from the water but also from the air outside the water as well.
There’s a reason why your betta fish goes up to the surface every now and again and a reason why they can be found blowing bubbles so often, too!
Wild betta fish also love shallow water with a lot of plant life and a lot of structure. These plants generate tons of fresh oxygen but also help them hide from predators that would have otherwise effortlessly spotted them and their brilliant colors underwater.
What Do Bettas Eat in the Wild?
While betta fish will eat plant life out in the wild, these fish are – first and foremost – very carnivorous and are looking to eat meat and protein sources wherever they can find it.
It’s not at all uncommon for betta fish to eat a diet very heavy on insects and insect larva. They can also dig out worms, gobble up bits and pieces of animals that die in their shallow water, and can sustain themselves on a plant/route based diet for a couple of weeks if they absolutely have to.
One of the coolest things about wild betta fish is that they sort of self regulate when it comes to feeding out in nature.
Unlike other fish that might eat and eat and eat, gorging themselves to the point of threatening their health and wellness, betta fish are going to pace themselves a little more. A lot of this has to do with the fact that their shallow pools of water are often very rich in food sources and they don’t have two go crazy to hunt their next meal down.
Are Wild Betta Fish Solitary Creatures?
Betta fish in the wild exhibit many of the same attitudes and behaviors that they do in captivity.
Hybrid versions of these fish haven’t bred out the solitary personality traits, the aggression that betta fish can have towards other fish (especially males) that encroach upon their territory, or the fact that these fish just sort of like to be left alone.
At the same time, it’s a lot more common for betta fish in the wild to come across more betta fish than it is in captivity.
Luckily, most of the time these fights out in the wild don’t result in fights to the death.
Because there’s a lot more room to roam, and because there’s often a lot more structure and a lot more opportunity to run and hide, these fish might display a bit of aggression – spreading out their fans and showing off to one another – but then they usually turn tail and run to break away from conflict.
Just like the domesticated hybrid versions male fish are a lot more aggressive than female betta fish.
Small harems or colonies of female betta fish can cooperate with one another without a lot of conflict. But as soon as males are introduced into the mix things can go little sideways!