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Home > Breeding Bettas > Can the Female Raise the Fry?
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|Can the Female Raise the Fry?|
By: Victoria Parnell
Females which build nests, although a deviation from what we consider the 'norm' in bettas, are nevertheless often reported in fishrooms throughout the world. In my own observation, I've noticed females that build nests typically follow a pattern -- they are normally older females of at least 6 months of age, and seem more aggressive than their younger counterparts.
|Rows of spawning tanks. Can the female successfully raise fry? And if so, should we allow it?|
The agression and maturity seem to go hand in hand, as I've often noticed female bettas start to exhibit 'male' behavior with age, especially if she hasn't been spawned in awhile, or if she's never been spawned at all. These females will begin displaying increased aggression in community situations and even in individual containers, flaring at their neighbors with gills spread all the way out and wagging their bodies in a manner typically associated with males. Although a female that behaves in this manner may be bred, more often than not she proves too aggressive for the average male, who is confused by her signals and will not react by building a nest or courting. Many times these pairings result in fighting instead of spawning, and should be terminated immediately.
Occasionally you will find a female that is still quite feminine in behavior, but will periodically release eggs in her jar and place the sterile eggs into her own bubblenest. They tend their little nests with diligence for the first day, but in almost all cases will end up eating the eggs and letting the nest dissolve by the following day.
I've often wondered if these nesting females were, in fact, acting on natural impulse. What would happen in the wild, say, if something happened to the male after spawning and he wasn't able to tend the nest? Would the female step up to the plate?
For the first experiment I used a 5 month old female in her breeding prime. Although she had never been spawned, I did observe her tending a nest of her own released eggs in her jar, and felt she was ideal for the purpose.
The pair courted and spawned in a textbook way. When the female retreated from the nest, I used a bit of food to lure the male away, then quickly caught him and placed him in his jar (ironically, the male didn't seem to mind this -- it seems male post-tending depression may be associated with the actual presense of the live offspring rather than just eggs. I'll have to do a follow up on that.) Now to see how the female reacted to his sudden disappearance.
It looked like the experiment would be a wash. The female, when she finally did come out of hiding, nosed around the surface of the water and finished off the food I used to tempt the male out from under the nest. The acted like she was expecting him to appear any moment and chase her off, and gave the nest a respectful berth.
While removing the male, I had accidentally knocked a few of the eggs loose from the nest, and they had fallen to the bottom of the tank. The female soon found these in her wanderings and picked them up in her mouth. She didn't seem to know what to do with them at first, but did eventually swallow them.
As the male failed to make an appearance, the female began to get bolder, staying out in the open and unclamping her fins. She found a crack in the sheet of newspaper I use to 'card' the spawning tanks and started interacting with the juvenile fry in the next tank. Then she circled the tank again and found herself under the nest itself.
Here was the moment of truth, and I watched eagerly to see what she would do. She approached the eggs cautiously, and I could see her eyes flicking this way and that, clearly still expecting the male to appear at any moment. When he didn't, she turned her gaze to the eggs, looking them over carefully but not touching. I then saw her begin to behave in a very interesting way, swimming rapidly away from the nest to pause, with her fins spread, before circling back. She seemed to be saying 'Hello, dad! There are eggs here!' When the male didn't appear, she seemed to grow increasingly agitated, making several circuits of her tank. She finally came to rest under the nest again, looking nonplussed. She didn't seem to want to tend the eggs, but at the same time was reluctant to leave them.
At this time I had to leave her to attend to other things. When I came back to check on her 2 hours later, she was still in the vicinity of the nest, but pacing back and forth along the glass of the tank. When I bent down to look closer, she took up a defensive posture under the nest, but made no move to touch the eggs.
When I checked on her again that evening, she was actively mouthing and rearranging the eggs under the nest. I left her for the night, intending to check her progress again the next morning.
By morning the nest had grown considerably. I noticed an immediate difference in the bubbles the female was producing and the bubbles produced by males. For one thing, they were smaller. They also seemed less sticky and more prone to popping and separating than a male's bubbles. Nevertheless, she was doing the best she could, spreading the eggs in a single layer under her bubbles, again unlike most males, who seem to prefer to clump up the eggs.
Although it was clear the female was successfully tending a nest, there were other obvious differences between her behavior and that of a male. For one thing, she didn't stay under the nest. She was constantly wandering around the tank looking for things to eat, flaring through the crack at the juveniles next door, or just pacing. She was clearly hungry, so I did give her a feeding of thawed glassworms when I fed the other fish. She devoured these with obvious relish before returning to check on her eggs.
The next day, she actually had hatchlings! In tending the new fry, there were also some differences between the female parental behavior and that of the male. For one thing, she wasn't as good about keeping them all in the nest, probably because her weak bubbles were falling apart and she was making no particular effort to replace them. She was quite good at getting them before they hit the ground, though, and that was probably because she didn't have a lot of long fins to get in the way of her maneuvering, and could rapidly turn this way and that to catch the fallers. She was very good about getting fry that did fall to the bottom, but didn't seem to have as much capacity in her mouth to hold them. She could gather 3 or 4 fry at a time; any more than that and the little ones would start slipping out of her gills.
I removed the female that evening, as the fry were beginning to become free swimming, and most of them were now staying under the nest rather securely on their own.
Inspired by the successful experiment, I resolved to try a few different females and scenarios, which I will be writing about in a few follow-up articles. However, I did notice something about this batch of fry that may or may not be related to the female being the proactive parent. I seemed to lose a LOT of them during the first week. I also saw a lot of weak fry who stayed in the tail-down position long after their siblings were free-swimming. These would occasionally fall to the bottom, then weakly try to dark back to the surface again, sometimes spiraling across the tank. I'm not sure what a male would do differently to produce a stronger batch (perhaps he just eats these guys?) but it was interesting to note.
In the follow-up experiments I also recorded a few other notable differences in female rearing behavior that might make it a bad idea to habitually allow the female to raise the fry. Please check back next month for the continued story!
|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 email@example.com, 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
For all the betta inquiries:
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