Betta fish are popular aquarium pets because they’re hardy and easy to care for. However, wild bettas are a bit more demanding in terms of their care.
This can come from the water conditions in your tank, to how your tank is decorated.
That’s why it’s important to know where your betta lives in the wild so that you can replicate its natural habitat as much as possible.
In this post, I’ll share with you where bettas live in the wild, which countries you can find them in, the water conditions, and some pictures for your inspiration.
Where do bettas live in the wild?
Bettas are freshwater tropical fish native to Southeast Asia – freshwater streams, rice paddies, peat swamps, and blackwater streams.
Depending on the betta species and where specifically the betta is found, its natural habitat may differ.
It is important to note that the same species of betta can be found in multiple places, of which may look different and have different water conditions.
Thus, when buying a wild betta, always try to find the specific locality it came from so that you can replicate your aquariums properly.
Betta fish living in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia – these countries are home to many different types of betta fish.
In fact, many believe that the betta fish are only native to these countries. However, this is untrue.
The more famous types of wild betta fish are found here, but there are many other wild betta species found in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
I’ll cover them later.
The species of bettas that are found in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia are from the betta splendens complex – so that’ll be betta splendens, betta mahachaiensis, betta imbellis, betta siamorientalis, betta smaragdina, and betta stiktos.
Apart from the splendens complex, certain bettas such as the betta simplex, betta pallida, betta pi, and betta ferox are found in Thailand as well.
Most live in freshwater habitats and only the betta Mahachaiensis have been found in brackish environments.
These bubblenesting bettas can usually be found in swamps, rice paddies, ponds, ditches, the Mekong basin, and pools that contain stagnant water.
Farmers in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos use bettas for mosquito control in their rice paddies.
The common bettas introduced to rice paddies are the betta splendens, betta imbellis, betta smaragdina, and betta mahachai. However, it is likely that these bettas have cross-bred and produced hybrids.
Apart from rice paddies, you may find them in swamps, ponds, and in the Mekong basin too!
They are usually in shallower tannin-stained waters with leaf litter and overhanging vegetation. Usually, this area has muddy substrates.
The pH levels of these habitats range between 6 to 7.8 and the temperature is on the warmer side ranging between 26 to 32°C (79 to 90°F), depending on the area.
Betta fish in Borneo
Now when talking about the types of betta fish in Borneo, you’ll need to understand that Borneo is a huge island with lots of rainforests and peat swamps.
The island of Borneo contains three distinct countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei – of which wild bettas can be found in all of these countries.
The most common complex that can be found on the island of Borneo is the betta unimaculata complex, betta albimarginata complex, betta akarensis complex, and the betta foerschi complex.
The more popular bettas found in Borneo are the betta macrostoma, betta albimarginata, betta channoides, betta unimaculata, and betta pallifina.
Of course, not all species in these complexes are only found in Borneo. Some can be found in other parts of Southeast Asia while some are exclusively in Borneo.
There are also other species of bettas from other complexes that I didn’t list above that can be found in Borneo.
But since this article is focused on the betta fish’s natural habitat, I’ll keep to the main topic.
Most bettas found in the rainforests and peat swamps of Borneo are mouthbrooders as there are lots of fast- and slow-moving streams in the area.
There are patches of aquatic vegetation and dense marginal plants on these streams’ sandy or leafy bottoms. Look for shallower waters and/or along the banks, that’s where you’re most likely to find bettas.
These fish live in water with a temperature of 20 to 26 °C (68 to 79 °F) and a pH of 4.0 to 7.4.
This is a wide range so it’s best to dig deeper into the betta species you’ll like to keep and learn about their specific natural habitat.
You’ll also notice that bettas from this region are bigger than other complexes.
Betta fish in Indonesia
This part of Indonesia refers to the other parts of Indonesia – mainly the island of Java and Sumatra.
In these regions, there’s a large collection of different betta species coming from different complexes.
For instance, you’ll find the betta bellica, betta simorum, betta brownorum, betta burdigala, betta miniopinna, betta rutilans, betta rubra, and betta pugnax amongst many other betta species across Indonesia.
In the wild, you can find these bettas along the banks of clear water streams, peat swamps, and forest swamps. These habitats have soft muddy substrates topped with leaf litter and detritus.
Temperatures range from as low as 23°C to as high as 30°C (73 to 86 °F), and pH levels range anywhere between 3.0 to 7.5.
As this is a wide range, you’ll need to know where your betta lives in the wild – forest swamps, clear water streams, or peat swamps – before trying to keep them as pets.
Betta fish in Malaysia
Now betta fish in this area refers to those in the Malaysian Peninsula, or West Malaysia.
There are a lot of betta species found here in the wild, with a mixture of both bubblenesting and mouthbrooding bettas.
The dominant complex of bettas you’ll find in Peninsula Malaysia would be the coccina and splendens complex, but you can’t find every single species here.
You’ll find the betta imbellis, betta splendens, betta bellica, betta persephone, betta pugnax, betta pulchra, betta tomi, betta waseri, and betta hipposideros amongst others here.
You can find these bettas in closed-canopy forests living on the banks of blackwater streams amongst riparian plants, freshwater swamps, and peat swamps in between submerged and emerged vegetation.
The substrates here are usually muddy and covered with leaf litter.
Depending on which area, temperatures range between 23 to 30°C (73 to 86°F) and the pH levels can range between 3.0 to 7.5.
Again, this is a wide range of temperature and pH levels, so you’ll need to further research your selected betta’s wild habitat.
Betta fish in Singapore
Now, let’s talk about wild bettas in Singapore. There have been reports of a few wild betta species in Singapore; both native and introduced.
Native wild bettas in Singapore are the betta pugnax, betta tomi (now extinct in Singapore), betta taeniata, betta imbellis (introduced), and betta splendens (introduced).
In Singapore, wild bettas are known to live in clear, shallow, slow- to fast-moving hill streams and foothills. The substrate is known to be sandy with little to no submersed plants.
It’s reported that they are mostly found in stagnant waters along the banks with overhanging plants and leaf litter.
Temperature ranges between 22°C (72°F) during the rainy season to 26°C (79°F) in normal temperatures. Given that Singapore is pretty hot most of the time (~30°C), I reckon they might be able to survive in these temperatures as well.
The betta pugnax have been found in neutral waters to slightly alkaline with a pH level of approximately 7.4.
There isn’t much information on the habitat of the other wild bettas found in Singapore though.
Here are some pictures showing the habitat of wild bettas in Singapore.
Betta Habitat Myth
I’m going to assume that you’ve heard the myth that betta fish can live in small aquarium tanks. But is it true? Well, yes and no.
Firstly, let’s analyse where this myth came from. From reading online, I noticed that many other blogs mentioned that bettas were found in elephant footprints or just in small puddles of water.
Because of this, many believe that bettas can be kept in small tanks.
Now, let’s analyse why these bettas are found in small puddles of water in the wild. Well, bettas are native to Southeast Asia, which is a tropical region.
This means that we have seasons where it’s extremely hot with no rain, to the monsoon season, which rains heavily every day.
In the dry season, water dries up causing the bettas to “live” in these small puddles. Sometimes it gets so dry that you find bettas living in whatever water is left in between leaf litter.
When this happens, bettas jump around in hopes to find a larger pool of water – that’s why bettas are good jumpers and you should always cover your tanks.
But I digress.
Next, let’s define small tanks. I define small tanks as those with a volume lower than 10L (2.65 gallons).
While bettas can live happily in small tanks (kept by many in the region), they thrive better in larger amounts of water. A smaller volume of water is dangerous as your water conditions may fluctuate more than in an aquarium with more water.
The water temperature, ammonia levels, and pH levels fluctuate easily in small tanks.
This is dangerous as stable (and clean) water conditions are paramount to keeping any fish.
Thus, you’ll need to be on your feet to ensure that the water conditions are in tip-top condition should they be kept in smaller tanks.
It’s always best to look into purchasing a bigger tank that provides plenty of space for swimming and hiding. Also, consider installing a heater to maintain a consistent temperature (for those not living in the tropics).
Lastly, bettas don’t really need a huge tank. In nature, bettas are territorial and stick to a small area to live in despite having a whole stream/swamp to live in.
It’s easier to defend their territories and to defend themselves against predators.
I can’t remember where I read this, but there was a hobbyist that kept a pair of bettas in his 3ft (90cm) tank.
He mentioned that his bettas mostly stuck to their own territories and hid in the plants instead of venturing out and about.
The takeaway from this is that your bettas (anecdotally) don’t need large aquariums and can be kept in smaller tanks, as long as the needed water conditions are met.
To conclude, bettas can come from a wide range of habitats in the wild. From rice paddies to peat swamps, each habitat has varying water conditions, plant life, and temperatures.
The most important thing when trying to keep wild or domestic bettas is to have stable and clean water.
So if you’re keen on keeping bettas, be sure to know what species you’re keeping and which locality they’re from; so that you can understand their natural habitats better.
I hope you have found this article helpful in learning where betta fish live in the wild.
Any questions or information to contribute?
Drop them in the comments below!