Introduction

 

The purpose of this page is to represent the extremely old Thai tradition of rearing and keeping Betta splendens, better known as Siamese fighting-fish.

I will use many different styles of writing to present the picture. Sometimes I will use an editorial method to present the story. I will also hyperlink to clarify some details, this can be pictures, comment, explanation, or sometimes it’s me just joking around. Many of the materials on this page I have taken from library archives. In this case, I will cite the author’s name and any information issued about those documents. I have also translated articles from the Thai language to the English language. Some of the articles may even come from my discussions with hardcore breeders that I know.

When I first started this project, I planned to write everything by myself from what I have practiced, read from old documents, and from summarized discussions with other experienced breeders. While collecting all the material for this article, I discovered that there are many Betta fanatics on the Internet. I also discovered that some of these people do not approve of fish fighting and see it as being animal cruelty. When I discovered this, it caused me to be sick for several weeks. In fact I almost gave up on this project all together, and nearly deleted it entirely from my homepage. However this is a subject that keeps crawling through my head like many worms. I was thinking about the lost stories of the Siamese cat, and the Thai hunting dog. They are both part of the great Thai intellectual heritage, they are famous in myth, and many people have them, but know very little about their origin. You may ask yourself, Why should I care where they came from? I can buy this pet anywhere. If you ask a similar question to the keeper of the public gardens, “why do you care for all those plants?” he/she will humbly tell you that, this is my duty and my pride’s work. I enjoy looking after these plants, but I am even happier to see the visitors enjoy themselves and appreciate my work. So I decided to continue my work. The primary reason I am continuing this project is, I feel it is my responsibility to spread the knowledge I have learned as a Thai fighting-fish breeder and to tell the true story this fascinating fish. The second reason is, there are many misconceptions about the Siamese fighting-fish all over the Internet and in magazines. Especially the statement that “THEY FIGHT TO THE DEATH”. For me this is such a painful statement. I can honestly say that the people that make those statements are telling truths with their imagination. As far as my fighting fish experiences are concerned:

  • I have never seen a fighting Betta die in the fighting ring. The cause of death comes after the fight, if the owner neglects his injured fish.
  • Not every Siamese Fish fight lasts forever, an average fight lasts about 2-3 hours, after which one of the fish will always give up the fight. The fight is like boxing; one of them must be the winner and one the loser. Sometimes both fight until they can fight no more, then it is called a tie, and no one dies. The real fighters are carefully selected from special fighting stock, they are always the short fin types (but not every short fin is a good fighter). And no respectable breeder will allow an unprepared fish to fight. Long fin types are not fighting fish, as they cannot stand the fight for longer than a half hour (most western countries named this type of Betta as fighting fish), they can only damage the fin and tail, some do not even know how to bite. I have seen the female long fin types bite the male and make him run away. So fish fighting is similar to human fights, only the trained fighters participate.

Fighting fish is the process of selecting the best specimens, only the winners are chosen to breed, and cross breed with females from another winning batch. The outcome of the descendant Bettas are extremely tough fish, able to live in temperatures from 25 Celsius to 38 Celsius.

The third is, to destroy the misconception that every Betta is the best fighting creature. This point is so important that it sums up all my intentions of writing this page.

FightingFish

 

This article is from the “Thai Fisheries Gazette” (Thai language issued January 25, 1967) Reprinted from “Holiday time in Thailand, vol. 49, No. 3.” I have not seen the original issue yet.

My first intention for reprinting this article was mainly for historical note, and to answer questions about the selective breeding process of Siamese fighting-fish in Thailand.

To make things clear for the reader, I used hyperlinks in some keywords within my personal comments. However, do not get upset if there is nothing there. I’m just kidding around again.

Finally, this section is also a open public forum, if the reader has some useful articles or information to share, please send them to me and I will publish your work, giving full credit of course to the author or source.

 

Flashing fins, gorgeous gills and thorny tails stirring up a tempest in a bottle of water. They belong to two of the toughest, littlest species of fish in the world. Siamese fighting fish.

The scene is at one of the few remaining spots where fish-fighting takes place regularly, in the outskirts of Bangkok. No fish-fighting is permitted within the city limits.

The arena is a shed with open sides inside the compound of the proprietor who is giving a license to operate it. There is also a fighting–cock pit in the same compound.

The owner lives in the wooden house in front of the fighting-fish arena and the pit. He also sells rice and other cooked food and refreshments to the enthusiasts of both sports.

Every Sunday, from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m., a large orderly crowd gathers in the compound, paying a gate admission of two baht each. The owner gets ten percent of stakes.

Fighting-fish breeders bring their champions and favorites in little bottles of water, each in one bottle. Before a contest, bottles of fish are placed alongside one another so that two possible adversaries may watch one another. Their reactions will be noted with particular interest by their owners and by the enthusiasts who will base their bets on impressions at these encounters with the glass of two bottles coming between the potential opponents.

When a fight is agreed upon between the owners, each of the adversaries is spooned out of its bottle in a receptable and carefully put into a large tall bottle. When it is in a bottle by itself a fighting fish is not extraordinary - looking and appears to be like any other small fish. However, when it faces an opponent, it transforms into a wonderfully beautiful creature.

It irradiates with exotic colors. Its gills become extended. Its fins flare up. Its tail spreads out. Every part is radiant and vibrant. (Figure I)

The adversaries lose no time in getting at one another. They bite-and sometimes their mouths are locked for minutes, even hours, while they move up and down the water in the bottle, struggling.

They are vicious with one another and relentless in their assaults. They chew off pieces of each other, gills, fins, tails, scale. The little bits of fish bitten off sink through the water.

No quarter is given in the battle in the battle between these courageous creatures. They fight to the death. Sometimes they fight the whole day without a decisive decision. A drawn fight (which is a fight that carries on until closing time without either being killed) is rare.

Enthusiasts watch a fish fight with discernment. They know the vital parts of a fish which, when attacked, may cost its life, and their bets are placed according to their estimates of the fighters in the progress of the battle (bets are also made in the course of a fight).

Even persons who have watched fish fights for years can still watch them with fascination and absorbing interest.

The fighting fish that goes to the professional battles is a thoroughbred. It has been carefully bred and crossbred.

There are various varieties of fighting fish, and each has dominant color-purple, green, red.

The natural habitats of the Siamese fighting fish are the ponds and marshes of Thailand. There are two chief kinds of Siamese fighting fish- Plakad lukmoh and Plakat pah (Plakad is the Thai name of fighting fish). The former kind can hardly be fond in the natural habitats today but it is bred by enthusiasts and is sold sometimes for two to three baht. The Plakad lukmoh is a tough guy which does not know the meaning of defeat.

Plakad pah abounds everywhere, even in the canals in Bangkok’s twin city of Thonburi. This species has a longer body but it has no stamina for prolonged battles.

Plakad lukmoh and Plakad pah have been cross-bred.

A Siamese fighting fish is no more than five centimeters in length and no more than one centimeter in width. It may be caught in the ponds and marshes with the use of nets or sieves with tiny holes. When caught, the fish should be put into bottles of water. Pond water is better than water from the pipes at home.

Only the males are fighters. They may be distinguished from the females by their more brilliant colors, longer tails and bigger fins.

For breeding purposes, a female with eggs is placed in a bottle of water with the selected male so that they may get acquainted for one or two months.

When the female shows signs of bearing her eggs, a basin of water should be prepared. The basin should have a diameter of one meter. Some marsh vegetable and water plants should be placed in the basin. The basin should be kept away from a place where rainwater may fall into it.

Both the male and the female should then be placed in the basin. The male will chase the female until the female gets tired. It will then encircle the female with its tail around the abdomen. The eggs will drop out of the female. The male will then spit out sperm to fertilize the eggs which will be protected in bubbles. (Figure II)

It is strange but the female will try to eat up the eggs. The male will prevent the female from doing so. The female should be taken out of the basin and the male should be left to take care of the eggs until the little fish are hatched.

When the fish is hatched it is fed with tiny red plankton. When it grows bigger it is fed larvae of mosquitoes. When it is six to seven months old it is ready to fight.

The fighting fish has to undergo training. It is pitched against other fish in its own “camp”. Its owner churns the water in its bottle so that in swimming against the currents it strengthens itself for battle.

Then it is taken to the arena.

The quest for Betta splendens’ origin

 

I wrote this article by myself. The reader may get confused with my English, please be patient with me. This article is about the search for the origins of the long fin Betta splendens. To find out, how did the long fin Betta come to be? At this time, I have not discussed this topic with any biologists. Actually, this is my personal interest. I think there are at least some Betta fans with the same questions I have.  The source of this topic comes from my discussions with local breeders, reading books, and my own imagination. You may think the substance of this article is nave. I fully agree with you and I am earnestly looking for better explanations. When I was ten years old, I always asked myself, “Where does Plakat Cheen (long fin Betta splendens) come from?” When I would go to net the wild caught Betta; I always ended up with Striped Croaking Gourami in the net with my Betta. I simply concluded that “Oh yes, long fin Bettas must come from Pla Krim.” (“Pla” means fish, and “Krim” means Striped Croaking Gourami.) I still believe it even today!!!

 

The purpose of this article is to raise a challenge, and question the origin of Betta splendens. I will try and set up the various possible hypotheses so that it opens a path for others to do research and discover on their own. What makes Betta splendens’ development distinct from the development of other fish?

First, the Betta splendens development was the outcome of the first Thais’ aquarium fish. It’s the natives’ intellect; no modern genetic technology is relevant. Second, Betta splendens developed from a human social interaction process; it is the success of exchanging knowledge between the Thai peasant classes, the traditional knowledge exchange. One can claim that fish fighting was recognized over 600 years ago in the Sukothai Empire, the first capital of Thailand. The ancient breeders, or rather the farmers, learned by means of observation; they then tested their hypothesis, and then finalized the hypothesis by fighting their fish with a challenger. They formed a group known as a breeding and fish-fighting club. They were transmitting their Betta knowledge by means of close verbal communication. By telling his techniques to his most trusted friend, it ensures that he has someone to carry on his Betta keeping and rearing techniques. In order to keep his techniques sacred, he must be very disciplined “do not tell these secrets to anyone, these are the best secrets to make your fish superior to any challenger” (this tradition still goes on today). By using this technique of passing knowledge, it made the Thais’ Betta development very unique. At the same time it also becomes a repetitive breeding practice, or in other words, there is no progress in breeding. You can see this becomes obvious when you look at the advanced development of the long fin Betta in America versus the development of the long fin in Thailand.

Today the most serious fighting fish breeders are still in the peasant class of Thai society. My duty is to make their voice echo and exhibit their wealth of information, so that their intellectual treasures and knowledge are streamlined into Thai history and now the NET.

In Thailand when speaking about the Plakat, there are two distinguishing types of Plakat Thai. One is the short fin and the other the long fin. Both types were developed from the wild caught Betta. They are captive Betta splendens Wild caught Betta that 40 years ago were available in almost all areas of flooded land and the ditches in the rice fields.

How did the long fin Betta come to be? There is no question about the short fin types. If you observe the wild Bettas’ colors and patterns, the difference is only in their size. No doubt the Thai breeders only made them bigger and most important, more aggressive. However, the proverb “you can’t always get what you want” always holds true and is applicable here. Where did we lose the way between the development of the long fin and the short fin fighters? The wild Betta has a very good balance of shape and form, from the mouth to the end of the fins, the neon bright scales and fins, and the most impressive style of flaring and dancing; no other captive splendens match its form and function. OK lets make it short, the difference between the wild Betta and captive short fin Betta splendens is only in their size. But what about the long fin Betta splendens? It is like another Betta species altogether. Although scientists have declared that it is the same species as the short fin Betta. I have never seen a long fin Betta that came from a batch of short fins. I always question the breeders I knew, about the origin of the long fin Betta as much as possible. Nobody knows no matter how many breeders I question. I always get the same answer “I have seen these two types of Betta as long as I can remember.”  The western aquarium texts cannot answer these questions. “Where the long fins come from I have no idea.” (Christopher W. Coates. Tropical fishes for a Private Aquarium. 1950: p.137).  The oldest breeder I have been able to interview is 80 years old, and his answer is the same. It is now Betta mythology, and I am interested in tracking down the answer.

 There are five stories to tell about the development of the long fin Betta:

ONE  : Pseudo-Breeding Story :

This technique believes that the female Betta will absorb the color and shape of her environment and then pass those traits on to her babies. Using the pseudo-breeding technique, let’s suppose that you want long fin yellow Bettas in your breeding stock. This technique suggests we should paint a long fin yellow male on a piece of paper and attach it to the female’s bottle, no real male Betta is necessary. About 1-2 months later, we take this female and breed her with any color of male Betta. The outcome of the breeding is that some Bettas color and shape will be similar to the painted Betta, some will be similar to the mother, and others will be similar to the father etc.  After being successful in getting the first slightly long fin yellow stock. The breeder will select a yellow long fin male to inbreed with another long fin yellow female from the same batch. By repeatedly continuing this process the long fin Betta of desired color will gradually be developed.

TWO :  Intensive Breeding Story :

The pseudo-breeding story uses an environmental explanation to the approach. The intensive-breeding story utilizes a sociological explanation to the approach.

There are many scripts written in the Thai language that say the first stocks of long fin Betta splendens existed over one hundred years ago. In western texts the first appearance of the long fin was in San Francisco and supports the above assumption.

"In Siam the fighting fish is bred just as are fighting cocks, and in the hundreds of years that the sport has been carried on, special breeds have been developed. None of these "domesticated" fighters reached us until 1928, when two shipments arrived in San Francisco from Bangkok. These fishes, with their tremendous veil-like fins, caused a furor in the aquarium world. One type was dark, with red fins. These "veil tails," bred together and interbred with the wild type and with other long-tailed stock received later from Siam via Germany,.." [Lucile Quarry Mann, Tropical fish, New York. 1954]

If we hold the Thai source, and the above reference as being true, this would mean that the Americas in general knew the long fin Betta at least 30 years after the fish had been successfully bred. I strongly believe that the long fin Betta was developed from the short fin Betta, which in turn was developed from the wild caught Betta.

Coming back to my original argument, if the long fin Betta was the product of human intervention or human breeding. Then the sociological explanation must be taken into consideration, more or less. Why? Because one hundred years ago we did not breed fish for commercial purposes. We bred them for fun, whether it was for gambling or just as a pet. (It really is different than today’s motive for breeding; commercialism and profit now motivate most breeders). Now, to come to my point, there is no doubt that the Thai boy would keep the short fin fighter, just as his father and his uncles did. But what about the girl?  what type of fish can she have? The short fin fighter was too cruel for her to keep. (Do not forget that in those days only men kept the short fin fighter, usually for fighting purposes only.) She just wanted a pet that can live with her in the hut, just like her brother’s fish. This is how the long fin Betta splendens came to be. The girl’s father or uncle, who also happened to be a breeder, intentionally bred the long fin Betta to make his girl happy. The first long fin specimen was selected because it had distinguishing characteristics from the rest of the short fin batch. I believe that the long fin we see today was gradually developed from one family to another and one breeder to the next. I think the development of the long fin came about when the proud girl took her new long fin fish to show off to her friends. Her friends then asked their fathers and uncles, who were also fish breeders to breed the long fin types. Now I think the reader can imagine what is going on.

The habit of breeding special fish for their children is still practiced even today. In every breeding area, most of the breeders will make a special batch for their children. Some will breed for special colors and others will breed the hybrids (captive short fins crossbred with the wild types) for their children to take and fight with their friends’ fish. The purpose of breeding the hybrids is to fight them with the wild caught Betta. Wild caught Bettas do not have the stamina for prolonged fights, whereas the hybrid types more than certainly do.

I think that in the very beginning, they only had the long fin types in local shows, may be somewhere around or outside Bangkok province. The formation of aquarium clubs created the commercial need for the long fin type. The price in those days varied, and I quote: “Two or three years ago, really good specimens of aquarium raised Betta splendens were quite expensive, as much as thirty dollars being paid for one pair.” [Christopher W. Coates. Tropical Fishes for a Private Aquarium. 1950: p.138]

Today, the Thai girls still favor the long fin type for show, while her brothers still like to have the short fin for fighting.

THREE : Originated from China :

The third story uses a linguistic approach to explaining where the long fin came from. This theory implies that the “NAME” dictates the origin of the fish. This story is based solely on the NAME. In Thailand we call long fin Betta splendens “Plakat Cheen.” Plakat Cheen can be translated to “Chinese fighting-fish” (Plakat = “Fighting Fish” Cheen = “China, or Chinese”). The name implies that the long fin Betta splendens comes from China, or at the very least it has some implication relevant to China or Chinese breeders. I once heard someone explain that a Chinese monk, who was also a breeder, introduced the long fin Betta to the aquarists’ world.

There are three implications for the term Plakat Cheen. First, is the word Cheen, which can mean country or China. This would mean that the long fin Betta splendens originated in China and was brought to Thailand by traveling merchants or sailors. Thailand and China have had a long history of merchandise trade for hundreds of years. However, all Thai sources (both verbal and written) deny this possibility, and state that it is simply a borrowed term.

The second is Cheen meaning Chinese person. This could be a Chinese monk, a Chinese layman, or possibly a Chinese breeder. I was watching television a few months ago and to my surprise, the program said that the first person to introduce the long fin was a Chinese monk about 100 years ago. Another Thai source said that a Chinese breeder was the first to successfully breed the long fin Betta. Personally, I favor this explanation. It seems consistent with my thoughts in the past. The long fin Betta was never for fighting, only for show, with a hidden commercial motivation behind its development. Chinese breeders were very famous for discovering and developing new fish strains. The Chinese piloted the aquarium fish trade. For example: Koi, Gold Fish, guppies…etc. The fact remains that the Thai breeder did not sell his short fin fighters to strangers or for shows. He was afraid people would spoil his blood lines, either through improper keeping, rearing, or simply selling the fish to an opponent or spy (don’t forget that the quality of the fish was associated with the breeder’s name, and the amount of money made). The Chinese breeders could see the value in this flaring fish and even predict that if they could develop brighter colors and longer fins the fish could then be a mass marketed product. When I was young I can remember seeing long fin Bettas being sold everywhere in the pet shops. The seller was a Chinese family and they never talked about the fishs’ fighting qualities. The development of the long fin Betta is a myth because in Chinese tradition they never tell the secrets of their family profession to outsiders.

Third, Cheen is a comparative concept about China or Chinese, a metaphor of sorts, anything concerning China or Chinese is called Cheen. For example: speaking loud like the Chinese, her eyes are like a Chinese ladies eyes, or like a Chinese decorative design ... etc.

(to be continued)

You come I'm so please, I'm regret when you leave.

  E-mail 1 E-mail-2

All rights reserved