The king betta is not an ancient breed or a widely known strain, and appears to be a label used exclusively by the distributers and breeders who supply to Petco. Betta breeding projects and shows do not recognize a fin type, color, species, or strain known officially as a king betta, and this led to a confusion among aquarists and fishkeepers. Just what IS a king betta, if it doesn't clearly fall into any other known breed or category?
There are several potential answers, and even the staff of Petco seem as clueless as the customers regarding the nature of king bettas. When I asked the staff, including the managers, what these intriguing fish were, they shrugged their shoulders and said, "I think it's a kind of betta." (Just in case I wasn't aware of that yet.) A friendly phone call to the distributor was equally fruitless. It would appear that we betta enthusiasts have been left to fend for ourselves in determing what a king betta actually is.
King bettas meet the description and measurement requirements to be called plakats, a fin-and-tail type most often associated with wild strains. All species of betta, including the popular Siamese fighting fish, or betta splendens, display the plakat fin and tail type unless they have been selectively bred for different finnage. Plakat bettas have short, tight fins, strong bodies, and are generally considered to be less aggressive than long-finned varieites.
Identifying the king betta's fin and tail type does not necessarily distinguish its species, however. Some betta hobbyists believe that the king betta is not a full-blooded betta, splendens, but a hybrid between betta splendens and the less popular betta raja, a species discovered in 2005. Some betta enthusiasts also contend that Petco's king betta is simply a well-bred, newly domesticated strain of betta raja.
Still, the exotic nature of betta raja does not necessarily mean that it, or any other out-of-the-ordinary betta species necessarily went into the genetic mix of the king betta. It may simply be a large or giant breed of betta splendens, carefully selected from crowntail, plakat, and/or giant breeding stock. Without a clear pedigree or explanation from Petco or the distributor, the heritage of the king betta remains elusive.
The lack of clarity regarding the king betta's nature is an obstacle for fishkeepers. Without knowing the king betta's genetic background, it is impossible to guage an individual's age based on its size or finnage. Are the king bettas sold at Petco large because they are very old (in general, past breeding age) or because they are descended from giant betta splendens? With limited access to understanding of the breed, there is no way to know with certainty, and there is no way to weigh the possibility of breeding them.
Without knowing the king betta's genealogy, it is also difficult to determine how to care for it properly. While domesticated betta splendens are extremely hardy and can tolerate small spaces and low temperatures, the newly discovered betta raja species is known to be much less forgiving. If the individuals sold at Petco are adolescents who are not through growing, it also presents a complication: "giant" bettas should never be kept in less than a ten-gallon tank.
It is also difficult to make guesses about the king betta's nature without knowing its history. Some betta enthusiasts have suggested that they are fighter plakat surplus, meaning that they were bred for baiting, but sold to Petco under a new name to rid the company of surplus. Although plakats are generally much more docile than other strains, the king betta has been said to be very aggressive-- perhaps another indicator that it is of largely domesticated ancestry.
Although this new strain is exciting to betta enthusiasts, some are wary of buying a fish that they know so little about. While Petco's king betta may be beautiful and intriguing, I am one fishkeeper who is willing to sit back and wait to hear more feedback on the new breed before committing to caring for one.
Published by Juniper Russo
Juniper Russo is a freelance writer living in the Southern US. She writes for several online and print-based publications and passionately advocates an evidence-based approach to holistic health and activism... View profile
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