Searching for information about rare or unique betta breeds can be a frustrating proposition. Not because there’s a dearth of information. It’s actually the opposite problem—there are so many varieties of bettas that it’s overwhelming for novice fish keepers!
If you’re trying to sort out the differences between bettas, it helps to have a primer like this one to refer to. Europeans have been breeding bettas for their bright, intricate colors and tail configurations for well over a hundred years.
When you add-in some of the newer crosses coming out of Thailand, your options for the prettiest betta fish become rather dizzying. To avoid confusion, here’s a detailed list of bettas, broken down by color, scale pattern, and tail-type!
The ever-popular betta is practically the runway model of the freshwater fish trade.
Male bettas are especially coveted by aquarists for their elaborate, flowing fancy tails, unique patterns, and vivid colors. Female bettas are also very pretty but lack the fancy fins and aggressive attitude.
- Bettas are native to the Mekong Delta region of Southeast Asia, where they typically scrounge for insect eggs and larvae among the rice paddies and irrigation ditches.
- From the more than 70 species of wild bettas, breeders have selectively bred lines with unique traits, leading the massive variety of fish found in the aquarium trade.
I hope to cover as many betta varieties as possible here, but the truth is I’ll probably miss a few. Breeders are constantly announcing new varieties, and types that were rare a few years ago may now be found in big-box pet stores.
The situation is constantly evolving, and there are so many different types of betta it can be hard to keep up!
Pet Bettas—What Species Do You Have?
Before we can sink into the topic of betta varieties, it helps to understand a bit of the science behind betta classifications.
You may remember hearing about the scientific classification system in your high school biology class. It’s a huge and complicated way for biologists to explain how different living organisms are related to each other.
At one end of the scale, we have really broad categories such as kingdom, phylum, and class. At the lower end we start to narrow down the relationships into smaller and tighter categories.
These are the classification categories you’ll probably recognize: genus, species, and subspecies or variety.
What are Betta splendens?
The colorful and fancy type of betta you’ll typically see available in pet stores and online aquarium shops is the Betta splendens.
Betta identifies the genus, and splendens is the species, in the same way that your pet dog can be identified by the genus and species Canis familiaris. If you have a betta fish, chances are it’s a Betta splendens, since that’s the most popular type of domesticated betta available around the world.
Betta splendens have a long and complicated history. We know that they’ve been bred for their aggression and fighting ability in their native regions for hundreds of years. That’s how they’ve earned their nickname as the Siamese Fighting Fish. We rarely use the term subspecies when we’re talking about fancy betta fish and usually opt for variety instead, but the terms mean the same thing.
Your betta’s variety will depend on their colors, patterns and/or tail configurations. Some varieties include the Red Veil Tail Betta and Bi-Colored Double Tail Betta, for instance. They may be different varieties, but they’re all the same species.
How Did Pet Bettas Become So Diverse?
The long and fancy tails and vivid, flashy colors we think of when we hear “betta” were actually created by Europeans. Since the 1800s, collectors and hobby breeders on the Continent have selectively bred generations with ever-more-diverse traits.
Fancy Betta Fish are the Descendants of Mutants
These traits or physical characteristics may be inherited and passed down to the fish’s offspring. But sometimes, something in the mixing of genetic material goes wrong.
A mutation, or “deformity,” may appear spontaneously in a line and alter the appearance of the offspring unexpectedly. The double tail and elephant ear betta are great examples. Oftentimes, these fish are prone to other health problems, such as swim bladder disease, that may be related to their genetic mutation.
Mutations in the wild are usually a bad thing, because they are either fatal (such as a fish born without a mouth) or because they make it harder for a wild animal to survive and/or breed. Fancy betta males, with those bright and flowing tails, would not likely survive in the wild today.
But humans love to collect animals with odd-looking or unique appearances. That’s how animals like pug dogs and munchkin cats made it into our living rooms. We pamper them, and then help them to spread their mutation to the next generation.It’s the same for betta fish—breeders collect and carefully manage their stock to produce a wide variety of colors, patterns and tail configurations. There’s always a lot of excitement when a new inheritable mutation is discovered, even if these varieties of betta are more likely to develop health issues.
Hybridization Also Introduces New Traits
But mutation isn’t the only way new betta traits get discovered. Over the centuries, breeders have also introduced new traits to their lines intentionally by breeding their fish back to wild stock. That’s how the dragon scale betta came to be.
Some of the rarer traits have been brought into the Betta splendens fold by crossing domesticated bettas with select wild specimens who have the trait the breeder desires.
The offspring, which are hybrids, hopefully inherit and pass the trait down themselves. But it’s not always a smooth or straightforward process.
Recent Developments in Betta Breeding
Recently, breeders in Thailand have begun crossing wild bettas splendens with their aggressive stock of Siamese Fighting Fish, resulting in new varieties of betta fish, like the plakat.
Some of these hybrid Betta splendens varieties have become very popular in America. They may be rare or difficult to find, and often have slightly different behavioral characteristics than the traditional varieties.
Varieties of Bettas by Color and Pattern
So what makes a betta fish so colorful, anyway?
Fish pigmentation is a complicated business. Here’s a highly simplified version that will help you understand how color and scale patterns are related.
Pigment Cells Determine Betta Color
There are three primary types of pigments, and they exist in special cells called chromatophores:
- red (erythrin)
- black (melanin)
- yellow (xanthin)
The color of a betta is partially determined by the combination of pigments expressed in their chromatophores, and how deeply under the scales the cells are.
When the black and yellow pigments are expressed, for instance, a fish will appear brown. The deeper the chromatophores are under the scales, the darker and more vivid the color appears.
Wild vs Pet Betta Colors
Wild bettas are not generally as colorful as their selectively-bred cousins, although there are some stunning exceptions.
The pigment cells in wild bettas alter size and shape constantly, so the fish’s appearance is ever-changing. Domesticated betta’s cells don’t change as much, and so their colors are more stable.
Wild betta only show their brightest colors when threatened or breeding, but domesticated varieties are always colorful unless they are sick or stressed. It’s one of the traits that make domesticated bettas so desirable.
How Are Color and Scale Patterns Related?
There are other types of cells that play a role in the color and pattern of your betta. They further alter the fish’s appearance and create many of the patterns betta collectors find so desirable.
Fish also have cells called iridocytes, which give them a shiny, iridescent look.
Depending on the depth of these cells, a fish may seem to have metallic highlights or stripes, or may even appear nearly white.
Just to complicate things further, sometimes iridocytes and chromatophores combine to create new colors. If you take a xanthine-containing chromatophore and put it in an iridocyte, you’ll end up with a metallic, shiny gold-colored fish.
Diet and Environmental Factors to Betta Colors and Patterns
The color and scale pattern of betta fish is dependent on their genetics, but it’s also influenced by their diet and the environment in which they live. Since fish can’t naturally produce pigments, they have to get them from their diet.
To keep your betta looking their best, be sure to feed them a varied and high quality diet, and keep their water sparkling clean. Their water temperature plays into this as well, so be sure your tank stays between 75-86°F.
Varieties of Bettas by Tail and Fin Configurations
The trait that makes the male betta stand out among other aquarium fish is his elongated tail. Female bettas are pretty, but have a duller color than the males and lack the elaborate tail or fins. So what’s the story with male betta tail types?
Long Tail Bettas are Different Than Short
Fish have several individual fins and a couple pairs of fins around their body, and bettas are no different. They use these fins to swim and orient their bodies in three dimensions underwater.
Certain varieties of betta have been selected and bred for longer, wider or specially-shaped fins:
- The tail, or caudal fin, is the most common fancy feature in rare betta fish
- Their bottom or anal fin is another
- Some varieties may have elongated or elaborate pectoral, dorsal or ventral fins as well
Why Don’t Wild Bettas Have These Traits?
One hazard of elongated tails and fins is it hampers movement when swimming through vegetation. The fanciest and most beautiful betta fish would be at a severe disadvantage in the wild.
List of Betta Varieties
I’ve tried to put together the most up-to-date list possible of the various types of bettas. Several varieties may be known by multiple names throughout the world, so in those cases I defer to the most common usage.
My descriptions of these varieties are not meant to convey show-standards, however. It’s merely meant to give someone new to fancy bettas a solid idea of the many fascinating variations they might consider for their tank.
Betta Fish Colors
Bettas come in a rainbow of solid colors, from bright reds all the way to the deepest blacks and the purest whites.
Of course, many betta fish are not simply one color but show several distinct areas of pigmentation. I cover some of these cases in the patterns section.
Some color varieties typically have a two-toned appearance, where the body and fins might be different colors or shades, like the chocolate betta.
Here’s the widest-recognized list of bettas colors I could assemble, including facts and information about each color variety and any health concerns that might be known about them.
An albino betta completely lacks any pigmentation. An albino betta should have whitish to clear-colored scales and fins, and pinkish or red eyes. Their muscles and organs may be faintly visible through their scales.
In the wild, albino animals are at a great disadvantage, because the UV light from the sun causes a high rate of damage, often resulting in blindness and cancer. They frequently have other mutations and health problems as well.
True albino bettas are so rare, it’s actually questionable if they exist at all. Most reports are probably either clear/cellophane or actually white varieties instead. They are incredibly difficult to breed and have a low survival rate.
The clear or cellophane betta, as they’re often called, also have whitish to translucent scales. Sometimes you can see the pinkish color of their muscles and internal organs though their scales. Their fins are usually clear to opaque. Their eyes should be a solid black.
Unlike albino bettas, clear or cellophane bettas do have one of the three pigments in their chromatophores. The trait isn’t expressed, and so the fish appears nearly colorless.
White bettas should have solid white scales and fins, although the fins may be more opaque in some specimens. Unlike the cellophane varieties, a white betta’s body should not look pinkish.
This might not sound very impressive, but the detail you can see on the body and fins of a pure white betta is absolutely stunning.
There’s a few different varieties of black betta fish, and they have subtly different appearances:
- Black Melano bettas have the deepest, purest black colored bodies and fins. They are the opposite of an albino, in that they have an overabundance of melanin pigments. This variety is often sterile, and can have health issues.
- Black Lace bettas have a dark body, but not as vivid as the melano variety. Their fins are usually entirely or partially cellophane colored. They are usually fertile.
- Black Orchid bettas are a type of bi color crowntail, with a dark body and slight amount of iridescence. Some may also be crossed with marble-patterned bettas, giving them a metallic or red overtone on their bodies or along their fins. The Black Devil and Black Ice varieties are derived from black orchid crosses.
- Black Copper bettas are descended from a mix of a fertile female black melano and a copper betta. The offspring have a mix of deep black and metallic scales.
Blue is not a very common color in nature, but betta fish are an exception.
What’s funny is that blue colors are not caused by pigments, but by the shape of the pigment cells and scales, and how the light reflects off of them. Usually fish only show bits of an iridescent blue, but bettas can be a deep and vivid shade of blue.
The colors of blue bettas you’ll most commonly see includes:
- Steel Blue bettas, which are a grayish blue color
- Royal Blue bettas, who have a deep, dark blue body and fins
- Turquoise Blue bettas, with a rich, vibrant color and a hint of green
In dim light, a copper betta looks brown or tan colored. But once you turn on the light, you’ll see the sparkling iridescence. These fish have highly reflective metallic scales and fins.
A chocolate betta has a brown or tan body that fades to an orange or yellow-colored fins and tail. These are usually a bi colored variety of betta.
Green bettas are usually solid colored, but you have to angle the light just right to really see the green. Their bodies and fins may appear black, turquoise or blue at certain angles. Nearly all green bettas have a metallic wash overlaying their color as well.
Mustard gas bettas are very common and typically appear as a bi colored fish with a blue or green body that shades to orange or yellowish fins. The edges of their fins may also be shaded to black. They resemble the chocolate betta but lack the brown bodies.
A pastel betta has a pale pastel-shaded body and fins with a whitish wash overlaying the primary color, giving it a paler appearance.
Solid orange bettas are fairly rare, and are usually a bright tangerine color. They are much less common than red or blue bettas, but more common than the green or purple bettas.
- Orange Dalmatian bettas are a pale orange color with bright orange, almost red spots along the fins.
Purple bettas are one of the rarest colors, and if you find one it will probably be the most expensive betta fish you could buy. True purple bettas are almost unheard of.
Many fish have purple colors shading to blue, red or lavender. Violet and pale lavender colored bettas are slightly more common but still a rare find.
Red is a common color in the fish world, and one of the most common colors of betta you can get. Many bi colored and other patterns of betta have red highlights.
A yellow betta should have a bright lemon colored body and fins. Yellow bettas are not terribly common and a bit challenging to breed.
- A Pineapple betta is a yellow or orange betta with black outlining their scales so they look similar to a pineapple.
Patterns and Scale Designs
Bettas come in an ever-widening variety of patterns, from solid colored fish to those who look decked out for a party.
Some fish have a prominent metallic wash overlaying their scales, giving them a shimmering appearance. Others may have scales or fins edged with a metallic overtone.
The most common patterns and scale designs are:
A solid colored betta is a single color. The color may appear deeper or more intense along the body than the fins because the pigments lie deeper, nearer their muscles.
Solid bettas are very beautiful fish, and make a good choice for breeding stock.
While a true bi colored betta will have a body that’s one color and fins that are another, some people use the term “bi color” to refer to any fish with two colors.
This is one of the most common patterns to see in betta fish.
Butterfly bettas have a solid colored body with their fins shading to cellophane. In higher quality specimens, the line between color and cellophane will be stark and very noticeable. They may be two or three colors, with one-half to one-third of their bodies showing each color.
Although this variety can also be bred with the marbled trait, it’s considered undesirable in the betta show world.
Cambodian style bettas are a classic bi color fish with a white or pale pink body and deep, bloodred fins. This type used to be quite common but has become much harder to find recently.
This is a trait that was intentionally bred into the Betta splendens line from wild bettas. Dragon scale bettas have thicker scales, so you can see the outline of each scale on their body and head. It looks like the fish have been covered in jewels, similar to scale-mail armor, in fact.
Dragon scale is a particularly beautiful trait, and can mix with solid colors or other patterns of pigmentation. Depending on the mix, a dragon scale betta can be quite the showstopper!
The marble is a unique betta with one very frustrating quality. The marble trait doesn’t show up right away. It’s activated suddenly during the fish’s lifetime, at random. It causes their primary color to darken and splotchy pale patches to develop on the body and fins.
You’ll start out with a fish with one color or pattern of colors, and suddenly they change. It can be a very dramatic shift, too. This trait is undesirable when bred with certain others, like the butterfly betta.
- Koi patterned betta are related to marbles. This trait is most commonly seen in plakat type bettas. Koi betta have been bred to look similar to the koi fish often seen in Japanese ponds.
A mask betta has a head that’s the same color as his body. Most bettas have a head that is a different color than their bodies, unless they are bred for the full or half-mask gene.
- Half Mask bettas have half of their head colored like their body, and half in another color.
The grizzle betta is a variety that has a 50-50 split between a lighter and a darker color. They often appear to have been painted with fine brush strokes.
Tricolored bettas have an uneven mix of three colors along their body and fins. Multi Colored bettas have a mix of at least three colors, and can have more than three. The mix tends to be random and unpredictable .
A Piebald betta has a white or flesh colored face and a darker body. These fish don’t carry the albinism trait, unlike the piebald coloration in other animals.
Betta Fin and Tail Types
Now that I’ve passed on everything I know about the colors and patterns of bettas, it’s time to talk about their fins.Those fancy tails are one of the key features that draw people to these magnificent fish.
Let’s talk about the betta varieties in terms of their fin configurations:
The most common type, and the variety most of us think of when we hear the word “betta,” is the Veil Tail or VT.
The VT betta has a long, drooping tail that streams out behind him when he swims like a sail dragging on the seas. These fish are beautiful, fertile and generally healthy, although they may nip at their fins when stressed.
A newer variety is the combtail, which may also be called the half sun betta fish. Instead of having webbing that extends on the tail from ray to ray, the combtail has a dip between each ray. This gives the tail the appearance of a wide-toothed comb.
This variety is generally fertile and healthy, but the tail sometimes suffers from a lack of support. Some combtails develop droopy tails, which are not very attractive. This isn’t a health concern, but may make your fish look a bit sad.
Another related variety of combtail is the crown tail betta. These fish also have a webbing that does not extend all the way down each ray of the fin. But instead of looking like a comb, their tail looks spiky, or like an upside-down crown.
Like the combtail, the crown tail is prone to breaking the rays of their fins, and even the shorter-tailed females can suffer from a bent tail. But otherwise, crowntails are usually healthy and fertile. They also don’t usually nip at their own fins, since the webbing is reduced compared to other bettas.
The delta betta is an interesting variety. When they fully extend their tails it makes less than 180-degree angle from the base of the tail to the edges. They are named after the Greek letter delta, because their extended tails are triangular in shape, with straight edges.
Deltas are a popular and beautiful variety of fish, and come in a wide selection of colors and patterns. They resemble the half moon bettas, and it’s actually difficult to tell them apart. Both the delta and super delta are usually healthy and no more prone to fin rot than other varieties.
- The Super Delta is similar, but their tails are wider and extend to almost 180 degrees.
Also known as twin tail betta, the double tail has wide and long anal, dorsal and tail fins. The tail fin looks like it’s really two seperate tails, hence their name and nickname.
These fish are especially showy and uncommon, and may be considered a rare variety. They usually come in a fairly wide variety of colors and patterns too.
Double tails are the result of a mutation, and these fish suffer from ill health as a result. They often have problems with their swim bladders and are prone to fin rot and other diseases of the fins. They are some impressive bettas, but they usually don’t live as the other varieties.
The half moon betta, as I previously mentioned, looks nearly identical to the delta variety. A true half moon has a full 180 degree tail and can be any color or mix of colors. Their tail makes a D-shape when viewed from the side.
They are usually considered a long-finned betta variety, except when they are specifically listed as a plakat betta.
Next to VT variety, the half moon is the most common type of betta. You’ll see many of these fellows in pet stores and aquarium shops. They are prone to the typical betta health problems but are otherwise considered a healthy variety to own.
- Over Half Moon is a variety of betta where the tail extends past the 180 degree mark.
If you prefer bettas with the longest, most outrageously wide tails possible, then you’ll likely love the rosetail. These bettas have the longest, most elaborate dorsal, caudal and anal fins in the betta family.
Their fins are so wide they almost look slightly rumpled along the edges, similar to a flower petal as it starts to wilt.
The downside to this variety is that it tends to suffer from ill health. The fins are prone to disease, and sometimes these fish nip at their own tails too. Since they have been heavily bred for these flashy fins, they may develop tumors and issues with their swim bladders.
The plakat is a newer variety of betta that’s recently become a phenomenon in Thailand and other parts of Asia. These fish are bred from the Thai Siamese Fighting fish line, and have been crossed-back with their wild betta splendens forebears.
Plakats have the same color and pattern variations seen in the long-finned varieties of betta, and many also have similar tail configurations too. But the plakat’s tail is much shorter and resembles the wild type instead of the fancier, domesticated bettas.
Novice betta keepers often mistake male plakats for female long-finned bettas. Since the plakat has been selectively bred from hybrid species of betta, they have a different behavior profile than the other bettas in this list.
Plakats are more aggressive, and usually can not be housed with other fish. They also prefer fresh food and many will not eat commercial diets. They are typically healthy and don’t suffer from problems with their fins like the long-finned varieties do.
Similar to the rosetail, the feathertail has long and wide, ruffled fins. Instead of being a half moon shape, though, their fins and tail have triangles along the edges, which give them their “feathery” appearance. They are less common than the rosetail, and come in a variety of colors and scale patterns.
Like the rosetail, the feathertail is prone to health problems. They often nip at their tails, and swim bladder problems are common.
Similar to both the half moon and the delta, the round tail is a popular and common betta often found in big-box pet stores. Their tails don’t come from their bodies in a straight line, like the delta, and have a rounded appearance instead.
They are usually healthy fish, but are still prone to the typical betta diseases and problems.
The spade tail slightly resembles the VT betta, but has a definitively spade-shaped tail. They are available in a wide assortment of colors and patterns too. Otherwise, they are generally a healthy variety with no special or unique health concerns beyond the typically betta problems.
The elephant ear, or dumbo bettas, are not classified based on the shape or length of their tails, like most of the betta on my list. Instead, it’s their pectoral fins we’re interested in; what you might think of as the fish’s arms if they were human.
Elephant ears have broad and long pectoral fins, which makes them look like they have gigantic ears and are flying through the water with them. They usually have shorter tails, though. Elephant ears are the one variety where fish keepers tend to prefer female betta fish over males.
Since the males don’t have the elaborate tails common to the other varieties (other than the plakat, of course), they tend to look rather drab. The extended pectorals on the females, however, really makes them stand out. This is a great option if you’d like to have a stunning female fish in your betta tank.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on when you break down and consider all the different types of bettas.
While different varieties may be prone to health issues, based on their genetics and tail configurations, keeping your tank warm and clean will go a long way to maintaining a healthy betta fish. Feeling a high quality diet will also help them shine with color (literally).
Whether you prefer to choose your fish by color, intricate scale pattern, or for their amazing and beautiful fins, there’s a betta on my list that’s probably perfect for your tank. Tell us about your betta fish, or post your questions in the comments!
If you’re still unsure which variety to choose, consider these factors:
If you want a fish that’s pretty but inexpensive and easy to find, stick with a more common color and variety, like:
- The Veil Tail
- The Crowntail
- The Delta
- The Half Moon
- The Bi Color
- Red, Orange or Blue colors
If you want an amazing fish that will be the showcase of your aquarium, look for:
- The Rosetail
- The Feathertail
- The Double Tail
- The Elephant Ear (Female)
- The Multicolored/Tricolored
- The Dragon Scale
If you want a fish that’s less likely to have problems with their fins or swim bladder, or other health problems, consider getting:
- The Plakat
- The Delta
- The Moon Tail
- The Spade Tail