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The first mention of males (Betta splendens Regan, 1909) belongs to Theodore Cantor and dates from 1849. The fishes did not differ in great beauty, but quickly got used to it in amateur aquariums, were propagated in large quantities and would soon become commonplace, or even disappear altogether, but ...
But this did not happen. The high color variability of the males aroused great interest among aquarists-breeders who seriously took this fish "into circulation": they changed the shape of the body, lengthened the fins, revealed and emphasized the most attractive shades of color.
They say that if the modern aquarist was shown "source material" - those wild males that were once caught in small, shallow, heavily overgrown reservoirs of East Asia, then most likely he would not have recognized them.
But the change in shape and color did not affect the nature of the males in any way - the males of Siamese fighting fish remained cocky tournament fighters.
And the cockfights are uncompromising. At first everything looks quite innocent. The fish come together and begin to make various pirouettes, smoothing out the fins and bulging out the gill covers almost perpendicularly. At this stage, looking at the cockerels is a pleasure. But then the most ordinary brawl begins: the opponents brutally beat each other with a snout, cut off the rays of the fins, and knock down the scales. Sometimes, caught in their mouths, the fish enter the clinch. At the same time, they freeze and turn upside down. The winner is the fighter who has more air supply.
Fortunately, the males' incapacity is usually of a “narrow departmental” nature: in relation to other fish, males behave quite loyally. This is most likely explained not by their peacefulness, but by a noticeable lethargy in their movements: they simply are not able to cause significant harm to a more or less mobile fish.
It is impossible to describe the color of the cockerels - the number of variations is practically not countable. But one thing is for sure: there are not many aquarium fish that can compete with males in terms of saturation and variety of colors.
Nevertheless, cockerels can hardly be recommended as ideal inhabitants of a large decorative aquarium. Despite the bright color, they are simply lost there. You will only occasionally see their solemn “appearance” during feeding, and occasionally observe how they bypass the plant stems and obstacles on the ground with smooth snaky movements of the hull and fins. The only more or less constant entertainment for you is to watch the fish scurry along the glass of the aquarium, where, seeing their reflection, they irresistibly strive to fight it.
To compensate for the low visibility of males in a spacious pond by increasing their number is almost impossible. After a “friendly” meeting of two males, instead of graceful elegant fish, you will have a couple of ruffled tired rivals, who are still ready to present to the females what is no longer their beauty. In the case of a large difference in strength, the problem of subsequent confrontation is solved simply - the death of the weakest.
In principle, 2 to 3 males can live in one large (at least 100 liters) aquarium at the same time. But this is unlikely to give you pleasure: only the leader will be noticeable. His movements are economically calm and graceful; he occupies the most favorable territory, for example, not far from the feeding trough. The rest are scaredly huddling in corners and dense thickets, moving with constant wariness and readiness at any time to flee away from the winner. True, in the presence of his less fortunate rivals, the dominant male looks more attractive, as he is forced to constantly keep himself in proper “sports form”.
If you want to have several full pairs at the same time, there is only one way out - each male must have a separate tank. And since the fish do not need a spacious room, even a liter jar can be used to keep them.
Given the stamina and pickiness of males, as well as their "tameness" (they recognize the owner, can feed by hand and even allow themselves to be stroked), these fish can be recommended to beginner aquarists.
Like all anabantides, males have a labyrinth organ and therefore do not need oxygen-rich water. The only thing you need is cleanliness and regular feeding. So in comparison with other aquarium fish in this case, a minimum of trouble is required. There is no need for constant aeration and filtration of water, tight control over its hydrochemical parameters and temperature (acceptable range from 20 to 30 degrees C, if only there would be sharp changes), etc.
But the regular replacement of water (20-30 percent once a week) should not be refused. You will immediately notice how livelier your fish became after this procedure. However, do not overdo it, an excessive amount of tap water, especially with an excess of chlorine, can lead to a deplorable result.
Decorating an aquarium with cockerels is also not very difficult. Hard-leaved plants and various ornaments with sharp edges should not be abused. The fins of the cockerels (mainly males, especially veil forms) are rather fragile and easily break when hooked. True, they recover relatively quickly (2-3 millimeters per week), but for some time the fish will look messy; besides, there is no guarantee that in the future there will be no losses again.
Strictly speaking, when keeping males, you can even abandon the soil, rooted plants and various ornaments. In this case, the appearance of the fish is likely to remain intact, but the decorativeness of the aquarium will suffer. So think for yourself.
As for feed, in this regard, the males are not whimsical at all. The only problem is that they do not always quickly switch from one type of food to another. Sometimes it takes 2 to 3 days for the fish to get really hungry and agree to receive a “new dish”. Therefore, such transitions should be carried out gradually, with the inclusion of a small amount of new feed in the traditional set.
It’s good if, when buying fish, you learn from the previous owner what he fed his pets with and try to change nothing at first.
If we talk about the usual diet, then it is the most traditional: bloodworm, tubule, potato worms, crustaceans, scraped lean meat and fish, that is, live (which is preferable), frozen and dried (possible as an insignificant additive to the main diet) feed.
They like snails meat very much. To treat them with this delicacy, you need to crush the shell and remove the flesh. When using pond snails, the pulp is poured with boiling water before feeding. The males themselves can cope with the physicists, coils and others cultivated in the aquarium. According to my observations, they use two tactics of hunting: in one case they freeze near the snail and, when it releases its leg, they seize it with a sharp jerk; in the second, they knock the cochlea off the substrate and deal with it until it falls to the bottom.
Fish do not need a very wide variety of feeds, but they have excellent appetite and are ready to eat at any time of the day. Not knowing the sense of proportion, they can quickly become fat, which negatively affects their condition and readiness for spawning. In this regard, the amount of feed to be set must be limited. Do not feed fish once a day and very plentifully. It is better to give food in smaller quantities, but more often - 2 to 3 times a day. At the same time, the diet can be varied, using different meals at each meal.
Males are also accessible to everyone because they are very easy to breed. Fish early, in 3 - 4 months, become sexually mature and begin to spawn. When kept in pairs in separate containers, no additional efforts are required from the amateur. Usually, to stimulate spawning, the temperature is increased by 3-4 degrees C. As a rule, this is quite enough, and the male proceeds to build his air lock. For a greater guarantee, I recommend adding more fresh water, better boiled or slightly softened.
If the fish are kept in a common aquarium, it is better to put them in a small spawning ground and gradually raise the temperature to 27 - 30 degrees C. In principle, males are able to spawn even in a liter jar, but in each case this issue is solved individually.
The most important factor is the relationship between male and female. If there is a “mutual understanding” between producers and you do not expect any tricks, then the volume of spawning may be minimal. If the male or female is excessively capricious and irritable, then it is better to give the fish more space so that the female can hide from her too intrusive boyfriend (the contrast between the slow, smooth movements of the fish in ordinary life and rapid throws during the rut is very striking). At the same time, it should be borne in mind that in an oversized spawning ground, the male will have to spend more effort on fitting the female to the nest and, accordingly, fewer will remain on the spawning itself. So the volume of the depositor is a debatable issue.
There is no need to equip spawning grounds with separator grids, grottoes, caves, aerators and filters. There is no need for bright light, males do not like it. And when spawning, lighting is even harmful, since air is dried above the surface of the water, contributing to the destruction of nests and the death of eggs. Some authors generally recommend to breed cockerels in containers with opaque walls. But if there are none, it’s not scary, just don’t put powerful windows over the spawning grounds. So the choice is yours: either you have the opportunity to carefully consider the various episodes of spawning, or give the males the opportunity to spawn in favorable conditions for them.
By the way, if the air in the room is very dry or too cold, it is better to cover the spawning grounds with glass in order to maintain a microclimate favorable in temperature and humidity in its internal air environment. In a dry atmosphere, the foam nest is rapidly destroyed and the male is engaged in its restoration most of the time.
Dense thickets of floating plants are also not needed. The male still chooses free space on the surface of the water to build the nest, and he uses very few plant elements in the nest itself. Only the presence of a current of water in the aquarium forces the male to strengthen the nest with particles of plants (the more intense the current, the more greens are used).
So, the male begins to build a nest. Usually this happens either in the early morning hours, or in the evening, when there is twilight in the spawning. Choosing a suitable place, he begins to make rhythmic movements, swallowing air from the surface of the water and then releasing in the form of bubbles with a diameter of about 1 millimeter. At the same time, the back of the body remains virtually stationary, and only the head moves. a turn in one direction - air is swallowed, a turn in the other - a bubble is released. One-two, one-two, one-two ... The cycle is about 2 to 3 seconds. Then, as the "foundation" of the nest expands, the male still has to move. Yes, and now he puts the bubbles not just anyhow, but according to some rule of his own.
But now the construction of the nest is completed. However, the male does not have time to rest: it is time to invite the female (up to this point she was at a respectful distance).
Sometimes the female immediately responds to the calls of the partner, sometimes it makes him chase for a long time. These games can last from an hour to a day. If they are not clearly aggressive, then there is nothing to worry about. If the male is brought up to the point that he is ready to kill the female, it is better to isolate the producers from each other (perhaps they are at different stages of readiness for spawning or simply experience "psychological incompatibility"). The control time is 2 to 3 days. If spawning has not occurred during this time, it is better to replace one of the partners, or maybe both.
With a successful course of events, the female eventually finds herself under the nest and the fish begin to spawn. Having come together in half-hull with each other, the males bend in an arc, wrap around a partner and form a not-so-tight ring; then, turning over under the nest, they freeze and the female releases a portion of 5 to 10 eggs.
Sometimes one of the partners, not yet spawning, falls out of this ring, but remains motionless, maintaining a twisted pose. Then it straightens and steps aside. After a while, everything repeats all over again.
Frozen eggs are heavier than water, but their specific gravity is not the same, so some drown faster, others slower. Some of them even manage to reach the bottom. The male slowly collects eggs and places it in a nest. In order not to complicate the male search for eggs, one should not overload the spawning grounds with unnecessary elements and, first of all, with dense thickets and close groups of large stones on the ground (it is even better to do without soil). This is especially important if the producers are in good shape and for one litter the female throws a large amount of caviar. Then the male is simply not able to collect eggs all at once, and a significant part of them is at the bottom.
As practice shows, a more or less short stay of eggs outside the nest, including not at the bottom of the spawning, does not bring them visible harm. Therefore, do not try to help the male in collecting eggs, rely on his parental instinct and he will do everything himself.
As a result, from a few tens to several hundred eggs can appear in a nest, usually there are 150-200 of them.
At the end of the spawning, the presence of the female, apparently, begins to annoy the male: he is constantly distracted from the nest, trying to push his ex-girlfriend out of sight. Here you can and should even help the male by depositing the female in another container. Otherwise, either the caviar will be eaten, or the female will be killed, or maybe you will lose both.
Caviar with a diameter of about a millimeter develops in the nest within a day or a little more under the watchful supervision of a parent. In shape, it resembles a lemon. Very delicate transparent shell easily bursts. The core is a rich milky white color. Unfertilized eggs are not covered by the fungus and do not become cloudy for several hours.
The period from the end of spawning to hatching of larvae (approximately 24 - 28 hours at a temperature of 27 - 28 degrees C) for the male is relatively calm. For now, he only needs to monitor the safety of the foam nest. This moment is most favorable in order to feed the fish (feed should be only fresh and in small quantities).
But when the larvae start to appear from the eggs, a very tense time comes again. If it is friendly, it resembles snowfall. The larvae do not stick to the surface and drown, and the male tries to quickly return them to the nest. True, with a small water level (5 - 10 centimeters) they quite easily get to the water surface on their own.
The male takes the sinking or lying on the bottom of the larvae into his mouth (one at a time, and sometimes several) and spits out into the nest. As a rule, the larvae are fixed in it the first time (apparently by sticking to the bubbles), but in some cases the male has to repeat his attempt repeatedly. With especially “stubborn” larvae that do not want to stay on the surface, he does it in a rather original way: he takes them into his mouth, swallows the air and “mixes” all this. Usually, such an operation brings results, and the larva reliably fits into the nest.
In rare moments of calm, the male does not sit idle. He vigilantly monitors the integrity of the nest (reconstruction and modernization of the building is a permanent process for the cockerel; sometimes the nest even increases in size during the development of eggs and larvae), and also makes drifts at the bottom under the nest, looking for those fugitives whom it did not pick up in the turmoil.
During the first day, the larvae hang between the air bubbles or under the nest with a more or less dense bunch, with their tails down. From time to time they make awkward attempts to leave their native land, but this is fundamentally suppressed by a caring father.
During this period, you can gradually feed the male, but the remnants of food must be removed in a timely manner. It is necessary to ensure that, due to feeding, the male’s interest in the offspring does not weaken - it is better to leave him hungry.
After one and a half to two days, the yolk sac of the larvae resolves and they begin an independent life. A sign of the young’s readiness for the transition to a new life phase is the normal - horizontal - body position.
Now it's time to remove the male from the spawning ground. He has already played his part, let’s restore his strength for the next spawning, which may follow in two weeks (in principle, the males are ready to spawn almost constantly, but this exhausts the fish and leads to premature aging and death).
As soon as juveniles move to an active lifestyle, they need food. It is best to start with ciliates, rotifers, artemia nauplii. It is necessary to feed as often as possible, in small doses. Not eaten leftovers should be removed immediately so that they do not spoil the water. That task is quite painstaking, because part of the fry is usually removed along with the feed. Я отсасываю часть воды в широкую неглубокую миску, откуда потом ложкой или с помощью пипетки с оплавленными краями возвращаю заблудившихся мальков на прежнее место.
Присутствие грязи в нерестовике крайне нежелательно, поскольку мальки очень восприимчивы к различным недугам. А как известно, предупредить болезнь легче, чем лечить. В частности, поэтому не следует использовать в качестве стартового корма желток сваренного куриного яйца, его остатки очень быстро портят воду.
По мере роста мальков следует переводить на более питательные и крупные корма. Предпочтение отдаётся подвижным (но не слишком) организмам. Видимо, мальки любят охотиться, но быстро устают. К тому же, как и взрослые рыбы, они не отличаются большой резвостью и могут целый час оставаться почти неподвижными, шевеля лишь грудными плавниками.
Молодь, так же как и взрослые рыбы, избегает яркого света, поэтому в нерестовике надо устраивать полумрак. Уровень воды поднимают постепенно. Поскольку вода в нерестовике должна быть чистой, а эффективная фильтрация на этом этапе ещё невозможна, надо регулярно её заменять. Попутно этим достигается и аэрация воды.
Подросших мальков следует переводить в более просторный аквариум либо рассортировывать по нескольким мелким. Принцип "в тесноте, да не в обиде" в данном случае не подходит: при чрезмерно высокой плотности посадки развитие мальков резко замедляется, и если не принять мер, они навсегда останутся затянутыми.
Пока ещё можно держать их стайкой, без учёта пола. Но как только молодь начнёт "петушиться", нужна дополнительная сортировка по половому признаку.
При переводе мальков из одного аквариума в другой необходимо соблюдать два очень простых правила. Первое - вода в ёмкостях должна иметь одни и те же параметры; второе - мальков надо переносить вместе с водой, а не в сачке (особенно, если в квартире очень холодно или, наоборот, слишком тепло).
На ваше заботливое участие потомство петушков ответит быстрым ростом и развитием, а через 3 - 4 месяца - и собственным нерестом.
В принципе, петушков нельзя назвать долгожителями. В нормальных условиях они живут не более 2 - 3 лет. Встречаются, правда, и "реликты". Например, W.Maurus (1987) сообщал о нескольких девятилетних петушках-самцах, живущих в лаборатории одного из университетов США, причём рыбы сохраняли способность к воспроизводству. Но это, конечно, редкий случай. В общем же, если петушки живут у вас больше трёх лет, можете считать, что вы сделали для них всё, что могли. Большего не смогла бы и сама Природа.

В. Гариков г. Москва Аквариум № 3, 1996 г.