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The Siamese fighting fish or Betta splendens is native to Asia. As early as A.D. 1200, wild bettas were kept in captivity in Thai households. They were used for competitive fighting in Thailand much the same way other animals, such as roosters, are used for fighting. Wild betta fish today are listed as vulnerable on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The wild betta fish looks very different from the betta found in pet stores. Wild bettas are a dull brown color with a darker dorsal stripe. This color provides camouflage to help them avoid predators. When they reach maturity at around 2 years of age, they are 2.5 inches long.
The wild betta is native to the Mekong Basin area. Their natural habitats include parts of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. They were introduced by humans into the wild in other Asian countries and in South America. These areas include Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Columbia and the Dominican Republic.
Wild bettas live in shallow, freshwater areas. They prefer ponds, streams, canals and rice paddies, but they are also found in rivers. They feed upon plankton, mosquitoes and insect larvae. Bettas are known as fighting fish because two males in close proximity will fight with one another for dominance. One male can be kept with several females.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that pollution and loss of habitat are the main threats to wild bettas. Much of their natural habitat has been lost to farming and development, especially in central Thailand. Pollution released into the Mekong Basin also threatens their food sources and health. Other threats include genetic dilution from escaped farmed fish that interbreed with wild bettas.
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