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Curious Creatures - Labyrinth Fish



Betta fish are amazing.
They are part of a group of fish that have a labyrinth organ.

This organ is specially adapted to allow the fish to gulp air.

This air is pushed into the labyrinth organ which allows the fish to absorb oxygen.


betta fish

Photography by  Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

So why would fish need this?
We know sea dwelling mammals like whales and dolphins only get their oxygen from breathing above the surface of the water, whereas most fish use their gills to breathe under the water.
But labyrinth fish can do both.

In fact, studies show, they need to do both.
The labyrinth organ develops gradually as the fish grows. By the time they are adult they need to both use their gills and gulp air. A side effect of having this useful labyrinth organ is that the gills are considerably weaker. This means the fish cannot rely on only one method of getting oxygen, they need to use both.

The Betta fish is a great example of this.

These fabulous fish come mainly from Thailand, hence the old name ‘Siamese Fighting Fish’.
They were often put together to fighter entertainment as the males are so aggressive towards each other.
In the wild they live in shallow pools of water. In the dry season they bounce between puddles to find one deep enough to sustain them until the rainy season replenishes their habitat.
So it is obvious why they need an alternative source of oxygen. They have adapted perfectly to hypoxic and sub optimal conditions.
Low oxygen saturation along with a tropical climate and shallow waters create ideal habitats for these plucky species.

The glorious colours you see on Betta’s are a result of captive breeding.

The fact they have this amazing extra organ is thought to have influenced their behaviour. 

From the aggression the males have for each other, the courtships and even the way they make little bubble nests for their offspring.
I found a great study on it here if you want to geek out.


red betta

Photography by  Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

I personally don’t have fish (too much tank cleaning for me) but 5 minutes of research gave me the basics on how NOT to care for these extravagant fish.

I’ll share these with you now in case you are thinking of getting one.

1. You need a 10 gallon tank, not a pretty bowl.
I am a member of a lot of insect groups. The amount of people that keep full grown adult mantids in cups is horrible and this is no better.
You need to create the best possible environment for your pet as possible. Or don’t get one. It’s as simple as that.
They also need a proper filter and heating.
They are a tropical species after all.

2. They need stimulation. This means setting up their habitat to be as interesting and natural as possible.

3. They are carnivores! As they live in puddles for part of the year they eat a lot of insect larvae. So get the appropriate food for them to thrive.


betta illustration

I have written my story on why I chose to paint this beautiful fish and will share it with you soon.



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