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(Author by H.K.Sim)

The reasons I concluded that Smaragdina is not a betta species is based on the characteristic of the fish (anatomical & habits), the make up of the fish population in its habitat, the distribution of its habitat, my cross breeding experimentation using imbellis & splendens and my observations of Smaragdina bred & raised in captivity. Before I go any further, I will first share my observation of the characteristics of imbellis, splendens, Smaragdina & Som (imbellis x splenden). Betta imbellis posses fine colored body spotting which are usually green, blue and the occasional gold with a mirror finish concentrated and coarser at the mid line and abdomen of the fish. The body color is beige, brown or black. The color of its caudal is red/brown with color stripes in the tone of its body spotting, the red/brown in the region between the color strips will always be in a very much deeper tone than at the area at the edge of the caudal.


The imbellis also possess metallic cheek colors in the same color tone similar to its body spotting and will never be black or red cheek. Its body is narrower, head smaller, mouth narrower & smaller faced compared to splendens. The anal fin will develop a slender sword when it reached maturity and some fish may also develop a sword at the middle of the caudal. Imbellis are good hibernators & it is a very shy fish even after years of domestication. Splendens on the other hand are either full body colored or possess coarse body spotting which are evenly spread across the body with a gloss finish. The body color is white, brown or black. The red/brown in its caudal is of a uniform tone throughout the tail. Splendens are either red or black cheek depending on the environment it was raised and it will not develop metallic imbellis cheek and swords in its anal or caudal fins be it long or short fin varieties. Splenden can hibernate and have the tendency to swim openly like mouth brooder bettas.


Smaragdina as illustrated in betta manuals exhibit coarse body spotting which spreads evenly across the whole body with a finish that is generally in between that of imbellis and splenden. The cheek color is similar to imbellis with finnage resembling those of imbellis with a single tone red/brown caudal color. Tank bred and raised fishes classify, as smaragdina from Thailand will develop a rosy/rusty cheek. Som colors are greatly influenced by the color of splendens used for its breeding and the habitat it is raised from. Full colored splendens of green/blue hue with imbellis will produce around 80% smaragdina colored & 20% imbellis colored soms, brown/black body spotted splendens with imbellis will produce around 30% smaragdina colored and 70% imbellis colored soms and white bodied splendens with imbellis will produce around 20% Persephone colored soms and 80% imbellis colored soms. It must be stressed that this ratio will vary from spawns to spawn even the same parents are repeatedly crossed with the male traits getting stronger with subsequent crossings. Around 70% of tank bred and raised soms will develop rosy cheeks no matter what splendens are used to parent it.


Som is the terminology used in Malaya for bettas of imbellis/splenden parentage are it tank bred or captured from the wild (Thailand & Malaya). It can be caught abundantly in imbellis habitat where the locals keep splendens as a hobby or fights imbellis as a pastime. Now we will go into the mode of transport of splenden genes into imbellis genetic pool. As there are no market for female splendens be it fighters or display type, breeders normally dispose the females into rivers, ponds, swamps, etc. When these females meet up with an imbellis male, what happens next is not hard to imagine. It is a common practice to discard small spawns because the ratio of males to females of this spawns are low (due to higher mortality rate of male fry) and also due to the fact different spawns does not get along well when mix in the same tank (rioting in the tank upon maturity), these splenden fry are discharge into the wild and the survival rate of these fishes are very much higher compared to release of adult fishes. The transfer of splenden genes into imbellis habitat in the above said modes are unintentional and inevitable. The soms resulting from this discharge of splendens into imbellis habitat are usually smaragdina colored and can occasionally being long finned. As the survival rate of long fin & blue colored fishes are lower in the wild, these soms will eventually breed down to green colored short fin varieties if there is no fresh releases based on my experimentation over a period of 8 years.


Soms that are intentionally released in the wild is mostly done for the fish superior fighting qualities compared to imbellis and is very rampant in North Malaya & Thailand. This fish fetch a very good price and are bred to be colored and shaped as closely as possible to the imbellis so that it can be used for imbellis fights. No matter how hard a breeder may try, the only splenden trait that stubbornly would not leave is the red/brown color of its caudal will be of the same tone. This is the characteristic most solidly grounded to determine the trueness of an imbellis. For breeding of imbellis look-alike Som, there are two ways to it. One way is to breed a Som back to imbellis but the subsequent off springs fighting quality would not be outstanding. The other way is to search for an all green face imbellis with dense spotting on its caudal fin and fine green body spotting with narrow body. The rational behind this is splendens do not have green cheeks, spotting on caudal fins and fine body spotting. The methods used by som breeders to introduce this fish into the wild is by releasing splenden frys into imbellis habitat, releasing of som frys into new habitats and the popular method of placing the imbellis/splenden parents in a perforated basket place in a suitable habitat. As soms are superior fighters compared to imbellis they will claim the prime breeding spots in the wild habitat and thus their genes will proliferate rapidly to become the dominant fish in habitats that do not goes through cyclical drying. In habitats that experience cyclical drying the proliferation of splenden traits in the imbellis population is somewhat controlled by the inability of soms with strong splenden traits to hibernate. Now we come back to the reasons why smaragdina can be classified as a betta species. Som released into contained mud ponds & allowed to self propagate from there creates a population with colors and anatomy ranging from smaragdina types to imbellis types along the normal distribution curve exactly duplicating the population profile of smaragdina habitats in Thailand. Why it did occur to betta literature writers that these bettas are link when the smaragdina and imbellis are always found in the same habitat and will readily and surely cross breed with each other may be due to their lack of field study on the subject.


There is yet no wild habitat where the fish caught is all smaragdina colored be it in Thailand or Malaya. In habitats where there is frequent released of splenden, the distribution may even range from (imbellis x splenden x splenden) to (imbellis x splenden) to (imbellis x imbellis x splenden) to imbellis. Splendens have been bred by the Siamese people for centuries and the extent of its influenced on the imbellis population must surely be great based on my observation of the Malayan wild fish population which is undergoing tremendous transformation for the past 30 years. This practice of releasing splenden genetic material into imbellis habitats is very wrong just like introduction of genetically engineered plants into the eco-system and eventually there may no longer be a true blood imbellis to be caught. I am one of the culprit and I came to realize the extent of the damage done after I saw all the purely imbellis habitat in Penang disappear. I wish that the clock can be turned back and hope that betta lovers make an effort to preserve pure imbellis bloodline in the wild as far as we can.


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