CONFESSIONS OF A FIRST-TIME BETTA SPAWNER Silly things a newcomer to betta spawning finds himself doing.

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As of 11 March, 2002, I've only helped one spawn make it to the four-week mark. Most of the people who log onto this page will have had tens, if not hundreds, of times this many spawns. I wouldn't be surprised or offended if they laugh at the naivety of such a newcomer as he wonders at the simple magic of fry growing into fish. I'm putting down some thoughts about raising my first spawn to share with other newcomers like myself, for more experienced breeders to remember what it was like in the beginning, and for myself in the future... that I might remember these moments.

My first impression was one of surprise that fish nick-named "Siamese Fighting Fish" could be so gentle with each other. When first released, the spawning pair of white opaques were inseparable. If one wandered off, the other quickly sought him or her out.

This surprise was followed by helpless dread as the courtship turned ugly. The male began tearing at the females fins until they looked half gone. I feared for her life, and the loss of hundreds of unborn fry.

Amazement! All of a sudden the female started following the male back to the bubblenest in spite of his treatment. She nips him, demanding attention. They embrace, eggs swirl and fall, he raced to save them, back to the nest, to his bride... over and over again. Exhausting, relentless, on and on. Amazing!

Relief... it's over. The female retreats, exhausted, to the safety of the plants. The male's face hardens with determination as he hovers below the nest; prodding, fanning, adding bubbles, nursing the brood.

I find my feet carrying me back to the fish room every hour. I must check the nest, try to estimate how many eggs it holds, worry that the male will eat them. I force myself away to work that needs to be done. I forget about it and let my feet take me back to the spawning tank. I start counting eggs again.

Time drags. a day passes and it looks like there are fewer eggs in the nest. Quiet fear whispers at me that none of the eggs are alive and the male's eating them. Perhaps some will survive. Perhaps...

FRY! They made it! I stare transfixed as almost invisible specks with tales fall from the nest. There's just a few but they glow with the promise of new life. Another falls. And still another. The bottom of the tank becomes crowded with tailed specks. Enchantment fills my heart...

...quickly followed by panic. They're not moving. The father tries blowing them into the nest but can't do it. The same fry is forcing into the nest, falls, is grabbed, blown, falls, grabbed again, on, and on and on. Half an hour drags by and the male still hasn't gotten the fry to stay in the nest. He's killing it with over attention. Finally it happens... something tells the male the fry is dead. He picks it up one last time with his mouth; it doesn't come out. He starts swimming down to the hundred helpless fry laying on the bottom. What to do? I reread the books, check websites, can't find an answer. I feel helpless, alone. Another fry goes into his mouth. I have to do something. I grab a net and pull the male from the tank... the fry are going to have to do it on their own.

I watch as two days drag by. The fry ignore the nest. Some make short spurting jumps toward the surface then drift back down as motionless as death. I worry that I took the male out too soon. Three days pass. The egg yokes have been absorbed and the fry look smaller. They are supposed to have started to swim by now. I spend hours at the tank watching, waiting. Then I spot one swimming horizontally! Relief washes over me. They're going to make it.

A weak later I have countless fry and feel lucky and proud. They spend most of their time laying on the bottom of the tank but as their rounded bellies give proof, they're swimming well enough to catch food. I feed them too much but can't help wanting to make sure that they have as much as the want. I still have the problem with my feet leading me back to the tank several dozen times a day, but I don't mind anymore. I study each fry that comes close and wonder if it will be a beauty. The big one in the back corner, could he be a half-moon? The little one off to the right, perhaps the mother of a future champions. I wait, and wonder, and smile.


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