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Keeping Betta rutilans – the Dwarf Fighter

Blackwater StreamHaving always kept saltwater tanks, I recently decided to try my hand at a freshwater planted tank.  Not having a lot of room to work with, I decided to set up a small, 2.5 gallon tank.  With such a small volume of water, I was limited in the fishthat I could keep, but I found a perfect fit for my new tank.

Dwarf Fighters (Betta rutilans) would be my new endeavor.  I researched the fish and took a look at the conditions of their native habitat in to get a better idea about how to furnish the tank. Betta rutilans comes from drainage basins in the Indonesian region and Borneo. They live in blackwater environments, where the water stays soft and acidic. These little guys only grow to a little over an inch in length, and they’re usually solid red or red with some green on their sides.  They have a longer and narrower body than Betta plendens, and have short, rounded fins like B. albimarginata. They can be housed with others of their kind. I’m hoping to see these fish spawn in the tank and I chose 1 male and 3 females to see how they get along.  

Next I had to decide which live plants would be suitable for the tank under these conditions. Cryptocorynes (Green Wendtii, Bronze Wendtii, Spiralis, and Balansae to name a few) and Nymphaea (Tiger Lotus and Aquarium Lily) were the types that stuck out for me immediately.  These plants have broader leaves that will provide the shady places that these bettas prefer.  I have a small Coralife fixture over the tank, which should be adequate for my lower light plants.

I started the tank with a small submersible filter, but I will be replacing it soon with a sponge filter.  The flow of the submersible filter is a little too strong for the bettas. They prefer very low or no water movement at all, as it is in their natural environment; a sponge filter will help to keep this flow at a minimum.  I also plan on changing the substrate.  I set up the tank using Fluorite since it’s great for the plants, but is not natural to their environment.  My plan is to gradually take out the Fluorite, adding oak leaves and other leaves that will add to the natural appearance of the tank and contribute to the chemistry as they break down.

Blackwater ExtractI’m adding blackwater extract to the tank to provide trace elements and to replicate the tinted, tannin-tea shaded water. By adding a piece of drift wood, natural tannins will also tint the water abd help to contribute to ideal chemistry conditions.  I’m adding peat moss to help to slowly bring the pH down from 7 and keep it acidic and stable. This will help to keep the water soft and will help keep the yellow tint of blackwater extract.  Since the plants live in this darker water, they are lower light plants. My weekly maintenance is next to nothing, since there are plants in the tank they help eat up nitrates.  I change out about a quart of water every week and add a little blackwater extract each time. 

These bettas don’t need to eat everyday since they’re small and not very active swimmers. I vary the foods I offer to keep them healthy, feeding brine shrimp, cyclops and arctipods throughout the week about every other day.  So far, they’re a lot of fun to watch. Hopefully I’ll be able to write an update soon on a successful spawning!


  1. avatar

    Hey there,

    Happy to see another person keep Betta rutilans!
    May I ask about your experiences with having live peat moss in a blackwater tank? What are the water parameters if I may ask (pH and electrical conductivity or hardness) and how does the moss do under those conditions?

    I’d be happy to hear/read from you!

    Best regards,
    Gregor 🙂

  2. avatar

    Dear Gregor,
    I didn’t have the moss in the tank very long (only about 2 weeks). In that time it did great. I decided to take out the moss and the filter all together. I replaced the moss with drift wood and still use a small amount of blackwater extract. The ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are all zero. The pH is about 6.5-6.8. The drift wood helps to bring my pH down (as well as yellow the water) and I do water changes with RO/DI water. Since I’m using the RO/DI water the pH is able to stay at the 6.5-6.8. The fish have done great-no breeding though. I feed Reef Nutrition Arcti-Pods every other day. If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me.


  3. avatar

    Dear Sam,

    thanks a lot for the response.

    At some point I was thinking about trying peat moss myself but couldn’t really really find any information or anyone with experience in this.
    I’m keeping a pair of F1 Betta rutilans “Tayan” and a few of their offspring in a tank with a lot of Ceratopteris thalictroides, which grows well in “my” water here.
    It’s DI water to which I add a few drops of HCL (3,6%) to lower the pH to about 5. I keep it dark too but use the blackwater conditioner from Sera. And with every weekly partial water change, I replace the big Catappa leaf that I keep in the tank with a fresh one. Those add a good bit of color to the water as well.
    In the beginning I treated the water for the water changes with peat to add tannins and acids and to adjust the pH but then I decided to give that up when I realized that it doesn’t make sense to try saving a species who’s habitats in the peat forests of Borneo are being destroyed by using locally harvested peat – and thus help to destroy our own peat swamps.
    About the breeding – it is just a thought but maybe a pH, somewere between 4 and 6 could help with this. At least my fish are almost too reproductive at around pH 5. Most of the young fish I had to move to a second tank which I decided to buy.

    I use different sorts of live food. Microworms, Artemia nauplii, Drosophila. Daphnia, mosquito larvae (they are said to help induce spawning) and the larvae of mayflys whenever I have time to search for them in ponds or trenches in the area.

    Again, thanks a lot for responding. To me it is always interesting to exchange thoughts and experiences concerning this wonderful species.

    All the best,

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