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Introduction to betta fish colors and their genetics

You should be interested to know what colors exist in the bettas today. Looking at the image above, we realize that each photo has a different betta.

What you’ll learn in this article:

The colors in the bettas

How many colors are there? We can say they’re endless! This is because each betta has its own characteristic, although fish of the same litter have the possibility of replicating the aesthetic beauty of their parents – the lineage bettas!

In the 1960s, American Dr. Gene Lucas, PhD in Philosophy, dedicated his dissertation to the study of betta genetics. He was the pioneer in this theme. See his thesis here:

Over these more than 60 years, much of what was thought to be known of betta’s genetics has taken new directions. New strains have been developed, new formats in the bettas have emerged, and so on.

Maybe you’re thinking: “hey, the colors should follow the pattern of the color wheel.. “

See the framework below.

Color wheel: a framework that is not applicable to bettas


That is, crossing a purple betta with a green betta we will have in the brood blue bettas, or else, crossing a purple betta with a red we will have purple-red bettas.

Be aware that they do not follow the color wheel traditionally known for other purposes. It is more complex than this, because we have genes responsible for the colors, distribution of these colors and others that are responsible for the formats of them.


Basic concepts about the process of color formation in bettas

Bettas have biochemical elements that define their colors, called chromatophores. Chromatophores are molecules divided into two categories: iridophores and pigments.

Let’s go to a playful analogy. Imagine ink pots as shown in the image below.


In the first pot, we have the brightness of the bettas: the iridophores (blue, green and copper). Also, we will have a pot with black ink and others with the colors red or others, as shown in the image. Those colors, on the right in the image, are pigments.


The overlay of these paints follows the following order:

  • Brightness: it is the above ink of all. It may or may not exist visually. It is the blue, green or copper colors.
  • Black ink: it is the second layer, under the iridophores, influencing whether the brightness will be darker or lighter.
  • Other inks: they are below the black ink, may or may not exist and influencing the resulting color in the betta, which may be red, yellow, pink and others. They act together with the brightness (the iridophores) in the final color of bettas.

Genes act resulting in the final aspect of chromatophores

Obviously, we do not have ink on the scales of bettas, but genes that act together resulting in the characteristics of betta (its aesthetic beauty, characterized color colors, distribution of colors and formats – the phenotype).

See the photos below.

Betta Orange Betta Black Devil Betta Milky
Betta Chocolate Betta Red Betta Black Copper
Betta Teal Blue Betta Red Dragon

Notice that each betta has one, two or more colors. Among different bettas with the same color, there are often different shades between them.

The color tone consists of whether the color is lighter or darker. Remember the black color? It is she who gives this effect, with greater or lesser amount of melanophores. In the same way, the other colors act in conjunction with the iridophores.

The theoretical model of color layers in bettas

The theoretical layer model in bettas follows the same scheme as our example. It is necessary for us to understand the genetics that exists behind these colors and color distribution.

This theoretical model is only a perception, helping those who want to understand the genetics of betta to identify the possible genes involved.

There are therefore 4 layers of color:

  • Layer 1: iridescent colors – blue, green and coppery colors.
  • Layer 2: black color – the melanophores. Whether it’s dark or light.
  • Layers 3 and 4: red colors and non-red colors – pink, yellow and others;

Remember that this model is theoretical, which only helps in identifying the possible genes that are acting.

There are some samples below:

Layer Color Photo
1 Royal blue


Steel blue
Intense Green
2 Melano
3 Cherry Red
4 Intense Yellow

Consider only fins as a reference

And so many others.

See that we have seen the multitude of possible colors in bettas, the process of color formation, an introduction to the genetics behind these colors and examples of phenotypes (the visual characteristic as focus) and photos of bettas.

You must have noticed that below some photos of the last set there are letters. But what are those letters?

What is phenotype and genotype

Phenotype is related to the morphological, physiological and behavioral characteristics of individuals. The phenotype determines the appearance of the individual (mostly visible aspects), resulting from the interaction of the medium and its set of genes (genotype). Our focus is on colors and color distribution in bettas, remember?

Regarding to colors and color distribution, we have more than 30 phenotypes in this magnificent fish.

In turn, the letters associated with each phenotype correspond to the genotype. See the example below:

Betta Royal Blue


We have the genotype “Bl bl nm nm” for the above betta.  See this article that presents the genetics of blue bettas (layer 1). It’s interesting that you take a look on it.

The genotype “Bl bl” refers to the blue color. This is how it was codified.

The genotype “nm nm” refers to the non-metallic trait, which originates from the crossing among other varieties of bettas, increasing the range of iridescent colors (from 3 to 9). In the quoted article you will know them!

Some numbers regarding phenotypes and genotypes in bettas

Currently we have dozens of phenotypes make up the genetics of betta as to colors, color distribution and formats. We have identified more than 100 genotypes, giving rise to more than 60 genetic traits in betta. This is a large number. But imagine the toolset you have to promote the selective breeding with your bettas, determine which of them could occur in your litters.

That is, it is a significant set of tools that allows us to predict what aesthetic characteristics the bettas will have in the litter. In addition, with this knowledge you will be able to design bettas!

Designing bettas consists of determining a goal (a betta you saw and liked, or developing a new lineage), identifying its traits and genotypes to obtain it, starting the search for matrices, confirming its genetic characteristics and then directing the creation to the desired goal.

The selection of matrices as an asset to obtain bettas with Superior Genetics

This entire set of information is important for the correct selection of arrays, that is, the bettas that you will select to reproduce and generate descendants.

Consider that the work, commitment, costs and time are the same between bettas, regardless of their colors, distribution and formats.

As you are possibly a bettas breeder, wouldn’t it be much more interesting to design bettas? Remember that this is the result, in practice, of the matrices selection process.

Once you have mastered the management, reproducing bettas whose descendants do not meet your expectations is frustrating. We know that!

And that’s why we created this site, courses and articles.

The correct selection of matrices is essential for you to walk on the path of your expectation and goal.  See the article we wrote on selective breeding applied to betta fish.

Throwing yourself lucky in the selection of matrices results in nothing, or close to it!

See also our article that brings information about what are lineage bettas. It will certainly help you on this journey!

Want to learn more about betta genetics?

Get to know our Course on Betta Genetics, a material that consolidates everything you think you know about its practical application for matrices selection, and brings new genetic modeling.

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We wish success with your bettas.



[1] Betta Project internal archive
[2] Images from the Internet

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