Siamese Fish History
Siamese Fighting Fish History
Accessorizing with siamese fighting fish was not what the people of Siam originally had in mind when they
started collecting Siamese fish prior to the 1800s. Known as Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta Splendens), the Siamese
fish of that time were not the same elegant fish that we see today. With much smaller fins and a dirty greenish
brown hue, they were bred for competitive fighting and not for the magnificent finnage and colors that they are now
famous for. Native to Siam (now Thailand), Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and parts of China, these fish became
accustomed to water temperatures that were often above 80°F (27°C).
The Siamese fighting fish history shows that for the children of Malaya, in southern China, collecting these
Siamese fighting fish was a favorite pastime. Able to catch 50 fish in an hour, from the paddy fields, these
children would conduct siamese fish fights in order to determine who the village champion was. Usually, it was the
biggest fish that they had. Once the wounds healed on the prize-winning fish, he would go into competition again
against a new opponent. This pastime diminished significantly when agricultural chemicals and mechanized plowing
were introduced for the harvesting of the paddy fields. The fields were not the only place where one could find
Siamese fighting fish however. They were also living in ditches, stagnant ponds and gentle flowing streams.
Known as pla kat, which means tearing or biting fish, the wild Siamese fish generally would have short-lasting
fights of only a few minutes or so. However, once the Siamese started to breed them specifically for fighting,
these matches could go on for hours. The winner was determined, not by the wounds that he inflicted, but instead by
his willingness to continue fighting. The losing fish retreated and the match was over. Damage to the fish
generally was nothing more than torn fins, with serious damage rarely seen. However, damage to the families of the
men betting on the fish was sometimes substantial, with potential losses as great as his money, his house and, on
occasion, his wife or other family members!
Seeing the obvious popularity of these fights, the King of Siam started licensing and collecting these fighting
fish. In 1840, he gave some of his prized fish to a man who, in turn, gave them to Dr. Theodor Cantor, a medical
scientist from Bangor. Describing these fish in an article nine years later, Dr. Cantor gave them the name
Macropodus Pugnax. In 1909, Mr. Tate Regan renamed those Betta Splendens, noting that there already was a species
with the name that Dr. Cantor had given to them. It is believed that Mr. Regan got the name from a warrior-like
tribe of people named "Bettah".
By the last quarter of the 1800's, the Betta Splendens (Siamese Fighting Fish) were introduced into France and
Germany and in 1910 they were first seen in the United States. Seventeen years later, Frank Locke of San Francisco
received his first Siamese fish. They were light-colored with brilliant red fins and he gave them the name Betta
Cambodia. With the variety of colors and color combinations that were being introduced, these fish were considered
to be different species, thus a long list of alternate names was created.
The siamese fighting fish history spans back over many years, and today, Betta Splendens (Siamese Fighting Fish)
are the most popular fish with breeders in the U.S. and Japan. Commercial Siamese fish farms in Malaya and
Singapore breed both display Splendens and fighting Splendens with the breeding of the fighters producing the most
revenue. Fighters are often discarded following their matches and new ones are bought, whereas display Splendens do
not need to be replaced for quite some time.