Buying a Healthy Betta
Whether I have planned to buy a betta or walked into a store and found one by chance that I wanted to buy, there are a few things I look for in picking out a betta. Of course, this article applies mainly to purchasing a betta at a store, not the highly prized show bettas. Those are far more expensive and you generally do not have to worry about health when buying from a breeder.
Bettas come in many different colors and with the lighter colored bettas it may be hard to determine if they were born lightly colored or if they are ill or dying. A healthy betta will have clear eyes and have sharp color features where as a sick betta will be hazy, dull and maybe not as sharply colored.
The fins of the betta should be complete with no holes in them and not clustered together, or clamped. A betta with a hole or tear in their fin can be be very healthy but if you do not plan on caring for the betta 100% until the tear or hole grows closed, do not buy this betta. You could very easily have a bad case of fin rot on your hands. Another note on fins is that white tips on fins are fine as long as it does not appear cottony. White finnage is usually a sign of fin growth, which a betta in a store will have since they are generally around 1 year old. White cottony growth is not healthy and if you are placing the betta in a tank with other community fish, you could be introducing one big problem.
The eyes of your betta should be dark in appearance but clear, not hazy. Another trait is they should not be buggy looking. If they appear buggy, the fish could have pop eye.
The gill area of your betta should be smooth in appearance, not swollen or stringy looking. One way to get a good look is to move him closer to another betta to see if he will flare at it. When he flares (he might not but do not panic), you will get a good look at his gill area as well as see if it goes back down quickly and smoothly.
You should easily see any fish droppings in the tiny cup. If there are none, make sure your betta does not appear swollen or look as if he had swollen a marble. Of course, just because he is constipated does not mean you cannot fix him quickly. This is not a reason alone to not purchase a betta.
One of the most important things you can do is to look at your betta from above. Look down on his back. If he appears like a pinecone, scales sticking outward, do not buy him. This is a disease called Dropsy and is fatal to bettas. All of the other things listed above can be fixed if you want to take the time, but dropsy is fatal.
Some quick looks beyond those above are to make sure he moves around good, not lying on his side or have any tiny holes in his body. You do not want your fish to appear cottony and if you see bubbles on the top of his water, he is feeling pretty good.
Male or Female?
How do you know if your betta is a male or female? There are a lot more signs than just the fins...
Everyone has seen the beautiful fins of the betta, like a large flowing flag showing his colors. Yes, these are male bettas. But do you know what the females look like? Did you know females can sometimes exhibit longer finnage than usual? Here are some other ways you can sex your betta.
The male betta is mainly characterized by his longer flowing fins and his flaring at other bettas when in view. Like other species, the male betta generally has a longer body and is bigger than the female overall. But this is still not a "definite" way to tell if you have a male or female as older females have been known to grow quite large. It is what males do not have that make them obviously males.
The female betta is generally smaller than the male with shorter finnage. They are more "communal" and less aggressive than the males but there have been many reports of very aggressive females.
One definite way of knowing if you have a female is they exhibit a small white dot on their stomach directly behind their ventral fins (short fins on their stomach) - the ovipositor.
A female betta is more likely to exhibit "fear stripes" and vertical stripes on their body when ready to breed. The stripes are quite obvious but remember the vertical fear stripes can be displayed by the male.
Now that you can determine gender, choose an appropriate name and enjoy your new, healthy betta.