Friday, March 14, 2014

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - Or: Why I will no longer buy dragon scale bettas

Say hello to Lo Pan. (No, he has no green-eyed bride.)

In addition to my furry friends, I am also fond of fishkeeping (try saying that one three times fast). Fish were the only thing I could have in college, and with the small space, naturally bettas were my first love. I've had several bettas over the years, most of them outliving their standard life expectancy (they usually only live around five years, and most bettas you buy in the store are already at least a year or two old, as it takes a while for their full finnage to grow out, so they look more impressive once they are past breeding age). Our most recent loss, Lucius, was with us for at least six years.

My current betta, Lo Pan, is what is known as a "dragon" or "dragon scale" betta. Dragon scale bettas are characterized by thicker, more noticeable scales, which usually have a very metallic sheen. Lo Pan was the first of this type I was really drawn to - most of them are not really "my type" when it comes to looks, but this guy just had a little something extra.

Still the same fish. Every angle of the light changes his color.

It wasn't until I got him home that I noticed anything wrong.

First was that his gills cannot flare all the way. One way I check the health of my bettas is to hold up a mirror to encourage them to flare in a typical territorial display. This way I can see their fins fully. They also bring their gills forward and fan them out to make themselves look larger. (Just a note, you should do this sparingly as it does get them riled and that's not healthy if they're doing it too often.) Lo Pan, I noticed, could not properly fan his gills out. He tries, but they snap back very quickly. I am not certain if this affects his breathing - it has been a bit difficult finding much information about this, but scales growing over the gills seems to be noted by some as a common condition in dragon scale bettas.

I also noticed, once I got him into better light, that there was a scale growing over one eye. I asked about it online, and was told by another betta enthusiast that this is known as "diamond eye" and is also very common in dragon bettas. I was also told this usually becomes more prominent as the fish gets older, and most will eventually go blind, if they are not already.

You can see the scale over his eye very clearly in this photo.

Today as I looked at him, he tried to flare at me again - the issue with his gills seems worse than before.

This seems problematic to me. As beautiful as Lo Pan is, I do not wish to encourage the breeding of unhealthy fish. So he will be my last dragon scale, unless I can find evidence that there are breeders that have found a way to eliminate this problem while still keeping the beautiful scale pattern.

I can't stop others from buying them, but I can stop buying them myself. Not that I will judge people for buying these fish from stores since they are already there - I know plenty of people who prefer to "rescue" fish like this to make sure that the person who takes them home can at least give them a good life. But as for me, much like my decision not to buy fish from certain chain stores, I do not wish to encourage the practice to continue. It hurts my heart to leave them there, but it has to stop somewhere.

If anyone has more information on these issues, feel free to send links. I would like to learn more.

For those who have a betta who is already going blind, I can offer some suggestions that others have sent me: bettas can also smell their food, so if you are using pellets, you can dip them in chicken broth or (so I am told) even a little bit of garlic oil so they can find their food more easily.


  1. So you're condemning an entire variety of bettas due to a single poor specimen? Seems totally reasonable. o_O

    1. No, if you read thoroughly you will see that I was informed that these problems are common to this variety of betta. Also I am not condemning the betta so much as the people who breed them this way without considering how poor it is for their health.

  2. So you're condemning an entire variety of bettas due to a single poor specimen? Seems totally reasonable. o_O

  3. My guy Forrest has scales growing over both his eyes now. It is a real shame, and people should be aware of this problem when picking out their bettas.

    I had no idea this was a common thing and have been otherwise unable to find info on the disease. Thanks for this post!

    1. I was the same way - I never would have known until it started happening, and I started hunting around to see what I could do for him. Glad I could help someone else out!