Dragon Scale Bettas: Characteristics,care, history and more….

Dragon Scale Bettas belong to the Betta family of fish and together with the Guppys and goldfish are considered to be one of the most popular aquarium fish today.

The competition between these species is very close and the dragon betta fish is continually mistaken for the Cooper fish, but they are actually different fish. Let’s know all about the betta dragonfish in this post, let’s get started.

Betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish, is one of the most well-known and popular freshwater fish in aquariums. This species has been collected since before the 19th century in Thailand and Malaysia.

These fish have been selectively selected through generations of breeders, Process through which a lot of varieties have been developed, such as the betta dragon the species that you will know today.

What does «Dragon» Mean?

Dragon is the term used to mention the variety or type of scale of a given specimen. When we affirm that a specimen of the betta fish is dragon we mean the type of scale that this specimen possesses, which in most cases is  thick and white,

dragon scale bettas: betta Imbellis

Why do Dragon Scale Bettas have this kind of scales?

Such a scales are owed to an excess of guanine. This variety was first known thanks to the breeder Mr. Tea who was the first to obtain the dragon variety thanks to the crosses between the species Splendes, Imbellis, mahachai.

The dragon factor is a gene that can be passed down from generation to generation. This scale can occupy the entire body of a betta fish causing the specimen’s entire trunk to look completely.

One of the main characteristics of this factor is that if you have both specimens with this scale, the vast majority of the young would then be dragons regardless of their differences in color or type of tails.

This factor can be achieved in most varieties of the betta fish in both color and tail types, although one of the possible limitations that this feature may have is that when starting a line of dragon specimens you must have at least one specimen , otherwise you wouldn’t be able to pull a dragon line.

Let’s meet them

The Origin of  the Dragon Scale Bettas

The Dragon factor is a different gene and you need a Dragon to start the line. The first Dragon emerged when crossing a female Betta mahachai x Red copper, from here a son crossed with a female super red. Finally, the mother (super red) was crossed with a son of hers. From there the scales and red fins were perfected.

The first Red Dragon was shown to the public in 2004, in Thailand during the INTERFISH:»According to Pichet (team of breeders Interfish – Thailand), the first «Dragons» were created by using a «Super» Red Plakat, a Red Copper Plakat and Betta sp. Mahachai.

With some mishaps, the wild betta sp. mahachai was crossed with the red copper Plakat in order to preserve the betta sp mahachai’ traits in offspring. Then a young male of this spawning was crossed with a super red plakat female.

The third step was to perform a retro crossing, by crossing the mother with her child: The super red plakat female was crossed with one of her children in a method commonly known as «Inline Breeding» (inbreeding).

Although the shape of the body and fins was not very good and some of them even showed body malformations, the color was there and the first pair of «dragons» was born!

The first «dragons» were developed by Mr. Tea. The «Red Dragon V1» was first introduced to the Thai public in December 2004 in the edition of a magazine called «Fancy Fish» by the Intefish team of breeders.  Then through selective crosses Dragon of almost any color was obtained.

Strain or «Armadillo»?

Around the time the Interfish team of breeders wowed the world with their new dragon betta fish, Victoria Parnell-Stark of  Bettysplendens.com  was producing a strain ca

Lled «Armadillo» in the United States. The initial idea came from a book by Walt Maurus, in which he included a photograph of a very unique betta that was the result of crossing Betta splendens with wild bettas such as the Betta imbellis.

This beauty was called betta Neon. Determined to reproduce the anomaly, Victoria Parnell-Stark acquired several pairs of Thai species in a shipment that included Betta imbellis mahachai whose mating is difficult.
They were not only difficult but temperamental, and it was only with a little trial and error that a successful specimen was obtained among a Betta sp. Mahachai and a green Betta splendens, although, the resulting fry were never particularly resilient or prolific.

There was greater success with Betta splendens and Betta imbellis fish, creating some very interesting, iridescent and masked specimens. In The First Generation, many green, red and multicolored bettas were produced, some with highly iridescent scales and brightly colored gills.

Sequential improvements improved the effect, so that in a few generations bettas with heavier iridescence and fully masked faces began to appear: La Betta sp.

The mahachai hybrids by the Betta splendens did not go so well, so before their influence was completely lost they were absorbed by the Betta splendens x Betta imbellis hybrids line.
In 2006, the first «Armadillo» bettas were released, and it wasn’t long before betta enthusiasts noticed similarities between Armadillos and dragons.

In fact, its origins followed a very correlative formula, with some differences (particularly in color) likely attributed to the amount of Imbellis influence on the armadillo.Betta imbellis, Betta smaragdina and Betta Mahachai naturally have a higher degree of ricance in scales compared to Betta splendens, which is likely due to their need to adapt to murky water in their natural habitat. Both dragon betta fish and armadillos described above are characterized by a thick iridescent metal inlay that almost Dragon Betta Fish: male black platinum bettaresembles armor.

When we take a look at the origin of metals and dragons we see a lot of overlap, the crossing of domesticated bettas with Betta imbellis resulted in metals which in turn also have an important contribution to the development of the betta dragon fish.

This shared origin probably explains the similarity between metallics and dragons, but in the case of seconds the additional influence of Betta sp. Mahachai is the key to the shiny armor as a metallic flake, when compared to the wild type Betta imbellis and Betta Mahachai it is already observed that the iridescence is brighter and thicker in the last one.

Let’s learn

The Dragon Phenotype

We can clearly see that the unique appearance of the dragon betta fish clearly affects the iridescent layer. So far several genes have been characterized which affect the iridescent layer:  the classic iridiscent metallic blue (blbl), turquoise (BlBl) and real blue (Blbl), metallic or iridophore reflective yellow which is the wild type variant of the reduced yellow iridophore Locus and the extended iridescence gene (EI) which is responsible for the increase in iridescent color density and distribution.

In 2007, Joep van Esch of Bettaterritory.nl made some experimental crosses with dragon betta fish in his fishing room, in order to learn more about the hereditary behavior of this trait. After crossing a dragon and a regular metal (BT171007A) he noticed that all the descendants had a copper phenotype.

Considering that a copper phenotype (homozygous metallic steel blue, blbl ++) can be obtained when the offspring obtains a blue steel allele (bl) and a metal allele (+) from each parent, this result suggests that both Traits can play an important role in the unique appearance of the dragon phenotype.

Interestingly, the metal escalation of the offspring seemed thicker and more solid than that observed in regular metal fish. This characteristic was also transmitted to the offspring when a heterozygous dragon was crossed to a metal fish heterozygous (BT271107).

The descendants resulting from the crossing of two female metal heterozygous (BT171007B) resulted in homozygous, heterozygous and non-metallic offspring without this unique appearance that was observed before.

However, we must take take into account that these findings were supported purely by macroscopic observations this means with the naked eye.Yet, these crosses demonstrate that the dragon trait is hereditary and suggests that it behaves quite dominant as it already clearly affects the iridescent layer of heterozygous fish.

In reports of breeding Pichet and Victoria Parnell-Stark crossing a metal fish to Betta Mahachai seems to have been the key to thick shiny armor like the metal scale of dragons, Dr. Leo Buss has reported that domesticated metal bettas and Betta Wild-type imbellis possess yellow reflective iridhores, but if this is also valid for Betta smaragdina and Betta Mahachai to our knowledge is unknown.

It’s  known that several variants of a certain gene (polymorphisms) may exist within a population of a certain species such as Betta splendens, Betta imbellis, Betta smaragdina and Betta Mahachai all share a common ancestor, there is the possible that such genetic variants also exist between these subspecies and that they were combined crossing the different subspecies.

It’ s difficult to answer which gene and gene variant are responsible for the unique appearance of dragons without any microscopic examination of the chromatophores themselves and a given breeding program.

Is there a Blue Dragon Scale Betta Fish”?

The characteristic thick layer (silver, white, metallic) on the body, is typically found in red, yellow, orange, white and black specimens of betta dragon fish. As for  red, yellow and orange dragons,this layer can be observed in both in light fish as in the dark ones.

Interestingly, so far this characteristic white/silver metallic layer, has not been observed in dark colored bettas with a classic iridescent color of steel blue, turquoise blue or royal blue of the body and fins
In the case of the dark-bodied dragon betta fish with a classic iridescent base, the silver/white appearance appears to be masked, although based on macroscopic observation its scale appears to differ from a regular metallic fish by being more solid.

There have been reports of red and black dragons with a bluish glow on their scales, but so far no real blue dragons have developed with this typical thick, silvery/white scaling.

Are There Masked Dragon Scale Betta Fish?

In general, the dragon phenotype seems to be associated with the iridescent layer that covers the head: the so-called mask trait. It is known that the metal and mask trait is caused by separate genes and can work independently, with the exception of a few marble dragons. So far we know that no unmasked dragons have been developed, but this may change in the future.

The stunning marble dragons

The Dragon Scale Bettas’ Main Characteristics

Currently there are dragon betta fish of all colors and fins that have been perfected by selective breeding which have the same characteristic as common betta fish, the main distinctive trait being the dragons’ particular armor coloring .

This species has an elongated robust body and short rounded fins. Females have shorter fins than males and like all other labyrinthine fish can breathe outside air, usually swallowing it on the water’s surface.

The presence of a  «special labyrinth organ» that acts as a lung, allows them to survive in depleted or contaminated waters. We invite you to read our article gourami fish  to learn about other species of labyrinthine fish.

Dragon Betta fish will grow between 6 and 7 cm in length and their average lifespan is 2 to 3 years with proper care.

It’s normal for color pattern changes to occur during periods of mood swings (especially in female dragon betta). In addition, it is also common to see horizontal bars when females are stressed or scared (rarely seen in males). Vertical stripes can appear on females when flirting, to indicate that they are arranged and ready to reproduce.

Today Betta Dragon fish are available in many bright color patterns, and with amazing fins. Both male and female have been developed through selective breeding. Dragon bettas have two forms of primary mutation: a xanthorosa form that is an excess of yellow pigmentation and a black form.

The blue and red colors were the first and easiest to develop. Now they have been followed by magenta, orange, white, yellow, black, and turquoise, dark blue, bright blue with pink reflections, cream, dark green colorations. Marble and butterfly patterns have emerged in combinations of the previously mentioned such as purple and blue and there are also metallic tones like copper, gold, platinum and an opaque white. We invite you to read our article the anatomy of fish to learn about this really interesting topic.

Let’s watch them again

Dragon Scale Bettas in Captivity

This is a resistant fish which makes of it a good choice for beginners. Dragon bettas are undemanding and because of their size they can be kept in a small aquarium. Moreover, they are omnivorous creatures that will accept a wide variety of foods.

It’s quite important to take into account that since males fight each other they must be kept alone or in pairs, although they can be housed in a mixed community with peaceful and similar in size fish with a less colorful appearance.

As with any fish species, a poor water quality increases the dragon bettas’ susceptibility to major diseases and like any other fish species their health is closely linked to the conditions in their environment.

So, if you really want to keep your Betta healthy, you should check tank conditions frequently, along with regular cleaning and intensive care.

Betta can suffer from several health problems caused by bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses and parasites. Different symptoms often manifest and should give you a clue there is a bad thing with your fish that needs to be directed as soon as possible.

Feeding Dragon Scale Bettas

In the aquarium they will usually eat any type of live, fresh and dry protein foods. To maintain a good balance it is necessary to give them a high quality protein of pellets or food flakes every day. They will gladly eat foods designed for Bettas, but it is also suggested to provide them salted shrimp either alive or frozen or bloodworms, once or twice a day.


These are very resistant fish and although the labyrinth organ allows them to survive in oxygen depleted waters, it would be a mistake not to make water changes frequently (approximately 25% water weekly.)

The dragon betta fish will swim in all parts of the tank and can survive in small spaces. A 3-gallon aquarium in a warm room with regular maintenance will be fine for a single specimen. They will do better however in a larger aquarium, with proper filtration and a heater.

The tank must be decorated in a way that allows them to live happily, provided with a few hideouts and some shallow covers.

They will better deploy their colors on a dark substrate and will need some sturdy plants but should leave some areas open for them to breathe air on the surface.

This species is often entered into tanks as small as 1/4 gallon, but this can cause damage even if it has a labyrinth organ as it will suffer the same damage of ammonia tissue and nitrate spikes as any other species. This is almost impossible to prevent in a very small tank.

As for the illumination this should be Moderate, and the Temperature should be between 23.9 to 30.0 º C. Keep the surrounding ambient temperature in line with the water temperature to avoid causing trauma in the labyrinth organ.

The PH should range between 6.0 to 8.0, the hardness between 5 to 35 dGH and salty water should not be used. The water’s movement must be weak as strong streams of water will be uncomfortable for dragon scale bettas.

Dragon Scale Bettas and other species.

They are generally considered good fish for community tanks although dragon Betta fish can be violent with other fin fish, sometimes with some fellow tanks.

Male specimens are completely intolerant of each other and anything they mistake with another male Betta will be attacked by these beautiful but sometimes aggressive fish. Females are less aggressive to each other, but they are very hierarchical. Only one male can be kept in a tank as two males together will fight to the death.

Females can be kept in groups of 3 to 7 including a male if the tank is quite large and there are plenty of hiding places. However, this is not generally recommended except when you want to reproduce them as they often attack each other.

Let’s watch


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