Color definitions

The color of Betta splendens is based on the color pigmentation in different types of cells. These different color cells are present in different layers within the skin. There are basically four types of color layers in a betta with each its own kind of color cells. In wild Betta splendens these color layers are:
1. iridescent layer (top layer)
2. Red layer
3. black layer
4. Yellow layer (bottom layer)

In our domestic brightly colored betas the distribution of these layers is a bit different from the wildtype Betta splendens:

1. Iridescent layer (top layer):
This layer is also known as the blue layer and controls the amount of blue pigments. The iridocytes (also called guanophores), which are the blue/green cells in this layer contain the following traits:
- Iridescent colors
- Spread iridocytes
- Non-blue

2. Black layer:
The layer black layer contains melanophores or black cells which control the amount of black pigment in this layer. They contain the following traits:
- Cambodian
- Blond/Bright
- Melano

3. Red layer
The red layer contains erythrophores or red cells which control the amount of red pigment in this layer. They contain the following traits:
- Extended red
- Reduced red
- Non-red
- Variegated fins

4. Yellow layer (bottom layer)
The yellow layer contains xanthophores or yellow cells. So, far no genes have identified that control the yellow layer of pigmentation.
- The absence of the red layer, black layer and iridescent/blue layer.

Each of these color layers has its own genetic code which is determined by series of genes which combined eventually determine the color of the betta. The different genes either increase of decrease the pigment in the different layers. Here are some examples of colors and their definitions.

Iridescent colors: Turquoise, Steel and Royal blue
Turquoise, steel and royal blue are called the three iridescent colors. Iridescent colors make up the top layer of the betta and are caused by cells called iridocytes. These cells form a dense color layer which can cover all other colors. Originally, on wild Betta splendens the normal iridescent color is turquoise/green. This normal iridescence (represented by genotype sisi is limited to ray-like projections into the fins and several iridescent dots along the body of the fish.

Selective breeding gave rise to a mutated iridescence gene which lead to spread iridescence (represented by genotype SiSi). The Si gene is responsible for the increase in density and distribution of the iridescent color so that it covers the entire body and fins of the betta (with exception of the head). The spread iridescent gene is dominant to the normal (wildtype) iridescent gene.

The best way to describe turquoise is, a color between blue and green.

Steel Blue
This is a lighter, greyish kind of blue.

Royal Blue
Royal blue is the darkest of the three iridescent colors and sometimes almost looks like purple.

Until now no gene has been identified that creates a complete elimination of the blue layer. Because several breeders have bred bettas which do not show any signs of blue, the hypothesis is there that a no-blue gene exists.

However in the case of a blbl (steel blue) combined with sisi (normal iridescence) the blue layer could be very limited an only give a small silver glow. A betta with this genotype would probably not be recognized as an actual blue.

The best example of a cambodian is the traditional or red cambodian which has red colored fins and a flesh colored body (but there are also blue cambodians). The cambodian gene causes a fish to have colored fins and colorless or greatly reduced color on the body. The cambodian trait is a recessive trait.

Blond bettas have a reduced density of the black pigment on the body (somewhere half-way between cambodian and black). The mutation that is responsible for the blond trait is recessive to the normal black gene. A Red Betta showing the Blonde mutation exhibits a bright Red color, rather than the usual dark "Cherry" Red.

Melano black bettas are the true black bettas. A mutated gene has caused the black pigment to be greatly increased coverage area (melanism).

The mutated gene is recessive to the normal black gene. This means that when a melano black betta is spawned to a normal betta that does not have the mutated black gene, all offspring would look like multicolored bettas. These offspring are carrying the gene for melanism and are called melano-geno, however they are not distinguishable from normal multicolors. These recessive characteristics become visible in the offspring when both parents carry the mutant gene.

Because all melano females are infertile, blue females are used to breed melano blacks. Preferably steel females are used because these females posses the least irridescense of all blues. A pairing like this, produces melano-geno fish in the F1 generation. When breeding to F1 generation fish together, there is a chance of getting melano blacks back in the F2 generation. However the blacks from a pairing like this normally posses some irridescence on the body.

Black Lace
The 'Black Lace' betta is a dark colored fish that rarely approaches the depth and intensity of the melano black. Most Black Lace fish display too much iridescence in body and fins to be competitive in the black class, and are instead shown into the dark bicolor class. Most black lace fish we see today come out of marble strains. It is thought that first black lace colored fish arose from Oriental non-red stock.

The ends of the fins of black lace fish should be clear or cellophane in color, causing the 'lacy' look that gave this type of black its name. Amateur hobbyists in particular need to be careful not to confuse black lace with melano butterfly, the fins of which can also fade to clear or smoke. Unlike the black lace, the melano butterfly will still maintain a very dark black or blue-black body color, and are still genetically melanos. Like melano black, black lace is recessive to normal dark color. Unlike melano, black lace female are normally fertile.

Extended Red
This type of red bettas are called extended because the normal red pigment has increased in density and distribution. The red color is spread over the entire body and fins of the fish on a similar way like the spread iridescence (Si) gene for the iridescent colors. The extended red (Er) mutation is dominant over the gene for normal red color (R).

Ideally the extended red betta should carry no iridescence and no black scales. Most extended red lines carry some degree of iridescence. This due to the fact that many breeders try to improve the finnage of their red line by outcrossing to superfinned iridescent lines. The red is then bred back from these lines but the iridescence is hard to loose.

The quest for the perfect extended red betta is still alive and currently many approaches are used (most of them experimental):
- Outcrossing different red lines.
- Outcrossing to Cambodian bettas.
- Outcrossing to yellow (non-red) bettas.
- Outcrossing to orange bettas.

Note: Outcrossing to cambodian, yellow and orange bettas will result in less intense colored red offspring.

Reduced Red
Reduced red bettas will have a darker body brownish colored body with red fins.

Red loss

The red-loss trait will cause the red color in young bettas to disappear when it matures. When the fish ages or due to fin damage, the red color sometimes returns.

It is thought that the red-loss mutation was introduced together with the marble mutation (see below), because most marbles do not show any red pigment . The red-loss trait is caused by distinct gene than the marble gene (which affects the black coloration), the red-loss (Rl) gene. The red-loss mutation is extremely variable in its expression and is dominant over all other Red genes, except extended red.

Non-red: Yellow & Orange
In non-red bettas the red pigment is replaced by yellow. This is caused by the non-red gene (nr) which is recessive to the wildtype red (NR) gene.

According to Dr. Gene Lucas, yellow colored bettas do not result from the action of a single gene. There is no such thing as a yellow gene that produces a yellow phenotype in Bettas. Yellow Betta are phenotypes. The yellow color itself was designated as 'non-red' by Lucas. This 'non-red' recessive gene caused bettas to be yellow where they would normally be red. The reason why Dr. Gene Lucas did not call the gene yellow was:

1. The term non-red had been used previously to describe similar abnormalities in other organisms.
2. To avoid having people making the assumption that there was a single gene that would generate the yellow phenotype.

Some examples of non-red fish are:
- Yellow type 1: Light type of yellow, often designated by nr1.
- Yellow type 2: Intensive colored yellow, by some breeders designated by some breeders by nr2.
- Pineapple: These fish are the result of a normally extended red fish showing the non-red phenotype. Pineapples are not clean yellows because they show black-scaling.

Orange bettas are relative new development. The nr2 gene causes a more of a red/yellow (orange) color. A very deep, pumpkin orange with minimal black scale effect is desired. Orange isn't an easy color to maintain. It is has been reported that over time spawns of orange x orange can become washed-out in appearance. Regular outcrossing to black-orange lines might help to maintain the intensity.

Variegated fins (butterfly)
Some butterflies only show a small clear band around the fins while others have allmost completely clear fins. But there are many degrees of the butterfly pattern between these two extremes. The ideal butterfly pattern shows an equal division between color and clear fins.

The butterfly patterns is caused by a mutated gene called variegated fins (Vf). The variegated fin mutation is dominant but the effects of this mutation are, as mention before, highly variable from fish to fish.

Note: When a betta carries the butterfly pattern and is melano carrier the clear edges can also be black colored.

The marble betta was created in the beginning of the 1970s by Orville Gulley, a prison inmate at the penal institute in Indiana. Orville as breeding betta here in peanut butter jars, as part of a rehabilitation program. The story goes that Orville was trying to create a black butterfly betta which then led to the discovery of the marble gene. Walt Maurus and a handfull of other breeders started to breed the marbles for pattern and this lead to the distrubution of the marbles all over the United States. The orginal marbles were black and white but now they are available in virtually every color imaginable.

In young marbles bettas the marble pattern can shift from week to week and once the fish matures most of the times the pattern is fixed.

The marble mutation appears to be a partly dominant gene, the marble (Mb) gene, which has a highly variable expression. When marbles are introduced into a true-breeding solid colored line, it is becomes very difficult for the breeder to return his stock to a non-marble true-breeding solid colored type.

Mustard Gas
The Mustard gas was created by Jude Als (Unkle Junkin). The original Mustard gas bettas had a solid blue/greenish body and yellow fins. Because this line bred true Jude Als thought of this strain name, but actually there not more then bicolor fishes.

Unfortunately nowadays, the term mustard gas is a very misused term. The pattern of the colors of the different MGs differ from fish to fish. Some fish also have blue/green/black edges around their fins while others lack these features. Most of the "modern" Mustard Gas don't even come close to the original of Jude Als.

Because of these controversy, at shows, mustard gas bettas are classified into the bicolored class.

Chocolate Bettas as they are commonly called, have a brown body with yellow fins. But actually they are black/Yellow bicolor bettas.
Chocolates are often bred to yellow in order to improve the color of both lines.

Opaque white
An opaque whites have complete white colored body and fins, with a bit of a powdery appearance. The eyes should be black with a white border. An opaque whites is actually an Cambodian/spread iridocyte steel blue opaque non-red.

The genetic make up of the opaque White is therefore represented by: C bl Si Nr Op.
C - The cambodian gene for lack of dark body pigment.
bl - Steel blue pigment which appears silvery-white when on a light background.
Si - The spread of the iridocyte pigment, in this case steel blue over the fish.
Nr - Non-red, causes the inability to produce red pigment.
Op - Opaque, the special gene that cause the powdery appearence of the fish

The thick powdery "white" pigment is the key to distinguish an opaque and a pastel betta. This can most easily be observed by looking at the fish from above and around the head.
The genetic make up of a pastel is C Bl Si Nr C - The cambodian gene for lack of dark body pigment which causes the light body.

- Steel blue pigment which appears silvery-white when on a light background.
- The spread of the iridocyte pigment, in this case steel blue over the fish.
- Non-red, causes the inability to produce red pigment.
Opaque, optional but necessary to a degree. If too littely opaque factor, the fish appear translucent, and if too much, they may be classified as Opaques. Note: To be entirely correct opaques are actually also pastels with the only difference that opaques carry much more opaque factor than pastels.

Pastels are iridescent bettas (blue, steel blue and green). It is the (C) cambodian or non-red gene that differentiates them from the regular dark body iridescent bettas. Pastels are homozygous for cambodian, which gives them the light flesh coloured body. Most Pastels also carry a little opaque factor to give the iridescent appear more solid. Without the opaque factor, the iridescent color would be translucent in the absence of dark pigment (black or red).

Copper & Mask
The now so popular copper color and "mask" characteristic are both developments which were created by crossing Betta splendens to Betta mahachai and/or Betta imbellis. The latter two species naturally have a higher degree of iridescence on the scales to compensate for the murkier waters of their native lands.

Outcrossing these species to betta splendens and selective breeding resulted in  true breeding hybrid plakat bettas which were called 'copper imbellis'. These fish possessed two new features; (1) metallic scaling and (2) masking. By selective breeding, the Asian breeders succeeded to develop the copper imbellis into a longfinned line and selectively breeding lead to a heavy and thick metallic/copper color and a masking which was more or less covering the head.
The typical metallic/copper sheen is caused by the crystalline layer. Whereas in classic blue-green the iridophores are all the same size and shape, metallic iridophores are characterized by different shapes and sizes. Because of this the crystaline layer influences the refraction of the light spectrum which could be an explaination for the color changes which sometimes can be observed in metallics.

The copper/metellic color and the "mask" characteristic are distinct traits which both are inherited by intermediate (partial) dominance. Crossing copper to a normal blue (non-metallic) will give metallic blues in the first generation (F1) with a chance of getting copper back in the next generation (F2). The same accounts for the mask characteristic. When a full mask fish (homozygous mask) is paired with a non-masked fish this can lead to heterozygous mask offspring (F1). Keep in mind here that the degree of masking will greatly differ in the offspring, some will show some masking while other don't show it. The next generation (F2) will give you fish with more masking signs or maybe even some full masks. I think selection also plays a great role here.
Still a lot of experimenting can be done with these relavitely new traits. These traits can be combined with other colors like blue, melano, opaque, red, yellow, etc. Both traits influence all other colortypes and the possibilities seem almost unlimited !

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