Betta Fish Project Teaches Students About Life Cycle

BettaFish1-webVernonia High School students have been learning about science and the natural world through a unique, hands-on project initiated by teacher Jean Riley.

Students in Riley’s classes have been raising, mating and observing betta fish for the past few years and have learned quite a bit about genetics, the life cycle, and basic fish care.  Riley teaches Biology, Physical Science, and Natural Resources.

The project began two years ago, when Riley rescued a dying fish from a pet store.  He lacked color and had lost his fins.  Riley brought him into her classroom and set up an aquarium, telling her students she didn’t expect the fish to survive, but at least its passing could be more peaceful.  She says she used the rescued fish to help teach the students about their own connection to animals.  “Many young people don’t know very much about animals—that they might have feelings, or anything like that,” explains Riley.  “Any time you can get them to connect, it is good.”

Betta fish are a large genus of small, often colorful, freshwater ray-finned fish from Thailand.  The males are very showy and beautifully colored.  Mature females can also be very pretty.BettaFish2-web

Surprisingly, instead of dying, the fish made a comeback and regained his color and health.  He became the class mascot.  The students named him “Fishé” and Riley started teaching them about the life cycle of the betta fish, comparing it to the salmon they had already learned about.  Riley says her students asked her if they could get Fishé a girlfriend and try to breed them.  Initially, Riley refused, stating that money and time were both lacking.  When a small Class Grant became available, however, Riley applied; the funds would be used to try a small breeding experiment in her classroom.  “It was a chance to teach the students about different kinds of fish, and for the students to form a positive bond with the fish, which is good for any young person,” says Riley.

Riley says she was surprised when she was awarded the grant, and purchased several additional aquariums, to hold the multitude of babies that could result from a successful project.

Riley got a small batch of females and Fishé really took to one of them, which the students named Peach.  But, unfortunately, the fertilized eggs didn’t hatch.  After several attempts at breeding Fishé and Peach, Riley and her students decided to continue the project, but locate a new breeding male and female, retiring Fishé and Peach from the program.  Blue-green Amari was the chosen female.  The students discussed genetics and colors and decided on the type of male they wanted to use to continue their project.  After voting between a number of males temporarily donated by students for the project, they chose Romeo, a red and clear fish with baby-blue markings.  Romeo and Amari were successfully mated, and several hundred live babies hatched last May.

Riley and her students now have seven aquarium tanks of fish.  Several teachers in the school have adopted males to use in their classrooms, and many of the fish were adopted locally.  Several batches have been sold to pet stores in the greater Portland area, which has helped offset some of the food costs.  The mature males need to be kept separately from each other, but the females can stay in groups called “sororities.”BettaFishSororityweb

“My primary goal for starting this whole thing was an attempt to increase student’s respect for other living things on this planet, through knowledge and interaction,” says Riley.  “Respect for living things is important to me—and should be important to the students as well, as we are all co-residents of Earth.”

Riley says caring for this large number of fish requires quite a bit of work, and she does not plan on breeding any fish again anytime soon.  But her students are continuing to enjoy observing their fish, learning from them and caring for them.