Betta fish are known for their stunning colors and elaborate fins, but their history lends itself to a deep symbolism. These tiny but characterful fish were initially bred for their aggressiveness which led to their use in fish fighting.
People would bet money on which fish would be the victor and so betta fish have come to represent prosperity and courage.
But as these fish became popular pets, other traits have become associated with betta fish including courage, independence, fatherhood, and fertility.
What is a betta fish?
Betta fish are small freshwater fish native to Southeast Asia with a history just as colorful as they are.
Of the 73 different species of betta, the most recognizable is the Betta splendens, which literally translates as “splendid fighter”. Betta splendens are more commonly known by their other name: Siamese Fighting Fish.
In the wild, these fish have dull colors and short fins but over the last 1,000 years they have been bred to feature extravagant flared fins and tails in a rainbow of vibrant colors.
Another result of this selective breeding is their aggression. Betta fish were used in fish fighting – a popular gambling pastime in Thailand and Malaysia.
The fish wouldn’t always fight to the death, but until one yields, meaning that the prized fish were those that showed courage rather than strength.
Betta fish make excellent pets due to their beauty and intelligence, but they are usually happiest in solitude.
Their distinctive personalities, rich history, and ethereal beauty means that betta fish have become deeply symbolic in culture, art, and tattoos.
History of betta fish tattoos
Fish have cultural significance in many societies around the world. Some religious groups see fish as a symbol of courage and faith, while others regard fish as emblematic of wealth and prosperity.
The association of betta fish with gambling and money meant that they found their way into early tattoo practices in South Asia. Here, betta fish tattoos encouraged good fortune and knowledge.
As the popularity of keeping betta fish as pets has grown, tattoos featuring these characterful fish have taken on many wider meanings.
Betta fish keepers have noted their ability to form close bonds with their owners, but also their need for solitude and dominance over other tankmates.
The symbolism of a betta fish tattoo
The tenacity, fierceness, and surprising power of these little fish resonates with many people who choose to get a betta fish tattoo.
Betta fish only grow up to 3 inches long, but will defend their territory against any would-be intruder. This makes them ideal reminders to never underestimate someone who looks like they won’t fight back.
Out of all the traditional tattoo themes, betta fish images are possibly some of the most enigmatic. Betta fish are creatures of great beauty, but also feature a darker side.
Their name, splendens, refers to their splendid fighting ability, but also represents brilliance and brightness. For many, a betta fish tattoo represents a life lived in the light of awareness.
Positive meanings of a betta fish tattoo
Betta fish tattoos have many meanings. As with most tattoos they can be highly subjective depending on the experiences and intentions of the owner. Here are some positive meanings of betta fish tattoos:
- Individuality and autonomy
- Strength and power
- Fertility, sexuality, and beauty
- Strong willed with a defiant spirit
Betta fish tattoos can also represent fatherhood. During breeding seasons, the male and female betta fish put aside their territorial disputes and engage in a courtship dance.
Once the eggs are laid the father escorts the mother from his territory and protects the eggs in a nest that he made.
The father betta fish will watch over the eggs until they are ready to hatch and will ferociously defend the young fish from any invaders.
Negative meanings of a betta fish tattoo
Betta fish are not without their negative connotations. Some people may choose to get a betta tattoo because they identify with some of the darker meanings these tattoos can symbolize.
Here are a few negative meanings of a betta fish tattoo:
- Identification with aggressive and territorial tendencies
- Solitude and introversion
- Dominance and the need to be in control
Due to the nature of betta fish, a tattoo can also represent a time in someone’s life when they have had to stand up and fight for themselves. Betta fish tattoos may also remind someone that they are happiest when alone.
Are betta fish tattoos popular?
After the iconic koi fish tattoo, betta fish designs are the second most popular fish tattoo in the world.
Betta fish have existed in art and tattoos for hundreds of years thanks to their physical beauty and their deep symbolism.
The popularity of many tattoo themes ebb and flow with the trends of the day, including betta fish tattoos.
In more recent years the betta tattoo has enjoyed something of a comeback thanks to their naturally colorful nature.
The explosion of watercolor-style tattoos has boosted the popularity of betta fish tattoos as they are well suited to the delicate shading and blending techniques of watercolor.
What styles work for a betta fish tattoo?
A betta fish tattoo can work in a huge variety of ways, allowing your tattoo to be as unique as you are. For a more traditional design opt for Japanese or other Asiatic styles.
These tend to feature a liberal use of color and lend themselves to the intricate shapes of betta fish fins and scales.
For a modern take on a betta fish tattoo, you could consider a watercolor style, where the pigments are allowed to fade into each other.
This creates the illusion of water and soft lighting, which fits the more poetic and subtle symbolism of the betta fish.
Of course, the art of tattooing allows flexibility and creativity when it comes to choosing a style. The best starting point is to find an artist who’s work you admire and take it from there!
Betta fish make for striking tattoos laden with meaning, both good and bad. Ultimately, these tattoos are a statement of independence, courage, and good fortune.