History of the Betta
The history of the IBC is, of course, tied to the history of the betta itself. The fish is called a “betta” in tribute to the Bettah people, a warlike tribe in Southeast Asia. The hobby of keeping bettas began anywhere from 200-600 years ago or more in the country of Siam (present-day Thailand). These fish had a brown body with, usually, green or blue iridescence. Their finnage was red with a good amount of the same iridescence, as well.
The Siamese people noted that Betta males would fight when put together in close quarters, and used betta fighting as a type of entertainment in which bets were placed, similar to cock fighting in other cultures. The “sport” became so popular that it was licensed by the Siamese monarchy.
Around the year 1840, the king of Siam gave some of his fighting bettas to a European named Dr. Theodor Cantor, who served in the Bengal Medical Service. Some years later, he published the first article on the betta, misnaming it “Macropodus Pugnax”. The fish began to be found in German aquariums by the turn of the century and were introduced into the United States in 1910.
Many years passed before a man named Tate Regan realized that there was already a fish by the name of “Macropodus Pugnax” and that a new nomenclature was necessary. He chose the appropriate name “Betta Splendens”, which means “beautiful warrior”, and so it has been called since 1909.
In 1927, a collector named Frank Locke of San Francisco found some unusual Bettas in a shipment from Asia. These fish had light-colored bodies and red fins. At first thinking that they might be a different species, he called them “Cambodians”, presumably from the origin of the shipment. After determining that these fish were actually the same species as Betta splendens, breeders in the U.S., Japan, and other countries set to work producing the many varieties of colors and fin shapes found today.
The origin of the long-finned Betta is shrouded in mystery. Articles in aquarium magazines from as far back as 1950 state that there is no record of when they first appeared or who developed them. Interviews with Betta breeders as old as 80 relate “no idea” when they first appeared.
Since the Betta hobby became popular, the public has found many different species of Betta to be enjoyable to keep and breed. These “wild” species exhibit different colors, fin patterns, and breeding habit from Betta splendens, and many are spectacular fish in their own right. Due to habitat loss, many of these species are rapidly become extinct in their native countries.
Founding of the International Betta Congress
Although there are many aquarium societies, no long-term established U.S. betta fancier organization existed. In 1963, a hobbyist named Bunny Lorbiecki organized an all Betta exhibit at her local aquarium society’s annual show. After a few failed attempts, the International Betta Congress was founded at the home of Dr. Gene Lucas, a biology professor at Drake University in Iowa, and his wife, JoAnne, with Ms. Lorbiecki as one of the founding members.
The first chapter to affiliate with the IBC was The Spendid Betta Fanciers of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With the help of Walt Maurus, an early IBC historian and Betta researcher, the International Betta Congress was officially founded on September 1, 1966. The first Acting Chairman was Jim Herubin.
The first IBC convention was held the following September in Waukesha, Wisconsin under the supervision of the first convention show chair, Dolores Bialk. The first Grand Champion was George Torres. At the first convention, the first election for officers was held:
President: Stan Smith
Vice-President: George Torres
Secretary: Sharen Chappell
Treasurer: Bob Lorbiecki
IBC magazine Editor(not yet called FLARE!): Walt Maurus (who joined forces with Dr. Lucas, who has been publishing a pamphlet known as “The Betta Breeder’s News Letter”). The name of the IBC magazine (FLARE!) was chosen from over a dozen submissions by members. The second convention was held in Columbus Ohio and was noted for introducing a series of classes that entrants could place their bettas in:
Class A: Non-Cambodian
subclass 1: Red
subclass 2: Blue
subclass 3: Green
subclass 4: Black
subclass 5: AOC Solid Color
subclass 6: Bi-color
subclass 7: Multi-color
subclass 8: Open
Class B: Cambodian
subclass 1: Red Finned
subclass 2: AOC Solid Color Fins
subclass 3: Yellow
subclass 4: Open
Class C: Females
By this time, there were 4 chapters in Milwaukee, Detroit, Columbus, and Indianapolis. At this time, the first set of standards were put together, as breeders were using their own names for their particular fish. Dr. Lucas made the statement that these were all Betta Splendens, and that nomenclature had to be standardized for any of this to make sense. Even today, issues with nomenclature abound on sites that sell fish. IBC standards were set, under the guidance of Dr. Lucas, George Landis, and George Torres. This convention also saw the formation of the first Judging Committee (Judging Board), under the leadership of George Landis.
Over the half-century that the IBC has been in existence, the organization has held conventions every year and has been in the forefront of the Betta Hobby. It has members have been pioneers in developing new colors, fin types, and other variations. The IBC has also been prominent in its efforts to protect bettas from cruel treatment and in preserving vanishing wild types.
The IBC has seen its share of controversy within its ranks over the years. Many of the topics that were hot issues in the 1960’s are still alive today, among them:
- proposed revisions to faulty constitutions
- revisions to imperfect standards
- difference in opinion on class choices
- appeals for greater membership participation
Yet, the IBC has increased its reach to almost every continent, and benefits from the input of Europeans and Asians in its membership and leadership. It has appealed to dedicated breeders and pet owners alike, and has many people to thank, from both its founders, to long-standing members, to young, enthusiastic newcomers to the hobby.
Our history is just that, history. The future of the IBC and the betta hobby, itself, is in the hands of people like you. Join the organization and make your mark; the next half-century can be even better with your help.
President, IBC, 2010-2013
My thanks to the following IBC historians for information used in this article:
Dr. Gene Lucas, Walt Byrum, Walt Maurus, Doc Daugherty, Jan Benn, Cole Victorson.
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