The True Story Of The Halfmoon

By: Victoria Parnell
Special Thanks to Victoria Parnell of

In 1982, American breeder Peter Goettner bred a fish that was well ahead of its time. This fish was a green STM with a caudal of almost 180 degrees, and was dubbed 'Mr. Great' by the admiring betta community. Goettner revealed that he acquired the stock that ultimately produced Mr. Great (or 'Mr. G' as he was later called) by another breeder, Parris Jones of the US, who had been improving on a line he had procurred from yet another American breeder, Chuck Hale, in 1977. Between 1983 and 1986 a group of French breeders began importing stock from several top American breeders, including Goettner and Jones, one of which was Guy Delaval.

Delaval was already an accomplished Guppy breeder, and several years before had decided to try his hand at bettas. He started with pet store fare, working the quality up to spec by selectively breeding the finest fish from his spawning attempts in a very particular pattern: brother to sister, and then father to daughter, for several generations. A peculiar feature of Delaval's line was that many of them had a white edge to their fins, a trait still seen in many Halfmoon bettas today. As the quality of Delaval's bettas increased, he began to realize he was on to something special, and worked even harder to perfect his 'ideal'. Working with only four tanks and about twenty jars, Delaval bred hard and culled hard, keeping only the very best to continue the line.

In 1987, Delaval exhibited his fish at a betta show in Lyon, France. Although the early Halfmoons (as they were later to be called) were amazing in both form and symmetry, they did not get much more than a passing interest from the judges at the show, mainly due to the fact that judges were used to seeing a particular form in the show betta and, as a result, were loathe to change their vision of the 'ideal' show betta. At that time, the types of betta that was winning shows were roundtails and doubletails, and Delaval's fish probably looked eons apart from what they were accustomed to seeing. After the show, the President of the Anabantoid Association of Germany wrote a brief report on the show, generously praising the winners and contestants. Of Delaval's groundbreaking entries he wrote only that they were 'nice'.

In 1988 Delaval then exhibited his fish at a show in LeMann, France. Although his fish were again overlooked in the judging, at least one fellow breeder was thunderstruck by what Delaval had been able to accomplish: Rajiv Masillamoni. Masillamoni had a habit of carrying with him at all times a photograph of Mr. G, which he showed to everyone at every betta event he was able to attend, enthusing about the perfection of the form and asking where he might acquire a fish of it's caliber. Needless to say, when he first laid eyes on Delaval's entries, which were even better in spread and symmetry than what he had dared to dream, the photo of Mr. G slipped forgotten from his fingertips. He immediately began drilling Delaval about his fish, and was able to purchase two of the three 180 degree caudal males that Delaval had brought with him to the show, as well as five other males and two females from the same line. Masillamoni spirited his treasures back home to Switzerland, where he began breeding them with a passion. To his shock and horror he came to realize that every one of the seven males he had purchased from Delaval were unable to spawn properly. Although they would build a nest and court the female, they didn't seem able to perform the embrace and sire offspring. This didn't seem to be a fault of the form so much as a result of too much inbreeding, confirmed when Masillamoni consulted two other breeders who had acquired stock from Delaval -- Laurent Chenot and Marc Maurin -- who reported similar failures. Reduced to relying on the females alone, Masillamoni crossed them against pet store bettas, producing fish which were nowhere close to the quality of the original Delaval stock in either form or symmetry. When a stroke of bad luck killed one of the females, it seemed the entire venture would be doomed. However, Fortune was with Masillamoni and his project, and he was soon introduced to an American IBC member who happened to be visiting Switzerland and was able to give him a melano doubletail male from the Parris Jones line. Masillamoni bred the male to his one remaining Delaval female, and was rewarded with one fish that stood out from the rest. The fish was given the number 'R39', and was a green male with a perfect 180 degree caudal fin.

Desperate to continue the line, Masillamoni bred the fish with every female in his possession, and then teamed up with Laurent Chenot and breeder Jean Luc Corso, who bred him to their females as well. The offspring of these crosses formed the very foundation of the first true Halfmoon breeding line, and it can be reasonably stated that all Halfmoon fish today are descendants of this one male -- R39.

In 1991 Masillamoni brought his 180 degree bettas with him to the 25th Annual IBC Convention, held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that year. He was flabbergasted to discover that, once again, the judges were completely overlooking his fish in favor of the more standard fin types of doubletail and roundtail. However, the European entries did not escape the notice of several top breeders of that time, including Jeff Wilson, Peter Goettner, Parris Jones, Paul Hardy, and John Benn, who brought some of Masillamoni's fish home with them to breed into their own show lines. It was at this show that Jeff Wilson first quipped that the new tail shape looked like a half moon, and the term 'Halfmoon' stuck.

Inspired by the mutual interest, Masillamoni joined forces with Wilson and Laurent Chenot to try to cement the trait into a solid line. The three breeders frequently exchanged their best fish, with one fish often being passed to all three, siring spawns in America, France, and Switzerland. By spawning the best fish from all three ventures, they were able to more quickly and effectively produce the Halfmoon betta, carefully documenting in both film and writing whether each successive generation was better than the previous.

In 1992, the Masillamoni and Wilson decided to show their best Halfmoon fish at the 1992 IBC Convention in Alabama, quietly making a pact between them that, even if their fish were again rejected in competition, they would continue working the line. Although they showed many Halfmoons, only one of their fish placed -- a green that took 2nd in Form and Finnage Variations. The class titles and Best of Show were again awarded to the popular roundtailed entries.

The Halfmoon team was saved from disappointment by the increased interest shown by other breeders. Eventually enough interest was shown to warrant a new betta club just to perpetuate and preserve the Halfmoon form, and the International Betta Splendens Club was born. While breeding and exchanging stock over international borders, Masillamoni was approached by Marc Maurin, who requested a Halfmoon pair that would serve as his starter stock in France. At that time, Masillamoni only had 5 Halfmoon males good enough to breed, but he nevertheless selected his least favorite from these and gave it to Maurin. Two weeks later, Masillamoni was preparing to leave for yet another betta show in America when Maurin sent his male back to him from France, stating that it would not spawn. Although Masillamoni did not consider the fish of good enough quality to meet his standards, he made the last minute decision to include it with the other entries he was bringing to the US, including the four superior Halfmoon spawn brothers.

In transit to the show, Masillamoni was detained by a flight attendant, who informed him that the bag containing his 25 show fish was too large to fit in the overhead compartment and would have to be taken to the cargo hold. Understandably he protested, informing her that the bag contained valuable live fish on their way to an important fish show in America, and he would not let them out of his sight. When the attendant insisted, Masillamoni (his jaw set firmly in determination) informed her that he would not be taking the flight if his bag couldn't be kept in the cabin. With both parties frustrated, a compromise was finally reached -- the attendant would take the fish into First Class, where they could complete the journey in the roomier overhead compartments.

Midway through the flight, Masillamoni decided to check on how his fish were getting on, but when he inquired after them in First Class he was told they had been moved to the cargo hold after all. Fearing the worst, he searched frantically for his bag, and finally found it in the unpressurized hold. All 25 bags had burst, and the fish were barely alive and flipping weakly in their empty bags. Panicked, Masillamoni made such a ruckus that he attracted the attention of the Chief Steward, who happened to be a fish lover and took control of the situation. He provided plastic bags, and ordered the stewardesses to bring him bottled water. Because it was refrigerated, the stewardesses were instructed to warm each bottle up with a hair dryer until the water was room temperature, and he and Masillamoni then carefully placed the struggling bettas into fresh bags of water. Happily, every fish survived.

Because he was an apprentice Judge, Masillamoni was kept quite busy at the show, but couldn't help but notice that, once again, his Halfmoons were getting overlooked in favor of the roundtails and deltas. Concealing his disappointment, he instead threw himself into the task at hand and tried not to think about it. However, while lining up the class winners for the Best of Show judging, he noticed the first place award on one very unique green male -- a Halfmoon! On closer inspection, he found that it was the very same fish returned to him by Marc Maurin, the fish he did not consider good enough to compete. Somehow, even though the judges had failed to even place the better Halfmoon specimens, this fish had taken the Turquoise/Green class and was now in the running for
Best of Show.

As one after another of the Best of Show contestants were eliminated, Masillamoni was biting his fingernails. The green Halfmoon was still in the running. The judges continued to pare away the competition, until the decision was left between the Halfmoon entry and a royal blue male bred by Peter Goettner which showed a 160 degree caudal spread. It was clearly evident that the judges preferred the Goettner fish, but the outcome remained in contention. As a last resort, they called in a highly experienced Judge -- Mr. Jim Williams -- and asked his opinion. Since this was the same judge that placed the Goettner fish first in the Blue class, Masillamoni felt the matter was already decided. However, Williams examined both fish carefully under a bright flashlight for ten minutes, then switched to a magnifying class. 'There it is!' he finally announced to the waiting crowd. 'The blue is missing a scale.' IBC Convention Best of Show Male was awarded to the Green Halfmoon from Switzerland.

As it happened, a reporter from FAMA Magazine was in attendance, and recognized the Halfmoon as extraordinary. He featured the Best of Show male on the cover of the magazine and also ran a story about the origin of the Halfmoon. With the increased exposure, more breeders throughout the United States and Europe became intrigued by the form, and clamored to acquire fish from the line. Peter Goettner, Sieg Illig, Leo Buss, Bonnie McKinley and others started breeding for the 180 degree caudal form. A combination of the popularity of the breeders and the quality of the fish helped to popularize the form, and soon Halfmoon bettas were winning competitions across the United States. Always passionate about their little native fish, breeders from Thailand sent special requests to European and American breeders for Halfmoon stock in the late 1990's, and many breeders were able to part with enough good breeding fish to give the Asians a leg up into the tree. With their ideal breeding and raising conditions, they were able to take the form and run with it, and by 2003 were consistently producing fish of an even better quality than those seen in Europe and America. Today the Halfmoon form is the overwhelming preference of breeders the world over, who strive to breed the very best while incorporating a passion and science unseen in most other hobbies. It is truly the form which redefined the standards of the Show Betta.

Many thanks to our new friend in Switzerland, Rajiv Masillamoni, for his help in writing this article. Both Rajiv and Markus Gutzeit were willing to donate their time and photos to me when asked, including making phone calls all the way from Switzerland and scanning several pages of letters, notes, and photos. I found Rajiv is not only an extremely generous person, but an engaging conversationalist. Although I originally asked Rajiv for some insight and clarification into the history of the HM form, I was rewarded with a compelling and intensely rewarding story which had all the great elements: passion, intrigue, obstacles, and one HELL of a plot twist. Because the whole story could not possibly be included the project I am working on, I wanted to publish it here. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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