Photo of Phoenix
Photo of Phoenix submitted by SS

Q: SS wrote,

Hi Christie,

As somebody new to bettas, I just wanted to say that your site is one of the best built, most comprehensible and user-friendly that I’ve found! Keep up the good work!

I have a (hopefully) quick question for you about what appears to be ‘gulping’ by my betta. I haven’t had him very long (it’s my first one) and I don’t have a very good grasp of what is “normal” betta behavior. (Thanks to your site, I found out the bubbles he was blowing in the corner was a nest!) Every now and again, I see him open his mouth reeeaaaally wide and (apparently) gulp water into his mouth. This isn’t done at the surface to breathe or when eating; just swimming around the tank… Do you know why he does this, and is it indicative of anything abnormal in my new little fishy?

I’ve attached a photo of Phoenix, my CT betta, just chillin at the bottom of his tank; I’m such a proud new betta mommy. 😉

A: Thank you for the kind words about the site. It really means a lot.

I looked at your photo of Phoenix and wow, what a beautiful betta. His color is lovely and so vibrant and his fins are well expanded like they should be on a healthy fish. Very nice!

The gulping you describe is totally normal betta behavior. They often gulp air at the surface and will similarly gulp underwater, though less often. Some betta enthusiasts will refer to it as yawning or something similar to a yawn. We aren’t 100% certain why they do this but the general belief is that they are flushing their gills. You may notice when he gulps the water that he opens his gills at the same time.

As I mentioned, this is quite common with Bettas but still it is an occasional behavior. If your betta is flushing his gills very frequently, this could be a signal that he isn’t getting the oxygen he should. This could occur from a physical injury to his gills or labyrinth organ, exposure to ammonia, nitrite poisoning, or if he isn’t given access to the surface for air.

Chances are Phoenix is just fine and flushing his gills normally. If you are concerned that he is over-flushing, start by testing his water for ammonia and nitrite.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Emily C. says:

    I was just wondering how often a Betta gulps air? As in, what would normal be so that I would know if it isn’t normal?

  2. Alecia W. says:

    Okay, so I got a Double Tail betta at the petstore yesterday and followed all the instructions of how to introduce him to his new environment without putting too much stress on him. He seems to love his new home, however, I’m a little concerned about his attraction to the filter. He likes to swim down inside of it and hide, I’m worried that it might be harmful to him but he swims right back out without a problem. Should I just take it as his favorite place to hide or…what should I do?

  3. kurt hoddelmann says:

    My betta fish, Rusty, does the same thing. Yawning underwater. Someone mentioned, it could be boredom.
    I have the Aqueon 2.5 mini betta tank sold at Petsmart which provides ample surface for him to breathe. I am going to do a water change to see if this quells this behavior. If a more experience betta fish owner wants to reply to me; feel free to do so.

  4. Isidro Valtierra says:

    Hey I bought my second betta two days ago hes nothing like the first one I got he hides all the time scared of my fingers aha and doesnt like going to the top when I feed him and I also see him gulp under water he looks healthy and my tank is clean…

  5. Betta mommy says:

    Bettas will “yawn” to flush their gills they draw water in through their mouth and flush it out through gills. Had a Betta once with Mycobacteria (gills clog with thick mucous) who constantly tried to flush out mucous. As for attraction to the filter this is normal, Bettas are curious by nature and most enjoy the current gives them a ” water massage”. My new Betta sits in front of the current stream taking it all in wiggling away in contentment.

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