When buying our first betta, most of us ask our local fish store staff person for advice before anyone else. We believe they are the experts and rarely question the soundness of their advice. After all, if they work in a fish store they must know all about fish, right?
Wrong. Sure there are amazing fish store staff out there, but they are a rare commodity. More often, the people helping you either know very little about aquaria in general or may not know the specifics about the species you are looking for. Want to know if you can trust your fish store’s knowledge about betta fish? Look for these five indicators:
How do they pronounce betta?
IF THEY SAY: Bet•ta – The correct pronunciation is with a soft ĕ. Like you are saying, “I placed a “bet” at the poker table.” If your fish store employee refers to these fish as “bet•tas” you can bet (pun intended) that they are pretty familiar with these fish. At the very least they have been hanging around other people who know what they are talking about when it comes to bettas.
IF THEY SAY: Bay•ta – If they pronounce it with a hard ā sound, like in the Greek letter “beta” then they may or may not be familiar with these fish. I won’t say they are clueless if they say “bay•ta” because lots of people say it that way. In fact, except for the most enthusiastic betta keepers and breeders, most people mispronounce betta as though it were beta fish.
What is the smallest tank size they recommend?
IF THEY SAY: Something along the lines of “larger tanks are better”… or “more stable,” then they are offering trustworthy advice. Other good advice may include suggesting a filtered tank or a tank larger than 2.5 gallons. They may even ask you what your plans are for the fish, like if you’ll want to add more fish in the futre.
IF THEY SAY: Bettas can be kept in tiny bowls or cups or anything under one gallon, proceed with caution. If they tell you that bettas’ prefer small spaces, run away and never look back.
Ask them if they can be housed with other fish.
IF THEY SAY: “Yes, bettas can be kept with some peaceful community fish under the right conditions,” hooray for them! Other acceptable advice may include, “male bettas should not be housed together,” “males and females should not be housed together,” or “only females can be housed together under the right conditions.”
IF THEY SAY: “No, bettas should never be housed with other fish,” then they really aren’t hurting anyone, but they aren’t offering you all your options either. If they say, “sure, males can be housed together. It’s fun to watch them fight.” Then they’re crazy and should be fired.
Ask them what other equipment you need for your betta tank.
IF THEY SAY: A heater, filter, food, net, water test strips, a thermometer, substrate, a siphon, water conditioner, etc. then they are on the right track. If nothing else, they should at least recommend a thermometer and tank heater.
IF THEY SAY: You don’t need anything but a little water conditioner and food, they aren’t preparing you for what you really need and they may not understand the basics of betta fish care.
IF THEY SAY: An air-stone, they may not fully understand the anatomy of a betta fish. Most fish store employees should know that bettas breathe air from the surface and don’t require additional oxygenation. However, there are times when an air-stone may be helpful.
Are they willing to say, “I don’t know.”
People often feel that they have to have an answer for everything and hesitate to say, “I don’t know.” Some would rather guess or offer the wrong information in place of, “I don’t know” for fear of sounding like they are inexperienced. When I hear, “I don’t know,” I say , “thank you,” because then I know where they stand and I can usually assume what they have told me beforehand was the best advice they could offer. The aquarium hobby is so extensive and complex that there isn’t a person in the world that knows everything there is to know about aquariums and the species available. “I don’t know,” is always an acceptable answer.
There is no way to ensure the advice you get from a fish store is accurate or reliable but to help improve your chances of meeting a knowledgeable staff member start by supporting small businesses. Small Mom & Pop operations usually hire the best staff available in their area. Also, remember that the owner and managers are making a career out of the aquarium industry where as the large box stores tend to hire less experienced people looking for a temporary job. Please understand that this is a general statement (before my friends at PetCo and PetSmart email me). Helpful staff people are out there, even at the big stores, you just have to know how to spot them.