My Sad Introduction to the Betta Myth
I recall the first time I ever laid eyes on Betta splendens. Like most people, I was wandering about a local pet store and thought I’d pop through the fish section. I had not owned fish since the deaths of my tropical fish in a grossly overstocked 10g (40L) tank I owned as a kid – how I wish I had the internet to educate me then rather than pet store staff! Still, I always liked to look at the fish section and dream, when I noticed row upon row of little cups; clear drinking cups of the variety used in water coolers, each about half-full and each containing a single, amazingly colourful, long finned fish. At this point I was still uneducated on the nuances of fish care, but I could be certain these fish must be suffering and wondered why, considering all the other fish were in display tanks, these creatures were housed this way. I asked a staff member what these fish were and why they were in cups like this, barely moving. She jauntily replied, “Oh, these are Siamese fighting fish. They fight with any other fish and have to be kept alone. Their fins are really heavy so they don’t swim much, and in the wild live in puddles made by buffalo footprints! They also tend to freak out and die in larger tanks, so they’re happy like this.”
Hmmmm. I’m sure this sounds familiar to you all.
I assumed she knew what she was talking about (well, she was working in a pet store after all!), though with some doubt as there were a few dead ones. Months later, my tiny daughter was turning two and I thought of getting her a small pet of her own with the ulterior motive of using this excuse to finally keep a fish again. I went to another store and looked at the bettas, thinking this would be perfect if indeed they were suited to tiny bowls. I picked up a 1/4g (1L) plastic critter keeper, thinking I was wonderful for giving these fish a bit more space, and asked the staff member about the fish. Thankfully, this staff member did inform me these were tropical fish, and required a heater which would not suit the little plastic tank;however, he did not recommend a filter. I acquired a secondhand 5g (20L) from a friend, put in my old heater and filter, and went back for a nice purple betta as I now had a heated tank. Despite not having cycled the tank, he survived, though quite lethargically, and when he seemed to pick up I proceeded to add several other tetras until I had about 10 fish. He did hide and not swim very much but I put this down to his large fins. I also think doing very large weekly water changes saved him from death by nitrogen cycling stress, though several tetras did not fare so well. Indeed, many were constantly hiding. There were regular tetra deaths, and my betta soon got dropsy and died. The same soon happened to the next betta, so I went online to get some advice and do some rather late research. The results were astounding.
Not only was my fish succumbing to awful stress from overcrowding, ammonia and nitrite spikes, and very high nitrates, but the grand palace I thought I was keeping him in was the bare minimum for a thriving betta. Indeed, nearly the whole story I’d been told was completely untrue.
So, how did this story evolve? Why are bettas still being sold in cups only to graduate to ‘tanks’ which are barely any bigger? Why do I still hear people (and pet store staff) claim they don’t need filters, and only really need a heater if it’s a cold winter? To answer this it is crucial to understand the native environment these fish are kept in; their biology.
Betta Origins, Myths and facts fighting fish?
Bettas are said to have gained their name from the “Bettah” clan of ancient Asian warriors, chiefly as they were known to be aggressive to other males. This made them popular for ‘fish fighting’ in Siam (now Thailand), a practice still condoned in rural areas. However, these were not fights, but tests of bravery to see which fish would be first to retreat after flaring at each other. The fish rarely, if at all, actually fight. In the wild, displays are to assert their dominance, and usually occur over territory and females, and are over when a competing male retreats . In fact, betta males will only ever usually fight to the death if they are in a confined space, and/or if one is a particularly aggressive individual. Still, these fish are considered to have an aggressive temperament, particularly as the domestic strains had originally been selected for aggression. Males should not be kept in the same tank. A divider is ok, providing there is a lot of space on both sides for each to swim freely without always having to see his neighbour,. A lot of cover is also required on both sides of the tank so each fish can retreat if he feels threatened. It is ill-advised to divide anything less than 10g.
Habitat and the ‘Puddle’ Myth
Indeed, bettas are territorial, and contrary to common belief, territories are estimated by some to be approximately 1 square meter (or 3ft sq). These territories are the thickly vegetated, slow moving streams, marshes, large vegetated drainage ditches (klongs) and rice paddies of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, specifically the Mekong and Chao Phraya River drainage basins. These ecosystems are shallow, though deeper than many aquaria, and extensive, providing ample space for establishment of such territories as well as a wide area for hunting insect larvae and finding mates. Naturally, all of these activities would be nearly impossible in a tiny puddle, so why is the most common betta myth, being that these fish live in ‘hoofprints’, so prevalent?
The answer to this seems to arise from the bettas remarkable adaptation to the changing seasons in these areas. In the dry season, the shallow streams and marshes inhabited by these fish can dry considerably due to evaporation, which can leave these fish trapped in small vegetated water pockets, which is the likely source of the ‘puddle’ myth. Though rather than continuing to live happily in this situation, bettas merely endure these predicaments and opt to escape whenever possible. Indeed, being trapped in a puddle prevents them from finding adequate food and mates, and unless they can escape, these fish are doomed to either starvation or death from toxin buildup, and at best, an inability to find a mate and reproduce.
To survive a temporary period of entrapment, and to assists them in obtaining oxygen from larger water bodies which may be low in dissolved oxygen due to slow movement or stagnation, bettas possess a hardy nature and the labyrinth organ. The labyrinth is a highly vascularised modified gill structure which enables these fish to supplement oxygen from the surface. The additional myth that this feature removes the need for a filter is also erroneous here, as bettas, like all other fish require filters not only to remove waste but to increase oxygenation of the water, as the labyrinth is a supplemental oxygen source only, and bettas must obtain the bulk of their oxygen from the water in which they live.
To escape to a larger body of water, bettas make use of their excellent jumping abilities, where they jump from puddle to puddle until they are able to reach a larger body of water, which is usually not far away, and they can even survive out of water for a limited time providing they and the labyrinth do not dry out. Indeed, many owners will attest to this jumping and amazing survival abilities. This includes myself, where I have personally returned home to find one of my bettas having escaped his tank via a small hole in the lid, and laying almost dry on the floor. Upon returning him to the tank, he went on to make a full recovery. Many others have had similar experiences, and it is no wonder that despite being kept in the worst conditions, these fish continue to survive where most fish would perish.
Another natural assistance to bettas when trapped in natural vegetated water pockets is that the water in these is regularly refreshed either by regular tropical rains (light rains still are frequent in the dry season), or by dilution as these pockets are generally part of a larger body, and thus waste is kept to a minimum. Additionally, waste (in form of nitrates) is also constantly being absorbed by the surrounding vegetation, also reducing toxicity to the fish. Such refreshment is not available in tiny jars, where water will rapidly become toxic, and fish are slowly poisoned from the accumulation of their own waste and lack of dissolved oxygen. Additionally, tropical forests are almost constantly warm and humid, and ground/vegetation/water absorption of this heat also keeps bettas warm and in a relatively stable temperature. This is something small containers cannot provide, as tiny volumes can suffer dramatic temperature fluctuations and cannot accommodate heaters to maintain a constant tropical temperature, providing another source of stress.
Sadly, it is obvious that fish stuck in puddles are easier to find than fish swimming freely in rivers, and are therefore more commonly seen by passing humans – much the same way as whales are easier to find on the beach than in the ocean by your average beachcomber. Likewise, because we find a whale on the beach we cannot conclude it likes to live there, and the same can be said for bettas stuck in seasonal puddles.
The ‘Bettas Dislike Large Tanks’ Myth
Many have also claimed that bettas will ‘freak out’ and/or hide in larger tanks and require smaller volumes. Another misinformed fact bent from truth. Indeed, while bettas are able to survive in smaller areas, they do not prefer them, as they are inquisitive, active and intelligent fish who like to patrol and explore their territory. Without this environmental enrichment many will become lethargic and deteriorate. However, hailing from thick vegetation, bettas also can become nervous in open water, and while they prefer a large space, they require it to be filled with plants and cover in which they can hide if they feel threatened. A lone betta in a 20g open dealers tank housed with a hundred tetras can obviously show signs of stress and will hide, though the same fish in the same volume in a planted tank with few other fish will be actively out and swimming confidently. Given space to exercise and cover to explore, they will feel secure enough to display their true colours – in terms of both their appearance and lively persona.
Given this understanding of the bettas natural habitat, we can now see how these myths arose and are now perpetuated by the aquarium industry. Certainly, it seems a perfect sell – a colourful exotic fish you can keep on your desk which can take up no more space than a coffee mug. Indeed, it needs such a tiny space as this is its preferred environment! While this angle may sell thousands of novelty containers, it is capitalizing on the basic survival mechanisms possessed by these fish and exploiting them far beyond what is humane treatment.
The only way to end this treatment of domestic bettas is through educating others, particularly pet store staff, next time you see the the bettas suffering in cups in stores. As the customer, you have a right to politely voice your concerns and point out inappropriate care to staff. If they espouse the common betta myths to you, you can confidently debunk them with this information, which I have gathered from experienced betta keepers and wild fish collectors, who have seen and catalogued natural habitats properly. Feel free also to post short points on these myths on online product reviews of betta tanks, such as ‘photo frames’, desk lamps, and other novelty containers which, though cute, have no right housing any animal. With enough education, less people will purchase these tiny containers and hopefully, one day, aquariums marketed to bettas will be filtered, heated, 3-5gal (12-20L) tanks with silk or real plants which will keep any betta safe and happy for their full lifespan.
Thanks for reading, and happy betta keeping!
I have a red and pink crowntail betta i bought from a breeder here in montana where i live, and i recently bought a female crowntail to breed him with. i have a 10gallon tank for breeding and two 5gallon tanks for wich i house them seperetly and alone with heaters and filters. the breeding tank has a heater only and i noticed that my male betta (big red) only blows bubble nests in his tank and refusses to blow one in the breeding tank. is there anything i can do to make him blow a bubble nest???
Try adding more plant cover, particularly floating plants like water sprite and hornwort. These are great for building nests in, and also will provide cover for fry. Happy breeding – Lea
Greetings as a new Betta enthusiest I was researching breeding techniques and was lucky enough to find information directly from a breeder in thailand. They recommend introducing the fem. Into the males tank as it is the fathers duty to tend the nest, the fem. is removed after the eggs are layin in his territory. She is removed after laying eggs and the male starts being agressive towards her, then the male is removed in 3-5 days when the fry start hatching, Hope this helps
Make the ten gallon his territory. If he’s nesting in what he considers his territory, then the five he lives in is your breeding tank. Common sense. Male should live in the ten. When he does nest in the ten, introduce the female in a glass container until his aggression stops. Then let her loose. Get a second female for his 5 gallon and diversify your gene pool. Indian almond leaves and floating vegitation should be in there too. Give him in the ten objects, “landmarks” that he knows to be his territory.
I had my betta, Sharky, for 2 years in a giant glass olive jar. I swear, he got excited when I came into the room. I loved that damned fish! He didnt have a heater or filter. Reading this, I wonder if my Sharky would have lived a longer, better life if I had read more about their care. Sharky II will be better provided for. Thanks!
That’s great news! They are certainly interactive, i hope this all helps you in caring for Sharky II 🙂 .
i feel so sorry for you i all so had a fish that lived for 3 years inn a 1 gallon fish bowl sometimes i put him in a guppie tank and i had some guppies in a bowl they live for 2 years buy some people only have betta’s for a week that means you take good care of sharky 😀
Bettas actually have a lifespan of 5-7 years, with the occasional fish reaching the age of 9!
But with all of the misinformation that the petstores themselves have (they rarely hire anyone knowledgeable), it gets to a point when 3 years seems ancient with these guys. Plus, they’re so badly bred, that tumors and other health issues will arise before too long.
For more information on this amazing species of fish and to connect with other betta keepers, check out http://www.bettafish.com
Liz, I grew up with bettas. I’ve been breeding them for over 20 years but have always had as a kid. Back then there were no heaters, filters, etc…. This stuff is a sales ploy. You did nothing wrong. I have bettas in tanks with and without filters and heaters and frankly the ones without anything are lasting a little longer. Remember 90% of what you read on the internet is cr*p and just plain wrong. Take you info from a person that has YEARS of experience not something you’ve read. You did just fine.
my betta used to live in a huge cheeseall container until i earned enough money to invest in a one gallon fishy tank with an awesome heater, and a betta-safe filter. I invented that…
BUT IT WORKS!!! 😀
True, I live on an un-air conditioned sailboat and have a beta fish named Freddy ( She’s a qoi beta) and lives happily with her tank mate Frank ( a corydora). I didn’t use a filter or heater and they are still living two years later. They had a ten gallon so I hope the were as content as they seemed. Great article!
Thanks for the info. Our betta jumped out of his overfilled tank and we found him on the floor. He had probably been out for five minutes. Luckily he survived but is it advisable to put a plant in the container like a peace lily? So he can hide in roots?
Absolutely not! How thoroughly did you read this article? A betta generally jumps out of a tank if he finds it unsuitable. He’s looking for a “better puddle next door” but there isn’t one.
Peace lillies are not aquatic plants and are not suitable for aquarium use. Not even for bettas. And before you ask, neither is bamboo.
You say “tank” in one sentence and “container” in another. How many gallons is this container? Is it filtered? Heated? Decorated? Getting his tank appealing and suitable is step 1 in making sure this doesn’t happe again. Step 2 is getting it a nice breathable cover. 🙂
I have bamboo in my tank. I have a 20 gal “home” for my betta. I washed the bamboo is really hot water before putting it in the tank. the leafy part sticks out of the tops of the tank. Should I remove it? and if so why? I also have a couple of other live plants in there as well as plastic ones.
Glad to hear he’s got such a huge home!
Sadly, the hot water will likely harm or kill the leaves. I’d not recommend this, but if your concerned about plants bringing in sanils or disease, try a 1part bleah, 20parts water ‘dip’, then rinse very well in old tank water in a bucket, then place in your tank. You can use bamboo if you leave the leaves above the surface, as bamboo leaves need to grow emerged (above the water line). This can look quite neat, but i prefer true aquatics plants. Long stemmed leafy ones, and ones that float like hornwort and watersprite are wonderful too and replicate a natural environment. I would keep a 20gal full of plants to keep your betta feeling secure, and once he does he’s will own every inch of it.
Just wanted to say thanks and to let you know that the betta is loving his home. I added a pleco and a couple of assassin snails because I ended up with snails. I also put in a LOT of plants to give him a place to hide. He is no longer spooked when the cat has his face against the glass. He truly is a little hunter. When I clean the tank I use a siphon type he will swim right up to my hand. He is awesome!
Thank you KellyA, so glad to hear your great story! Sounds like a perfect tank 🙂 Just be aware pleco’s can grow huge and need very large aquariums due to heir size and their large waste output. If your pleco is a bristlenose then it will stay small (3-5inches) and be fine in a 20g, but any other species may grow substantially larger. Check with your aquarium store to be sure of the species, and don’t forget some driftwood for him to munch on 🙂
Good for you i have a female betta shes small so shes in a 2
gallon tank with 2 guppies and a suckerfish that’s what i call them they suck on the class i almost forgot i have 3 Mountain Minnows
Good advice snukb, though some will still jump regardless (especially if they see a tasy insect fly overhead or land on the water). Still, a poor home will encourage jumping more. I suspect that bettas in tiny cups in stores are not too ill to jump, or lack the room to swim and build up speed to jump properly.
I have had this happen to me with a betta in a heavily planted, heated and filtered 5g, which was well covered but he escaped through the hole the filter and heater cables went through. In retrospect, i think he was resting on top of the filter and may have been startled into jumping up and out. Nevertheless, he went on to make a full recovery.
Cover will certainly keep your fish happier, and twisted driftwood or big bunches of stem plants like water sprite, hygro, bacopa (baby tears), hornwort etc will do this nicely.
Thank you so much for this information! My new Betta Fred seemed ill at ease and was always actively bumping his nose on the glass. I now now he may be nervous without any plants to hide behind! I’m so glad because I was getting worried that he seemed so anxious all the time. 🙁
A pleasure, share it around and maybe the sale of tiny betta cups will end 🙂 .
I can’t stress lots of live or silk plants enough for these fish – not only do they do wonders for reducing stress and providing an interesting home, but also look beautiful and you’ll love watching your fish explore it all.
If I might add that plastic plants are not soft and pliable like natural plants and may scrape or catch the flowing fins. I have also found that if you give them plenty of places to hide that you will actually see them often, especially if you create a procedure when you feed them. I tap the edge of my pond 3 times lightly to alert them that I am there to feed them and they come out. Now they have begun to come to me since they recognize me and associate me with food.
Just bought my daughter a Beta tonight…..got a 1 gallon glass tank, pretty blue & turquoise rocks on the bottom and a few fake plants and decorations. He, “Blue”, seems pretty happy in there, and its certainly bigger than the cup we bought him in. There is no filter….they just said to use the Beta Water Conditioning drops. Does this all sound adequate?
If you read the article above, you’ll see that it sadly is not appropriate.
Cups are death traps, and all bettas require a minimum 2.5g (5g and above better), with a heater set to 78F/26C and a filter such a sponge filter or internal filter which can be set on a low setting. Your tank is also new, and thus not ‘cycled’. This means you do not have the essential bacteria present to turn the toxic ammonia from Blue’s waste eventually into less harmful nitrates.
Adding a generous bunch of live plants (floating like hornwort or lacefern are good and easy), or java moss or java fern which you can tie to ornaments/wood/rocks will help to seed the tank with this critiacal bacteria until the filter colonises with them. They will also act as another filter of sorts, removing some of the waste from the water. ‘Cycling’ can take 4 weeks or so until the gravel and filter have enough bacteria to handle the ammonia load, and until then daily 50% water changes with water ager are essential to keep Blue healthy. Failing to do so can lead to his death quickly via ammonia poisoning. Also note that cleaning his filter media in OLD TANK WATER ONLY is requited to preserve the good bacteria in your filter. read up more on this site and i’m sure you’ll have a happy betta. Good luck!
The minimum for a betta is really 1 gallon.
Anything below is too small. It depends on the fish owner on whether or not a 1 gallon tank can be a perfect home or a death trap.
If you dedicate the time and energy to giving the 1 gallon 100% water changes every few days (with water no less than 84 degrees so it will slowly cool down to 77-78 by the next water change) then you can keep a betta in a 1 gallon. I knew someone who bred bettas and kept them in plants mason jars that they changed water for daily, and kept them warm by keeping them outside in a covered area.
The bigger the tanks get, the less you have to do water changes (as long as it is cycled before-hand).
That’s good. As for me I’m breed a pair of fighter plakat bettafish they will have lots of babies once they become mid size adults they will start stamina training they will be outside and inside fighters the will already know how to fight their stamina lasts 7to 8 hours I will send 3 to Cambodia for fighting these will be the GREATEST fighter plakat bettas since boxer MUHAMMAD ALI.
it’s ok to keep them in a unfilterd bowl i had betta’s live for 10 years wich is really rare but other then that it is ok but if he show sickness get it sometimes they like nice water that is treated And i am the Betta 🙂
Awesome information, I’ve been reading online about bettas for the past few hours and yours is by far the most helpful. I didn’t have a heater for my betta and his water was getting down in the low to mid 60s and he would just sit on the bottom most of the time. We got a bigger tank and heater and now he’s zipping around like a mad man. Thanks for your help!
Thank you Jennifer! Stick around, nippyfish is any excellent site 🙂 . Just make sure your tank is cycled (check site info or ask here) to prevent any ‘new tank syndrome’ deaths. A nice addition for bettas and to seed new tanks, some floating plants. I find tossing in a bunch of hornwort looks stunning, and grows feathery vines all over the top for bettas to rest and play in, while keeping the below area free for swim space. A good idea in smaller tanks (5g and under). Happy betta keeping!-lea
You should add to your article that if you are getting plants, to look for low light ones, the ones you mentioned are perfect. Bettas prefer low light due to the brackish colored water they live in. If someone is leery about raising plants in a tank, duckweed is a good choice, it’s almost impossible to kill, like a dandelion lol. Just make sure the surface has a hole where food can drop and they can use their labyrinth organ. Also for the
Haha, yes, maybe i should – but i think i’d need a whole new article, maybe i’ll ask about doing that! I am a bit of a planted tank nut also.
To tie some readers over, good hardy, low light plants include: anubais, javafern, javamoss (all of these can be tied to wood, rock or ornaments to grow), floating plants like hornwort, duckweed and watersprite, or hardy ones requiring a substrate which have lots of stems and leaves for bettas to hide and play in such as moneywort, hygrophyllia, ambulia (moderate lighting is good here, and some liquid ferts), or big leaved Amazon sword (swords are better for larger tanks, they can get huge but can be pruned back to live in 15G).
I also think you been dark or ‘blackwater’ – brackish means freshwater with a higher salt content such as those found in estuaries. You are correct though, bettas are rumored do like subdued lighting cast by plants, though i’ve never had issues in brightly lit tanks… i find it’s more of an issue that they have cover to feel safe and secure. That said, a dimly lit tank with some tannin staining from indian almond leaf or driftwood can look very natural and effective. Thanks for the comment!
now i’m talking real you should get him a tank mate like a frog a ghost shimp but if you have more fish that is betta friendly and if he does good then get him one if he dies you should get a female betta and get three or two betta’s are really expensive so i would really get only two females are not that aggrisve like the males the males will fight to death sometimes females like to be alone make sure you like check if they are like the groupy ones or if bigger one like a 30 gallon you can get 2 males but two males are more powerful and will both gang up on a killifish,guppie,and other small fish
oor get an imbellis betta they will be no problem they will not fight as much as crowntails and halfmoons i even had 2 bettas in a 2 gallon fish tank it came with a filter not a heater they both played and swimed together they lived for 6 weeks i added another one he killed both of them i called them both lay back betta and i gave the betta that killed them to my friend sorry i wrote so much bye 😮
That was good no need to be sorry for writing alot.
That was great not need to feel sorry for writing something great.
I agree that keeping bettas for sale in cups is a horrible idea. I have also noticed that some retailers add something blue to the water and I have been told that it is to keep the bettas from being able to see each other and stressing out.(?) So what you are left with are a bunch of sad bettas whose colors and personalities are unviewable. But I have yet to hear someone with a viable alternative for retailers to utilize. I know that at least some of these people love fish and would rather not have to display the bettas in this manner, but as people want variety, how to stock and keep several bettas affordably is a problem. I have wondered if they could have individual 1/2 to 1 gallon tanks that are opaque on three sides and have at least one bushy plant. It would probably raise the cost per fish somewhat, but I would be more than willing to pay a few extra dollars for a happy, healthy fish. Do you have some
better ideas for retailers? Thanks.
Hi Jacquie – Yes i certainly do, and have recommended them to several stores. There are several viable ideas as far as i can see, the underlying theme being that the bettas should be housed in the fish wall as part of the rest system, so they can enjoy the cycled, heated, and filtered water like the rest of the fish. I believe the best way to do this, which is also easy and cheap, is to use DIY mesh dividers in the aquariums used to house aquatic plants and keep a single male in each section. I think a standard tank divided into 4 would be enough for display and space for the betta. The cover will be appreciated in terms of stress reduction and stimulation, and will also make both the plants and betta look more attractive as a display!
Alternatively, betta barracks could be used in other aquariums, but i dislike these as they are cruel in terms of swimming space and no access to cover to limit stress. Another system i ahve seen in my local LFS, is a specially made set of tanks with 1 gallon divisions, each housing a betta and small plant, where water flow is shared between them all and the tank is hooked up the the central filter/heater system. I think any of these options are actually rather cheap to create, and cheaper in the long term as less cleaning is required as all are hooked up to the central filtration unit, less illness and death, and more sales as bettas are in better health. Regarding the blue solutions you mention, that is methylene blue.
It does not stop bettas from seeing each other (they have far better eyes than that! after all, how could they see in their jungle dense, tannin rich homeland waters?), but it is a mild disinfectant which is used as a ‘cure-all’ for low grade disease. Stores add this to prevent ich and finrot from breaking out in their betta tanks, but it only works as a preventative and will not stop fish from succumbing to illness from ammonia poisoning and stress.. which could easily be prevented by taking care better care of their fish as mentioned above. 🙂 . If you’d like to sugest any of these ideas to your local store, that would be great! All the best, lea
Thanks so much for putting out an article that is easy-to-read, informative and correct! I have been keeping bettas for several years and currently have two males, Tuff and Tanis. Tanis is a purple/red cambodian halfmoon plakat who has his own heated, filtered, planted 5gal flat-back hex tank. Tuff is a pink and purple crowntail who lives in my 55gal heavily-planted mixed tropical/temperate community. Tuff is always out and about and active, I’m sure because of the massive amounts of plants I have in that tank (one whole side has been taken over by jungle val). 🙂
Very informative site! Thank you for sharing. Luckly for my curiosity as a child even now in my late 20s i always love to do extended research when it comes to my interest, Especially fish. I learned from a young age even before actually searching. That all animals need a very large yet accommodating environment.
As for my girlfriend, she wasn’t as driven. We went to petsmart to look for an aquarium for our apartment and she stumbled across the poorly healthed bettas along with the rest of the animals. Some still thriving to survive, others dead or on the verge of dying. I did make it my business to complain and educate these people but like every other corporate run business it wasn’t in their budget. So i wrote a letter to the company. Lets see if we can get more people to act on behalf of these beautiful creatures.
As far as our new betta “bubbles” we got him from a small mom and pop pet shop, where i’ve been going since i was 9yrs old. He loves his 10gl home full of plants, heat and filtration. He makes plenty of bubble nest and seems to be very happy. I will be getting him a female soon.
Thanks for more very useful info,
That’s wonderful news – sounds like a perfect betta home, and an owner who’s very caring…. let’s home you get a positive response from the company!
If budget is a concern, try suggesting putting cheap mesh or plastic dividers in the tanks housing the aquarium plants. Then, they could house a male betta in each division easily, keeping them part of the heated and filtered system and also giving more space and loads of plant cover for them. A 10g plant tank could easily be divided into 4 for temporary betta housing, and each would show off both fish and plants well…. indeed, it would be a good showcase to encourage people interested in bettas to buy plants too once thy see how good they look together!
Good luck with your fish, and all the best.
I completely agree with what you said. My neons, glowlight and penguin tetras all are schooling all the time unlike earlier when they roamed around freely. I’ve been watching them very closely and getting a feel that not everything is as smooth as it was earlier. I am planning to keep only the half moon and return the other two. Human should not be so greedy at the cost of other innocent souls 🙂 .
I’ll not keep the other bettas with me because I am not very comfortable to keep them in small tank. They are so royal and their behaviour makes me feel that they need much more space which I don’t have right now. I shall try with multiple bettas maybe later when I’ll have proper infrastructre to handle any eventuality arising from aggression. The barbs will move out, one already moved into another tank a couple of days earlier, as I don’t like their very fast movement in the otherwise peaceful tank.
I’ve one more question. As I wrote earlier, the half moon has started showing some aggresion lately. His target is dwarf gouramis, ramarozi and sometimes the lone platy. Should I take it as normal and ‘will get better’ situation or should I move him out? If removing him is the only option then I’ll have to find another owner or put him a small bowl till I find another owner.
Hi Vipin, oops, accidentally posted my reply as a new comment – see below! Cheers, Lea
‘They are so royal and their behaviour makes me feel that they need much more space which I don’t have right now.’ –
You sound like a very considerate betta keeper, well done!
On your question, seeing you’ve seen aggression already, i would not be hopeful of this going away. By nature, dwarf gouramis and rams can be quite territorial, and i’d see trouble brewing very soon with this combo and a betta. I would give better chances of just the gourami and ram coexisting as gouramis perfer the top, and rams the bottom, of the tank, so once they claim their spots they’ll prob avoid each other. Platies are just very colourful, and the betta might see it as a short-finned betta to contest with, so it will likely just keep getting harassed.
Sometimes you see some ‘settling in aggression’ ie a betta runs all over the tank, flaring at everyone so they know he’s boss, then it settles down. This might happen with the platy, however with a dwarf gourami and ram i think you’ll run into problems, either with the betta or the others nipping or even outright attacking him. Keep your eye on it and use your best judgement. If you see your fish displaying and sabre rattling for more than a few days, you know what to do 🙂 . Ask around your friends, so see if you an pick up a cheap tank from a dollar store – most have ‘beginner goldfish kits’ of (*shudder*) jsut 3-5gal – awful for goldies but suitable for a betta. Move some cycled gravel/filter media over and a few plants, add a little desk lamp and you’ll be able to keep your lovely halfmoon for cheap – maybe even on your desk so you can spend even more time with him (it’s where i have mine!). Good luck!
I am not seeing much decrease in the aggression so I guess I’ll move him out. My spare bowl is currently occupied by 2 days old platy’lets 😀 . If he doesn’t settle down in a week time, I will build a new small tank and move him out. I learnt a lot in the last 3 weeks time, sure betta facinates me a lot 🙂
Thanks once again
A pleasure – always keep asking those questions!
Sometimes you can pick up cheap 20L/5gal tanks from dollar stores, a little heater and filter, and a load of live plants (easy ones like javafern, javamoss, hornwort etc) and a desk lamo can make for a cheap and easy betta home. Good luck, they are wonderful fish!
I have caught the ‘Betta bug”. My 1st tank was a 31/2 gal with heater, filter,light and added fake plants & freshwater sand. Killer is loving every minute of it! He now eats from my finger and know me.
I just bought 2 new 15 gal tanks. I have set up one with a male & i put in 5 small cherry barbs. I was told that they were peaceful and would work out fine. Is this true??? Also, after reading the comments… it sounds like i might need some more fake plants in there. (I only have 2) I thought he would have more room for swimming.
I just bougth a bunch (6) more tall fake plants to put in the one 15 gal tank that has the one male Betta & 5 small cherry barbs.
Are the Barbs ok to put in the tank or should I put something else in there?? I am thinking of throwing in some ghost shrimp to help with cleaning up the bottom. I have white freshwater sand for the “substrate” (hope that is the rigth term).
I’m getting my other 15 gal tank set up now… for my next male Betta.
Awesome to hear you’ve upgraded your betta tanks to a spacious 15g – my boy loved his! Yes more plants are great, glad you bought them (shameless plug, i sell realistic, posable silk plants and ornaments especially designed to be safe for betta fins – 20% off to nippyfish folk 😉 ). Have you considered some floating plants? Things like hornwort, lacefern and even duckweed can look amazing, and they are excellent cover for bettas to nest in, play in, and they absorba lot of wastes which would otherwise cause algae! As they’re at the surface, they do well under most lighting too 🙂 . Hornwort is my fave for bettas, it’s like green tinsel, very hardy, and it twists everywhere, and they love to play in it.
I’ve had cherry barbs in with a betta before, and it was a nice match… that said always be aware for aggression/fin nipping on both sides. Your addition of more plants will help create more territories and reduce chances of this. I’d not put any more in a 15g – understocking is a good idea with bettas and tankmates to improve chances of sucess, but do try the shrimp. Your betta may eat them, or he might not be able to catch them. I have shrimp (red cherry & darwin red nose shrimp) in with bettas before and no worries. Maybe toss in some java moss for them tto hide in though 🙂 .
Thank you so much for this website & for all your help and information!!! (r u single?)
Can you give me the information on that “shameless plug” where I can check out your silk plants. Thank you again!!
Hi I’m Rachel and my dad got me and my sister a betta for valentines day! He’s very cute and has a little container with a lid that’s connected…. I have food and conditioner but me and my sister were thinking of breeding him maybe my moms gonna take us to get a bigger 10 gallon tank here’s on our list to get different food he doesn’t like the flakes he has-_- a net, pebbles/gravel, 2 plants(probably fake), a lid, a divider anything else that would be handy? Oh and of course a female… It’s my first time 2 time owning a betta but I never bred my other one… Is this a good idea were still getting everything on the list including a female but if not a good idea let me know please! I want this to be successful:) and if so many baby’s who to give them to besides keeping a couple, I need lots of information.. I’m young and people say no breeding without experience:/ well you have to start sometime to have “experience”! I need as much info possible on keeping him nice and breeding!!!!!! Please reply!!! Thanks:D
Thanks for the message 🙂 . Your current tank sounds too small, and a 5g would be far better – (or go for hte 10g!). You also need plants he wont tear his fins on, and a cycled heater – please, if you’ve not read up on the nitrogen cycle, do so as you could soon have a dead fish from ‘new tank syndrome. A heater set to 76 to 82F is also critical, as is high quality and varied betta food. Try 2-3 thawed frozen bloodworms or a very small about of brine shrimp now and then – yummy!
I also, unfortunately, i’ve news you probably dont want to hear. Betta breeding, particularly by those without much experience keeping bettas or fish, is very hard, time consuming, and money consuming. I’d really, really recommed you stay away for now and just enjoy your fish and learn about them (this site is a great start!).
It’s not just a case of putting a male and female together and having baby fish result, it’s very complicated and raising betta fry requires an elaborate setup given their aggression. Personally, they are one of the most time consuming, space consuming, and expensive fry to rear. Even I’ve been to scared to try breeding bettas, and i’ve raised two kids!
To be a successful breeder, you MUST be totally aware of the nitrogen cycle an ammonia, nitrite and nitrate toxicity in both the parents aquariums and especially the small volumes for raising fry. You MUST know about infusoria, brine shrimp nauplii and other fry foods, and how to keep these food alive, when to feed, how much to feed, and that water must be changed daily, sometimes twice daily for young fry. You MUST have aquarium chemistry test kits for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, GH, KH, phosphate etc, and test very regularly in fry tanks. You MUST know how to set up a breeding tank with a place for the nest. You MUST have a separate healthy aquarium to house the female before and after breeding… and possibly a number of these as sometimes betta males reject females. And then, you have the added issue of keeping a betta female sorority, which can be challenging.
To be a successful breeder you need a LOT of fry grow out tanks as they will fight beyond a certain age and will all need to be housed separately. Unless your parents are happy for you to have a whole shelf full of small tanks, ideally plumbed together so that the outlets drain to a central, properly bacteria cycled sump so you can maintain adequate filtration and heating of the brood. This is difficult for newbies to set up and get right. I hope your parents like fiddling with heaters, tubes and filters.
Then, there are betta genetics. You can raise ‘mutt’ fish if you like, but it comes with some risks, and you need to keep track of linages to avoid inbreeding with any fry you maintain.
Finaly, are you able to sell your offspring? What will you do if you have 30 bettas with no home?
I’m not trying to discourage you, but a LOT of thought and planning needs to go into betta breeding.
Good luck with your new fish – and keep asking questions 🙂
Can a tank be too deep for a betta?
I recently purchased a beautiful 45 gallon tank that is roughly 24″ tall by 12″ deep and 36″ wide that was on sale at my LFS… I have the proper filters and an adequate heater for this size tank and have just completed cycling the water.
I would really like for my betta to be the only inhabitant, and was wondering if it is possible that it is too deep for him? He has been swimming around for about an hour and seems to love exploring the complex root decoration that is currently at the bottom. He also hangs out up top every once in a while and doesn’t display any signs of being exhausted.
The filter does seem to affect his ability to swim properly – I have two eheim canisters, one on each side… and plan to run the filters 1x per week for a full day while he hangs out in his old 1.5 gallon tetra waterfall tank, which he was very happy in.
I am just nervous based on some of the things I have read online which say that Bettas cannot live in large, deep tanks and I do not want to do anything to cause him harm or exhaustion.
Thank you in advance for any advice!
Wow – that’s a huge home for one lucky betta! Maybe you could consider a little shoal of cory catfish for the bottom and/or some inverts 🙂 . I think it’s a bit of overkill on the filtration – with this size and one low-waste output fish like a betta, you’ll be lucky if the water needs changing once a month with no filter at all! If it were me i’d just run a small powerhead or a spraybar to get good circulation around the tank. Still, Ehiem are great filters – so i’d just leave one on and test the water for nitrates. With a canister and this fishload, one 20% change a month should be quite fine.
On the depth, no not at all. That is quite a standard tank depth (indeed i’ve kept bettas in tanks this deep with no issue), and you’ll find that in the native habitats of rice paddies and marsh swamps can be much deeper than this. Even if it were ‘too’ deep, you betta would just swim around the surface where he’s most comfortable and ignore the bottom. It would be unlikely that it would stress him.
You will hear stories about bettas being stressed in large tanks, but this is often as they are sparsely decorated. Bettas native homes are thick to the point of choking with vegetation, and cover seems to be an essential factor in keeping them relaxed as well as stimulated withareas to explore. You’ve noted that he loves his root decoration – a sign of this preference and normal behaviour. Bettas like to explore and constantly patrol their turf, and it’s more interesting with nooks and crannies to play in.
To make him feel at home and get the best natural behaviours, go crazy and plant it out with long stemmed plants which bettas love to hang in, like hygro, watersprite, wisteria, camboba, ambulia etc, maybe some floating hornwort (a personal favorite), or even drop the water level down half way and put in a bunch of water lillies! You can even leave them in their pots, and to keep the soil in place put them in a terracotta pot and place filter floss and then decorative stones on top. The bettas will appreciate the surface cover and stems and the top will get flowers if you give them the correct photoperiod – easily achieved with a $5 timer. Tiger lotus is usually abundant in stores and is an awesome feature plant. You could even expand your root system beneath and add more driftwood with bits sticking up out of the top. This can look great, and the betta will adore all the complex plants and wood to explore and the cover everywhere will make him feel secure enough to come out and play constantly. Just be careful to sand down any rough wood bits to stop fin tears. Do also note that with any plants and such a light fish stock, you’ll need to add Excel or carbon substitute and plant fertilizers to keep it all healthy.
Good luck and i hope your betta enjoys his palace 🙂
I now have 4 tanks & 4 wonderful Bettas. one 3 1/2 gal tank, one 5 1/2 gal tank and two 15 gal tanks. One male Betta per tank and some ghost shrimp to help do some “clean up” work. I am slowly taking out the fake plastic plants and putting in silk plants. Temp is at 78 and so far… all looks very good-thanks to you Lea !! Thank you for this great learning website!!
Thank you so much for your kind words! So rewarding to hear that you’ve got such great homes for your fish – congratulations on doing so well. Dont forget anyone from this site gets 20% off on my FinSafe silk betta plants, so let me know if you need more! Given you’ve got so many to fill, i’ll even throw in a few freebies 🙂 . Also if you decide to graduate to live plants, i can recommend some good starters for you – just drop me a line anytime 🙂 .
All the best! – Lea
Ok, i do have the love of Betta fish … I just bought another 15 gal tank & another 5 1/2 gal tank. I have some really beautiful male bettas!!
Thanks a lot for the info 🙂
Thank you so much for the info. my red betta llives in my 44 gal tank and he seems very happy although hates the two tetras in there.. the have been nipping at his tail. any advice on this ?
44g for a betta – how spoiled he is!
On tank mates, bettas are notoriously unpredictable and while some thrive in a peaceful community, others set out to destroy everything. Many fish also love nibbling betta tails.
The obvious answer is to separate fish who are having compatability issues, but in your case try adding more live plants to block eachothers view, and add more tetras of the same species (at least 5) and seeing if this behaviour settles down first. Many shoaling fish like tetras can display aggression out of stress when their numbers are too low. With a big group, they are often too busy maintaining their own pecking order and showing off for breeding to bother other fish.
Of course, if this fails, maybe move your betta to a nice 5g or 10g where he can chill by himself with maybe a few snails or shrimp.
we just moved into an apartment in Taipei with a patio that has a stone pond (about 4ft x 6ft) and about 10inches deep. It has rocks and plants and several fish. Since researching on the internet, I have discovered they are all beta fish – one large one – about 3 inches, and about 10 smaller ones. At first we didnt know what to do for them. We just kept adding fresh water every two days or so (there is a drain and water slowly goes out or evaporates). Also it rains a lot and so the pond gets rain water. Otherwise, we dont do anything else. we feed them Beta pellets but we also notice them eating mosquitos and other bugs. There are plenty of spaces to hide and we enjoy watching them. The big one comes up to us and will eat from our fingers. There is no electrical outlet near this pond so there is not way to add a filter. Do you think it is ok for these fish to live like this? do I need to removed the younger ones? I did read your article and was very thankful for all your information. But we dont have a tank. So far the fish seem healthy and happy without us doing much. But I am worried that when the younger ones get bigger, they will all fight? thanks for your advice.
Thank you for your comment. The climate in Taipei sounds perfect for your betta pond, and the live insects taken from the surface are their native foods, so this is great for them to get into breeding condition.
I’d say given the size of your pond that your current plan is seems great, just dont don’t forget to de-chlorinate the water first 🙂 . To check and see if it needs a clean, test the water every other week with a nitrate test kit. A reading over 30ppm indicates a 30% water change should be carried out to keep nitrates and other waste low. Adding more live plants like water lilly, lotus, reeds etc will also help lower waste in your pond as they consume nitrates, and the shade of large leaves will block some light to reduce algae growth and also give the bettas a place to hide and breed.
On the young fish, you shold remove them when they are bgger as the males will grow up and want their own territory, and fight over it. Ask your friends or local store if they would like some or if they will take them for you.
Good luck with your tropical betta pond!
Just wanted to say how happy I am to see such sensible , informed advice given the oft-misled betta keeper!
People need to understand beginnings – evolution – to truly understand the requirements of living creatures, and it’s wonderful to see this need fulfilled on your site.
Thank you for those lovely and kind words – it’s so rewarding to see this advice get out there and help people avoid mistakes and, hopefully, save the life of a few fish along the way.
Knowledge is power, and by empowering people with knowledge about a creatures native life and requirements, you can hope they make the best choices for their pets in future. And hopefully look after their own environment too 🙂 .
Thank you kindly again 🙂
My male Betta was in a 1 gallon heated Betta tank, but it does not have a filter. He was floating on his side this afternoon, and looked like he was dying. I put him in a baggie of his own water, and floated him in my 55 gallon until the temps matched. I put him and his floating plants into the 55 gallon. He is in there with 3 silver and black tetras, one small pleco, and a female hoplo catfish. My question is do you think he will be okay in this tank long term?
I rescued 1 betta fish who was living in a 1-gal tank. When we got him, you couldn’t even see him through the tank it was so filthy! We upgraded him to a 3-gal tank and put in a heater. We also had a thing that blows airbubbles in the water but we took it out. Should we put it back in? Also, aside from the marbles on the bottom of the tank, there is nothing else in there. I hate that for him! I want to provide stimuli and enjoyment for him but I don’t know what to put in the small tank (just read an article today about floating a pingpong ball in there but so far he’s not interested in playing with it). Thank you!
Can a African Dwarf Frog be with a betta in a half gallon bowl? My Betta loves to eat, and wont let one peice of food go to waste, please help!
I think I’ve read this article before and decided to read it again x) But anyway, I tend to go to my local Petsmart just to chat up the more knowing fishkeepers, and just to take a look at all the pretty fishies. I hadn’t noticed it before, it may be new, but they have started up a little section “perfect” for bettas. In reality what I see there are tiny containers, no recommended filters, no heaters, nothing that a betta SHOULD have. All of the containers are bowls, no tanks. Really make me want to tell someone at the store, but it really isn’t my place…
i work at a pet store and let me tell you… i want my customers to COMPLAIN! call corporate if you have to. don’t bash the people who work there because they don’t know any better. its the company that tells them what to say and display for the fish.
Oh, also, I have my oldest betta (around 3 years) In a 6 gal with some caves, two java ferns and some plastic plants (had to take one out due to tail rips). Do you think that I could get tetras to add more life? If so, how many? And any tips for me?
i am geting redy to put a live plant in my betta tank and the kind of plant can apparently get pretty big how is the best way to prun it? and also i will be gone for two nights so should i fast him for 2 days or feed him right when i get back? i dont want to stress the little guy
Hi! I would really like an answer for this. I just go a betta fish today and I have very little knowledge of fish in general.
My Dad got me a tank, definitely not 1 gallon. Is that bad? Does my one single betta fish need to be in a 1 gallon tank? I don’t want to ask my Dad to get another tank so… (But I’ll probably ask anyways) My betta fish is also in coldish water, which I hear can kill him so I should get a heater. Do you think it’ll be alright for 1-2 days? I don’t want him to die :[
Also, tanks aren’t reflective right? He keeps attacking the tank and I’m not sure whether or not he’s just not used to the tank or really agressive..
one gallon is not big enough. get at least 5 gallons with a heater and low flow filter.
he attacks the tank because he sees himself in the reflection and thinks its another male invading his territory. i had this problem so i lined my tanks with plants so he didn’t sit there all day stressing himself out trying to fight himself
Hey, I just wanted to help people out with their plants.
“Golden ponthos” or “ponthos ivy” is a great plant for the tank. It can survive fully submerged, half submerged, etc. My female betta loves to swim among the roots. The roots usually go everywhere, and grow in the gravel, wrap around driftwood pieces. It makes a beautiful aquatic plant and is usually readily avalible at your local home improvement store in the garden center! For $5 you can spend on a small bunch of plants at the pet store, you can get a 4-6 inch pot on ponthos.
You do need to wash the majority of the soil out of the roots and stuff but its a really great plant for any aquarium.
My female betta is in a 30 gallon home with 2 filters, a lot of foliage, and caves. She gets along perfectly with guppies, tetras, and corydora catfish.
Hi lea, I just want to drop by and say how much I love reading the content here. Even though my daily routines have since shifted to caring for my saltwater reef tank but from time to time I still maintain my interest in the freshwater niche. Did I tell you that my first fish was a betta? Cheers
I wanted to thank you for posting this.
As a pet store chain aquatics associate, i try my best to educate people about bettas (and goldfish) as they are the most abused fish.
I love my bettas who each have their own 10g tanks with canister filters and heaters and lights. they constantly swim about and explore and blow bubbles!
As for the stupid little cups bettas come in… i agree. so in my store i put one betta in each tank that the other fish are displayed in. Not only did my animal manager protest but my DISTRICT manager said it cannot be allowed….they have to stay in the cups…. I may run the aquatics department but i certainly don’t make the rules (unfourtunately). I have come to see VERY quickly that its about making sales, not the animals health. so all i can do is tell my customers about betta care and hope for the best. 🙁
About half of my customers listen to me and buy bigger homes. I call it a win if i can sell them on at least a 2.5 gal (i know it should be bigger and i do tell them that) and a heater for the poor things.
That is awesome. I have always loved bettas and at one point had over ten tanks in my home- unitl my mom made me pare down to just the 29g, lol. Now that I’m graduating college I want to get back into the hobby, once I move to my ‘adult’ apartment.
It makes me super happy to not only read Lea’s replies, but to see the intiative taken by people like yourself.
Thank you for trying, just as every penny helps each fish saved is one less abused/dead. Knowledge really is power
Wow….i feel terrible…. I saved izoku a year ago…he was part of the centerpiece at a wedding his jar broke and nobody wanted him…i took him in knowing nothing about taking care of fish… I still don’t…I’m learning as I go…currently have him in a 2 l open space container/tank…just need to invest in a heater and filter now then to invest in a bigger tank…thanks this has been really helpful
we just got a first betta for my son
as you said the shop owner had lots of disposable cups filled with them. my son chose the lightest greyish one with a tinge of blue. we suggested many colorful ones to him but his heart was set on that one. when we brought it home and put it in a fish bowl and took care of it………it changed to bright blue.it was amazing
Great info, helped a lot.
I live in South Florida and have a beta in my 120 gallon pond out side. He is doing great and was wondering if it was large enough to introduce a second male that my daughter rescued from a dirty cup at walmart.
We had betta fish when I was a kid but my parents were in charge of those, don’t remember much but I recently purchased a Half Moon teal/white betta who I lovingly named Willoughby. I put him in a very large 12″ vase that balloons outward, with med. sized black rocks at the bottom (layered) and some lovely living plants. It’s a gorgeous look and he is doing well but now I’m worried about upsetting him when I change the water.
Hi, I’ve been here @ this site when they had the other owners, not sure what happened, but with the website & this continuing support of these sweet fish many will live happy long lives. My beta “Picasso” lived with me for just over 4 years. He had a 5g tank, heater, silks, a cup, very spoiled. Such a personality! The entire family loved that silly fish and very beautiful fish!
So many facts! My betta is blue-green, named Stasia, and lives in a gallon tank with rocks and two fake plants. I’m gonna get hornweed (something like that) for the top and a bigger tank this month. I think. This is my third betta and I get better at caring for them every day, thanks to this site and bettafish.com! I do daily partial water changes, but leave the rocks alone. Cheers.
I had a betta, named Parmesan, for 7 years. Seven. Years. I had him in a maybe 1 gallon decorative jar, with glass beads and a couple of bamboo plants. The plants were always healthy, and didn’t die, funnily enough. until Parmesan was gone.
His demise was determined by my young, curious asshole of a cat. He was otherwise a robust fella. Damned cat. That fish definitely got excited when I came in the room. Thr plants did a great job with filtering the water, and oxygenation. The fish poop worked wonders as a fertilizer. He was a happy, and healthy dude.
I haven’t has any fish since then.
But, today I got my 3 y. o. daughter a betta, whom she named Boy. I have him in a large dexorative glass thing, and again with a couple of bamboo plants.
But I still have that damned cat. Keep your fingers crossed.
My Bata was doing grate in his 20gal tank with all the fixings.then I got a sucker fish a month ago,now my Bata is staying on the bottom.he,s not eating,what’s went wrong?what do I need to do? thanks
Thank you for this amazing, educating article.