Betta Fish 101

Information about the Proper Care of Betta Fish

The betta or “Siamese Fighting Fish” is a popular pet and one of the most spectacular freshwater ornamental pets. It is a low-maintenance pet but to properly take care of a betta is more involved than cleaning the fishbowl and giving the betta food.  The Betta splendena or the betta is pronounced “bet-tah” not “bay-tah” like the Greek alphabet letter. Bettas are a favorite amongst fish keepers and deserve their praise but, have long been clear favorites of novice and advanced aquarists alike. Proper betta care is much more involved than what people think.

Betta fish are native to tropical Southeast Asia (especially Thailand) and live in small, warm, stagnant bodies of water. Around two centuries ago, Thai children started collecting bettas from rice paddies and would place them together to fight. The Siamese fighting fish proved so popular that the King of Siam started breeding and taxing the aggressive combative fish. Their aggression is why you will ever only see one betta fish in each bowl when sold at pet stores.  They became popular ornamental fish and were given as gifts in the 19th century to Westerners in Siam (now Thailand) and became a popular exotic pet in continental Europe. The first betta to become an American pet did not arrive until 1910.

The typical betta can live three to four years but only with the right aquatic environment, lighting, mental stimulation, and food for a healthy and content betta fish.  Bettas should bot live in small bowls. Bowls are not good for bettas. While betas are rugged, they are not hardy. While they can breathe and live in near oxygen depleted waters and can breathe air, bettas have a special “labyrinth organ,” like their relatives in the labyrinth fish family that lets them breathe air to some degree and gulp food from the water surface without causing them to swim upside down like a air gulping goldfish might, it’s not good for their health to live in small, cramped bowls. Bettas prefer larger habitats and use their environment to avoid competition and predators. Bettas are also just as sensitive to ammonia and the by-products of improper tank care. The gorgeous elegant trailing fins of a betta make then vulnerable to fin rot and other illnesses if kept in a tiny bowl. Bettas thrive and are less likely to become ill or suffer from fin rot if they have a five-gallon minimum aquarium. They love to swim left to right in shallow waters so even a shallow ten-gallon tank will be your single betta happy and comfortable. Bettas require a square tank to provide a proper space for filtration and a possible bubbler. Bettas require filtration to minimize bacteria, as bettas are very susceptible to not living to reach age 3 or four due to bacterial illnesses. Bettas are freshwater tropical fish, so they also need a heater. Bettas are temperature sensitive and a chilled betta is a still and unwell fish. The ideal betta fish climate is 78-82°F.

Betta fish are carnivorous and eat animal protein. In nature, they can find lots of insects and larvae to eat and in a home, a betta needs a high protein special betta food to be nourished and active. Betta food comes in pellets, flake and frozen food forms. These special betta foods provide them the protein their require, often in powdered insect form. They also may enjoy an occasional treat of worms or the like. Like many pet fish, a betta cannot tell when they are full and can eat themselves to illness. A betta is always looking for food so as a fish keeper, it’s your responsibility to provide them the right food at amounts that are not excessive. Never feed a betta more than twice a day and never provide them more food than they can consume in a two-minute feeding frenzy of excitement. If you have a slow betta or a lazier fish, allow them a five-minute feeding period only twice a day and remove all remaining food after that time period in order to ensure the tank stays as clean as possible. Another rule of fin is to serve meals that are about 5% of a bettas size, so small portions provide bettas with all they need.

Bettas are not mean and aggressive as claimed, but they are territorial. Male bettas are very competitive and will often attack each other on sight. Male bettas are known to even attack their own images in the mirror. Bettas, even as coed couples, do not mix. Bettas are best living as hermits to prevent fish fights. Bettas do not want or need a tank mate. They truly are antisocial or rather, asocial, they simply prefer to be alone and have all your admiration to themselves and not share it with another betta or tank mates. The long fins of males are like a red flag and invitation for aggressive tankmates of non-betta species to attack a betta and small schooling fish like minnows or guppies can chase and nip a betta to pieces. Leave your bettas alone but if you insist they have a tankmate, consider a small, slower bottom dweller such as khuli loaches and cordya and make sure the tank is large enough that they need never cross paths due to a lack of space. Allow 1 gallon of water per inch of fish.

Bettas are beautiful fish and are not a low-cost economy fish if cared for properly. Bettas are a great fish investment and are elegant animals. Just make sure you set up a warm and spacious filtered aquarium and liberate your betta from the tiny ornamental bowl it came in.




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