Bettas, or Siamese fighting fish, are an incredibly rewarded fish to own. They are beautiful, intelligent, and hardy. This article will help you provide the best care possible for your pet.
A minimum of 2 gallons; 5 gallons or more being highly preferred. While many pet stores sell betta habitats of ½ gallon and even smaller, these are in fact unsuitable, for a number of reasons:
- A habitat that small is nearly impossible to filter or heat properly.
- Lack of swimming room often results in poor muscle development.
- It is extremely difficult to manage water quality in such a small tank.
- They result in a bored, unhappy fish!
The improvement made by a betta removed from a tiny cup at the dealer’s and placed into a warm, clean, spacious tank easily outweighs having to spend a little extra money on him.
Bettas prefer mostly “soft-cover,” meaning plenty of plants, plastic or live. Originating from the rice-paddies of places like Thailand and Vietnam, they enjoy being well-sheltered by foliage. Rockwork and/or caves are not strictly necessary. Bettas will often sleep on or behind their favorite plant.
Also, bettas are a labyrinth fish that “breath” air from the surface with a modified swim bladder which acts as a lung. No matter how pristine their water conditions, they must be able gulp air from the surface, or they will drown. In the majority of tanks, there is a space between the waterline and the hood or canopy. This will provide plenty of air. Owners with unusual tanks with a lack of surface area, however, should be aware of this special need of bettas, and fill their tanks accordingly. All hoods should be snug and well fitting, as bettas are jumpers, although they rarely jump when water quality is kept up.
Bettas will tolerate a wide range of pH values, from 6 to 8, and live equally well in all. They prefer soft water as well, but adjust easily to almost any hardness.
As with all tanks, weekly water changes should be performed to maintain water quality in a betta’s home.
Heating and Filtration:
Bettas are a tropical fish, and require temperatures between 74 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. For tanks of 5 gallons or more, standard aquarium heaters (5 watts per gallon) will do. For tanks between 4 and 2 gallons, a nano-heater (typically 7.5 watts) works well. I have found that they typically keep the water at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (this depends on the volume of the tank), which is ideal for bettas. It is most important that the temperature of a betta’s home remains stable.
Either a canister, box (HOB), or under-gravel filters is suitable for a betta habitat. Generally, bettas do not like a strong current, but I have found that unless the current is extremely powerful, they will adjust to almost anything. If a betta is purchased from a dealer that keeps him a small cup, he may initially have difficulty with the current created by a canister or box filter, but he will adjust after a short period.
In their native habitat, bettas eat mostly insects and insect larvae, especially mosquitoes. They require a diet high in protein. Commercial betta pellets/flakes provide a solid base to a betta’s diet. They should be fed a very small amount twice a day. This should be supplemented regularly with frozen and, ideally, live food. Frozen bloodworms and live blackworms make an excellent addition to any betta’s feeding schedule. Other treats include frozen or live brine shrimp and daphnia. Freeze-dried foods (i.e. bloodworms) can also be offered, but care should be taken, as bettas are prone to over-eating, and freeze-dried foods can expand once eaten.
Sexing a Betta:
Perhaps one of the easiest fish to sex, only male bettas have the characteristic long, flowing fins. There is a variety of betta in which the male has short fins; this is known as the “Plakad” type, and is close to the original fighting form of the betta (short fins are harder for rival males to grab and tear). Females have short fins and have a slightly stockier body than the slender males. Mature females also have an “egg-spot,” which is a small white dot between their ventral and anal fins.
Male bettas can never be housed together. They are extremely territorial and will fight to death if forced to live together. Their species name means “beautiful warrior,” because of the males’ striking fins and fierce temperaments. Females are also territorial, although it may be possible to house more than one in a larger tank. Males and females cannot be housed together either, as the males are prone to harassing the females constantly. Generally, there should never be more than one betta in a tank.
In a tank of at least 10 gallons, however, it is possible to house a betta with other species. When selecting tank mates, avoid fish that are “fin-nippers” like barbs or danios. They will tear constantly at a betta’s long fins. Also avoid fish with long, brightly colored fins, as the betta may perceive them as a rival male and attack. Avoid other anabantids (labyrinth fish) such as gouramis and paradise fish. In the wild, these species often compete for territory, and are prone to aggression towards each other. A calm, attractive schooling fish that seems to coexist well with bettas is Rasbora heteromorpha, the harlequin rasbora.
When given proper consideration, a betta usually makes a wonderful addition to a peaceful community tank.
Lone bettas are often kept with snails, African dwarf frogs, and shrimp. In a tank of at least 5 gallons, these usually make excellent companions. Many bettas, including my own, seem to prefer the company of these creatures to being alone.
There is always a chance, however, that a betta may be too aggressive to be housed with any other animals, and the owner should be prepared for that possibility.
Choosing a Betta:
If at all possible, try to give your business to a dealer that provides proper filtration/heat to its bettas. That said, perhaps the single benefit to the way bettas are typically housed at the dealer is that instead of receiving the easiest fish to catch out of a 10 gallon tank, you are able to specifically select your betta. Look for a fish with bright, healthy colors, full fins without tears, and normal breathing. He should be interested in the world outside his plastic cup, maybe even flare at you in excitement. Be sure that he does not have any odd discoloration, especially gray/white/red patches, as these are all symptoms of a fungal infection. Skip on a fish with any suspicious black on the edge of his fins, as he may have fin rot. A betta that lays upright on the bottom of his cup is not necessarily ill; more likely he is cold and bored. A fish lying heavily on his side, though, should be avoided.
If considering buying from an online source, it is important to check the reputation of the breeder/dealer you intend to buy from. Be sure that the seller gives you the age of the betta (typically 3.5-4 months) and specific finnage (i.e. half-moon, delta, etc.). Check to see if there is a dead-on-arrival guarantee in case the worse should happen. Be sure that you will be home to receive your betta when he arrives, and that you will have time to properly acclimate him after shipping. Bettas generally ship very well, and I have had good experiences buying beautiful fish from breeders as far away as Thailand.
A happy, healthy betta is joy to own. He quickly learns who feeds him, and greets his owner with an excited dance and stunning flare of his fins. Treat your betta well and he will reward you with his spirit and beauty.
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