Betta splendens, also known as Siamese fighting fish, have been the top choice in fish keeping for more aquarium keepers than any other species in the world.
It’s no surprise. Betta fish have been kept and bred for more than 1,000 years. This species has dozens of varieties in many colors.
If you are about to purchase one and start a species aquarium, there are things you need to know to successfully keep healthy, vibrant bettas. This guide will help you start them off right and keep them thriving.
|Size:||Up to 3 inches (8cm)|
|Tank:||5-gallon tanks or larger is best|
|PH:||6.0 to 8.0|
|Hardness:||Soft to hard. dH range: 2.0 – 25.0|
|Temperature:||75 F to 85 F (23-30 C)|
Betta Splendens: Origin and Appearance
Wild Betta splendens are quite a bit different from domestic bettas. They are native to Southeast Asia, particularly the northern Malay Peninsula, central and eastern Thailand, Cambodia, and southern Vietnam.
Unlike their brilliantly colored domestic cousins, wild bettas are a mundane brown or green and are close to becoming an endangered species. They are extremely territorial but coexist with other species because there is enough space for them to have their territories.
Bettas were originally bred for aggression and fighting. This selective breeding created new color varieties with exaggerated, flowing fins. They first appeared in the West in the late 19th century.
Now Siamese fighting fish found in the aquarium trade come from commercial or hobbyist breeders. They are the most popular ornamental fish.
Their long history of selective breeding has produced such a wide variety of coloration and fin styles that they have been called the “designer fish of the aquatic world.”
In the wild, the Betta splendens lifespan averages two to four years. In an aquarium, they can live up to nine years.
Betta behavior leans toward the most territorial species you can own. They need at least three gallons of tank space for a single fish, male or female. A 5-gallon tank is better and if you are keeping your betta with tankmates, a 20-gallon tank or larger is a good choice.
Proper Care for Betta Splendens
This ability to live in low oxygen water makes them easy to keep. So easy that many people’s first experience with a betta is as a decorative fish in a very small vase or fishbowl.
However, Bettas that are kept like this do not usually last long.
Many bettas sold in large chain stores or won at carnivals come from mass breeding operations that sell fish that often are extremely interbred or have a high potential for illness and disease.
Some have been colored by injections of dye or by dipping them in vats of color.
Begin your experience with bettas by getting quality fish from a breeder or reseller you can trust. They should know the lineage of their fish and provide a warranty on the quality of the stock they sell.
– Water Conditions
Betta fish can live in water from 70 F to 80 F and do best in 75 F to 80 F. This is not difficult to maintain when you live in warm climates but can be a problem if you air condition your house or the temperature drops below 70 F.
An aquarium heater or heat lamp will help keep the temperature in the right range. If you live in climates where the temperature where the tank is kept drops below 70 F at night, consider putting the heater on a timer so that the temperature is maintained.
Water quality is just as important. A good filter system is a must. Bettas can breathe air,, but the bacteria that can grow in water soiled by fish and food waste can quickly bring about illness and death. Use a system with gentle water return. Bettas do not need current to keep them happy.
Additionally, bettas will thrive in clean water with a pH between 6.5 and 8. Use test strips weekly to monitor the pH.
Try to change 10 percent of the water weekly with non-chlorinated, correctly balanced water. Maintain the filter, and you should have a healthy betta.
Betta fish are carnivores and do best on diets that are heavy in protein. Many keepers feed their betta fish commercial betta flakes or pellets, and the fish do fine. But betta fish can be picky and turn off certain types of foods.
Other keepers feed their betta pellets and mix in treats such as brine shrimp, blood worms, and other meaty foods. Most follow a twice-daily feeding schedule.
Sometimes betta fish will turn off on a particular food and stop eating. If this happens, try changing up what you feed them. If you just moved them to a frozen or freeze-dried food type or if they have been eating pellets and they stop eating, it could be as simple as they do not like their current meal choice.
A betta can go without eating for a few days but if this happens longer, examine the conditions in the tank to make sure you do not have other problems such as water temperature, water quality, or the onset of disease.
Designing your Siamese fighting fish habitat helps determine what tank mates you can add and how well your bettas will get along.
Bettas orient to territory, so designing a tank that gives the betta what it needs to keep occupied in its home will help reduce its stress and level of aggression.
The ideal habitat should have a variety of hard and plant materials to keep the betta interested and prevent a line of sight into a territory on the other side of the tank.
Sand is a great choice of substrate. It allows plants to root easily and will not scratch or cause damage to a betta’s flowing fins.
Rocks make great structures to center the territory in a single betta environment. If you can create a structure with caves or nooks the fish can get into, your betta will stay engaged exploring.
If you are trying to keep a male and female together and they fight in the same space, rocks can be used to create a natural barrier to keep them separated enough so that the male will not attack the female. Clear dividers can also be used to keep them separate.
This is not the best strategy to use when keeping bettas with tank mates as it tends to isolate the fish in what the betta considers their territory. Clear dividers do have good uses when it comes to breeding bettas. We will get to that shortly.
Plant the perimeter of the tank with species like guppy grass or fern that provide some cover. This will create zones that are interesting for your bettas to explore from top to bottom, allow your tank mates to roam freely but will help keep the male betta distracted.
If you select plants that will grow out of the tank, such as pothos, refine your tank mate selection so you don’t wind up with runaways.
Since betta aggression varies so much between individual fish, there is a tendency to keep moving them to new tanks until you find one where they can settle in. Moving tanks is very stressful to a betta. If you have to rehome one, leave it in place for a few weeks before moving it again.
– Tank Mates
Many people believe that bettas will attack anything you put in front of them. Though bettas have been bred for aggressive behavior, you can cohabitate bettas with other fish species in aquariums that are large enough.
You do, however, have to be cautious about tankmates for female bettas and extremely selective about tankmates for the more aggressive male bettas. The wrong tankmates can put your bettas into stressful fight or flight modes.
As a general rule, your bettas will be continually aggressive towards tank mates who are of a similar size, color, or have similar types of fins. Conversely, your bettas will be harassed, bullied, and attacked by tank mates who are equally aggressive, territorial, or who are fin nippers.
Small, schooling fish, bottom feeders, and non-fish species that tolerate warm water can be good betta tank mates. A good selection to choose from include:
Tetras: Neon, Emerald, and other tetra species are good tank mate choices for several reasons. They are too small to be threatening, even in small schools. Their colors are different from the vibrant blues, reds, and blacks common in bettas. They have short fins and are not fin nippers.
Danios: Species such as Zebra Danios are very hardy and can tolerate the warm water a betta needs. They do well in small schools and will keep to themselves. Their colors are quite different, and their body shape resembles tetras. Bettas will leave them alone.
Corydoras: Cory catfishes are solitary bottom feeders that keep to themselves and will not intrude into the space a betta considers theirs. They look markedly different, and as a benefit, they will help keep the tank clean.
Shrimp: There are several species of shrimp, such as Ghost Shrimp or Red Cherry Shrimp, that are good tank mates for bettas. They are filter feeders and prefer to hide on the bottom or in plants. You can keep a few in the tank along with your betta.
Snails: Species such as Apple or Malaysian Trumpet snails feed on algae in the tank and are non-threatening to bettas. They are more active at night when your betta is resting. If you include them in your betta environment, keep a lid on the tank, so they do not escape.
Add tankmates to the aquarium a week or two before you add the betta to allow the tank mates to establish their territories. This will reduce the level of turmoil in the tank as the betta makes its territory.
- Use small schooling species such as tetras or danios as tank mates. They are too small to be threatening to a betta.
- Avoid tankmate species that are known as fin nippers. They will harass bettas.
- Avoid species that are brightly colored or have similar long, flowing fins. Bettas will be aggressive to these species.
- Avoid aggressive, highly territorial species such as cichlids unless one one one or all fish to be maimed.
Meanwhile, the species to avoid are:
Cichlids: They can be as aggressive as bettas and will grow large enough to kill or eat them.
Gouramis: While bettas are a gourami species, gouramis are known fin nippers and would be in constant battles with your betta.
Bettas: Male bettas do best as solitary fish. They do not need other betta’s company to be happy. Female bettas can coexist n small groups of four or so in a large enough tank.
Some keepers manage to cohabitate male and female bettas outside of breeding, but there are no guarantees you will find compatible fish. If you do want to try keeping them together, start with young fish that have not yet developed their fighting instincts.
If the above fails, you can always isolate a betta into its aquarium. As long as there is some aquascaping in the aquarium to keep them occupied, they do fine as solitary fish.
As difficult as it is to get them to tolerate each other, bettas are very successfully bred by experienced keepers who have invested in the time and equipment to propagate their fish.
If you want to try breeding your bettas, you should have a separate breeding tank of at least 10 gallons set up with habitat features, including plenty of moss or grass to capture eggs and help the male build a bubble nest.
To get good, healthy fry, you have to start with good, healthy bettas. Your odds of breeding success greatly increase with fish you have purchased from a reputable breeder. These fish will be of better genetic stock. Bettas are most easily bred at a year to a year and a half of age.
You want both fish to be brightly colored and have intact, flowing fins. To get them in a breeding frame of mind, start feeding them live or frozen meaty proteins. Feed them this way for about a week, and then try a trial introduction. This is where a good clear divider comes into play.
Put the divider in the middle of the tank and place the male on one side and the female on the other. See how they react to each other. Watch the male betta body language. He may begin to go into courtship display.
Displays include approaching the female and turning sideways to show off his colors and fins. This may appear to be threatening but if the male is not charging or bumping the divider, he is courting.
Female bettas will display a barred pattern on their sides. If courtship is in progress, the male will build a bubble nest at the surface of the tank. This is a good time to remove the divider.
Courtship from this point on can resemble a battle with plenty of nipping and body contact. The male and female will lock themselves together several times. As this continues, the female will begin to drop eggs while lying dormant.
The male will begin to pick up the eggs in his mouth and deposit them in the bubble nest.
Once the breeding is complete, it is a good idea to move the female back to her home aquarium. She may attempt to eat some of the eggs, and the male may attack her.
The male will guard the nest for 24 to 36 hours. As the fry hatch, they will try to escape the bubble nest. The male will put them back until they are all hatched.
At this point, some betta males will eat the fry, so it is a good idea to put him back into his home tank.
Feed the fry liquid fry food until they are large enough for baby brine shrimp or similar small, protein foods.
Start your betta adventure with healthy fish purchased from reputable breeders.
- The ideal aquarium size for bettas is 3 to 5 gallons for a single fish, 10 gallons for a betta with tank mates, and 20 gallons or larger if you are trying to keep more than one betta.
- Make sure you home your betta in a proper aquarium with correctly conditioned water at the ideal temperature range. Those are a pH of 6.5 to 8 and a temperature of 75 F to 80 F.
- Make sure the aquarium has a good filtration system with gentle water return.
- Keep the aquarium clean and change the water regularly.
- Don’t let your betta get bored. Add plants, rocks, and structure to give them something to explore.
- Add some variety to their diet. Mix up pellets, flakes, and live or frozen foods.
- Bettas do well in solitary tanks as long as they are not bored.
- You can house them with tank mates that are small, schooling types.
With their brilliant colors and beautiful fin varieties, bettas are easy to keep once you understand what they need to thrive. If you keep and breed bettas, you will be continuing a legacy of fish keeping that goes back more than a thousand years. Bettas are the fish of kings.
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