Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
What Do You Need to Know About Owning a Betta Fish?
Bettas are among the most popular freshwater fish in the aquarium trade. They are beautiful, with their vibrant colors and flowing fins, and relatively easy to care for.
These are hardy fish that have evolved to survive extreme environmental hardships. Unfortunately, this same biology has also led to their abuse.
Some breeders produce bettas in massive numbers and stuff them into small cups that sit stacked on shelves for long periods until someone purchases them. Many live out their ill-fated lives in unheated, unfiltered bowls or inhumane settings such as plant vases or tiny cubes.
Because they are so tough, betta fish can often survive in these horrid conditions.
Many betta owners question none of this, but you are different. You are taking the time to learn about betta fish and their care needs so you can ensure your fish will live out a long, healthy, happy life.
In this article, you will learn about 10 important betta fish facts that can help you make the best decisions for tank setup, care, and feeding for your betta fish. As always, it is important to do as much research as you can about any fish you intend to keep, and the betta is no different.
1. Betta Fish Are Anabantids
An anabantid, or labyrinth fish, is a type of fish with a special organ that allows it to breathe the air above the water. This adaptation makes the betta fish durable in harsh conditions. In the wild, it can survive droughts in stagnant, muddy puddles until the rainy season returns.
Surely, you won’t be keeping your betta in a muddy puddle, so why do you need to know about any of this? Because this trick of evolution that serves the betta fish so well in the wild is the primary reason it is so abused in the aquarium industry.
Many people believe betta fish do not require a filter in their tank. This is a fish that can survive in a dirty, low-oxygen environment. However, it is a persistent betta fish myth that a tiny unfiltered bowl is the best setup. Surviving is not the same as thriving. Bettas do best in clean, oxygenated water just like any other fish.
As we go through the rest of this list, you will see how the tough, hardy betta ends up in some precarious situations simply because it can tolerate them better than almost any other fish.
2. They Don’t Require Tiny Tanks
For every other fish in the aquarium world, we are told to be certain there is enough room in the tank to accommodate it as an adult. Crowded tanks, or aquariums that are too small, are stressful environments where fish are constantly sick and may die long before their time.
Making sure your fish have enough space to thrive is smart, yet this advice goes out the window with the betta fish. Bettas end up in tiny one-gallon tanks, plant vases, cubes, and other horrible situations.
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There is no reason for it, other than a betta can survive where other fish can’t, and that some of these ideas have made people a bunch of money. But if you are interested in keeping your betta healthy, stick to the same rules you’d follow for any other fish. I always recommend at least a five-gallon tank for a single betta.
3. Bettas Are Tropical Fish
Wild betta fish live in Southeast Asia, the same general region as the gourami. We know gouramis are tropical fish, so why aren’t bettas treated as such? Again, it is because they can survive poor conditions.
As tropical fish, bettas require the same warm water temperatures as any other tropical aquarium fish. That means a constant temperature of between 75 and 80 degrees, and it means you are likely going to need a heater for your tank.
If your house temperature falls several degrees at night, the temperature in your small, unheated tank will fall as well. Temperature drops are stressful for fish, and the betta is no different.
4. Bettas Are Territorial
I hope that this is an easy one. I think most people know male betta fish can be aggressive in certain situations. They are territorial, and they will fight, sometimes to the death.
Again, nature has given them the tools to protect their young and ensure the survival of their species. Males build and defend bubble nests, and have little patience for any other fish that wanders near.
When we keep them in the home aquarium, this means, above all else—and this should be a no-brainer—we never put two male betta fish in the same tank together.
5. Even Females Can Be Aggressive
While the males are notorious fighting fish, even the females have a bit of a rough attitude about them. Males and females might show aggression toward each other, as females might toward other females. This means betta keepers who wish to house females should know a few things.
Firstly, unless you are a breeder and you know what you are doing, it typically isn’t a good idea to keep a male and female together. The very real possibility of aggression between them exists, as well as the possibility of unwanted baby bettas.
If you wish to keep females, many betta keepers find success housing them in betta sororities with four, five, or more females in the same tank.
In my opinion, whether you intend to keep either a male or female betta, it is best to keep only one.
6. Betta Fish Can Have Tankmates
Even though betta fish can be ornery, they can make good community fish in certain situations. The key is to follow certain rules that make it more likely your betta will get along in a community setting.
Many people believe a betta in a community tank will be a potential danger to other fish in the tank. That might be true, but more often the other fish harass the betta. That is why it is key to plan carefully if you intend to try this kind of setup.
Above all else, if you intend to try your betta in a community tank, the most important rule is to have a backup plan so you can get him out of there if things go bad.
7. Bettas Are Carnivores
Wild betta fish eat insects, worms, crustaceans, insect larvae, and even small fish. These foods are high in protein, and the foods they eat in captivity should mirror their wild diet as much as possible.
That doesn’t mean you have to catch insects to feed your betta, but you should choose a quality betta pellet or flake to feed your fish. Treats and supplements should include various freeze-dried, live, and frozen foods such as bloodworms, daphnia, and tubifex worms.
While betta fish will eat regular fish food, it is not ideal for them. I hope that you also see why keeping a betta fish in a plant vase is a horrible idea. Betta fish do not eat plant roots unless they are starving!
8. Bettas Love Plants
Keeping a betta in a plant vase is an awful idea. Not only does it deny him the food he needs, but also important access to the water surface.
On the other hand, if possible, it is a great idea to grow live plants in your betta’s tank. This not only gives him a place to hide, but also a place to nap. Yes, betta fish sleep, so don’t be surprised if you see your fish relaxing on a plant leaf. In fact, they even make plastic betta hammocks to enable this behavior in your aquarium.
If you can’t have live plants, realistic plastic, silk, or fabric plants are the next best thing. Some other cool betta decorations include floating logs, driftwood, river rocks, and artificial caves.
Try to avoid designs with sharp edges that might tear your fish’s fragile fins when choosing artificial plants.
Just like with fish, it is important to take some time and research any decoration, plant, or object you intend to put in your betta's tank.
9. Bettas Are Solitary Fish
A key concern among new owners is whether their betta fish is lonely or bored in the tank all by himself. He is not. Bettas are solitary fish, and while they can sometimes live in community setups, the best we can hope for is that they tolerate other fish in the tank.
Schooling fish like neon tetras, for example, are different. They need to live with others of their kind to feel safe and secure. A neon who lives alone will experience a great deal of stress compared to one who lives in a school.
But not bettas. They are fine on their own, and they do not get lonely.
10. Betta Fish Can Jump!
That’s right! They may look a little slow, and usually, they are, but, when startled, a betta can leave an uncovered bowl or tank in a hurry. There are a couple of solutions to this; one being simply to make sure your tank is covered.
The other way to solve this issue is to keep the water level a little lower in the tank so your fish is unable to hop out. Most betta keepers use a combination of these two methods.
Of course, a third way to keep your fish where he belongs is to make his environment as stress-free as possible, but it is impossible to predict what might set him off.
Surviving vs. Thriving
The reasons betta fish die are many and complex. And, even if you do things wrong, there is a good chance your betta fish will survive despite your shortcomings. This leads many people to conclude that their fish is just fine or even prefers poor conditions.
After learning the above facts about betta fish, hopefully, you see the reality of it. Your betta may survive if you make all the wrong choices, but it has a better chance of thriving if you make better decisions.
Taking better care of your betta is obviously a benefit to your betta, but to you as well. While it is impossible to guess how any individual betta fish will act, healthy, well-cared-for fish are typically more active, more vibrant, more disease resistant, and live longer.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Eric Dockett
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on May 16, 2021:
As, I said in the article, they are not "lonely". I also talked about the possibility of keeping them with tank mates in the article.
Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on May 16, 2021:
A nice article on Betta fish .This provided useful information on how to grow them in aquariums and their unique characteristics. One question - Since they are lonely fishes, can we put them with some other fishes inside an aquarium and will that create issues ? Thanks for sharing.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on May 16, 2021:
Thank you, Liz! I hope it makes people think about how they care for this beautiful fish.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 14, 2021:
This is a well-written, informative and well-organised article. There can be no excuse for not caring for betta fish properly after reading this helpful information.