Do Betta Fish Get Lonely and Bored?

Updated on October 19, 2019
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Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.

Does your betta fish seem lonely or bored?
Does your betta fish seem lonely or bored? | Source

Do Betta Fish Get Lonely?

Your betta fish might look lonely, puttering around the tank all by himself, but rest assured that he isn’t. In fact, given a choice, your betta would prefer to be alone. That’s because, while they are beautiful and elegant tropical fish, bettas are also highly territorial and aggressive.

Wild male bettas live a solitary existence and stick to their own territory. When they do run into each other, they will often fight on sight. This is why you should never keep two male betta fish in the same tank.

Even though the fish available to aquarium hobbyists have been bred for generations, they still exhibit this ornery disposition, sometimes even toward other species. In your aquarium, the last thing your betta wants is some other fish in his face all the time.

So, how can we know what a betta fish really wants? By considering their behaviors, habits, care needs and wild habitat we can presume their natural inclinations with a fairly high degree of certainty. When it comes to managing aquarium fish this is the best we can do.

To do otherwise makes it too easy to make false assumptions. And, too easy to apply human emotions to a situation that really has nothing to do with us. We may assume because we would be lonely living in solitary confinement, a betta fish must be as well.

Not so. Your betta fish is a different kind of critter, with different needs and concerns, who can live happily by himself.

Do Betta Fish Get Bored?

Your betta fish does not get bored, at least not in the way you might be thinking. If all of your betta’s care needs are met he is going to be a happy little guy, with few worries in the world. He does not need a hobby, and he spends none of his time pondering the meaning of life and his place in this vast universe.

Unfortunately, many of the behaviors that we fish keepers interpret as boredom are indicators of greater problems. It may look like your betta is bored when he is actually stressed out.

  • Glass surfing is when a fish constantly swims up and down the aquarium glass due to stress.
  • Betta fish hide to feel secure, but if he is hiding too much it could be a sign something is wrong.
  • If your betta is wedging himself behind decorations there may be a problem.
  • Some bettas sleep by sitting on the bottom or on plant leaves, but if he does this excessively and never swims around at all it could be a bad sign.

When betta fish are stressed some possible causes include poor water conditions, excessive current or too much direct sunlight. While odd behaviors in themselves aren’t automatically a cause for concern, watch for patterns that may indicate something is wrong. Stress is one of the biggest reasons betta fish die too soon.

But if you are really concerned about your betta fish being bored there are some things you can do. There are “exercise mirrors” that let him see his own reflection, which he will flare at because he thinks it is another fish. If you choose to try this I suggest only allowing him to do it for short periods of time so he doesn’t get stressed out.

Some people like to try to play with their betta fish. My sister used the R2 Fish School to “train” her betta to do tricks. It was pretty funny, and even though the fish may not have been less bored, at least she was. If you try this please be careful, follow the instructions, and don’t do anything that will stress out or harm your fish.

Bettas fish do not need friends, and can live by themselves just fine.
Bettas fish do not need friends, and can live by themselves just fine. | Source

Bettas With Other Fish

I’ve written a guide to keeping betta fish in a community tank, which will tell you everything you need to know about betta fish and tank mates. For the purposes of this article, I’ll hit the important points, plus go over a few more issues specific to this topic.

So, can you keep a betta fish with other fish? Yes, you can, if you do it correctly. If you want to try it consider:

  • A tank that is larger than 10 gallons.
  • No aggressive tankmates.
  • No fin nippers.
  • No other anabantids.
  • No brightly colored fish.
  • No fish that resemble a betta.
  • A gentle current.
  • Plenty of hiding spots.

You also want to make sure you have a backup plan (small tank or bowl) in case things go badly.

However, before you toss your beloved betta in there with a bunch of other fish, take a moment to consider why you are doing it.

Is it because you are worried that your betta is bored? Or, is it because you are bored?

Look, there is nothing wrong with keeping a betta in a community tank because you enjoy it. That’s the whole reason we keep fish – because we enjoy it. If you do it correctly, your betta can be just as healthy and content as he would be in his own tank. Just don’t put your betta in a situation with other fish only because you think he is lonely or bored.

Remember: Bettas don’t need friends! They are solitary fish that prefer to keep to themselves. They aren’t going to enjoy the presence of other fish, but they may be able to live alongside them without issue.

Female Betta Fish

What about female betta fish living with males? Surely a male betta would tolerate a lovely lady sharing his tank with him to help alleviate his loneliness, right?

Maybe not. Though male bettas don’t react to females as dramatically as they do other males, there is still a chance that he may act aggressively toward her. For that reason, it is not advisable to keep male and female bettas together in the same tank.

The exception, of course, is for breeding purposes. Breeding fish is best left to people who know what they are doing and have a plan for the fry. There are already enough betta fish sitting in plastic cups in the pet stores of the world. Unless you have a solid plan and are willing to do the work and research, there is no reason to try to breed your betta fish.

Female bettas, on the other hand, can live with other female bettas. But, having only two or three of them is not a good idea. Even females are ornery, and the chances of aggression are high.

Instead, some aquarists maintain “sorority tanks” with five or more female betta fish. This helps to reduce aggression from a dominant fish, whose attention will be spread out to several other fish instead of focusing on just one.

Female bettas should not be kept with males, but may do well in sorority tanks.
Female bettas should not be kept with males, but may do well in sorority tanks. | Source

Betta Fish Like to Be Alone

It’s natural to look at a little fish all by himself in a tank and think about what a lonely existence he must have. We may even pictures ourselves in that tank, metaphorically, and feel bad for him. But acting on those feelings by moving him to a community tank, adding fish to his tank, or creating stimuli that could be harmful to him may be a bad decision.

Your betta fish likes to be alone, and that's okay. He still requires a quality living environment that includes heat and filtration, clean water, good food, and the correct size tank. He just isn’t keen on sharing it with anyone.

You can keep a betta in a community tank with other fish if you do so wisely. Just be aware that you aren’t doing it for him. He isn’t going to be happy to see other fish, and the best outcome you should expect is that he is indifferent to them. You are doing it for you because you want to see your beautiful betta swimming around with other fish.

There is definitely nothing wrong with that, as long as you take the right precautions and have a backup plan if things go wrong.

Now that you have better insight into what is going on in your betta’s tiny little head, hopefully, you won’t worry about him being lonely or bored any more. Instead, concentrate on keeping his tank clean, healthy, and stress-free so he can live a long, happy life – by himself.

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.

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