Tank Mates for Bettas and Betta Fish in a Community Tank
Can a Betta Fish Live in a Community Tank?
If you have a single male betta fish, you may be thinking of finding some tank mates to keep him company or adding him into a community tank environment so he isn't so lonely. However, you also know that male betta fish have a fierce reputation for fighting, and you might fear that any other fish he comes across will be in for a bruising.
So, can you keep any tank mates in your betta's tank? Is there any way he can live in a community tank without issues? The answer to both questions is maybe. This article intends to dispel some of the myths about betta fish and give you some practical advice about choosing tank mates.
First, rest assured, your betta is not lonely. Bettas are not shoaling fish, nor are they puppies, kittens, or people. We tend to attach human emotions to fish, but your betta has his own concerns in life and friendship is not among them. It's important to realize this from the beginning and not make any decisions based on your personal feelings—which your betta surely does not share.
It is also helpful to learn as much as you can about betta behavior before considering adding anyone to his tank. Much of your success in keeping a betta with other fish will depend on his temperament. Some bettas are more aggressive and some are more docile. Always have a backup plan—like a bowl or small tank—in case trouble starts, and you have to get him out of there.
The best reaction you can hope for from your betta in regard to any other fish or critter is tolerance and indifference. The worst, of course, is aggression. It's far better to have a betta fish in a single-specimen tank than to have him stressed out all the time in a community tank. You need to judge his interaction with other fish and determine what is right for him.
As responsible fish keepers, we want to provide the best care for our betta fish that we can, which may possibly mean tank mates.
Top 10 Best Betta Fish Tank Mates
Here is a list of ten recommendations for betta fish tank mates. Before you make any decisions, please read this article in full. There are several key points you need to consider when stocking your tank, most importantly that you’ll never really know how your betta (or any other fish) is going to behave until he is in a community setting. For that reason, always have a backup plan in case things go wrong!
Any fish listed here should be kept in a tank larger than ten gallons, if you intend to add a betta. I've also included a few recommendations for critters, which would be better choices for a ten-gallon tank.
- Cory Catfish: Cories are just about the most innocuous fish you are going to find. They should be kept in small shoals of six or more, and they’ll spend most of their time on the bottom, out of your betta’s way.
- Neon Tetras: Neons are peaceful fish that should be kept in schools of six, but more is better. They will keep to themselves, but maintain a wary watch over them. They can get nippy when stressed, or when tank conditions deteriorate.
- Snails: Zebra snails, apple snails or mystery snails can be great tank mates for bettas in tanks ten gallons are bigger. Watch out for betta picking on them.
- Otocinclus catfish: Otos are little algae eaters that will fade into the background, but will also clean the glass like tiny plecos. They aren’t going to bother your betta, and chances are he isn’t going to bother them.
- Ghost Shrimp: Shrimp can be fun to watch, but be careful your betta doesn’t try to eat them. In the best-case scenario they will get along just fine.
- Kuhli Loach: Like cories, the kuhli loach will stick to the bottom, and most likely hide during daylight hours. They are scavengers, and your betta might not even know they are there.
- African Dwarf Frog: Another critter you might consider for a ten-gallon tank or larger, the African dwarf is a good match for a betta fish. Be careful your betta doesn’t pick on the at the water surface.
- Harlequin Rasbora: These are among the most colorful little fish you can add to your tank, but their form is broken up by a black spot of their sides. Keep them in a shoal of six or more.
- Bristlenose Pleco: I typically don’t recommend plecos in my articles, because most grow to sizes far too large for the typical home aquarium. But the bristlenose will only reach a length of five inches or so, and can be a useful algae eater in a betta tank.
- Ember Tetra: If you have a large tank you may want several schools or small, peaceful tetras to live with your betta fish. There are a few to choose from, including the cardinal tetra, which is quite similar to the neon. But because of their size and temperament you may first want to consider the ember tetra.
Remember: This list is based on generalities. You never know how an individual betta is going to react to any of these fish.
How Big Should Your Community Tank Be?
If you already have a betta fish and you want to add another fish or two to his tank, the first thing you need think about is tank size. I'm going to give you some advice here that you might not like to hear.
- If you currently have your betta fish in a tank smaller than ten gallons, please do not add any more fish to his tank. In a tank smaller than ten gallons he is much better off alone, even if you have the necessary heat and filtration for tropical fish.
- In a ten-gallon tank, only add critters as tank mates. This means snails, shrimp, frogs, etc. Snails move slowly and stick to the glass or bottom. Ghost shrimp putter around minding their own business. Frogs float at the top of the water most of the time. These guys won't (in theory) stress a betta out like other fish darting around them
- If you wish to have other fish live with your betta, you need to consider an aquarium larger than ten gallons. Bettas are not social fish, and they do lot like to be forced into close proximity with other species. They need a calm, tranquil tank with plenty of space.
Establish a Tank Before Adding Your Betta
Here's the another piece of advice that will help improve your chance of success. You might not like this one either. It is far better to add a betta to an established aquarium than to add other creatures in with him in his environment.
In other words, if you plan to have tank mates for your betta fish, you should establish the tank first, then add your betta. This reduces the possibility of aggression where your betta may feel like his territory is invaded by other fish.
If you have your betta in a small tank or bowl and you want tank mates for him, this is the perfect opportunity to upgrade his living situation by putting together a ten-gallon tank where he is the star. But don't add him in there until the tank is cycled and established, and the other animals are in residence.
How Many Tank Mates for Your Betta?
There are easy ways to estimate the number of fish you should have in any given tank, and there are even calculators you can use online. In my opinion it is far better to consider the temperament and needs of the fish you intend to stock.
Some fish are very social. Shoaling fish like to have other fish around, especially those that are like them. Some fish should be kept in pairs or trios. Those fish are good in community tank settings.
Betta fish can be too (which is the point of this article), but they are loners and you need to give them space or else they get stressed and may lash out at other fish. Worse, other fish may pick on them constantly.
Stress is the big issue. Shoaling fish are less stressed with other fish are around them. Betta fish are more stressed when surrounded by other fish.
Betta Tank Mates for a 10-Gallon Tank
If you're planning a ten-gallon tank, you need to be very careful about his tank mates. It's a good idea to consider critters instead of fish, as they are much less likely to provoke aggression.
You still need to pay very close attention to your betta's interaction with these other animals, and if things go bad, get him—or them—out of there. For reasons known only to him, your betta may decide he doesn't like the look of any of the critters listed below and may constantly be on the attack. Watch closely and always have a backup plan!
Some critters to consider:
- Apple snails: These guys come with their own armor. Some betta fish might try to pick on them, but they can retreat into their shells in defense. One of these guys in a ten-gallon with your betta is fine. Feed them algae wafers.
- African dwarf frogs: They'll float along the top of the water, and like bettas, they can get along in a low-flow filtration environment. Adding a couple of them to your tank makes for an interesting environment. Make sure you have a secure lid on your tank and watch for betta picking on them at the surface.
- Ghost shrimp: These busy little guys are fun to watch, but make sure your betta doesn't think they are lunch. They're scavengers so they'll help keep the tank tidy, and they don't produce a lot of waste. You can have a little school of five of them with your betta.
How to Keep Your Betta Safe in a Community Tank
Betta fish can live in community tanks, under the right circumstances. In fact, under the best circumstances, your betta will have a far better quality of life in a community tank than he would have in a tank by himself.
I talked earlier about how betta fish are not social, and they need space away from other fish in order to avoid stress. The problem is, there simply isn't enough space in a ten-gallon or smaller tank. The other fish are going to be right on top of them.
For this reason I recommend tanks larger than ten gallons if you wish to keep an array of different fish species with your betta. Even then, it is wise to plan your stocking conservatively.
Because community tanks are usually larger and healthier, your betta is generally in a better environment than in a small tank. And, even though there is a widespread misconception that a betta prefers small spaces, he will appreciate the extra swimming room.
But there are hazards as well. You might think the danger is to your other fish, and if you turn your back, your betta will work them over like Rocky punching his way through a meat locker. That can happen for sure.
However, more often it is the betta who is in danger. Because of his long, flowing fins he can be picked on and nipped at by other fish, even some who seem otherwise docile.
If you intend to keep a betta fish with other fish, you need to realize what you are getting yourself, and him, into. There are a few precautions you can take when stocking your tank to keep the dust-ups to a minimum. Below is a quick checklist:
8 Rules for Keeping Betta Fish in a Community Tank
- When establishing a community tank where your betta is the focal point it's a good idea to add him to a tank that's already established in order to cut down on territorial issues.
- Make sure there are no fin-nippers in the tank. Barbs and some tetras, even little neons, may find a betta's flowing mane irresistible.
- Beware of other semi-aggressive fish. There are a few different reasons a fish may be considered semi-aggressive. Make sure you understand the temperaments of the other fish in the tank before introducing a betta.
- Avoid other anabantids. Gourami, in particular, may invoke a strong reaction in your betta, and vice versa. Juvenile spotted climbing perch present another potential conflict, not only because they are anabantids, but because they will eventually get big enough to eat your betta!
- Avoid fish that look like him. Fish with long, flowing fins such as fancy guppies and lyre-tail mollies may be close enough in looks to convince a betta there is another male in the tank.
- Aim for a serene tank. Betta fish don't like fast-moving currents or a lot of action. Despite their reputation as the ninjas of the tropical fish world, they really can't move all that fast and any fish zipping around them may be seen as a threat.
- Make sure there are lots of hiding spots. Even in a single-specimen tank, you should make sure your betta fish has a hiding spot where he can escape from the world. This is even more important in a community tank.
- This should go without saying, but never, ever, put two male Betta fish in the same aquarium together, unless they are separated by a partition.
Can Bettas Live With Goldfish?
It may seem like a no-brainer that bettas and goldfish would make great tank mates. After all, both are often kept in bowls. But if you take the time to learn more about goldfish care, you’ll see there are some very good reasons that this is a bad idea.
- Goldfish prefer water temperatures slightly cooler than bettas. This means one of them will be under stress at all times, and that’s not a humane way to go about fish keeping.
- Goldfish pollute the water very quickly. They require heavy filtration, and the amount of waste they produce would be stressful for a betta.
- Goldfish grow much too large for the typical betta tank. While a betta fish will thrive in a ten-gallon tank, all varieties of goldfish will quickly outgrow such a setup.
- There is also the danger of conflict between the two. While goldfish are generally docile, they are colorful and often have flowing fins, which has the potential to provoke aggression in a male betta.
For these reasons, it is not advisable to consider betta and goldfish as tank mates. Goldfish are best kept with others of their kind, in a habitat assembled specifically for their needs. Just like bettas, goldfish do not belong in bowls.
Can Female Bettas Live in a Community Tank?
Female betta fish are not not nearly as popular as males. They have shorter fins, and they aren't usually as colorful. However, they can do fine in a community tank, and the same rules apply. While they don't fight like males, they can still be aggressive at times.
Can Female and Male Bettas Live Together?
I always advise against keeping male and female bettas together unless you are a breeder who knows what you are doing. There is a risk of conflict there, with the male potentially attacking the female.
Some fish keepers have all-female betta "sorority tanks". The key there is to have five or six females, because they will establish a pecking order and the strongest fish may bully the weaker ones.
Have a Backup Plan!
Ultimately, your success with tank mates will come down to the temperament of your betta, and that of your other fish. Even if you follow all of the suggestions in this article, there is still a possibility your betta will not get along in a community tank or tolerate any other fish or critter in his environment.
Never attempt to keep your betta with other fish without a backup plan in case it doesn't work out. Have a small tank or bowl handy that you can whisk him into should trouble start. A little flaring at a passing fish now and then isn't a problem, but if he's constantly looking for a fight, he needs to come out for his own good.
If you find your betta fish tucked into a corner, it may be because he's getting picked on and can't find any other hiding spot. Note his fin condition and if it looks like he's been harassed, get him into a safer environment immediately.
Try to make the switch to a community tank or tankmate situation during a time period where you can monitor the results for a few days. Don't just wish him luck and toss him in. Make sure you keep a close eye on the situation until you know it is okay.
I hope you choose to keep your betta fish in a safe environment, whether it's a community tank, a ten-gallon with tankmates, or a single-specimen tank.
The Betta Tank Poll
Have you ever kept a Betta fish in a community tank or with other tank mates?
Questions & Answers
Why does my betta tank get cloudy after a few days? I have added biological booster, but that does not seem to help.
Betta tanks can get cloudy for several reasons, including overfeeding, algae blooms and bacterial blooms.
Overfeeding is the easiest to check off the list. Your fish only needs a small pinch of food or about three pellets per day. If you are giving him more than that, you may be starting a cascade that leads to a cloudy tank. After a water change, give him a day of fasting, and then get him back on track with a feeding schedule.
Overfeeding and excess waste can also lead to algae and bacterial blooms. Algae blooms can occur when nitrogen levels from decaying materials rise in your tank, giving the algae a food supply they can thrive on.
Excess sunlight can also cause an algae bloom, so make sure not to place your betta tank in the sun. Algae are like plants, and anything that makes a plant grow will encourage algae growth.
Bacterial blooms often occur after water changes, and again excess waste can be to blame. Healthy bacteria are good, but when their numbers grow rapidly, it can cloud the water. They will balance out over time, and adding biological booster in this situation will only exacerbate the situation.
You can reduce the chances of a bacterial bloom by making sure you don’t remove a huge section of the bacterial population when you perform a water change. Perform a partial water change on tanks with filters (25-30%) and do not remove all of the filter elements at one time if you can help it.
Basic tank maintenance goes a long way when it comes to reducing the chances of cloudy water. Performing regular partial water changes, vacuuming the gravel to remove excess waste, and following a smart feeding schedule are three big things you can do to keep the water clean and healthy for your betta.Helpful 11
I have a betta fish and he is very old. Will he still be aggressive to other fish?
He very well may be. He doesn’t know he’s an old man, and the same instincts he had as a younger betta are likely still there. Just like any other betta, he may get along with tankmates, or he may not.
My concern would be more for his health and safety. As an older fish he is probably a little weaker, and his immune system may not be what it used to be. The danger of putting a betta with other fish is only partially about him attacking the other fish. There is also a chance they could bully him or pick at his fins. For any betta that would be incredibly stressful, but for an older fish it could be fatal.
Why not give him his own beautiful 5-gallon tank and let him live out his final days in peace? Curmudgeonly old betta fish probably don’t appreciate annoying young guppies zipping around them. Less stress for him, and he might even live longer.Helpful 6