Fish Care: Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta)
The Siamese fighting fish, more commonly known as the betta fish, is one of the most popular aquarium fishes kept today. They are known for their elaborate fins, their easy care, and their extreme aggression towards any fish they perceive to be a male. Betta fish have a lot of character, and if you own more than one, you'll discover they have very different personalities—for instance, some are more aggressive and others more peaceful.
Many myths surround the betta fish, which can lead to improper care and premature death. Below, you'll find some basic facts you need to know before you get a betta fish, including their natural habitat, diet, housing, compatible tankmates, and equipment you must have.
The Basics of Bettas
Life Span: Up to five years, occasionally longer
Adult Size: 3 inches
Tank Size: 2.5+ gallons
Temperature: 75–80 degrees Fahrenheit
Scientific name: Betta splendens
Distribution: Thailand and Cambodia
Temperament: Males are aggressive towards fish that resemble other male bettas. Females are more peaceful, but if kept in groups, they will establish a hierachy.
Bettas in the wild are distributed around Thailand and Cambodia, where they inhabit rice paddies and shallow waters. To survive in these low-oxygenated waters, they have developed a labyrinth organ that allows them to draw oxygen directly from the air, rather than relying solely on their gills. They live in a warm, tropical climate and bettas in captivity should be supplied with a heater. The rice paddies of Thailand and Cambodia are shallow, but vast, accommodating hundreds of gallons of water.
- Tank size: Bettas are not the most active of fish, and they don't need a very large tank to stay healthy. However, they still need swimming room and space for a heater, filter, and hiding place. I recommend you keep them in a minimum of 2.5 gallons of water.
- Decor: Bettas often like to perch upon aquarium decorations. They should be supplied with a place to hide if they are stressed, whether it is an aquarium plant or some other form of shelter.
- Substrate: There are a lot of substrates suitable for bettas- sand, gravel, or bare-bottom will do just fine. However, if the gravel is small enough, the betta can swallow and choke on it when foraging for food, so rocks larger than the fish's mouth is recommended.
- Lighting: Lighting is optional; however, you should provide some way of letting them know when it's day and night. Also, the lights should be turned off at night so the betta can get some rest as well.
- Equipment: Bettas are tropical fish, and for them to be kept happy and healthy they need a filter and heater. The filter should be soft enough so the fish does not get caught in the current. The heater should have a thermometer so you can make sure them temperature stays between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A gravel vacuum and bucket can be used to perform weekly water changes. Also, testing kits are recommended to ensure the water quality is high.
Bettas are carnivorous, meaning they eat only animal matter, but it's healthy to supplement some vegetables in their diet. Like all fish, they should be given a varied diet to ensure they are receiving all the nutrients they need. Fortunately, there is a wide range of food they can be given, including:
- Tropical fish flakes/pellets
- Small insects, including wingless fruit flies
- Bloodworms (frozen, freeze-dried, or live)
- Brine shrimp (frozen, freeze-dried, or live)
- Krill (frozen, freeze-dried, or live)
- Mosquito larvae (if you harvest them from your backyard make sure you don't feed your betta toxic chemicals like fertilizer along with it!)
- Fish fry
When it comes to feeding fish, less is more. It's much less healthy for them to eat too much than too little. Overfeeding can cause obesity and bad water quality, and these can lead to disease and even death. Feeding two small meals a day will be sufficient for your betta, no matter how much s/he begs! It's good to skip feeding them every once in a while, to ensure their tummies aren't getting too round.
Male or Female?
While males are generally showier than females, they are much more aggressive and can only be kept with fish that are plain and short-finned. Females, on the other hand, are more peaceful and can even be kept with other females. However, if you decide to keep more than one female betta fish, you should keep them in groups of 4+ as they will establish a hierarchy (sometimes described as a sorority) and the dominant betta will bully her subordinates. This way, the bullying is spread around and not just one fish being picked on.
It should be noted that not all males are very aggressive and not all females are peaceful. Some girl bettas can be very belligerent and harm all the others. If this happens, you need to separate her immediately.
There are many animals that bettas can be kept with, as long as the owner is watchful of aggression. Colorful fish with long fins should be avoided, as males could nip or even attack them. If you buy tankmates for your betta, you must make sure you can provide for both of their needs. Here are some examples of suitable tankmates for the Siamese fighting fish:
- Some bottom dwellers like Corydoras catfish
- Many peaceful schooling tetras, including neon tetras
- African dwarf frogs (make sure not to mistake them for African clawed frogs.) For more on caring for dwarf frogs, check out African Dwarf Frog Care.
- Female guppies
- Aquatic snails, like the mystery snail
No Bowls, Please
Many people who don't know how to properly look after their bettas keep them in tiny vases or fish bowls, in which they lead miserable (and short!) lives. Bowls are not suitable for any fish for these reasons:
- There is no room for heaters, filters, and swimming space. This will leave the water with a constantly fluctuating temperature, dirty water, and a cramped fish
- The betta will be stressed out because their view is distorted, making everything blurry and disproportionately sized. Imagine if huge, scary blobs were walking around your home all day!
- They are liable to jump out of the opening or their bowl. And sometimes toxins can fall into their water and poison them, or pets will fish them out and eat them.
After reading this article, if you decide you still want to own a betta fish, good luck! They are beautiful, intelligent, and entertaining fish and you will find they each have their own personalities. They are not difficult to keep, but there are some things you need to do to make sure they live long, happy lives. I hope that this hub has provided some of what you need to know before you take on the responsibility of caring for a betta fish. Good luck and happy fish keeping!