Finatics enjoys writing about animal care and is "owned" by a guinea pig, four hermit crabs, three African dwarf frogs, and a betta fish.
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!
alleria on July 26, 2020:
i have a betta male in my 55g and hes good... hes with mollys ,tetras, frogs,snails, guppies,swordtails,catfish(corycads,plecos,spotted,cuckoo) n they all seem to get along.
pierce on November 26, 2013:
I have two bettas in separate tanks I love them both o bits, I just put one in a bigger tank but his heater went crazy and overheated him!!! He is still alive but looks awful!! He is eating a little bit, I have lowered the temperature to normal, what can I do for him?
FullOfLoveSites from United States on October 02, 2013:
Thanks for your valuable tips. I failed in taking care of my betas but I hope i'll do better the second time around if I'm going to have pet fishies again. Up and useful.
Bert on April 10, 2013:
mine died last yeAr.
I might get another one
craig burrows on March 02, 2013:
i have a 4ft tank would my simease fish be ok if i add 2 females and a couple of neons
kittykat 1706 on November 09, 2012:
I HAD a Siamese fish and he died. :(
He died of over heat and sooo my advice is like keep him or her out of the sun!!!!!!!
Pop on October 06, 2012:
Hi my Siamese fighting fish is bored out of its mind what can I do
DD on October 06, 2012:
Hey I got my beta with 2 guppies he is fine with them but I am worried that he might turn psycho and eat them since they are very small what shoul I do if it does happen?
finatics (author) on June 02, 2012:
@Carolina, you would have to change the bowl water very often to replace a proper-sized tank with a filter, unfortunately, and it's not a very good lifestyle for the fish.
@Worried, this is normally for newly arrived fish as why are stressed about their new environment
@fighting fish, depends on what you believe in :)
Worried on May 03, 2012:
My Betta just got home yesterday but he doesn't really swim around much, mostly he just rests on the gravel in the bottom of the tank. Is this normal???
Carolina on April 15, 2012:
I just got a betta fish 2 days ago and I have him in a bowl with rocks on the bottom I was wondering if you absolutely have to have a filter and a heater or could you just check the tempeture. And if you didn't have a filter how often would you change the water??? : )
finatics (author) on April 07, 2012:
@Anie, unfortunately, it's your friend's choice as to whether she's going to get a new betta or not, and whether she's going to take good care of it. However, kudos to you for helping out a sick fish!
Anie on January 03, 2012:
I just got a betta fish from a close friend. As soon as I look at the fish it is so sick. It has ICK and all its fins are ripped due to having plastic plant in tank. (plastic plants are NOT good, the edges will rip and shred you betta's beautifull fins.). I gave it the ICK medicin and it works well. Though It is healthy now, she is planning on getting another betta. (she gave me one since I diden't know to much info about betta's until I looked here). And I worry she will put that one at risk too. Oh well. :(
Jenafran from Tampa Bay Florida on November 25, 2011:
Beautiful and Interesting. Great betta info.
Lisa on October 12, 2011:
My male beta, Ares has been adorable and loving towards me for about a month. He's healthy and makes his bubble nest. He's in a good tank (from your article) but now, when I go to feed him, he gets aggressive. I don't understand why he's doing that....
I have 2 Males in separate tanks and cardboard between them so they don't ram into the sides of their homes. They're both silly. Is my fish sick or is he just having beta PMS?
finatics (author) on October 17, 2010:
@Ashley, yeah, some bettas just have nasty temperaments and won't let anyone else live with him xD And having an extra tank on hand is an excellent idea.
Ashley on September 08, 2010:
Don't get me wrong, I love my betta even if he loves my cat more than he does me...I had first put my betta in a community tank with white cloud minnows, a mystery snail, and an algae shrimp. Everything went great for about four month, then my betta had a psychotic break! He started eating the fins off of the minnows and even killing a few, then he went after the snail (he did suffer a few scrapes from the snail snapping shut on the bettas face.) I ended up buying him a 2 gallon tank of his own. He doesn't like how small it is, but I don't have space for more at this point.
When I first got him I made sure he was not too aggressive by testing his flaring when he saw other bettas. I introduced him last into the tank to make sure he didn't feel like his own territory was being invaded. He went through a short period of pacing the font of the tank, but then he seemed to settle right in...then he didn't. So from personal experience I would say if you would like to try a betta community, have a stand by tank ready and if you see aggression don't wait to see if it gets better or worse because it will get worse.