Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Apple #156: Betta Fish

I got a fish today. I chose a Betta fish because it seemed like they're relatively easy to take care of. The one I picked out has a bluish-green body with some red mixed in here and there, and his fins are a bright turquoise blue. He seemed more active than some of the others, and I thought his coloring was especially pretty. I haven't named him yet, but I have taken to addressing him as Fishy Fish. As in, "Hey, Fishy Fish, how are you doing in there?" He can't answer me, of course, but he seems to be doing all right.

This is close to what my fish looks like, except the body of mine is a little darker.
This Betta's name is Troy. (Photo from Pet of the Day)

  • Bettas live in shallow ponds or rice paddies or even slow-moving streams in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and parts of China.
  • These parts of the world are pretty hot and humid, so that's how these fish like their water. If the temperature of the water in their bowl or aquarium drops below 75 degrees F, the Betta fish will get sluggish and listless and unhappy. They're happiest when the water temperature is around 80 degrees.
  • Even though they like it warm, they don't like to be in direct sunlight.
  • The males are extremely territorial, and if one male is in proximity to another, they will flare their fins most dramatically and try to fight each other for mating rights. If you do get more than one male, keep them in separate tanks. Also, it's best not to put the tanks next to each other where they can see each other, but put a little distance between them or perhaps a picture of a nice underwater scene or something.
  • Females, on the other hand, generally will not fight each other.

Female Betta. Notice how much shorter her fins are than the male's.
(Photo from Animal Port)

  • Since Thailand used to be called Siam, and since the males of this species often fight with each other, Bettas are also known as Siamese fighting fish.
  • Bettas have a special respiratory organ that allows them to breathe oxygen directly from the water's surface. In fact, they can only breathe at all if they have access to the surface of the water. What this means for you, the owner, is make sure not to put anything in the tank that will crowd the surface, and don't cover the tank, either. While many Betta owners say that aerators can help, it is not necessary to put an aerator in a Betta's tank for it to live happily.
  • It's important not to overfeed Bettas. They don't eat much food in a day, and if you're feeding them dried food meant for Bettas, maybe three or four pellets a day will be enough. You'll have to watch your fish to see how much he wants, but something in that neighborhood should be about right. If you put too much food in the bowl, the fish won't eat it, and the food will rot, which means it will produce toxins and mess up your fish's water.
  • It is also important to make sure your fish's water is fresh and clean. I've seen recommendations that say to change the water once a week, to change at least half the water in the tank once a week, or to change about 20% of the water each day. So there doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule on this, but probably the cleaner the water, the happier your fish will be. But you don't want to go scooping up your fish into a little net and moving him to another tank every day, either. Based on what I've read, I'd say that changing half the water once a week is probably the least amount you could do and keep your fish alive.
  • You can't just put tapwater into the bowl, however. Tapwater has chlorine in it, and that will kill your fish. Some fish tank kits come with tablets that take out the chlorine (the kit I bought had these), and you can either use those tablets, or use springwater that's available in most grocery stores, or you can "age" the water from your tap. If you let tapwater sit out for 24 to 48 hours, the chlorine will dissipate on its own. Then it's safe to put your fish in the water.

These are the water treatment tablets that came with my kit.
(Photo from Aquarium Parts West)

  • The guy at the pet store also told me that the bacteria on the gravel at the bottom of the tank is actually good to have, to some extent. It helps eat up the refuse that your fish will produce. But that bacteria can get out of hand, so about once a month, it's a good idea to rinse out the gravel.
  • Don't use soap on the tank or the gravel or anything else you might put in the tank. To fish, soap is a toxin.
  • It's become popular to sell flower vases with lilies growing in them as tanks for Bettas. While this looks pretty, Bettas in fact don't really like to live in flower vases. Many people say that the fish will eat the lily roots, but they only do this when they are starving. Normally, Bettas prefer bugs or dried mosquito larvae (which is what most Betta fish food is made of). Also, the plant's roots release substances in the water that are toxic to the fish, or the plant may grow in such a way that the fish can't get to the surface where it needs to breathe.

This is a no-no. Although the fish can access the immediate surface of the water, the plant is crowding out the top of the vase, which restricts the oxygen that can get to the water's surface. Also, if any roots come loose they can rot in the water.
(Photo from Betta Talk)

  • Bettas do like to have a place to hide, or a little nook to call their own, so it's a good idea to give them some structured thing in the tank, like a plant or a shell or a hunk of rock that has a niche in it where the fish can hang out.
  • If you have a male Betta (and because of their coloring, most people buy males), you might notice that strange-looking bubbles are appearing near the surface of the water. These bubbles are your fish's way of building a sort of nest for any baby fishlings (or fry) he might have. When Bettas mate, the male first produces the bubbles, the female comes along and they do their thing, and then when she spawns eggs, he picks them up in his mouth and puts them in the bubbles he's made to keep them safe. So if bubbles appear in your fish's tank, it means he's healthy and he's looking to find a mate.

This Betta is in a large tank and has made huge bubble nest.
(Photo from Jim Sonnier's page)

  • If you're interested in breeding Betta fish, you'll do better if you give the fish a much larger tank, make sure you keep the water temperature up, and aerate the tank as well. Live plants will also help to improve the water quality.
  • Generally, Betta fish live for about two years. If its tank is especially well-cared for, the fish may live three years or longer.
For more on my betta fish see later entries on betta fish food and bubble nests and water treatment and more bubble nests.

Sources, Shirlie Sharpe's article on Siamese Fighting Fish
Ask the Vet, Betta or beta fish care
Aquarium, Betta Fish Vase
Wikipedia, Siamese Fighting Fish


  1. thank you! i found this very helpful and my beta thanks you too!

  2. betta fish cannot live in dirty water also in the small vase bacoz he or she cannot breath huh lolzzz

  3. otherwise thankyou for showing the pics of betta it will help me very much for taking good care of my betta my betta is in red colour

  4. This was very helpful to my granddaughter & I . Thank You

  5. what plants will work best with my hubbys betta fish he has a small betta tank we got from petsmart?


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