Betta Fish: Information, Care & Community

The Betta fish, Siamese fighting fish, or betta as it’s known by its genus, is an elegant tropical freshwater fish that is popular as a pet and often housed in eclectic home aquariums. In the wild, native to areas like Cambodia and Thailand, the betta inhabits rice paddies and still watered canals.

The ones you see in pet stores are quite different too in both color and size, with wild betta fish having much smaller fins and being predominantly colored in a dull green or brown appearance.They’re a wonderful first pet to teach children the responsibility of caring for something, and are inexpensive to purchase and maintain.

Males and females look drastically different from each other, with males exhibiting the longer beautiful flowing fins. Females are much smaller in size and fin length. With proper care bettas can live anywhere from 2 to 4 years, with some owners having noted lifespans that extended into their teens. Pretty neat huh?

Some History

Let’s explore more of the history of the betta and why everyone knows them for fighting their own kind. Back in the mid to late 1800’s, the King of Thailand took an interest in the betta because of the species’ territorial nature and fighting instinct.

Natives would collect and breed them specifically for fighting matches and this caught the attention of the King for sport. The King would keep his victors close and became so engrossed in the sport that he later sanctioned regular events, taxes, and bets were even placed on the fights.

Despite many believing that bettas fight to the death, that’s not always the case. Typical fights between bettas last only a few minutes before one decides to retreat or dies. This explains why bets were placed on the bravery of each fish back in the 1800’s rather than who would survive the other. After tiring from battle, one betta will retreat signaling victory to other.

Because the betta’s natural environment in the wild would change so often, they developed the ability to intake oxygen from both the water and the air. This genetic evolutionary trait allows the species to live in water that contains very little oxygen.

If you have a betta as a pet you will see that they come to the surface often to suck air from outside the water. Believe it or not, but a betta can survive outside the water for a period of time as long as they remain wet. There are many pet owner stories of betta’s jumping out of their tanks and surviving for more than a day outside of their tanks.

betta-image2

Behavioral Characteristics

Fish are most known for traveling in large packs or schools, however the betta prefers to be independent both in captivity and the wild. This is the reason that in captivity and placed in the same tank, male bettas will fight with one another. Oddly enough some bettas don’t fight at all.

In the wild this species has more room to be independent and retreat, but in a tank this can lead to territorial matches. After breeding fighting can also occur by a male against the female and therefore they should be separated immediately after.

If a male betta becomes bored, it may  start to bite at it’s own fins which can lead to disease. A tank that is at the very least 2 gallons and contains plants and hiding spots is recommended to prevent this.  Betta fish can live with other fish and play nice so long as the other fish have small fins. Other inhabitants that have bright colors and large fins will often prompt the betta to start biting and killing these fish.

Female bettas in larger groups can actually live together in the same tank as long as it is at least 10 gallons in size. Caution should still be exercised and the owner will need to monitor the ‘sorority’ of female bettas to ensure that they do not start to fight each other. If one fish seems to be the aggressor, she may need to be removed and transported to a new tank by herself.

Males and females like to put on shows as they flare their gills out in an effort to attract the opposite sex or as an act of intimidation. When inside a tank, the betta will flare out its gills if it feels threatened or gets frightened. This can be seen by approaching the tank very quickly, or when a male is building and protecting its bubble nest.

Another characteristic when frightened is the appearance of horizontal lines on the bettas sides. The exact opposite, or vertical lines, are prominently displayed during a females attempt to show health and mating readiness.

10 Interesting Facts

  • Betta fish like warm water and will do best at around 79 degrees.
  • Science accounts for a total of 73 species of the betta in the world, with several according to the IUCN Red List being endangered.
  • Overfeeding your betta may lead to the fish not being able to swim to deeper depths of the tank as it becomes obese and bloated. Overfeeding will also lead to an unhealthy and dirty tank much quicker.
  • Breeders have developed variations in colors and fins over time to appeal to pet owners.
  • They are a carnivorous species which means they love meat! To ensure proper health and diet, make sure all pellets are high in fish or shrimp.
  • Bettas have a unique organ called the labyrinth to breathe air outside of the water.
  • Males build bubble nests on the surface of the water to attract females, even if one is not in the tank.
  • Bettas like to jump and sometimes jump right out of the tank! Make sure you have a lid.
  • Microsoft, Inc. has used pictures of bettas on desktop backgrounds during the beta tests of their newer Windows operating systems. This also sheds light on the commonly misspelled name.
  • After mating, the male chases the female away and protects the eggs and the bubble nest where they were laid. If the female is allowed to stay for extended period of time she will begin eating the eggs that she spawned.

 

Female Betta Fish

Anatomy of the Betta Fish

The most unique part of the betta is the labyrinth organ mentioned above. Over time and from living in harsh shallow water environments such as the rice paddies, the betta evolved and is now able to suck air from the water’s surface and immediately absorb the oxygen into the body. Without this adaptation the betta species may not have been able to survive.

Both males and females have an elongated body and vary in color in the wild and in captivity depending on breeding. Their stomachs are extremely tiny and this needs to be taken into consideration when feeding your betta. To put this into some perspective, bettas have two eyes and their stomach is roughly the size of one of their eyes!

All bettas also have visible fins, and gills which are used to consume oxygen into the body from the water.  Lastly, you might wonder how a betta is able to sleep while submerged. The use of the swim bladder allows bettas to control their depth in the water by inflating or deflating this bladder inside their bodies. Suffering from SBD or swim bladder disorder is actually quite common and can result from overfeeding. When you break down all the parts of the betta, they are one awesome fish.

Colorful Betta

Misconceptions

Despite Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens) being sold in pet stores and given as gifts in small cups and vases, they need a larger habitat if they are going to live a healthy and long life. Bettas can also inhabit tanks with other fish species.

Bettas also cannot sustain a healthy life by living in a vase and feeding off of the roots of a plant like many believe is the case. This lack of education on behalf of owners leads to what PETA calls, “being sentenced to a dull, lonely, and slow death from starvation.” Bettas are omnivores in nature, and therefore in captivity need meats and other nutrients to remain healthy.

While the betta can survive at room temperature water, it may impair their immune system or lead to inactivity if the water becomes too cold. Since they thrive at around 79 degrees, it’s important to remember that the air around the tank is always at least a few degrees higher than the actual water temperature.

The average room temperature in a home is 68 degrees, so it’s crucial that you have a heater in colder months if the water temperature drops too low. Failure to do so could lead to health concerns.

Another misconception is that the betta fish does not need a filter because it is used to living in stagnant and dirty water (e.g. large puddles). Ammonia however builds up in the tank from defecation and can hurt the fish over time through fin rot and other diseases.

This leaves you with two options which are either to change the water often, or install a filter to remove the toxins from the water.  The safest way to maintain the healthiest environment is through the use of a slow and gentle filter to prevent their fins from getting sucked into it.

46 Responses

    • Isabel

      I have a male black dragon scaled Crowntail, a male Marbling Half-moon, 2 Crowntail females (one black, the other multicolored), and 3 Veiltail females. 🙂 The Females live in a sorority tank and the males each have their own 3 gallon tanks.

      Reply
    • Patty

      I have a beautiful crown tail male….what I would like to know is one pet store told me I could give him some brine shrimp (occasioally) along with his pellets…..another said not to give him any shrimp,,,,what should i do? He is in a 5 tank with 2 snails, he seems to be happy. Thank you so much, patty

      Reply
      • Bryan

        Hi Patty, you can definitely feed him brine shrimp. The best betta diet is varied, and many pellets are not of the highest quality. Check out our food and feeding page for more information if you’d like.

    • Sara g

      I know it’s a blue male but I’m not sure what specific species. I need to get more educated on it but I love this fish.

      Reply
  1. Sawyer

    -hello,

     I had one batta fish for 3 weeks then my brother put a sailfin suckerfish in the tank, which wasn’t by choice because my brother was watching it while it was out of town. However I did take it out of the tank. Anyway fast forward it died and now I have a new batta fish  and it lives in like an 8 gallon bowl it has two live plants and rocks for it to hid in. No I don’t have a filter system or a heat lamp, but my brother said I wouldn’t need it, and everyone it is taking bets on how long it will live. Could you please tell me what to do to keep my batta fish healthy and happy!!

     PS I’m a poor college student with a stupid twin brother. 

    Reply
    • Bryan

      8 gallons is great. If you don’t have a filter you’ll need to do more frequent water cycling/changes. I would however recommend a heater still as they’re very affordable ($10-15) and will maintain the correct temperature for your betta fish to be healthy and happy and not get sick or stressed. For more detailed information, make sure you read the care page 🙂

      Reply
    • Tabitha

      Dude! My fish died of lack of oxygen because he lived in a bowl! Tanks work best.

      Reply
  2. Nihla

    My betta fish eyes became red and he is making bubbles in water surface.could you please let me know what kind of a problem my betta fish have?

    Reply
    • Bryan

      It’s normal for male Betta fish to make bubbles at the surface they’re called bubble nests and a way for attracting a female for mating. Are you sure his eyes weren’t always red? Sounds like he’s fine and healthy!

      Reply
    • Sadie

      No problem males make a bubble nest which implies it is happy and healthy and loves its environment so much it would gladly mate there. Also, how old is the beta? They can change colors frequently from fry to adult.

      Reply
  3. Flynn

    I have a male short tail betta

    hew has a grey/blue/red body with blue and red fins…… what should i name him??

    Reply
  4. Ali

    Hi, thanks for a nice informative intro to the beta! I often browse the web looking for info on them to make sure mine is being cared for in the best possible way. I have a koi half moon plakat named Betty. When I bought him he was mostly light pink with some red and black – typical pale koi colours, about a week after moving him to a proper tank he went very dark all over and now has a red and black head and the rest of him is black and metallic blue with species of red! Gorgeous fish. I love just watching him swim around and explore his tank. He lives in a 10 gal community tank with 5 ember tetras, and gets on great with them. Gentle filter and heater, just one of those starter 10 gal tank kits you can buy for $50. Most people who visit give me a hard time for keeping him with the tetras but as you said, it is entirely possible. I always had a community tank in mind so when picking my betta from the store I made sure to get one that wasn’t acting as aggresive as the others, but was still looking healthy and moving around. It’s worked out great for me, and I would encourage it for others after careful and thorough research. Thanks,

    Reply
    • Bryan

      Thank you, Ali, and that’s so great to hear about the community tank! I’d love to see some pictures if you ever want to email them or send a direct message on Instagram? You are an awesome betta mom and sounds like you are taking wonderful care of yours.

      Reply
  5. Sophia

    My betta’s name is Fingolfin. He’s a half moon Betta. He might have SBD. I’m not entirely sure. I read on a couple of other sites to not feed him for 3 days and to put him in a smaller container with only a few inches of water so he can get air from the surface. Does this sound right, and how long should I keep him in the smaller container?

    Reply
    • Bryan

      Moving him to another tank isn’t required if the SBD is just being caused by overfeeding/constipation. Fast for 3 days, and monitor bowel movements. Also, consider feeding half a frozen, thawed, boiled pea (no skin) to help with constipation.

      Reply
  6. Jonathan

    I am planning on getting a 2.5 gallon tank with a Betta, but would this size tank be suitable to add one or two nerite snails?

    Reply
    • Bryan

      2.5 is the absolute smallest habitat I’d recommend for a betta fish long term, without any tank mates. Snails can produce a lot of waste and increase the bio load and bad bacteria quickly in small habitats.

      Reply
  7. Maxine

    Hi, I bought a Ammonia testing kit to monitor the levels for my Betta ” Sushie ” when I set up the tank last Friday.
    I did a 50% water change in his bowl after 4 days. The bowl is 6L vol, the pre test came out at 1 ppm on the chart. The reading was the same after the change. I then prepped more water 3L, tested it for a control number and it tested at .50! I’m now wondering, can tap water already contain levels of Ammonia?

    Reply
    • Bryan

      Yes it’s certainly possible, chloramine which can lead to low levels of ammonia. Are you using a conditioner on your tap water prior to adding it? If you are, it should be removing that for you.

      Reply
      • Maxine

        Thanks for the advice Brian, I was just using water straight from the tap. We do have filtered water from the fridge. As I prep water ahead of time the temperature will be no issue. I’ll try it with my next water change.

  8. Shannon Ruoff

    Found names for both of my bettas thanks to your website 🙂 I have a baby male betta, who so far seems to go back and forth between red and purple, named Prometheus, and a full grown male, dark blue, almost black, named Poseidon 🙂

    Reply
  9. Ashley R

    Hi Bryan,

    Hi have a female red betta named Erza. I don’t know what type of betta she is. I got her a few days ago, do you have any advice for new betta owners?

    Reply
  10. CrimsonNoacier

    Hello, I’ve had a male butterfly Betta fish for about 3 months now, and all has been well in terms of his health up until about 2 days ago. When I was going to feed him the usual in the morning ( Betta Bio-Gold Pellets ) along with the occasional bloodworm, daphnia, and mysis treat, he swam up to it and attempted to eat it however he quickly spit it out and lost interest. He is also less active then usual and I’ve noticed he has slight tears on his tailfin as well as a loss of coloration. Aside from all of this he appears to be slightly bloated or constipated, so I fasted him for a few days and also fed him bits of thawed peas, however that doesn’t seem to help his condition at all. All water parameters are also okay in terms of temperature, ammonia, PH, etc… If you could identify the issue with him that would be great!

    Reply
    • Bryan

      I would continue to do 20-40% water changes daily, and consider adding aquarium salt per its instructions as it could be the beginning of fin/tail rot. The aquarium salt also helps with stress and swelling.

      Reply
  11. Claire

    Hello Bryan,

    Please kindly advice me, I bought a half moon beta fish, he is in a 2.5 gallon tank with filter and heater. After reading your website I’m seriously thinking of getting a 5 gallon tank although I am very nervous after further reading about ammonia and nitrates and nitrites which I never thought it would be this complicated after buying Bobo. I’ve read so many horrors about peoples fish dying even when they followed instructions. There’s so many different information and advice in the internet it can get so confusing for a beginner like me.

    Thank you

    Kindest Regards,

    Claire

    Reply
    • Bryan

      Hi Claire – Generally if you keep up on water cycling and changes it’s not very complicated at all. You just want to avoid abrupt temperature swings and ammonia spikes for the most part. A 5 gallon would help with that as the smaller the tank, the more breakdown of poop and uneaten food happens in a smaller space. If you need some quick advice, you can always email me too 🙂

      Reply

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