Betta are plentiful and inexpensive. Because of this, many people come to think of them as disposable fish. This attitude is terribly sad as the the Betta is actually one of the most beautiful freshwater fish available to the aquarists. It also has a very engaging personality. Below is a simple guide to caring for your Betta.
Can I keep my Betta in a cup?
No. That’s the short answer. Which inevitably brings the comment, “why not? They keep them in cups in the store.” Which usually brings a heavy sigh from fishkeepers. To really answer the question though, we need to explain a bit about Betta anatomy.
The Betta has a special organ at the top of its head, between the eyes, called a labyrinth. While this isn’t exactly a lung, it does allow the Betta to breath through the top of its head. You will often see your Betta at the surface, they do this to take in air. Having a labyrinth allows the Betta to live in oxygen poor water. This fact is how they end up in cups.
For shipping purposes, even for short term storage in a shop, this form of housing is passable for a time. For long term health, however, the Betta requires more. Just how much more does cause a bit of controversy because many so called experts insist a Betta is just fine in a quarter gallon. In my experience a Betta really needs a tank large enough to swim around in. their fins are delicate so constantly bumping into the sides of the tank can cause harm.
They can do OK in a gallon and a half tank, but two and half or more is even better. The one in the photo above is housed in a 10 gallon tank with light filtration. I most frequently keep them in 5.5 gallon tanks which is a standard sized tank available in the U.S.
Does my Betta tank need a filter?
No. Again, the short answer. Betta are not strong swimmers so require very light current. One of the best ways to make sure the water is still enough is to have no filter. Bubbles aren’t required because of the labyrinth organ. Keep in mind though, not having a filter requires more work on the part of the aquarist. No filter means more frequent water changes. However, when dealing with such a small amount of water, this really isn’t much of an issue. If you can find a filter that has a low enough flow as to not disturb the Betta there’s no reason not to have it and it will help in the long run.
Does my Betta need a heater?
Yes. Betta are tropical fish and have the same temperature requirements as most other tropical fish. They do well in 76-78 degree water. If you live someplace where the inside temperature is always within this range then you don’t need a heater, but it’s safe to say most places go higher or lower than this.
Does my Betta have to live alone?
No. While it is true Betta have earned their old moniker the “fighting fish” they don’t fight with every type of fish and there are some good tankmates for them. The peppered cory for example, which is readily available at most fish shops (PetSmart seems to always have them) is probably the best choice.
Here’s a few things to look for in a tankmate.
- Drab colors
- Short fins
- Dis-similar body shape
- Bottom dweller
The Betta fights to defend its territory so having plants (fake or real) in the tank that provide a break in the Betta’s line of sight will keep squabbles down as well.
Do not house two male Betta together. They will fight and one or both will die. A male and several females can be housed together during mating but even they, should not remain together beyond this. The male will build a nest of bubbles on the surface of the water and the female will lay her eggs in this.
Feeding your Betta
Spend a little extra money on a high quality Betta food and your fish will reward you with brighter colors and flowing fins. It’s easy to overfeed a Betta so just a few granules a day is all that’s necessary. It is also recommended to skip one day a week to let the fish clear itself out.
Betta love blood worms, fresh, frozen, or freeze dried. The natural habitat of the fish has lots of these so they get eaten up with glee. Once a week a treat is nice, but don’t give in when the fish begs for it every day, too much will harm them and they have no shut off for this type of food, they’ll eat until they are sick. their stomach is only about as big as their eye, even though it stretches, this should still give you some indication of the amount of food they can safely eat.
The Betta as a pet
Of fish, the Betta has great potential to become like a pet. Perhaps because they usually sit on our desks and are always in close contact with us the Betta will quickly come to recognize its owner and expect food at certain times or know when a treat is forthcoming.