When a betta fish is sitting in a little 5-gallon tank, it may seem like there is not much going on up in its head. They generally don’t do much and seem to spend a lot of their time sitting around, lounging on the floor or in plants. Does your little fish even think? Can a fish even have some sort of intelligence?
Betta fish are intelligent fish and are smarter than most people give them credit for. They are easy to train, which lends credibility to the claim that they are smart, as unintelligent animals are impossible to train, semi-intelligent ones are difficult to train, but bettas are easy to train. They need mental and physical stimulation in order to live a full and healthy life, just like you and me.
In this article, we will cover depression, stimulation, training, interactivity, and recognition of voices and faces.
As unlikely as it may seem, betta fish can experience depression. Their mental capacity and functions are extremely similar to ours. In humans, there is a correlation between intelligence and depression, though there is no evidence of the same link in fish.
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by a lack of interest in activities and generally feeling “down”. Betta fish that are depressed tend to hang out at the bottom and swim less often. They may also lose coloration and tend to drag their fins on the bottom as they swim.
The fact that these fish can experience a mental illness that has been linked to intelligence in another species implies that these fish are intelligent. It also suggests that they can feel emotions, including “happiness”, which brings a whole other side to fish care.
If betta fish can truly experience emotions, which the presence of depression suggests, keeping the water pristine and properly heated won’t be enough to care for your fish. You will have to actively find ways to make your fish healthy and to try and cheer them up.
Betta fish love to hunt; it’s what they do naturally. By providing some scuds or daphnia or California blackworms for your betta, it gives it a chance to engage in hunting something that cannot harm it. This will help your betta keep its spirits up.
Unfortunately, there aren’t anti-depressants that you can administer to your fish (not ones available for public use), so you have to try and increase stimulation in order to help your fish.
The example of giving your fish live food to hunt is a way to stimulate your fish. Stimulation is essential for a healthy and happy betta fish and can help increase its intelligence. There aren’t little sudoku puzzles for betta fish to make them smarter, but training can help in this regard.
The best way to provide physical stimulation for your betta is to engage its hunting instincts. Live food is the most effective way to do this, but there are other ways as well. Playing with your betta can help improve the bond you have with it as well as increase its health.
Betta fish, despite their long fins, like to chase things. You can even use a laser pointer in the tank to get your betta active but be sure not to shine it in their eyes. Betta fish are sight predators, and without their eyes, they won’t be able to hunt anything.
Mirrors can also be used for short periods. While betta fish are intelligent, they do not pass the image test, which means it is unlikely, but not impossible, that they are self-aware. If an animal can recognize the thing in the mirror as “itself”, that means it has a sense of self and is therefore aware of itself as a living being.
Since bettas do not pass this test, they think the thing in the mirror is another fish and will get agitated. Mirrors can be used to train betta fish to flare but should not be used daily or for longer than 5 minutes at a time.
One of the best aspects of bettas being intelligent is that you can train them. They can perform intense and complicated routines, but you can also teach them simple training routines. For example, training your betta to jump and hit your finger often only takes one to three weeks.
All you have to do is wet your finger and stick a little betta pellet to your finger. Hold your finger over the top of the water by your betta, just slightly over the water. Your betta should jump to get the food, but if it doesn’t, lower your finger into the water.
As you continue to train your fish, keep raising your finger slightly higher than before. After a week, try holding just your finger above the water. Your betta should jump to hit your finger, but if it doesn’t, continue training with the food on your finger.
If you want something more complex, there are several available training kits for your betta. The R-2 fish school is one of the most complex ones. With this kit, you can train your fish to swim through different hoops in different patterns.
One of the best parts of this fish school is a little wand that releases food. Your betta will start to associate food with the wand and will begin to follow it around, which makes it easy to show the fish where you want it to go. Soon, your fish will be able to complete the course you trained it on without the need of the wand, but it will need positive reinforcement with food.
Betta fish are very interactive because their tank often does not provide them with enough stimulation, so they must look to you to fulfill that need. Unless they have an abundance of tank mates that your betta gets along with, chances are your betta is bored.
Interactive fish are normally very intelligent fish, such as the Flowerhorn Cichlid. The Flowerhorn Cichlid is a hybrid fish that has been specifically bred to be the perfect “pet” fish. Flowerhorns are extremely interactive and intelligent fish.
Since the purpose of a Flowerhorn is to essentially be a “water puppy”, most Flowerhorn keepers keep their large fish in an empty, bare tank without tank mates. This makes them even more interactive since they have no other source of entertainment aside from their owner.
Betta fish associate you with food over time, so they try and do things that make you notice them so that they get more food. It is also possible that they are trying to do things that please you to get food, but we cannot determine how advanced they are mentally.
They will come over to the tank and swim back and forth to make you notice them. If you have trained your betta to take specific courses or jump, they will do these as well once they realize you are watching them.
This ability to adapt and relearn ways to obtain food shows significant intelligence. Baby bettas are unable to recognize pellets as food and will only hunt down live food. After 1-2 months, the breeder can train them to eat dry food, and after that, you can train them in another way to get food.
Recognition of Voices and Faces
Not only can betta fish learn to associate their owner with food, but they can also learn to recognize their owner’s voice and face. They recognize the voice as vibrations through the water, which they are sensitive to, and since sound is vibrations, bettas can recognize subtle differences in vibrations between different people.
This may cause them to hide or become aggressive with new people or to just act a little differently. They will approach the front of the tank more carefully. The same goes for faces; bettas are sight predators and have good eyes which allow them to see and remember your face.
In conclusion, betta fish are intelligent fish. You can see their intelligence through their learning ability, which is rapid when food is involved. They can adapt to many different environments and training regimens with ease and love to interact with their owners.