Betta fish are a unique and colorful genus of fish that include tens of different, unique species. Their colors and patterns make them eye-catching. But it is their behavior that really seems to fascinate people. This first got them noticed in their native habitat and brought them to human attention.
In this guide, we will explore the history of the betta fish. Next, we will talk about their unique behaviors and ways of display. Finally, we will touch on the basics of keeping betta fish as happy, healthy pets.
The Origin of the Betta
Bettas originate in Thailand. Now, we find them in the Mekong River, as well as various Southeast Asian countries. Due to their environmental requirements, we find them in unique habitats. They live in slow moving bodies of water. Additionally, they also live in shallow pools like rice paddies, ditches, and even just small puddles. Their unique physiology allows them to live in environments that other fish could not survive in.
Special organs called labyrinth organs allow betta fish to live in low-oxygen waters that would kill most other fish. This special organ allows them to “breathe” oxygen from the air. It is this special organ that gives them the ability to take in oxygen from the air when the water is not suitable for gill-based breathing.
Their coloring and frilly fins attract people to these fish. However, it is their behavior that really captivated people. Bettas are well-known for being very territorial. This is how they got the moniker of Siamese Fighting Fish. These behaviors intrigue people and they began to watch them fight males and other potential predators in the wild.
Somewhere along the way, the idea was hatched to take them from their native source and fight them for sport. People keep male bettas stressed to keep them aggressive and ready to fight. It is an action-packed spectator sport that lends itself well to gambling. We should note that this is incredibly bad for the bettas.
But betta fighting is exciting and people really enjoy it. This could not escape the notice of the King of Siam. People bet money and matches become more and more frequent. With so much money exchanged, the King sees lots of potential revenue that the state has no access to and decides that taxing the sport under the onus of the government is the solution.
From Fighters to Pets
Their unique beauty is also a big part of the popularity of the betta. In addition to keeping bettas for fighting, many keep them as pets. Since their introduction into our homes, we selectively breed them to have unique and aesthetically-appealing physical characteristics. This means breeding for special coloring, patterns, and unique tail and fin configurations.
Aggressive territorial behavior is what many people think when they consider the betta fish. Male bettas are incredibly territorial and are quick to make offensive moves at a potential predator. While it is the males most known for their aggressive tendencies, female betta fish are also very territorial. In fact, they are even known to fight on occasion. However, females may be kept together with careful supervision, whereas males cannot.
Two Male Bettas
The most common form of betta aggression occurs between two male betta fish. As they are territorial, they are highly protective of their “home turf.” They don’t take kindly to other male betta fish trying to infiltrate their living and breeding space. Male bettas are so aggressive to one another that simply showing a male betta fish a picture of another male betta can cause it to aggressively display. The betta will repeatedly survey his territory, returning to where the male was seen to ensure that the rival is gone.
They do not simply fight over territory. Male bettas also fight over food and mates. If you want to keep more than one male betta, it is highly recommended that you have a solid partition that does not allow the two fish to see one another. This is really the only way to safely have multiple male betta fish at a time. Many who have multiple male bettas will have multiple tanks, allowing each to have their own space.
The Single Male Betta
Due to their incredibly high levels of aggression, you cannot keep multiple male betta fish together in the same space. This will ensure fighting and could lead to the injury or even death of the bettas. This is why they are kept in small, solitary containers at pet stores. You should never attempt to have two male bettas in the same tank, regardless of how large the aquarium might be unless you have a partition.
Most often, people keep a single betta fish per tank. They do not do well with most other fish due to their territorial nature. Most consider them best as a solitary pet.
Risks of Betta Fish Fighting
Keeping a betta fish stressed is bad for their health. Just like humans, excessive stress can be harmful to betta fish. A betta fish fight doesn’t typically lead directly to death. Most betta fish fights end as soon as aggressive displays occur. The males will posture and display at one another until one backs down. If this isn’t enough to scare away an intruder, the males will nip at one another on the fins, tail, or even just somewhere on the body.
The injuries that they sustain during these moments of aggression are where the risk to health comes into play. Wounds incurred from fighting may become infected and can lead to the death of the fish. Mangled tails or fins can make it difficult or impossible for the betta to be able to swim. Fighting bettas are now widely accepted as cruel behavior. Educational and other campaigns have done much to reduce the instances of this violent sport.
Male Bettas and Other Fish
Most people think that bettas cannot be kept with any other fish. They are incredibly aggressive and there are many species that they will not tolerate sharing space with. However, there are quite a few different types of fish that can safely cohabitate with betta fish. In fact, many of the best tankmates for bettas aren’t even fish. Ghost shrimp, mystery snails, and dwarf frogs make excellent companions. The snails are especially beneficial as they help to keep debris out of the water and act as a quasi-filtration system.
Tetras – neon and ember – also work well with betta fish. Harlequin Rasbora, guppies, and Cory Catfish may also live with betta fish. Even more exotic fish like Clown Plecos and Kuhli Loach are also acceptable tankmates.
It is recommended that you introduce betta to an already established fish tank.
Nesting behavior in betta fish is incredibly unique. They have two main ways of creating a safe habitat for their offspring – mouthbrooding and bubble nets. Mouthbrooding is less common in bettas. There are a few species that use this tactic though. As the name implies, it refers to the (most often male) using its mouth as a holding place for eggs until they hatch. During this period the betta cannot eat.
Bubble nesting is a very unique behavior that is common to betta fish. They essentially blow bubbles using their mouths and create a chain barrier of bubbles. These are typically seen near the surface of the water. Male bettas build bubble nests even when there are no mates around. It is a sign of a happy, healthy betta. If there are females around, they will lay their eggs in the bubble nest and the male will watch over the eggs until they hatch.
Female bettas are also quite territorial. However, they are not nearly as aggressive as their male counterparts. They are known to fight and attack in the wild, but this behavior is far more rare amongst females than males. Female betta fish can even live amongst each other. Though it is important to note that care should be taken as not all females will get along together.
A group of female betta fish is a sorority. Typically, this will consist of five or more female bettas. They need at least a ten-gallon tank. Horizontal tanks are preferable to deeper tanks. Young female bettas tend to work better together than those of mixed ages. Since they are territorial, they do need to have adequate space. Having spaces that they can hide is also beneficial to the peace of the group.
Basic Betta Care
Bettas are beautiful and interesting fish that make excellent pets. They don’t require a ton of space and their care is pretty simple once you know the basics. The biggest problems owners of betta fish face relate to water quality and feeding. Betta fish are native to a unique environment that is quite different from what most fish live in. Stagnant, warm water is their preferred environment. They can live in relatively small bodies of water. This is why we find them in rice paddies, puddles, and ditches in the wild.
Tank Size and Water
A betta fish can survive in as little as a gallon of water. However, it is not recommended to give them so little space. Most people provide at least five gallons of water for their betta. They will be happy in a variety of aquarium types so long as no filtration systems are attached to the system. Once you have a proper tank for the betta, you will want to thoroughly wash it. Additionally, any trinkets or other items you plan on putting in the tank with the betta also need washing.
You can buy specially-formulated water for betta fish. But really, this isn’t necessary. They thrive in low-oxygen water and are very sensitive to chemicals and minerals in the water. One way to prepare water for the tank is to fill a few gallon containers with tap water, leave the lid off, and let it sit for at least 24 hours. This allows anything in the water to outgas and keeps the water at a stable temperature.
Bettas need a specially-formulated diet. In the wild, they tend to eat a variety of different types of food, including meat and vegetable matter. Most pet stores sell pellet food specially designed for betta fish. This is what they should eat. You can also give them bloodworms and brine shrimp as a treat. Do not do this more than once a week. Bettas will overeat if you feed them too much. You should never give the betta more than it can eat in a sitting.
Bettas need about 4-6 pellets of food a day. Giving them two at a time throughout the day is a great way to keep them fed but not overfed.
Changing the Water
Bettas prefer clean water, like all fish. It is important to maintain good water quality for the overall health and wellbeing of your betta. Most people do quarter changes about once every two weeks and a more complete change every month. It is vital to do this with as little stress on the betta as possible. The smaller changes are a lot easier. You can simply dip out a few cupfuls of water and then add fresh water to the tank. Note, that the water should not be tap water. You should follow the protocol discussed earlier in preparing the water.
The full change is a bit more difficult. You will want to pour about a quarter of the water into a bucket or bowl. Then, carefully remove the betta with a fish net and place it into the bucket with the old water. You can empty the rest of the water from the tank as soon as the betta is safe in the bucket. Thoroughly rinse the gravel with water to remove any debris. Remove any decorations and wash them. Be sure to clean the tank itself. Once clean, add new water, leaving room for the water the betta is in. When everything is clean and back in order, you can simply dump the water with the betta back into the tank.