Betta Fish Facts

Betta Fish Facts

If you own a betta fish, then you need to know some fascinating betta fish facts. These facts will help to satisfy your curious mind about this colorful and unusual fish. Moreover, you’ll be able to thrill your audience with betta facts in front of your aquarium.

Betta fish facts include the origin, discovery, history, stories, misconceptions, and mysteries about this special fish. You might want to know that bettas are also known as the “Siamese fighting fish” due to their high level of aggression. In all, betta fish have many unique characteristics attributed to them.

If you are interested in betta fish facts that go beyond their physical appearance, then that’s what you are about to get! Thereof, we touched all aspects of betta fish existence. 

The History of the Betta Fish

The betta fish goes by a few different names. Many call them Siamese Fighting Fish. Their name in Thai, where they are native to, is ikan betah, which means biting fish. Their scientific name is betta Splendens with an homage to their typically brilliant colors. All betta fish are within the genus betta and are a variety of species of freshwater, ray-finned fish.

The betta fish originates in Southeast Asia. Thought to originate in Thailand, one finds them all through the Mekong River. Today in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar (Burma), you can find wild betta fish. These fish were first noticed and prized because they would often be very colorful and display uniquely aggressive behaviors towards other animals, particularly fish.

We should be note that in the wild, the brilliant and vibrant coloring we find is the exception rather than the rule. The same goes for the long and frilly fins of the betta that we so often think of. You can find these traits in the wild, but most wild betta fish are duller in color with less impressive fins.

Fact about the Name Betta

The name betta fish is slightly misleading. It seems to imply one common species, but this is actually incorrect. Betta is a genus, which means that there are many different species within this genus. To date, we know of 73 species of betta fish. We group them together in species complexes due to their shared common features.

Noticing the Betta’s Unique Behavior

In addition to their beautiful coloring and elegant fins, it was their behavior that also led to fascination of people. We know these fish to be intensely territorial and aggressive, hence the name “fighting” or “biting” fish. Quick to detect potential threats, the betta is notorious for its aggressive behavior. They are most often aggressive towards smaller fish and particularly towards other male betta fish. They even make aggressive moves at other, larger animals that they perceive as a threat.

In the wild, when they become agitated, scared, or aggressive, their colors will appear more brilliant. Humans first noticed these fish in large part due to their aggressive behavior. It is a common myth that bettas fight to the death. However, this is an incredibly rare occurrence. Much of the aggression is in an effort to scare off a potential threat. This is an effort to avoid violence and protect their territory.

Fighting the Betta

As noted above, the innate aggression common to male betta fish was part of what made them of such interest to people. People began to take advantage of this ingrained tendency to fight, pitting fish against each other in matches. This became so popular that people would bet on betta fish fights. In fact, legend states that the popularity of fighting betta fish got so widespread that the King of Siam took notice. He began to tax the proceeds of these fights.

In Southeast Asia, people would breed bettas – already territorial – for aggression. High stress levels will make male bettas prone to fight, so people would keep them in very small bowls. Now fighting bettas is seen as cruel. Many efforts are underway to eradicate this practice entirely.

During a fight, the male betta will flare out his fins to their fullest extent. This display makes him look larger and more intimidating. He will also flare his gills. Often this display is enough to ward off a fight. However, if neither fish backs down, they will often begin to nip at each others’ fins until one backs off.

A Note on Female Betta Fish

Most commonly, the betta fish people keep as pets are male bettas. Female betta fish are generally dully colored. They often do not have the elegant frilled fins the males have. But they too are territorial and aggressive. While they are not as aggressive as their male counterparts, female betta fish will fight as well. You can keep females together in groups (unlike males) called sororities.

There is often aggression as the hierarchy of the sorority is established. Once the proverbial dust has settled, female betta fish can often live amongst each other peacefully. They do require a larger habitat so that each fish has its own space. And there are sometimes female fish that are just too aggressive to be part of a sorority.

Natural Environment

We find Betta fish naturally in a variety of environments. While they are native to the Mekong River, that is not the extent of their territory. You will find them in small, standing pools of stagnant water. Additionally, you also find betta fish in rice paddies, drainage ditches, or in small streams and rivers that are slow moving.

They prefer warmer water. Most of the places we find them naturally do not get particularly cold. Since betta fish often prefer shallow and highly vegetated waters, these waters are often quite warm. Bettas are skillful jumpers. This allows them to escape puddles that are drying up and make their way to new waters.

The Labyrinth Organ

A betta fish can thrive in oxygen-starved waters and they contain a unique organ called a labyrinth that makes this possible. This organ allows the fish to take in oxygen from the air. In terms of functioning, we can think of it as akin to a lung. The labyrinth is an ancient organ that allows these fish to breathe using gills in oxygen-rich waters or to take oxygen directly from the air. This allows them to survive where the levels of oxygen in the water are insufficient.

Something that is interesting to note is that many fish are not born with this structure fully functioning. For many fish that possess this organ, it takes time to develop. They rely on breathing through gills until the organ fully develops.

Diet in the Wild

Betta fish mostly eat animal products, but they can also digest some plant material, making them omnivores. Their most common food is insects since many types of insects lay their eggs in shallow pools of stagnant water. As Southeast Asia has no shortage of flying bugs, this composes a large portion of the betta diet in the wild. They will also eat smaller fish and brine shrimp. The exoskeletons and plant matter they ingest gives them the fiber they need for healthy functioning.

Dangers in the Wild

The betta fish may be beautiful and their brilliant colors may be intimidating to males of the same genus, however, it also makes them an obvious target for predators. Betta fish are fed on by a variety of birds, cats, and larger fish. In the wild, it is better for the betta not to be too brightly colored. Otherwise, he stands out too starkly as a potential snack to predators.


Bettas became domesticated through their use as fighting fish. Because of these, the would select and breed bettas with an emphasis on aggression, which would make them better fighters. Not everyone wants to fight the fish and instead keep them as pets in suspended glass bowls. After their importation to Europe and the United States, people would breed them more for looks than an aggressive temperament. It is largely because of these reasons that our modern betta is the frilly and brilliantly colored fish we are all familiar with. These bettas typically only get aggressive when put into stressful situations.

Basic Care for Betta Fish

Betta fish are fairly easy to care for and they can make a great pet for people who don’t have the space or desire for a dog or cat. Not only are betta fish nice to look at, they actually quite smart. With effort, you can train a betta fish to do basic tricks, making them a bit more fun than the plain goldfish. They don’t require a ton of care as far as pets go, but they do require care and need attention paid to their environment, health, and diet.

Betta Fish Environments

Many people are probably familiar with the betta fish which folks keep in a clear planter or a small bowl. While they can survive in small spaces, they will not thrive. There are many people who will claim that betta can live in just a gallon of water, but this doesn’t give them much space to move and live. Most people recommend at least a five gallon tank for your betta and you can even go larger.

You will want to line the bottom of the bowl or aquarium with rocks or gravel. Bettas really like plant material, so you can have live plants, or even just fake plants and decorations in their tank. Before placing any decoration in the tank, make sure that it is thoroughly rinsed with water to remove any potentially harmful contaminants from the object. It is recommended that you get a water thermometer so you can ensure proper temperature.

The Water for Your Betta

It is not recommended to just use cold tap water to fill or change the water in your betta fish tank. Bettas are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations and as mentioned above, thrive best in warmer waters. You can purchase specially formulated water for bettas. But you can also just take plain tap water in gallon containers, and leave it out for 24 hours so it can outgas any potentially harmful substances.

You should also take care as to where you place your betta tank. Placing them near doorways, vents, or other drafty areas is not recommended as it will lead to drastic temperature fluctuations that bettas are not able to tolerate. Place the bowl in a temperature stable environment away from drafts. It is best to keep the water between 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Changing the Water

One of the most common missteps people make in caring for their betta fish is not attending to water quality well enough. You need to regularly change the water in the bowl to ensure that it stays fresh and clean, but most often, you do not change all the water at once. Many recommend doing 25% water changes every other week. You do not have to remove the fish when you do this small change.

Larger changes are recommended about once a month. To do this, pour about half of the water out of the tank into a bucket and using a net, put the betta into the water-filled bucket. Then you can dump the rest of the water out of the tank and using running water, clean out the waste and other debris that collects in the gravel.

This is a good time to clean all the decorations in the tank and the tank itself. Once the tank is clean, you can return the accessories to the tank and add water that is room temperature. When you have filled it about halfway, you can pour the water in the bucket and the fish back into the tank. If necessary, top of the tank with more water.

Feeding Your Betta

Most fish are prone to overeating, so it is important that you do not overfeed your betta. This can lead to all sorts of health issues. Domesticated bettas should be fed a specially formulated food often in the shape of pellets. Bettas only need about 6 pellets a day, but it is not recommended to give them their entire feeding at once. A couple of pellets at a time is a good rule of thumb.

Additionally, you can also treat your betta with frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms as a treat. These are readily available at most pet stores that sell fish and aquarium supplies. This helps to give the fish some variety and also ensure fully balanced nutrition. These should only be given once a week. Otherwise, the fish may be overfed which is dangerous to their health.

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