While betta fish are such a common and popular fish, most people believe their life spans are only 6 to 12 months. If this is true, does this mean that this fish is particularly fragile or that it dies easily? With such a short life span, and such a variable one at that, surely this fish is very difficult to take care for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, this commonly labeled lifespan is not at all correct, as bettas often live 4 to 7 years instead. While 7 years is often rare, anywhere from 3 to 4 years is much more realistic for the average betta. Betta fish, goldfish, and pleco catfish are the 3 most common and hardiest fish in the aquarium trade. However, most also view goldfish as very fragile, and very few know their real life span (20 years), so what causes this disconnect between these fish and their actual lifespan?
In this article, we will discuss beginner fish, the nitrogen cycle, 5 gallons, cup fish, and tails and filters.
The primary reason for this disconnect is that betta fish, goldfish, and plecos are all beginner fish. It is not that the fish is fragile; it is that the caretaker does not know how to actually take care of the animal. Betta fish are very hardy, and live many years with the experienced fish keeper, so it is not merely a coincidence that they do not live as long in the hands of a beginner fish keeper.
The biggest mistake beginners make is not knowing about the nitrogen cycle. Without knowledge of the nitrogen cycle, the fish will either burn or suffocate to death within a few days to a few weeks. This aspect may be the one most important aspect of fish keeping, and it is one of the things that is not shared by employees to beginner fish keepers.
Whether this is a marketing strategy to gain more profit from more dead fish or simple ignorance on behalf of the employees, it is a mistake. More likely than not, if an employee works at a chain store that has multiple animals, they are likely no trained on the care of one specific animal and know very little in depth about each animal.
In addition, most people grew up with fish in tiny bowls, so they are commonly seen as easily replaceable. This leads to people buying fish without first researching how to properly take care of them. This in turn leads to that fish dying and the owner buying another fish, and the cycle continues.
So, what exactly is the nitrogen cycle? Well, first know that we’re going to get into the names of some chemical compounds, mainly ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Fish waste, rotting food, and other organic material break down into ammonia to begin the cycle.
All of these are nitrogen-based compounds, which cycle through all regions of the earth in different stages in what is called the nitrogen cycle. Thankfully, the aquarium nitrogen cycle only contains 3 compounds that you have to remember.
Once bacteria convert waste and other organic compounds into ammonia, other bacteria convert them into nitrite. After this, more bacteria convert them into nitrate. To convert ammonia into nitrite into nitrate it often takes about a month to fully cycle the tank. However, after this month, the bacterial colonies have built themselves up to a point where they can process ammonia into nitrate after 24 hours.
The problem with this is that ammonia causes severe chemical burns on fish and can often damage the gills to a point where the fish will suffocate and drown. Nitrite is actually worse, as it binds to hemoglobin in the blood and prevents it from carrying oxygen, which also suffocates and drowns fish. However, nitrite becomes lethal much faster than ammonia.
Nitrates are much safer and are generally present in every healthy aquarium. Any amount of ammonia or nitrite is harmful to fish, even 0.25 parts per million. On the other hand, nitrate is safe up to 20 to 30 parts per million. Weekly water changes are necessary to remove nitrates from the water, and you need to do extra water changes if you have any ammonia or nitrite.
5 Gallons and Up
Another factor in the frequently lessened lifespans of bettas are bowls and cups that people think are tanks. A betta needs at least 5 gallons of water to properly move around and dilute ammonia and nitrite.
Otherwise, the ammonia and nitrate can kill off the bacteria that turns them into nitrate. This in turn would cause your fish to constantly be around dangerous and lethal chemicals. This will quickly lead to an early grave for the poor little finbaby.
There is no good reason to keep a betta fish in a small container. If you are unable to properly care for an animal, you should never buy it in the first place. While some may say that it’s fine to keep them in such a small container, those are also the people who can only keep a $20 fish alive for only 6 months, instead of being able to keep them for 4 or more years.
In addition to this, betta fish are very intelligent animals and can feel pain. This means that if they are constantly in water with ammonia and nitrite, they will be feeling every single second of every burn, which is simply inhumane.
So, what exactly are cup fish? “Cup fish” refers to the normal betta fish, as they are often sold in stores inside of teensy tiny cups. These cups are chock full of ammonia and nitrite, and are constantly damaging the fish. The toxins then reduce their lifespans, and you are unlikely to have them for more than 1 to 2 years.
Because of this, it is best to buy directly from a breeder, or importer, as this reduces the number of betta fish stuck in cups, and limits that trade. In addition, you will also be able to bond with your little buddy for a much longer time, and he or she will be much happier for the majority of their life.
These cups also contribute to the idea that bettas can live inside of a bowl. Not only can they not thrive inside of a bowl, but also the bowl will kill them, due to either burning or suffocation, or both.
While you may see one that is absolutely beautiful or may think that you’re saving it by buying one, know that for every one you buy, two will take its place. A majority of these fish are sold to people who want to help the poor, suffering, little creatures they see. However, this, in turn, will cause another one to be stuck in the same predicament.
Tails and Filters
Two things that may lead to this species being seen as more delicate than others are there tails and their dislike for strong filters. For female bettas or Plakat bettas, the tales are a non-issue.
Bettas are popular for their excessively long finnage in complex patterns. However, these fins do have one downside; it may be very difficult for your betta to swim as their long fins may drag them down.
While bettas are unlikely to drown unless their gills are extremely damaged, they do need to make it to the surface to use their labyrinth organ, which is similar to primitive lungs, so adding multiple decorations around the tank to help them reach the top is a good idea.
In addition to dragging them downwards, the fins also make it difficult to swim in current for these bettas. While some bettas have evolved specifically to swim in strong currents, domesticated bettas cannot. Therefore, strong filters will be their worst enemy.
The best type of filter for a betta is a sponge filter. They’re cheap, easy to set up, and they are very effective. In addition, they have a low flow so your betta will love it.
In conclusion, betta fish are some of the hardiest fish out there, but they are simply not taken care of due to the fact that they are viewed as a beginner fish. Beginners are not as experienced and may make mistakes, leading to the incorrect assumption that bettas are weak. They are one of the hardest out there, which is good for a beginner, and that beginner simply needs to do their own research so that they can have a new little friend for the next several years.