Setting up a tank includes buying gravel to go with it. Betta fish need substrate in their tank, but does it have to be gravel?
Do bettas need gravel? The short answer is no. Betta fish do require some type of substrate, but gravel is not the only substrate that is appropriate for bettas.
Gravel is a great substrate for beginners as it is effective and easy to clean. However, there are other choices like sand and tile, so gravel is not necessary for a betta. However, a bare bottom tank, or a tank without substrate, is not suitable for a betta, so some type of substrate is needed.
Do Bettas Like Gravel?
Betta fish do not necessarily enjoy or dislike gravel; they normally ignore it. Gravel is used to help trap uneaten food and waste away from the fish, which helps build up “good” bacteria. The good bacteria break down harmful waste components into harmless ones.
For bettas, substrate serves another purpose. Betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish, react with extreme aggression towards others of their own species. If substrate is not present, there will be a strong reflection of themselves on the bottom of the tank. In most cases, they think this is another fish.
Due to this, the reflection can cause your betta to experience unnecessary stress. While showing your betta their own reflection in a mirror is considered fine for play time, it needs to be limited to 5 minutes each day. Excess time will only cause more stress, which will harm your betta.
How Much Gravel Do I Need for a Betta Tank?
The general rule for gravel is 1-2 inches tall across the bottom of the tank. For bettas, one inch is normally more than enough. However, if you are planning to have plants, you may want a deeper gravel bed for planting and root tabs.
Smaller grain gravel does not need to be as deep as larger grain, and actually functions better if you have less. In order to promote the growth of good bacteria in your substrate, there needs to be good water flow. Larger grain gravel already has great flow, as there are large gaps between the pieces.
On the other hand, if you stack up small grain gravel too deep, there will be little to no flow to the bottom. If you clean your gravel regularly, this will not be an issue. However, if you end up slacking, waste trapped in the bottom will rot.
Without water flow, bacteria won’t break the waste down properly, and there will be a small pocket where toxic conditions form. When you do get around to cleaning the gravel, disturbing this area can release high levels of ammonia, which is toxic to fish.
What is the Best Gravel for Betta Fish?
As previously discussed, gravel comes in different grain sizes. As long as you use the appropriate amount for each size, one isn’t really better than the other. Likewise, natural looking gravel doesn’t provide your betta more benefit than any unnaturally colored gravel, so go wild with the colors!
Is Sand, Gravel, or Tile Better for a Fish Tank?
Sand and tile are both alternatives to gravel. Sand is more difficult to clean than tile or gravel. You can’t gravel vacuum it like you can for gravel and tile, as it would just suck up all the sand. You must stir it weekly to remove air pockets and bring waste to the surface, then use a siphon to hover over the waste and draw it out.
Chopsticks are highly recommended for stirring sand. In addition, some fish inadvertently ingest sand, which can lead to impaction. Bettas are not prone to impaction from sand, but if it does happen, it can be fatal.
Tile is, well, tile placed on the bottom of the tank. While tile is among the most popular substrates, it is surprisingly rarely used. Most new keepers don’t know about this substrate. It is primarily used in monster tanks, or tanks with very large predatory fish, as these fish tend to be messy.
This substrate is by far the easiest to clean, which is why it’s used for messy fish. It doesn’t have the classic aquarium look of gravel or sand, but some people prefer the clean-cut look of it.
Maintenance is very similar to a bare bottom tank, as waste can easily be seen and removed. It does not trap waste away from fish, but with a strong filter, this will not be an issue. Tile is better for shorter finned bettas, due to the stronger flow required, but it isn’t impossible to have with long finned bettas.
Gravel is classic, easily cleaned with a gravel vacuum, and is a good choice for bettas. None of these are necessarily wrong choices, as they all depend on an individual fish keeper’s preferences.
How Often Should I Clean Aquarium Gravel?
You should do water changes once a week for bettas and most other fish. To clean a tank, you will need a gravel siphon or vacuum, a bucket, and water dechlorinator. Use the gravel siphon to drain around 20-30% of the tank’s water into the bucket. Dispose of the water in the bucket.
While doing this, thoroughly vacuum 1/3 to ½ of the gravel in the tank. During the next water change, rotate to a different section, vacuuming roughly the same amount. With this rotation, the beneficial bacteria won’t be harmed, and all the gravel is thoroughly cleaned every 2-3 weeks.
Refill the bucket with tap water, add the appropriate amount of water dechlorinator, and use the siphon to run water from the bucket back to the tank. Betta fish do not like high flow, and the siphon will help regulate the water coming in.
Doing water changes like this once a week keeps nitrates low and your fish happy.
Should I Take My Fish Out When Cleaning the Tank?
New fish keepers frequently ask this question. The short answer is no, you should not remove your fish when cleaning your tank. It causes a large amount of stress, and if you clean the tank properly, as described above, there is no need to remove your fish.
People who remove fish to do water changes often completely empty and refill the tank during water changes. Unfortunately, this can lead to fish death.
Over time, minerals build up in aquariums due to evaporation. This is not harmful, but it makes the water hardness different from the tap water. The nitrate levels will also be different, which can be problematic.
If a fish is suddenly placed in water with different hardness and/or nitrate levels, it can go into osmotic and/or nitrate shock. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to reverse these types of shock, and either the fish will be able to pull through, or it won’t.
The symptoms of shock are very noticeable and appear quickly. Bettas will often hide, sit at the bottom of the tank, and most notably, will breathe very heavily while moving very little.
In conclusion, gravel is not necessary for your betta, but substrate is. Bettas are not overly demanding in the type of substrate, provided they don’t see their own reflection. Gravel is a good choice for beginners, and it is the easiest type to clean.