Betta fish are very intelligent fish, but are they smart enough to play with toys? If they are, what kinds of toys can they play with, and are there any that are commonly available? Do betta fish even enjoy playing with toys?
Betta fish need a large amount of mental stimulation when compared to other tropical fish, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to play with toys with them. Bettas are very resourceful and while they can normally find ways to play on their own, they will definitely appreciate any extra attention you give them. Their toys can range from ping pong balls to their decorations to even dry erase markers.
In this article, we will discuss mental stimulation, decorations, whiteboard markers, ping pong balls, laser pointers, and live food.
Just like a parrot or a dog or any other pet, your betta fish requires a certain amount of mental stimulation. Most betta fish perk up and swim towards their owner when they enter the room, and while this is adorable behavior, it may suggest that your betta isn’t getting enough stimulation from their habitat.
This is difficult to judge in fish, as they can’t let you know they are unhappy like a dog can. Even though they are capable of interacting with their environment outside of the tank, including you, if you see them more involved in the activities outside of their tank rather than inside, they likely do not have enough stimulation.
Luckily, this situation can be easily remedied by adding new decorations, rearranging the current decorations, adding plants, adding toys, and playing with your betta more often. Betta fish are territorial, so they will check out every new decoration or thing added to the tank. By rearranging the decorations you already have, you can trick your betta into thinking they are all new decorations. This will keep them preoccupied for several days to several weeks as well.
As previously mentioned, decorations can play a large role in entertaining your betta. This is especially true because the majority of the interactions will happen when you’re not there. This is more of a passive approach to entertaining your pet, albeit a very effective one.
Some decorations will entertain your betta more than others, with plants and fake plants being high on the list. After adding red root floaters to one of my betta tanks, my betta practically never left those plants. He just stayed in the roots all day, slept there at night, and would even refuse to take food that wasn’t placed in close proximity to those plants.
In their natural habitat, betta relies greatly on plants as hiding areas from predators. They feel safe in plants and just love spending time in them. All commonly available water plants will be safe for your betta’s fins (with the single exception of hornwort placed in hard water). However, many faux plants are not safe.
Whenever you are buying a man-made decoration for your pet, or decorative rocks, whether the decoration is faux plants, caves (also loved by bettas!) or neon spaceships, you should always tissue test them. Try to find any and every sharp area, normally along the seams or the insides of caves, and run a piece of tissue over them. If the tissue tears, it will harm your betta, so either sand it down or use a different decoration.
You should also make sure that your betta can’t trap themselves inside or between decorations. They are very curious fish, but they do sometimes end up stuck in small holes, in between decorations, or in between decorations and the tank wall. These are very stressful and sometimes fatal situations, so always be mindful of space when getting the decorations.
Surprisingly, betta fish absolutely love whiteboard/ dry erase markers. Of course, don’t put the markers in the tank or write on the inside of the aquarium with them. Start writing on the outside of the tank, just draw anything you want or write a letter, and you will soon capture your betta’s attention.
Most bettas will follow the pen as you write, some will become intrigued by the drawings instead, and some owners report seeing their betta interacting with the drawings several hours later. However, keep in mind that some bettas will see the drawings as invaders or threats which can severely stress them.
If your betta flares at the drawing(s) for more than 2-3 minutes, this isn’t the best toy for your betta. Flaring is normally fine and healthy, and it is not unusual for a betta to flare at new things. However, you should not let your betta flare for longer than 5 minutes each day. This means your betta is excessively stressed, which is damaging to fish.
Flaring excessively isn’t the normal response to dry erase markers, though it does still happen. Most bettas will interact with the drawings in some capacity, and it is a lot of fun if your betta does. Try drawing little faces, or glasses, or a mustache; you might get some fabulous pictures out of it!
Ping Pong Balls
Cheap, easy, and relatively safe; what more could you ask for? Buy a pack of ping pong balls, wash one (without soap, just give it a good rinse and dry it), and plop it in your tank. Be sure your tank has a good lid, as some keepers say this toy can trigger their fish to jump.
The level of interaction displayed with this toy varies greatly, with some bettas flat out ignoring it, others just staring at it for hours on end, and still, others bopping it around the tank for days. The only thing to watch out for is if your betta is flaring at it or seems afraid. Simply remove the ping pong ball if that seems to be the case. Otherwise, it is just another aspect of their environment that will keep them intrigued.
Just like cats, dogs, lizards, birds, and basically every other pet, betta fish like laser pointers. They will chase them around, flare at them, or just stare suspiciously at them from across the tank. Flaring is a normal response, so just keep an eye on how often you play with your betta and just keep it around 5 minutes per day.
If your tank doesn’t have a back or isn’t against the wall, keep in mind that they will not be able to see the laser if you just shine it through the tank. However, it can still hurt their eyes. Betta fish rely on their eyes for basically everything, so keep it away from their faces. If the tank is back against a wall, or near one, your fish will still be able to see and follow the light.
While this part is the most fun for your bettas, it can also get rather expensive and tedious. Live food is not available everywhere, but it includes blackworms, scuds, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, daphnia, and tubifex worms. As you can see, a whole lot of bugs, and a few shrimp things.
While most LFS’s (local fish store) will have live food, many people rely on LPS’s (local pet store) for all their fish needs. Given that those are not specialized stores, they don’t carry live food. On the other hand, they do often have freeze dried and frozen variants of the above list.
Freeze dried, while cheaper, is a poor alternative. The food loses nutrients once dried, and it swells inside of a betta’s stomach, which often leads to bloat and constipation. Frozen food does not have these side effects and retains nearly all of its nutrients.
For live food, simply do a quick check for parasites (primarily for tubifex and blackworms), pull out any you see, and feed your fish one worm, or larvae, at a time. You can feed multiple brine shrimp or scuds at a time, as they are much smaller, and it lets your betta chase them all down.
For the vast majority of bettas, simply dropping frozen food (thaw it in cool water before feeding) into the tank will be enough to get your betta zooming across the tank to eat it. For the minority that don’t immediately go after the frozen food, wiggle the food with tweezers to get their attention.
In conclusion, there are many different toys you can use to play with your betta, and you don’t always even need to be there! Extra activity will increase your betta’s health and wellbeing, so it is always a worthwhile investment.