When most people think of betta fish, they think of perfectly colored, long finned male betta fish prancing around and flaring. Most keepers forget about the females and choose males instead, but female betta fish have perks that males do not, such as the ability to keep a small group in the same tank. If you had the choice of either 7 female bettas in one tank or one male betta, which would you pick?
Female betta fish have both different anatomies and behavioral patterns than male betta fish. They have additional illnesses they may suffer from, and while most claim they are less aggressive than males, this isn’t always true. That being said, it is true in most cases, and they can even be kept together in a group.
In this article, we will discuss anatomical differences, shorter fins, egg bound bettas, tank mates, sorority tanks and the role of plants and decorations, dither fish, dealing with aggression, and introducing new bettas, harem tanks, and general care.
Just like most species, male and female bettas have anatomical differences. Female bettas have shorter fins, duller colors, an ovipositor, and ovaries. The duller coloration and shorter fins are the main reasons that people choose males over females since bettas are ornamental fish.
This is not to say those female bettas cannot have gorgeous colors, and some strains of bettas produce females with extravagant color that rivals a male’s color. For example, some metallic, koi, and dragon scale bettas have very similar colors between the males and females.
In addition, Plakat bettas are growing in popularity due to the fact that they generally have fewer health issues.
A healthy adult female betta will always be carrying eggs. It is possible to see these eggs if you shine a flashlight though your fish and know where to look. While female bettas are not predisposed to developing fin rot, they can become egg bound, which we will discuss later.
Bettas do not lay eggs regularly like chickens, but they will absorb old eggs and produce new ones all within their bodies. If they begin to starve or some other stressful situation arises, they can use the eggs almost as extra fat reserves, giving them a better chance of survival.
Just like Plakat bettas, females have shorter fins. Aside from being less likely to develop fin rot, what is the impact of these shorter fins? The largest impact is that your betta will be more active and faster, which means you should get it a bigger tank.
While some say that 2.5 gallons are enough for a single betta, it is hardly large enough to hold a cycle, but can be acceptable for long finned bettas who are unable to move much. On the other hand, a 5-gallon tank should be considered the minimum for a betta with short fins, and 10 gallons is preferred. This gives them enough room to swim around to their heart’s content, and it gives you more room to make a beautiful aquascape.
If you want to keep your betta with tank mates, a 15-gallon tank is the minimum, while a 20 gallon (especially a 20 long) is better. The larger the tank, the better the chances that your betta will get along with the tank mates.
Most bettas cannot live with tetras since they are known fin nippers, but it is more likely that your female betta will get along with
Egg Bound Bettas
The one health issue that female bettas are prone to is becoming egg bound. An egg-bound betta looks extremely bloated, almost constipated, but instead of being unable to “go”, she is full of eggs and unable to get rid of them.
This condition will almost always arise if you are keeping a male betta in the same tank as a female betta. If the tank is divided, the condition will worsen. Fish release hormones into the water, and a female betta releases different hormones than a male betta. Therefore, they will be aware that there is a betta of the opposite sex in the same water as them.
Poor water quality can also cause this condition, as can an improper temperature, so you must first check your parameters. Ensure that ammonia and nitrite are at zero and that your nitrates are not over 20ppm. The temperature needs to be between 78 and 82 degrees.
In order to fix egg-bound betta, you should start by fasting the betta. Avoid feeding her at all for the next three days. At the start of the fourth day, feed either frozen (or live) daphnia, or a small part of a blanched, deshelled pea.
If this does not work, feed your betta normally for 2 days then repeat the process. In the meantime, try showing your betta a mirror, a picture of a male betta, or an actual male betta. This may trigger her spawning instinct and she could release the eggs.
If provided with a large enough tank, female betta fish get along with a wide variety of tank mates. White cloud mountain minnows, common plecos, neon tetras, and African dwarf frogs are still not options.
Harlequin rasboras, celestial pearl danios (aka galaxy rasboras), and glow light tetras are popular fish that like the same water temperature and parameters that bettas do. These are schooling fish, and in a 20 long, you should keep a school of at least 8, possibly 10.
When it comes to schooling fish, you should only keep one school of top and middle swimmers in a 20 long. Otherwise, they will run out of space. Marbled hatchetfish are a top dwelling fish that are compatible with bettas. You can keep a top dwelling fish like the hatchetfish along with a middle dweller, like harlequin rasboras, as well as a bottom dwelling fish, but only if you keep up with water changes.
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A sorority tank is a tank that houses multiple female bettas in one tank. These tanks generally include dither fish and must have at least 5 female bettas and many decorations. Tall decorations serve as “sight breaks”, since they break the sight of aggressive bettas and cause them to lose interest in whoever they were chasing.
No matter how many precautions you take, there is always the risk of things turning sour. Sometimes one or more of the “females” ends up being male and will try and either breed with the other fish or kill them.
Other times one female is just too aggressive to be housed with any other fish, including dither fish. All of the females have to be added at the same time, which is a roll of the dice in terms of diseases, as well as in terms of personality of each fish.
One cannot truly know the personality of a fish or how it will interact with another of its own kind until you introduce them. The mirror test can give you an estimate, but it is not an accurate measure. In addition, unless you quarantined each fish individually for 4 weeks, it is possible that one or more has a disease or illness that could be passed to the others.
Plants and Decorations
Tall stem plants and cave-like decorations are your best friends in this type of set up. Bushy or lanky stem plants, from Vallisneria to water wisteria. There are many available cave decorations, but just like male bettas, female betta’s fins can be torn easily.
In order to ensure the decoration is safe, you must first check and make sure there are not any little holes or tiny caves that a betta may wiggle into and get stuck. You must also make sure there are not any sharp areas that could hurt your betta.
If you find an area that seems suspicious to you, run a tissue over that area. If the tissue tears, it will tear your betta’s fins and could damage the scales. However, if the tissue ends up being fine, then your betta will also be fine.
It is more important to check whether or not something is sharp in a sorority tank than a normal betta tank. Aggression is unavoidable in a sorority tank, so bettas will get spooked and run. When animals get spooked and run, it is much more likely that the will run into a decoration with force. This means that any sharp area on the decoration will cause significant harm.
If you don’t want to deal with decorations, plants are the way to go. They will continuously grow and provide more and more sight breaks as well as helping to remove nitrogen compounds, primarily ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. In addition, they will help oxygenate the water during the day.
Dither fish are fish used to either make a shy fish feel safer due to the presence of other fish or to draw aggression from angry fish. In a sorority tank, dither fish can help shy bettas come out more as well as draw aggression of the bettas to avoid them killing one another. It is unlikely that the bettas will kill the dither fish, but the dithers will distract them during a fight.
Dither fish can add an additional layer of beauty to your fish tank, on top of the gorgeous bettas. Since bettas are not schooling fish, it always looks nice to add a school or two of fish dancing around the tank.
While bottom dwellers have the highest chance of succeeding with bettas, but they won’t draw much attention away from fights. Some bettas may get territorial with other schooling fish, but with so many bettas, it’s good to have a school for distraction.
Any of the previously discussed schooling fish are able to act as dither fish for a sorority. Plecos and Kuhli Loaches won’t do anything as dithers, but corydoras are more active and can draw some attention.
Dealing with Aggression
Aggression will always exist in a sorority tank, no matter what you do. The first few days of introducing the bettas will just be fighting and establishing a hierarchy. Once they establish a hierarchy, things will calm down, unless one gets sick or weak.
The alpha female sometimes goes a little stir crazy and tries to attack the others and expand her territory. If this lasts longer than a few days, take all the bettas out, rearrange the decorations and plants, then reintroduce the bettas.
This will force them to start all over and reestablish new territories, but at this point, they are already somewhat familiar with the hierarchy. If the alpha female is continuously harassing the other bettas and won’t give them a moment of rest, you may have to set up a different tank to house her in.
After you remove the alpha, there will be some more fighting, but it should settle down relatively quickly. Keep in mind that you cannot remove the alpha unless you have at least 6 bettas.
Introducing New Bettas
If you add in one new betta or two to an established hierarchy, they will be attacked since all the area is already divided into different territories. It is unlikely to work well if you just add them
In order to properly add new bettas, you should take out all the existing bettas, rearrange the whole area, then introduce them all at the same time. If you add in more decorations, you have a higher chance of success as well.
One of the issues with introducing new bettas besides aggression is potential illnesses. Unless you quarantine the new betta for four weeks, there is a chance of getting all your bettas sick. Anything from columnaris (which can wipe out a tank in a matter of days), to Ich (the treatment normally lasts for close to a month) to TB (an incurable illness that can be transmitted to humans), can show up.
We strongly recommend quarantining any new fish to the tank, both schooling fish and bettas, for a minimum of four weeks. Plants should also be quarantined for one week, along with snails and other invertebrates.
A harem tank is a tank that houses one male betta fish with at least 5 female betta fish. These tanks are possible, but very rarely seen. The tank they live in should be at least four feet long, with five to six feet long being ideal.
This tank should also be densely planted, as there are going to be two primary hierarchies. The females will have their own hierarchy, but the male will be the top dog in the tank. He may become very aggressive towards the females if he wants to spawn, or if they enter his territory.
There will still be aggression between the females separate from that of the males, and the same issues with a sorority tank will apply. Some of the females may end up being male, some may be sick, and the alpha female may not stop harassing the others.
It is also possible for bettas to spawn in this scenario, which would cause the male to become extremely ferocious in defense of his nest. The babies will likely end up being food for the other bettas after they become free swimming. Dither fish are also recommended for these tanks to draw attention away from fights.
The general care for a sorority tank is very similar to the general care for any betta. You need to do slightly larger weekly water changes, somewhere around 40-50%, but the rest is very similar. You need a filter, with a sponge filter being preferred to avoid harming the betta’s fins.
You should appropriately cycle the tank before introducing any bettas. You must add pure ammonia to the tank and measure it to avoid going over 2 ppm. The cycle is complete once all ammonia and nitrite are processed into nitrates within 24 hours, which takes around a month.
Ammonia and nitrite are lethal, so there should not be any present in a tank that has fish. Nitrates are acceptable up to 20 ppm, but even 0.25 ppm ammonia or nitrite is extremely toxic.
Bettas are tropical fish, so they also need a heater set between 78 and 82 degrees. Also, they are cold blooded, and in order to keep their metabolism functioning properly, they must live at these temperatures to avoid health issues.
Non-sorority female betta tanks should be at least 5-gallons, filtered, and heated, just like the sorority tanks. You will not have to deal with aggression and damaged bettas if you keep your female by herself.
In conclusion, female betta fish differ from males in terms of temperament and anatomy. Female bettas should live in larger tanks of at least 5 gallons since they are more active and motile. They can live in tanks with other female bettas, but there is always a risk of them becoming too aggressive and attacking one another. All in all, their care does not differ much from that of a male betta.