Common questions people have when they start keeping fish are about the water they keep the fish in. We all know that fish need water, but what kind of water? Is tap water okay, or do they need bottled water? Does the water have to sit before you put your fish in it?
You can add a betta fish to your tank as soon as you have taken care of any chlorine and/or chloramines and as soon as the water is up to temperature. You can use tap water in most cases, as long as you properly treat the water. When moving bettas from one tank to another, you should acclimate your fish and properly move your cycle. If the water is treated and the proper temperature, your fish can go in as soon as you want it to.
In this article, we will discuss setting up a betta tank, temperature, bottled water, water parameters, chlorine and chloramines, cycling a tank, and acclimation.
Setting Up a Betta Tank
The first thing you need for your betta is a tank of at least 5 gallons. The next few things you need are a filter, heater, water conditioner, substrate, and decorations. The substrate is not necessary for anything other than aesthetics, but the decorations are necessary for the fish.
The water conditioner removes certain compounds from the tap water and makes it safe for your fish. A filter houses the majority of the beneficial bacteria which keep your cycle going, which we will discuss in detail later on.
Bettas are tropical fish that require their water temperature to be between 78 and 82 degrees, so a heater is necessary for most people. The decorations provide hiding areas for your fish and reduce their stress, which in turn improves their health.
When setting up a betta tank, the easiest thing to do is to first fill the tank with tap water and set up the filter and heater. Next, add the decorations and arrange them to your liking. Begin running the filter and add the water conditioner. The filter will circulate the water and ensure that all of the water has been appropriately treated.
This tank is not a cycled tank, but betta fish can tolerate a fish-in cycle. If it is done properly. Therefore, as soon as you have added the water conditioner, the heater has heated the tank between 78 and 82 degrees, and the decorations are ready, it is time for your betta.
When moving bettas from one tank to another or introducing your betta to its new home, the temperature is a very important factor. Fish are prone to experiencing temperature shock if they are not acclimated properly or if water changes are done improperly.
Most bettas are sold in unheated cups. You can simply float this cup in the heated tank for 20-40 minutes. Expect your little buddy to act weird, or slightly lethargic, at first, as he just came from a very poor-quality place.
When moving betta from tank to tank, float the betta in a bag in the new tank. The acclimation should not take longer than 5 minutes, as both tanks should be heated to around the same temperature.
If your tap lines have recently been flushed, there are high amounts of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate in your water, high amounts of heavy metals, or other advisories, you should use bottled/gallon water for your tank.
If you were previously using tap water for your weekly water changed, you need to switch to bottled water slowly, Do not do water changes over 25% at first, as the amount and type of minerals in the bottled water will be different, and sudden changes can cause osmotic shock in fish.
Bottled spring water does not need to be treated with a water conditioner. You cannot use reverse osmosis (RO) or distilled (DI) water for fish. RO and DI water does not contain any minerals, and fish cannot live in water without any minerals at all.
They extract some of the minerals they need from the water, and they use the amount of minerals in the water to regulate osmosis. Without minerals, they cannot regulate osmosis properly or get needed minerals.
Most water is safe for bettas, but there are some exceptions. The main exception is well water, as this water can often have high amounts of nitrates and heavy metals. The heavy metals can be safe for humans but could be far too high for the betta.
However, if the nitrates are too high for fish, it is possible that they are too high for human consumption. A nitrate-N level of 10ppm is the highest level for humans, while pure nitrates over 20ppm are unsafe for fish. The test used for fish tank nitrates tests a different compound than nitrate-N, but if you test 50ppm nitrates, or more, in your water, you should not drink it.
In tap water, ammonia can often be high due to chloramines or other chemicals used in water treatment. While humans and other mammals can tolerate high levels of ammonia, any amount of ammonia is toxic to fish.
Luckily, this fix is easier than buying multiple gallons of spring water every week. All you need is a water conditioner that removes chlorine and chloramines as well as ammonia. One such dechlorinator is Seachem Prime, which is capable of treating up to 2ppm ammonia. Ammonia in tapwater is often only 0.25-1ppm.
Most test kits also test pH, but this is often not important to bettas as they are very adaptable. They will not adapt to a pH over 8.5 or below 5, but this is a very wide range that covers virtually all tap water.
Chlorine and Chloramines
Chlorine and chloramines are the most common chemicals used in water treatment as they are very useful in destroying potentially harmful bacteria. However, these chemicals are lethal to fish and need to be removed before adding water to your tank.
When setting up a tank, you need to add a water conditioner before adding fish and before adding any water to a fish tank. If you forget the water conditioner, you will notice. The fish will first act lethargic and breathe heavier than normal.
Normally in an established tank, chlorine and chloramines will not kill the fish outright, as all the chlorine will diffuse in 24 hours, or faster with adequate surface agitation. However, this only applies to chlorine, as chloramines will stay in the water for about a week and will kill fish.
In addition to killing fish, these compounds will also kill your beneficial bacteria. The beneficial bacteria keep your cycle going and prevent your fish from succumbing to chemical poisoning and suffocation.
Cycling a Tank
The nitrogen cycle is a key component of keeping fish. If the owner is unaware of the nitrogen cycle, the fish will die early.
Here’s the TLDR version: ammonia to nitrite to nitrate. Any ammonia or nitrite will kill your fish, nitrate is safe up to 20ppm. The only way to remove these compounds is with water changes.
Here’s the longer explanation: Ammonia is produced through fish waste and causes severe chemical burns on fish and often results in permanent gill damage. Nitrite prevents the blood from carrying oxygen and suffocates the fish. Nitrates cause shorter lifespans, a weakened immune system, as well as some diseases like HITH, or Hole in the Head.
A full cycle takes about one month to complete. Ammonia takes around two weeks to fully turn into nitrites, and nitrites take about two weeks to fully convert into nitrates. When the ammonia begins to drop, you have to continue to add more to prevent the bacteria from running out of food, but only in a fishless cycle.
Bettas are a hardy fish and can survive a fish in cycle. During a fish in cycle, you need to keep ammonia and nitrite at or below 0.25ppm. Most fish cannot survive the cycling process, so do not add any tank mates during this period, especially invertebrates (shrimp, snails, etc) as they will die.
The cycle is complete once ammonia is converted into nitrates in just a few hours, normally 24. Once you no longer register any ammonia or nitrite on your tests and you do measure nitrates, you are done with your cycle.
The bacteria that convert these compounds primarily live in the filter media. If you throw out the cartridge, you throw out your cycle. Instead of chucking the media, rinse it in old tank water.
As previously discussed, temperature acclimation is as easy as floating the bag or cup in the new tank. Be sure not to mix the old water and the new water.
Drip acclimation is another method to reduce stress. Simply get some airline tubing and either tie a knot or add a control valve. Let it drain water from the tank into the cup or bag for 10-30 minutes after floating the bag.
3-5 drops per second work well for bettas and will help them settle in and avoid osmotic shock. Once the amount of water in the container doubles, remove half of it and let it double again. At this point, pour the water with the betta into a net over a bucket, and move the betta from the net to the tank.
In conclusion, setting up a betta tank is very simple. All you need is the proper equipment (filter, heater, tank, and decorations), and some water conditioner. After getting the tank all nice and pretty, you can get your betta, acclimate it to the temperature and water parameters in the tank, and move him or her in. Then, complete the cycle, and you’re done!