When you first get a new pet, it can take some time to adjust to their behavior. Each betta fish has a unique personality, but most will share similar responses to certain stimuli. For example, if they are extremely stressed or feel like they are in danger, all bettas will hide. Is hiding always a sign of fear, and should you be worried if your betta suddenly starts hiding?
When you first get your betta fish, expect them to be skittish and prone to hiding for the first few days to a few weeks. Adjusting to a new home is difficult for them, though there are some steps you can take to avoid stressing them out too much. However, if you’ve had your betta for several weeks, months, or years, and they suddenly start hiding, this could be an indicator of something wrong. Typically, it will mean that they are sick, or something changed in their environment, which could be harmful or entirely harmless.
In this article, we will discuss whether or not it is normal for betta fish to hide, whether they need hiding areas, why a betta might hide behind the filter, and what to do if your betta suddenly starts hiding, especially if it also stops eating.
Is it Normal for Betta Fish to Hide?
When you first introduce any pet to a new area, it is normal for them to get a little nervous. Especially if you are just introducing your betta to its new forever home, it is fine for them to take some time to adjust. There are a few steps you can take to help your betta adjust with less stress.
Be sure to acclimate them to their new water. If they’re coming from a cup, you will not want to acclimate them for more than a few minutes, as the cup will be full of toxic ammonia and/or nitrite. If they are coming from a previous owner or breeder, you can take 20-30 minutes to acclimate them.
You will need some airline tubing, or something similar. Drip water from the tank you set up (it should be fully cycled, filtered, and heated) into your betta’s container at a rate of 2-3 drops per second. This will quickly adjust a betta to the new water hardness, temperature, and other parameters, and will reduce the shock of simply plopping them in their new tank.
Every time the water volume doubles, remove ½ to 2/3 of the water from the container your new betta is in. You should only have to do this once or twice for a complete acclimation. Do not put the old water in the new tank. Once you have done this, gently net them and release them into their new home.
If you change something in your betta’s environment (including some of the environment outside of their tank), or add new tank mates, you can expect them to be skittish for a while. However, if nothing has changed (not even nearby vibrations) and your betta starts hiding, this is not a normal sign, and will be discussed in more detail later.
Do Bettas Need Hiding Places?
When setting up your tank for your betta fish, you will need to have some decorations that your betta can hide behind and feel safe. In addition, a bare tank is bad for the mental health of a betta, as they need some form of mental stimulation. They also enjoy swimming in and among decorations, and it’s fun to watch them have fun.
If you put your betta in a bare tank, it is going to have a very bad time. While they are carnivorous predators, they are also prey fish, and they will instinctually be in constant fear if they don’t have safe areas they can hide in. They aren’t picky when it comes to the safe areas; it could just be a fake plant here and there, or a cave, or almost any decoration.
They simply need something else in the tank that they can interact with or simply be able to swim around. Any time they feel threatened or scared, they will feel much more comfortable being around an object larger than themselves, even if they can’t fully fit behind it or swim inside of it.
Why is My Betta Hiding Behind the Filter?
If you notice your betta hanging out behind the filter intake, or by the outtake, and you have other decorations that they could hide behind, you should test your water parameters immediately. If fish are “hiding” by the filter, it normally means that they are trying to stay by the fresh water coming out of the filter, which means there is something wrong with the water.
The most common cause of this is ammonia poisoning, followed by nitrite poisoning. Ammonia causes chemical burns on fish, especially on the gills, which makes it hard for them to breathe. Fish breathe by extracting dissolved oxygen from the water, which is in the highest amounts by the filter.
The filter churns the water, increasing surface exchange, which increases the amount of dissolved oxygen. As the water disperses across the tank, some of the oxygen will be released back to the surface, so only the water closes to the filter is the richest in oxygen.
Nitrite poisoning binds to hemoglobin in the blood and prevents it from carrying oxygen, which can suffocate fish. It becomes very difficult for them to breathe, so they relocate to areas with the highest amounts of oxygen. Any time you see fish of any species hanging out by the filter, there is something wrong with the water.
On the other hand, if you have an absolutely bare tank, your fish may hide behind the filter because it is the only option. This is not the safest option, especially if you have an internal filter. However, you should still start by testing the water quality, as it could be the driving factor in your betta’s hiding behavior.
What to Do if Your Betta is Hiding and Not Eating
If your betta fish is hiding and refusing to eat, whether you just got them or this is new behavior, it is likely a sign that they are sick. Start by testing the water, as ammonia and nitrite poisoning can sometimes cause them to lose their appetite, and it is an easy test to rule something out.
More often than not, your fish is ill if it is refusing to eat. If you have had your fish for a long time, it is likely a bacterial infection of some sort. Keep a close eye on them, watch for any external signs, and treat with a mild antibacterial medication.
If your betta is new, it could have a whole host of issues. If it was a cup betta, it could have permanent damage from ammonia and/or nitrite poisoning. Fungal infections, parasites, and bacterial infections are also possibilities.
Check out some of our other articles on common betta illnesses to see if your betta is afflicted by any of these. Most will have external signs, but some of them, especially internal parasites and internal bacterial infections, will not.
In conclusion, if your betta is new or stressed by some factor, it is perfectly normal for them to hide. If you move around part of their habitat, introduce something new, or even move around some furniture in the room their tank is in, this could cause them to hide. Hiding is only an issue if they are hiding by the filter, or suddenly start hiding for seemingly no reason.