How to Care for a Betta (Siamese Fighting Fish)

Bettas are perhaps one of the most beautiful fish kept in captivity.  Breeders developed millions of color combinations, with long and flowing fins.  The betta survives well in captivity, and the fish are remarkably intelligent for fish.  These fish require basic care, but perform very well as the first fish for a family.  Read on to learn how to care for a Betta, and how to keep your fish happy and healthy for several years to come.

Habitat

Bettas prefer a smallish tank.  The fish are small and prefer solitude, and get lost and stressed in larger tanks.  However, the larger a tank, the more stable the water quality, so keep them in 5 to 10 gallon tanks.  Larger tanks can be divided to house multiple fish.  Bettas should never live in unheated bowls or vases, as they require temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s to thrive.

The tank should contain several places for the betta to hide.  Many breeders use a Styrofoam cup floating sideways, and they also like plants with large leaves.  Terracotta pots in the gravel also work as betta homes.  Plant the tank heavily, with artificial plants if you don’t feel comfortable with live ones.  You don’t need to worry about finding him—he will come out and see you whenever you walk by, and will learn to come to a light tap on the tank.

Finally, each tank must contain a heater and a filter.  Bettas do best with sponge filters, but a low-flow standard filter works too, especially in a larger tank.  Submersible heaters work best to maintain water temperature.  Purchase an aquarium kit to save on the basics, and add your own gravel and decorations.

Friends

Male bettas cannot live with another male betta, and if kept with females, should have at least three females.  Female bettas can be kept in groups of at least three, because they will pick on each other.  Males will fight to the death in a small space.  It’s possible to keep multiple males in a large, well-planted tank, but it will stress out the fish and they will not thrive.  Remember that the tank should be larger if more fish live in it.

Despite their strong attitude towards members of their own species, bettas do not fare well with most other species. They can only be kept with other calm fish of a similar size.  I prefer keeping them with corydoras catfish.  Corys are a small schooling fish, and should be kept in groups of 3-5 at a minimum.  Bettas can also with platies, mollies, and some of the smaller tetras.  Barbs and cichlids will kill bettas.  Even Angelfish will pick at bettas.

Feeding

In the wild, bettas eat insect larvae, worms, and other small prey.  They require a carnivorous diet.  Feed them special betta foods, and choose ones that float on the surface.  Most “betta bites” sink, and the betta will chase them down, but they prefer floating foods.  Don’t overfeed, and remember that their stomach is the same size as their eyeball.

Fish always prefer fresh or frozen foods.  Find frozen bloodworms or brine shrimp at most pet stores.  Make sure not to give too much, as the foods rot quickly and degrade water conditions quickly.  Bettas love fresh foods, and will gorge themselves.

Breeding

There are many excellent resources for breeding bettas.  If you choose to raise babies, understand that you will need to find homes or containers for all the males produced, unless you plan on feeding them to something larger.  Color genetics in bettas is quite complicated, so the results could be interesting or very boring.  Visit my Betta Board on Pinterest for photos of beautiful fish and more breeding links.

True “breeding quality” bettas cost quite a bit.  Breeder cast-offs, those that can’t be shown, still run in the $50-$100 range for beautiful males.  However, it’s very difficult to find many of the patterns in pet store fish, and some of these fish are truly works of art.  If you’re considering breeding, often you can purchase a castoff male and a few females from a show breeder, and try it out a bit before taking the plunge and setting up a full breeding program.

Water Conditions

Bettas prefer a softer water, with a slightly acidic pH of 6.5.  However, water conditions must remain consistent.  Do not “treat” your water to lower the pH if you cannot maintain that lower pH level.  Fish do better with a slightly-off hardness or pH, so long as it is consistent, than they do with a yo-yo of hard-to-soft or hot-to-cold.  If this is the first fish your family has kept, use tap water with the conditioner that your pet store recommends.

Bettas prefer a temperature of 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit.  As with hardness and pH level, it is more important that the temperature be consistent than perfect.  If you cannot get the tank to 78 degrees consistently, but can get it to 76, your fish will do better at 76, than artificially raising it to 82 then letting it drop to 76, then raising it again.

Tell me about your first betta!

When I was a teenager, I had a male betta in a 10 gallon tank, and he was amazing.  He would greet me calmly, but if anyone else set foot in my room he would flare and show off.  I always thought it was cute that this tiny fish was ready to kick someone’s rear end!  I’ve kept them off and on since, and even my non-pet-loving significant other has become attached to our current betta, Scooby Doo.

Not sure if an aquarium is right for your family?

Check out my post about setting up your first aquarium.


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