Tank Size: 5 Gallons/19 litres
Water Hardness: 2-15o
Lifespan: 2-5 years
Size: 3 Inches/ 7.62cm
Bettas are a tropical fish native to southeast Asia. The most common bettas, betta splendens, come from rice paddies in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam Other varieties of betta can be found elsewhere such as Brunei or Malaysia.
In the wild, betta splendens are usually a grey or dull green colour, with short and sometimes blue or red fins. However, they have been bred to be more aggressive and colourful with long flowing fins. Some varieties of betta still portray their wild counterparts, for example, the Plakat varieties.
Bettas are anabantoids, meaning they have a rudimentary lung that allows the to breathe atmospheric air. All gourami species have this lung as well.
Betta Tail Types
Betta Splendens can be classified into a few different categories based on their tail. Some of the most popular types are: Veiltails, Halfmoons, Crowntails, Combtails, Deltas, Spadetails and Dragonscales. There are many other different types and colour morphs of bettas as well.
Bettas are one of the most popular fish in the world, second only to the famous (and infamous) goldfish. Sadly, most people are misinformed about the care of bettas.
A common belief states that they can be kept in a bowl without a filter or a heater, fed once a day with some pellets. However, these conditions are detrimental to bettas. They are tropical fish, meaning that they will not survive in unheated water. They are also active fish, and a bowl cannot provide adequate swimming space for them to be comfortable.
A bowl will also poison the fish, with a lack of water dilution for ammonia and nitrite, and no surfaces for beneficial bacteria to colonise.
A filter is also necessary to clean the tank and house nitrifying bacteria to prevent ammonia poisoning. It should be cleaned in aquarium water monthly, so that it is not just circulating the same pollutants. Make sure the filter is not able to catch the betta’s delicate fins.
An indian almond leaf is a very good addition to a betta tank, as it releases beneficial tannins and trace elements that are good for bettas and any other tank inhabitants. It also gives the betta something to rest on, especially when it is floating.
A betta will likely be bored in a bowl as well, with little to see, do, hide in, play with or eat. Provide weekly enrichment activities that give the betta’s life some variety. A good example of enrichment is putting a cleaned table tennis ball on the surface. The betta will come and check it out and maybe nudge it around.
Occasional live foods such as brine shrimp nauplii or daphnia give bettas something to chase, as well as a healthy snack.
If you provide the betta with a tank of 5 U.S. gallons (19 litres) or more, a suitably sized heater, a filter capable of circulating the tank 3 times an hour or more, a healthy diet, frequent cleaning and plenty of enrichment and hiding spots, then you will have a happy, long lived betta.
Bettas are generally carnivorous animals and in the wild they tend to snack on insects and larvae. That said, a betta should still be fed a small amount of vegetable matter to balance out their diet and prevent bloating and constipation. Feed a variety of foods including pellets, live or frozen foods and finely cut peas.
Housing bettas with other fish can be a risk. Avoid keeping bettas with livebearing fish or other anabantoids. Some bettas are just too aggressive to be kept with other fish. You can usually tell if your betta is aggressive when you are feeding them. If you want to be sure, buy a cheap shrimp or fish, and if the betta goes after it, remove it and consider housing your betta alone.
Some tankmates that generally work for more docile bettas are:
- Tetras (not neon tetras)
- Corydoras (not panda cories)
- Any shrimp
- African Dwarf frogs
Many people keep bettas in a ‘sorority’- a group. This is for experienced aquarists only. You will need lots of live plants and ornaments to block the line of sight. Generally the rule of thumb for a sorority is to have at least 5 females, to dilute agression.
Make sure you are changing at least 40% of the water in the tank each week to help keep nitrate levels down. Clean the filter out each month. Make sure it is rinsed in aquarium water only. If you rinse the sponge in tap water, the nitrifying bacteria that resides in the sponge will die off from chlorine, chloramines and other tap impurities. Without nitrifying bacteria your fish will be poisoned from an ammonia buildup.
Test the water for KH, GH, pH, Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate each week. Buffer the hardness accordingly using crushed coral or boiled seashells to make it harder, and Indian almond leaves or driftwood to make it softer. Do not use Sodium Bicarbonate (‘pH up’) or Sodium Biphosphate (‘pH down’) as they do not hold the pH and make it fluctuate, which is more stressful for fish than a general high or low hardness.
When changing water, make sure to add a water conditioner to the tap water. The tap water, as said before, contains impurities that are harmful to fish. It is also a good idea to add bottled bacteria such as Seachem Stability.
Breeding bettas is not for the faint hearted. You will need:
- A ten gallon (or more) aquarium
- A filter for your 10 gallon aquarium
- A heater for your 10 gallon aquarium
- Two tanks of at least 5 gallons (with heaters, filters, ornaments etc.)
- A male betta
- A female betta
- 20-50 3 gallon tubs
- Food (live, pellet, fresh)
- A fine net
- Malachite green or Methylene blue
First you will need to move the bettas to the 10 gallon aquarium. Observe them closely to make sure they do not try to kill each other. Some aggression is acceptable, as the mating process is meant to be aggressive. You will be able to tell if a female betta is ready to breed if she has vertical bars down her body. The male will build a bubble nest in the tank to store the eggs. Shortly after he will begin courting the female and once she is under the nest, they will embrace for a few seconds. The female releases a few eggs and the male swims down, fertilises them, grabs them in his mouth and stores them in the bubble nest. This all happens within a few seconds, but it can repeat for quite a while.
Once the female has depleted all of her eggs, move her to one of the 5 gallon tanks immediately.
To prevent fungus growth on the eggs, dose the tank with malachite green or methylene blue.
The eggs typically hatch 2-3 days after fertilisation, and once they can swim freely, the male should be moved to his 5 gallon tank.
In the first week or two of their life, feed daphnia and brine shrimp to the babies. Try feeding them crushed up betta flakes (not pellets) and when they can eat them start to ease off on the live food and eventually onto pellets. Live foods can still be fed at any stage of the life cycle.
When you are able to sex the juveniles, separate them into 3 gallon tubs. Keep the ones you want to keep and sell or give away any unwanted ones.
With breeding bettas comes responsibility, so research betta genetics before breeding.
Sexing bettas is fairly simple. The males have long and flowing fins whereas females have shorter and less ornate fins. The females may also have a noticeable egg spot near her anus.
When choosing ornaments for your betta tank, consider their delicate fins. Plastic and silk plants will likely damage their fins, so go with live ones. The same goes for sharp gravel. It is better to go with soft gravel or fine sand. Don’t use ornaments with sharp edges.
Bettas are prone to many diseases, one of the most common being fin rot. Fin rot symptoms include depleting fins, black-seamed fins and fraying. When treating fin rot, use malachite green or prepare a epsom salt bath of 1 tablespoon per gallon. Acclimate the fish, then dip for 5-10 minutes. Acclimate the fish back to their normal tank and add some stress coat to help it recover from the stressful encounter.
Ich is possibly the most common aquarium disease. It is a parasite that is easily diagnosed. Fish will show white speckles all over their skin. There are two good treatments in this situation.
The first is to dip the betta (and other potential hosts) in a bath of 1 teaspoon per gallon of salt. Leave them there for a day and then move them back to the their main tank.
Another solution is to buy a medication specifically made to deal with ich. When using medications, make sure that any activated carbon and UV sterilisers are removed, as they will absorb the medication and deem it useless.
Columnaris is another very common parasite among fish. Again, there are medications made to deal with this parasite. Columnaris takes the shape of a saddle on the fish’s ridgeline, usually around the dorsal fin.
Internal parasites such as gill flukes or camallanus worms should be treated using levamisole hydrochloride or API general cure. These parasites are easily diagnosed by white feces and red ‘splinters’ sticking out of the anus.
Velvet is a common disease in bettas. It is similar to ich, except the spots are gold. Treat with salt for a few days, then remove it with large water changes. Alternatively treat it with copper sulfate, but make sure you have no carbon in your filter.
Q. My betta built a bubble nest, but there is no female. Why?
A. Bettas build bubble nests regardless of whether there is a female or not. They do this when they are happy, so take it as a sign that all is well.
Q. Why are there are snails everywhere in my tank?!
A. Snails and their larvae often come on plants from aquariums. They quickly overrun tanks, so it is good to take action. As a preventative, dip any new plants in bleach or salt. To keep their population in check, pick as many out as possible. Medications will kill them if ingested.
Q.My betta changed colour! Why?
A.Bettas, especially marbled or "fancy" bettas, often change colour as they mature. If they lose their colour, this can be due to prolonged stress and old age.