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The Ultimate Betta Fish Care Guide

Table of Contents

The first time I laid eyes on a betta was an experience that shaped and changed my life.

As a curious young child in awe of the beauty of the natural world, I was instantly held captive and intrigued by this astonishing marvel of nature.  

The rich vibrant colors were so intense it left a permanent imprint in my mind’s eye.  

The long flowing fins seemed incredibly mesmerizing, as they pulsed and shimmied and seemed to pull my presence into the peace of the watery void.  

This exotic beauty was later acquired when they first started to become common place and affordable at my local pet shop.  This lead me straight into a lifelong pursuit of fish keeping, and has had the same effect on millions of other hobbyists worldwide.

History of Betta Fish Keeping

Betta keeping began in Thailand (formerly Siam) over 150 years ago and has most recently gained worldwide popularity for many reasons. 

They were bred for sport, and two males would be pitted against each other and bets made, in much the way dogfighting and cockfighting was done.  

They are very hardy, come in many different colors and styles, and are one of the easiest of ornamental fish to maintain.

Betta Name Overview

Common Names: Betta, or Siamese Fighting Fish. The name is often incorrectly pronounced “beta” like the letter in the Greek alphabet, but it is actually pronounced “bet-tah”.  The name in Latin means “beautiful warrior”.   In Thailand, they are called “plakat”, which means “biting fish”.

Scientific Names: There are many different species of betta, over 73 recognized, but betta splendens is the domesticated variety most commonly encountered in the aquarium hobby.

Betta Fish Tank Parameters

Minimum Tank Size:

Although they are often sold in little cups and kept in tiny bowls, bettas will only thrive when kept in at least a five-gallon aquarium set up. 

The rule can be slightly changed for more experienced keepers, and fully-planted nano-tanks can be used successfully under the proper conditions. 

The most important point though is keeping a healthy environment with stable living conditions.

This is best accomplished by the use of a five-gallon aquarium that is heated and properly filtered.

Betta Fish Size

Betta fish will generally grow to around 2.5 – 3 inches (not including the tail).  Some varieties have smaller rounded tails, but others have long flowing veiled tails. 

The size of the tail will vary from fish to fish but generally speaking, healthier fish tend to have bigger fuller tails.

Care or Experience Level:

Bettas are very hardy fish and with proper knowledge a great fish for a beginner.

As pets, bettas should be kept in a filtered, heated aquarium with ample room for decorations and for the betta to swim around in.

They are very rewarding to keep, and often times the owner may even want to try collecting different varieties.

Betta enthusiasts often start out as novice aquarium owners and soon start to take on the exciting hobby of breeding them to create new colors and fin variations.

Preferred Diet

Bettas are carnivores, feeding primarily on insects and insect larvae in the wild.

They thrive on protein-based frozen, pellet and flake foods in aquariums.

Live foods such as tubifex worms, blood worms, brine shrimp, daphnia, and brine shrimp are also greatly appreciated.

This is especially important for bringing out the maximum coloration and for bringing them into breeding condition.

Aggression Level

Bettas are naturally territorial fish, and breeders have selected aggressive traits into their breeding stock early in their history. 

The other naturally occurring species are much less aggressive.  Fish with long flowing fins and bright colors will trigger aggression from these little fighters. 

Even seeing their reflection in the mirror will cause this fish to flare its fins and begin an attack.  This is reason not to keep them with bright fish with long finnage such as goldfish or guppies.

Betta Fish Behavior:

 Part of the charm of keeping bettas is their colorful personalities.  They seem intelligent and inquisitive as they swim around the tank checking out their territory.

They will even learn to recognize their owner and follow them from one spot to another, seemingly begging for food.

They can be trained to jump out of the water and snatch a little treat from your fingers.  I even had one I taught to jump through a hoop.

Betta Fish Appearance:

The Betta body, on average, is 2.5” to 3” in length and is streamlined, allowing it to slip smoothly and effortlessly through open water.

 The fish’s body is covered with scales that overlap each other like the shingles on the roof of a house. The fins tend to be long and trailing, and shaped like a fan when extended.  

Wild betta fish are a dull greyish-green with short fins; nothing like the spectacularly colored, long-finned beauties of today! 

Through selective breeding, a wide range of colors and fin types have been developed, including: veil, delta, halfmoon, crown tail, double tail and many more.

Betta Fish Tank Conditions

Temperature:  A tropical temperature of 75 – 84 degrees is optimal.  Their living environment should simulate their natural environment as closely as possible. 

Things like temperature, water parameters, filtration, lighting, and diet all need to be consistent and natural for your fish.

Flow

Slow moving water is preferred.  They naturally inhabit ponds and ditches.  Slow moving water is optimal, and any current they encounter can be taxing and stressful.  

Air pumps create the best conditions for circulating the water, but power heads and power filters can be used if they are adjusted to a lower flow.

Size:

Generally, the bigger the tank, the more stable the water conditions will be.  If properly managed, an aquarium of five gallons will be ideal for one or even a breeding pair.  A ten-gallon would be even better, and will require less maintenance.  A tank of less than five gallons is possible to keep them healthy, but should only be attempted by a well-seasoned hobbyist.

Water Type:

In the wild, bettas can be found in softer, tannin rich, slightly acidic to neutral pH water.

But any water that is not too hard and pH neutral will suffice.  Just be sure to treat the water with a conditioner to remove toxic chlorine and heavy metals. 

Some people use distilled or reverse osmosis water, but this should have electrolytes replaced in it, or at least be partially mixed with tap water. 

Rainwater can be used also, but it should be filtered through activated charcoal to remove any discoloration and airborne contaminants.

Filtration

Betta fish like filtered tanks because they need an environment free from organic wastes. 

A biological filter will be needed to keep water parameters stable. 

A filter helps to maintain beneficial bacteria that break down organic wastes and neutralize ammonia and nitrates.  This is best accomplished using a sponge filter. 

This allows for adequate circulation and filtration without creating the stronger currents found with using other types of filtration units such as power filters. 

Other filters that run on motors are good also, they just need to have the output reduced so they don’t agitate the water surface too much or create any excessive current.

Lighting

Bettas don’t need really bright light, but a subdued daylight exposure is important.

The coloration shows up best using standard LED or fluorescent aquarium lighting.

A betta should be exposed to about 14 – 16 hours of light (minimum) in a 24-hour day.

You can buy timers for the aquarium light to ensure that this is well controlled.

Some aquariums already have timers installed, but if not, you can always install a timer on the plug socket that controls the light. 

Avoid exposing your fish to prolonged direct sunlight as this can quickly lead to overheating and can encourage unwanted algae growth.

Bettafish Tank Mates

include smaller tetras, rasboras, and corydoras.   These stay small and are suited to small tanks like a five-gallon. 

Least killifish are also excellent, especially in smaller tanks.    African dwarf frogs and snails often are also kept together with bettas.

It mostly depends on the size of the aquarium.  Many more options are available if you have the size and capacity to carry more fish. 

It’s always best however to include a scavenger and algae eater to help keep the tank clean.  

A few bad options:  larger barbs and tetras are not a good choice.  They tend to get nippy and may harass the betta.  

They are schooling fish, and if not kept in groups of five or more will become more aggressive.   Guppies are also a bad choice.  

They have bright colors and long flowing tails, and will get harassed by the betta.  Goldfish are also not recommended, especially since they prefer colder water.  

They also have the bright colors and long fins and will get nipped by the betta.

Bettafish Diet

 Standard betta pellets are the best choice.  They are formulated with the exact nutritional requirements and are very convenient to feed. 

They also contain natural color enhancing pigments and will help bring out the best of their coloration. 

Live food such as brine shrimp and frozen food such as bloodworms will help round out the diet and keep them in optimal condition. 

Fish used for breeding will need to be fed live and frozen to get them into prime shape and build up some fat reserves.

Betta Fish Life Span

On average, the betta fish life span is 3 to 5 years, but in rare cases, they can reach up to 8 or 9 years of age in captivity.

How Do Betta Fish Breed (And In Captivity)?

The betta is a buuble-nest builder.  The male produces a mucous coated bubble using its labyrinthine organ.  

Hundreds of tiny bubbles will be blown into a nest at the surface of the water.  He will often incorporate little pieces of vegetation as well.  

This foam nest will be made in a quiet little space and after it’s the proper size, he will attract the female to it.  If she approves of its construction, she will join the male and begin a breeding ritual.

The two fish will embrace each other and she will expel her spawn.  The male will then fertilize them and gather them up from the bottom surface in his mouth. 

He will spit each egg into the nest and then when he has all the eggs in the nest, he will chase the female away.  Her job is over.  He will continue to care for the eggs and the nest until they hatch a few days later.  

Once they are free swimming his job is over and will have to be removed so he is not tempted to eat them.  The tiny fry are raised on newly hatched brine shrimp and then to standard pellets when they become a bit bigger.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are two important things to remember in regards to feeding your fish.  First is that the stomach of a betta is roughly the size of its eye.  The second is any excess of uneaten food will quickly foul the water.  

The best rule of thumb is to feed small amounts frequently.  The industry standard usually is to feed what the fish can consume in five minutes.  The specialized betta pellets will generally specify one to three pellets daily.  But fish are not easily standardized, and will have differing nutritional requirements under varying conditions. 

The best thing to do is learn how to gauge your fish’s appetite.  Give it one pellet, and if it quickly eats it give it another.  

Do this slowly over the course of several minutes and count how many it eats.  Wait a few hours and repeat.  This will give you a rough idea on how much your fish needs to consume.  Any food not consumed should be immediately removed with a net or a siphon.

Fish that are sluggish will require much fewer calories than those that are active.  A once-a-day feeding will generally suffice. 

Cooler and overcast days may reduce the appetite of the fish.  Older full-grown fish will eat much less than younger fish actively growing. Younger fish and fish being conditioned for feeding should be fed at least 3-5 times daily.  

Try to offer up a varied diet alternating between live, frozen, and dry food.  This will keep things interesting and will be greatly appreciated.  

It also helps to alternate foods to help prevent any nutrient deficiencies.  In the wild the fish hunts for its tiny prey throughout the day. It never has a feast where it simply gorges itself in one sitting.  This is what we should try to replicate when we feed them.

   Yes.  Females are usually kept together in what is called a “sorority”.  They are territorial as well, but much less so than the males.  Its best to keep them in a roomy and well aquascaped set up.  They will form a natural hierarchy and will be led by a dominant female.  Any aggression will be defused amongst the remaining females, and no single individual fish will have to bear the brunt of aggressor.

Yes.  Females are usually kept together in what is called a “sorority”.  They are territorial as well, but much less so than the males.  

Its best to keep them in a roomy and well aquascaped set up.  They will form a natural hierarchy and will be led by a dominant female.  

Any aggression will be defused amongst the remaining females, and no single individual fish will have to bear the brunt of aggressor.

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    My name’s Austin, and I created OtterAquatics to teach aquarists of all skill levels on how to succeed in the hobby.