Betta Fish Care: A Comprehensive Guide to Creating the Ideal Habitat

Betta fish or siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens) has been well known and popular among aquarists for quite a long time. Betta fish are renowned for their striking and vibrant colors and can thrive in smaller aquariums compared to many other fish species. This makes them a popular choice for people who have limited space or prefer to keep a fish as a desk or tabletop pet. Due to their hardiness and adaptability, betta fish are often recommended as starter pets for beginners in the fishkeeping hobby. They can tolerate a range of water conditions and are generally more forgiving in terms of care mistakes.

Why do betta fish fight?

Betta fish has got the name of Siamese fighting fish because of violent fights that male put up with each other, which sometimes end up with the death of one. In the wild, male betta fish engage in territorial disputes to establish dominance and secure breeding rights. They have evolved to be aggressive and competitive, fighting off rival males to protect their territory and potential mates. Betta fish are adapted to living in small, shallow bodies of water in their natural habitats. This means that resources such as food, shelter, and breeding areas are limited. Fighting helps them secure these resources and ensure their survival.

Wildlife species are still used for fights in Thailand, though the fights now never last till the death of one of them. However, those fish that you may encounter on sale are a far cry from the species their relatives used to be. They still have the same temper and behavior, and they’ll still have fights, but the concept of the species itself has changed – because the modern breeds are aimed to be beautiful and attractive.

They have gorgeous fins that are so long that they can be damaged even by tank plants, not to mention the fights. These fish are now kept in tanks for their beauty, bright coloring, and amazing long fins, but not for their ability to fight with each other.

Even though the Siamese fighting fish is a rather furious fighter, it has quite a specific fighting strategy. If one of the fishes swims up to the water surface to get some air, the other one won’t attack, the male will wait till the other one gets back. The same happens when two males are fighting, the third one doesn’t interfere, and it waits till the fight is over.

Habitat in the wild

The Betta splendens is considered to belong to Anabantoidei kind – the one that can breathe with atmospheric oxygen, which allows the fish to survive in very severe conditions. Betta fish have a unique adaptation known as the labyrinth organ. This organ allows them to breathe air from the surface in addition to extracting oxygen from the water through their gills. This adaptation enables them to survive in oxygen-depleted waters, such as shallow puddles and rice paddies.

Betta splendens is one of more than 70 described species of Betta kind. There are six or more kinds of these fish that weren’t classified. This fish kind may be divided into two groups – one of them broods its juveniles in the mouth, and the other one builds a bubble nest.

Where do betta fish come from? It can be encountered in South-West Asia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam. However, Thailand is considered to be its habitat, though it’s rather difficult to say if it’s true, taking into account betta’s popularity.

The Siamese fighting fish got its name “Betta” from Javan” Wuder Bettah.” Right now, in Asia, the fish is more often called “pla-kad,” which means – a biting fish. Another interesting fact is that in Thailand, the fish is called “pla kat Khmer” which can be translated as a biting fish from Khmer lands. The name reflects their aggressive behavior and the fact that males of this species are known for their territorial nature and tendency to engage in combat with other males.

They inhabit in thickly planted impounded waters or slow-flowing waters – in channels, rice fields, and in middle-sized and large rivers. Betta fish are adapted to living in small, confined spaces. They are often found in rice paddies, shallow ponds, ditches, and slow-moving streams. These habitats are typically characterized by limited water volume and relatively still or slow-moving water. Betta fish are often found in habitats with dense vegetation, including floating plants, submerged plants, and plant roots. These plants provide hiding spots and protection for the fish.

Description

Size

How big do betta fish get?

Betta fish typically grow to a size of around 2.5 to 3 inches (6 to 7.5 cm) in length, although there can be some variation among individuals. Males and females generally reach similar sizes, with slight variations depending on genetics, nutrition, and overall health.

It’s important to note that this size refers to the body length of the fish, excluding the length of their fins. The long, flowing fins of betta fish can extend beyond their body, adding to their overall visual appeal and graceful appearance.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of a Siamese fighting fish is around 2 to 5 years. However, with proper care and a healthy environment, some betta fish have been known to live longer, reaching 6 years or even more.

Body and color

In the wild, the Siamese fighting fish isn’t that attractive – it has an elongated greenish or brownish body with short rounded fins. However, nowadays, the fish is a collectible item, and its coloring, as well as its fins shape, vary quite a lot.

Betta fish are known for their vibrant and eye-catching colors. They can display a wide range of colors, including shades of red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and even metallic hues. The intensity and combination of colors can vary among individuals and different varieties of betta fish.

One of the distinguishing features of betta fish is their long, flowing fins. The fins are delicate and often have intricate patterns, which add to their aesthetic appeal. The shape and size of the fins can vary depending on the specific betta fish variety, with types such as veil tail, delta tail, half-moon, crown tail, and double tail. When displaying aggression or establishing territory, male betta fish flare their fins and gill covers, creating an impressive and intimidating display. Their fins open wide, making them appear larger and more dramatic.

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CharacteristicDescription
Scientific NameBetta splendens
Common NamesBetta fish, Siamese fighting fish
SizeTypically 2.5 to 3 inches (6 to 7.5 cm) in length
Lifespan2 to 5 years, with proper care and maintenance
ColorsVarious vibrant colors including red, blue, green, yellow, and more
Fin TypesVeil tail, delta tail, half-moon, crown tail, double tail, and more
TemperamentMale bettas are territorial and aggressive, while females are generally less aggressive
HabitatShallow waters of Southeast Asia, including rice paddies, ditches, and slow-moving streams
Water Temperature76-82°F (24-28°C)
Water ParameterspH: 6.5-7.5, hardness: 5-20 dGH (slightly acidic to slightly hard water)
FeedingCarnivorous diet, primarily fed high-quality betta pellets or flakes, supplemented with occasional live or frozen foods
Tank SizeAt least 5-gallon tank is recommended, larger tanks are better for their well-being
Tank SetupPlants (live or artificial), hiding spots, gentle filtration, and proper heating
CompatibilityMales are typically kept alone to prevent aggression, while females can sometimes be kept together in larger tanks
Special FeaturesPossess labyrinth organ for breathing air from the surface, males build bubble nests for breeding
Common Health IssuesFin rot, ich, velvet, constipation, and various infections

Difficulties in keeping

The siamese fighting fish is good for beginners since it is quite easy to take care of it. It can be kept in very small tanks and under different tank conditions. Bettas are perfect for beginners and those aquarists who can’t afford to have big tanks since they require minimum space and feed.

Betta splendens is not demanding as for the feed, and it’ll do with almost all types of feed available on sale. Usually, siamese fighting fish is sold as a fish for community tanks, however, keep in mind that the males tend to have rather violent fights with each other, they may harm their females, and they are aggressive during the spawning period.

At the same time, the fish can be kept alone in a tank, and it stands this quite well. Also, the fish isn’t demanding, it’s healthy and always on sale. Due to its labyrinth organ, it can survive in the water with the poor with oxygen content and in very small tanks.

Betta fish is rather peaceful provided with proper tank mates. However, during the spawning period, males are rather aggressive, and they attack any fish around, especially if it has the same appearance (even a female of its kind) or any other bright colored tank mates.

Because of that, only one siamese fighting fish is usually kept in a tank, or it should have proper tank mates that it won’t be able to hurt. Also, you may keep a couple of bettas provided that they have a spacious tank, so that the female will have a place to hide.

Care and keeping at the tank

Tank size

The minimum tank size for a betta fish should be at least 5 gallons (19 liters). This size allows for better water stability, easier maintenance, and more room for the fish to swim and explore. Betta fish swims in all water layers, however, it prefers the upper one.

It’s not a good idea to keep the fish in a round-shaped tank, though it’s quite a popular thing to do, but a tank with horizontal swimming space is beneficial.. It’s better to keep it in a tank with a heater, and it must be covered from top, since the Betta may jump out. If your fish isn’t alone in a tank, it’ll surely have to be more spacious with some shelters for females, not bright lighting, and some floating plants. These help create a stimulating and enriching environment for betta fish, reducing stress and providing places to rest and explore.

Larger tanks are generally preferred, as they provide more swimming space and room for decorations. A larger tank also helps dilute waste products and provides a more stable environment.

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Water parameters

Maintaining appropriate water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of Siamese fighting fish.

Here are the recommended water parameters for betta fish:

  1. Temperature: Betta fish thrive in water temperatures between 76°F and 82°F (24°C and 28°C). It’s important to provide a stable and consistent temperature within this range using a reliable aquarium heater.
  2. pH Level: The ideal pH range for betta fish is slightly acidic to neutral, around 6.5 to 7.5. It’s important to monitor the pH level using a test kit and make any necessary adjustments using pH buffers or conditioners designed for freshwater aquariums.
  3. Water Hardness: Betta fish can tolerate a range of water hardness, but ideally, the general hardness (GH) should be between 5 to 20 dGH (degrees of general hardness). This range encompasses slightly soft to moderately hard water.
  4. Ammonia and Nitrite: Ammonia and nitrite are harmful to fish and should be kept at zero. Monitor these parameters regularly, especially during the initial cycling period of a new aquarium, and ensure proper biological filtration to establish a healthy nitrogen cycle.
  5. Nitrate Levels: Nitrate is a byproduct of the nitrogen cycle and should be maintained at a relatively low level, preferably below 40 ppm (parts per million). Regular water changes can help keep nitrate levels in check.

Routine tank care includes weekly water renew (about 25% of the total tank capacity). Since when there are a lot of leftovers and other litter in the water, it first of all effects the state and appearance of the fish fins.

Substrate

Aquarium gravel is a popular substrate choice for betta fish tanks. It comes in various colors and sizes, allowing you to create a visually appealing tank. Fine-grain aquarium sand can also be used as a substrate for betta fish tanks. Sand provides a natural and soft bottom surface.

Some betta fish keepers prefer to have a bare bottom tank, which means having no substrate at all. A bare bottom tank has the advantage of easy cleaning and maintenance, and it allows for good water circulation. However, it may lack the aesthetic appeal of a substrate-filled tank.

Decor

Live or artificial plants can be added to the tank. Live plants, such as Java fern, Anubias, or floating plants like Amazon frogbit, provide hiding spots, oxygenation, and natural aesthetics. Artificial plants offer low-maintenance alternatives and can still provide hiding places and visual interest.

Betta fish appreciate hiding spots to retreat and rest. Decorative caves, tunnels, or coconut shells can serve as hiding places while adding texture and visual appeal to the tank.

Floating logs or specially designed betta hammocks provide resting spots near the water’s surface. These mimic the betta fish’s natural behavior of resting on plant leaves or other surfaces.

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Diet

Diet plays a crucial role in betta fish overall health and well-being. Betta fish is omnivorous in the wild, it can even feed on some algae; however, insects are its main diet. In the wild, it feeds on insects larva, zooplankton, water insects.

In a tank, it eats all types of live, frozen, and artificial feed, so there shouldn’t be any trouble in this respect. The only thing is that you should make diet diversified by changing feed types to keep the fish healthy and brightly colored. Betta fish should be fed small portions two times a day. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and related health issues, so it’s important to provide the right amount of food. Monitor your betta fish’s eating habits and adjust the feeding frequency and portion sizes accordingly. It’s better to slightly underfeed than to overfeed betta fish. Uneaten food can pollute the water and compromise water quality. If you notice uneaten food after a few minutes, remove it from the tank to maintain good water conditions.

A staple part of a betta fish’s diet should be high-quality betta pellets. Look for pellets specifically formulated for betta fish, as they provide essential nutrients and are usually designed to float, making it easier for bettas to locate and consume them.

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While betta pellets are a primary food source, it’s beneficial to incorporate variety into their diet. Supplement their diet with occasional feedings of live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms, or other small invertebrates. These provide additional nutrients and help mimic the natural diet of betta fish.

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Tank mates

When it comes to choosing tank mates for betta fish, careful consideration is necessary due to the territorial and aggressive nature of male bettas. While female bettas can generally coexist peacefully in larger tanks, it’s crucial to provide adequate space, hiding spots, and monitor their behavior.

Here are some compatible tank mate options for betta fish:

  1. Female Betta Fish: The thing that definitely shouldn’t be done is putting two males in one tank, because they will surely have fights. Females of this kind are less aggressive, though they have a rather strong hierarchy.Therefore, one male can be kept together with several females provided that the latter have enough shelters in a tank. Female bettas can be housed together in groups of at least five or more. This allows for the formation of a sorority where aggression is spread out among multiple individuals. However, it’s important to closely monitor their behavior and be prepared to separate any aggressive individuals if necessary.
  2. Peaceful Community Fish: Certain peaceful and non-aggressive fish can be suitable tank mates for bettas. Some options include small schooling fish like neon tetras, ember tetras, harlequin rasboras, or celestial pearl danios. Ensure that the tank is large enough to provide swimming space for all inhabitants and that the other fish are not nippy or have long, flowing fins that could trigger aggression in the betta.
  3. Snails: Peaceful snails like nerite snails or Malaysian trumpet snails can make good tank mates for betta fish. They help clean up excess food and algae, and their slow movement and shell provide a different visual interest in the tank.
  4. Shrimp: Certain species of shrimp, such as Amano shrimp, can be compatible with betta fish. However, be aware that some bettas may view shrimp as food and may try to hunt or nip at them. It’s essential to observe the betta’s behavior and be prepared to remove the shrimp if necessary.

You definitely shouldn’t keep it together with the fishes that are nipping fins, for example, dwarf puffer or tiger barb. However, betta itself may start nipping fins, so don’t keep it together with long-finned fish kinds. Sometimes, they attack other fishes in a tank, but usually, it’s because the fish has taken them for its relatives.

Gender differences: male vs female

It’s quite easy to see between males and females. Male bettas generally have longer and more elaborate fins compared to females. Their fins can be large and flowing, with different shapes and patterns. Female bettas have shorter fins that are less elaborate.

Male bettas typically have a slimmer and more streamlined body shape, while female bettas have a rounder and fuller body shape, especially when they are carrying eggs.

Male bettas are known for their territorial and aggressive behavior, especially towards other male bettas. They may display flaring, chasing, and fighting behaviors. Females, on the other hand, are generally less aggressive and can often coexist peacefully with other fish.

Male bettas exhibit a unique behavior of building bubble nests at the water’s surface. They construct these nests using bubbles and saliva to protect their eggs during breeding. Female bettas do not build bubble nests.

Breeding

As a majority of Anabantoidei kind, the betta fish is a bubble nest builder. Breeding is an easy, but rather a troublesome process due to the male temper and the ill health of juveniles.

To grow the juveniles successfully, one should get prepared for the process. After you’ve chosen a couple of breeders, you should feed them well with live feed and keep the fish separately before they start spawning.

Once the female is ready to spawn, its abdomen becomes more rounded due to the eggs she has inside. As soon as the couple is ready to breed, it’s put into a spawning tank with the water level not higher than 15 cm.

You may encounter some info over the Internet, which says that a tank of 10 liters capacity will do as a spawning tank, however, if you do some calculations, you’ll see that it’s not enough.

Choose the tank capacity according to your resources, you could do with any other tank size, since anyway male will haunt and fight the female and she’ll need a place to hide.

Increase the water temperature up to 26-28 °C, and then the couple will start building a nest. To keep the betta male from killing the female, add some thickly growing plants into the tank (for example, some Java moss and keep in mind that 10 liters capacity isn’t enough).

Put some floating plants on the water surface – water lettuce or amazon frogbit.

As soon as the nest is ready, the betta male will start calling the female to get closer to it. Then the female will close its fins and approach to the male, but keep an eye on the male so he wouldn’t kill her!

The male embraces the female one squeezing the eggs out of her, and simultaneously sperm is being released. Female lays about 40 eggs in a time and about 200 eggs in general during the whole spawning period. The eggs go down to the tank bottom, and the male picks them up and puts into the nest.

The betta female can also help him with that, but more often she just eats the eggs, so it’s better to remove the female from the spawning tank right after the spawning is finished.

The eggs hatch in 24-36 hours. Larva stays in the nest for 2 or 3 days after that, until it completely eats its yolk sack and starts to swim.

Once juveniles start to swim, you’d better remove the male from the tank, because it may start eating the juveniles. You should lower the water level (up to 5-7 cm) and turn on the aeration at a minimal level.

These should be done till the juveniles have their labyrinth organ completely developed, and they start taking some air from the water surface. After that, you may start to raise the water level gradually. All the abovementioned happens in about 4-6 weeks after the spawning.

Feed betta juveniles with infusorian, egg yolk. As the juveniles grow, you may add some brine shrimp nauplii and tubifex into their diet.

Betta juvenile’s rate of growth is quite individual and different, so you should sort them according to their size to avoid cannibalism among them and to prevent their fights in the future.