Betta Fish: An in-depth look

Background

Betta fish (Beta Splendens) are from the Mekong delta in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The average length of a betta fish is 6.5 cm or 2.6 inches. Male betta fish have large fins and are more prominent in pet shops. Female betta fish tend to have less vibrant colors and much smaller fins which makes them less attractive in pet shops.

Image of a striking red male betta fish
Image of a striking red male betta fish

Lifespan

Betta fish are able to live up to ten years if kept in good conditions. With that said, a properly raised betta fish can expect to have a lifespan of three to seven years. This is because of the conditions most betta fish are kept in before they reach a good forever home. Because betta fish have the ability to breathe air at the water surface, they have been exploited by keeping them in small containers to save space. In reality, a betta fish should really be kept in a minimum 2.5 gallon aquarium.

Aquarium parameters

The following are aquarium conditions that a betta fish will require to live, and more importantly thrive.

Water Temperature

Recommended temperature range: 24°C to 28°C (75-82 °F)
Temperature range: 12°C to 32°C

Tank size

Minimum tank size: 2.5 gallon aquarium
A very general rule of thumb for stocking a tank in our hobby is 1 inch of fish for every 1 gallon of water. Hence the minimum tank size of 2.5 gallons for an average length fish of 2.6 inches. That being said, I highly recommend that you obtain the largest tank that you can afford for your betta fish. That is because, tank size based on fish length is only a very small part of the equation of keeping good water conditions for your fish. A tank at the minimum is going to be harder to keep good water conditions for your fish. It will require more frequent water changes to keep water parameters in check. This is going to stress your fish during the water change and the water temperatures are probably not going to be identical which will also contribute to a stressed fish. Poor water conditions will reduce the life span and colour of your betta fish.

Diet

In the wild, betta fish eat a variety of insect larvae, insects, and plants for fibre. In the aquarium, a good quality fish pellet food would be sufficient. When picking out a food, review the ash content in the description. Better quality foods tend to have lower ash. (Ash is a natural byproduct of the other components of the fish food and provides very little nutritional benefit to the fish. It does have some fibre that will benefit the betta, but in general try to choose the food with the lower ash number)

Reproduction

In the wild

In the wild, when a male betta fish is ready to mate, he will create a nest of bubbles that are made with his saliva. He will then court a female betta fish which can last several hours to several days. Once ready, they will embrace, and the male will squeeze the eggs out of the female which will fall to the ground. The male fish will then pick the eggs up and deposit them into the bubble nest. Once the mating is completed, the female will leave as the male will get very aggressive while guarding the eggs.

In the aquarium setting

In the aquarium hobby, you will require the following:
1) A male betta fish
2) A female betta fish
3) An appropriate breeding tank (5 to 10 gallons)
4) A tank divider or a breeding trap

Obtain a breeding pair

Betta fish mate best when they are young. When purchasing betta fish from a store, you can use the following indicators to try to find a young fish:
1) Color – Older betta fish will have color that looks slightly faded. Try to pick a fish with stronger vibrant colors.
2) Size – An adult betta fish is roughly 2.6 inches. Any fish that is smaller is either a juvenile or was fed a poor diet when it was a juvenile.
3) Eyes – Older fish will probably have cataracts which exhibits as gray eyes.

Purchasing a female betta

Most pet shops will identify the female bettas. Female bettas are usually less colorful than males and do not have the impressive finnage that male bettas have.

Good diet

As with many other types of fish, when attempting to breed betta fish it is a good idea to feed them a diet that includes live foods. This can include brine shrimp, blood worms, or daphnia. If you do not have live foods, a variety of good quality flake and pellet foods can be used. With luck, a good diet will condition your betta fish to get into a breeding mood.

In the breeding tank

Place a clear divider in the breeding tank to separate it in half. Once you’ve been feeding live foods for a week, you can introduce your breeding pair into the breeding tank. Keep the male and the female separate, but when they see each other, they should exhibit signs of interest. The male will show off by flaring its fins. An alternative to dividing the entire tank is to place the female in a plastic breeding container in the tank for a few hours each day. This is because the breeding containers are generally small and might cause stress to the female. The goal is to get the male betta fish to build his bubble nest.

Once the bubble nest is built, turn off your filter and release the female into the breeding tank. Be sure to keep an eye on the pair, as the male will likely nip at the female. As long as the male isn’t doing any real damage to the female, this is fine. The other reason you want to keep an eye on the tank is once the female has completed mating, you will want to remove her as soon as possible because she could try to eat her eggs and the male may try to harm her after he has finished depositing the eggs into the bubble nest.

Fry hatching

You should leave the male in the breeding tank until the fry are free swimming. When the fry have hatched, they will still be feeding off their egg sacs and living in the bubble nest. Any fry that fall out of the nest will be put back in the nest by the male. About three days after hatching, the fry will be free swimming and you can remove the male. During the three days of hatching, you can choose not the feed the male as he instinctively will have a suppressed appetite while caring for the fry. In the first week of the life, the fry should be fed microworms or baby brine shrimp. Be cautious with baby brine shrimp as feeding too much could result in swim bladder disorder.

Beautiful male betta fish with red fins and a greyish-black accents on the tips of its fins and on its body
Beautiful male betta fish with red fins and a greyish-black accents on the tips of its fins and on its body

Behaviour

Male betta fish are territorial and will fight to the death. Hence the name Siamese Fighting Fish. Ensure male betta fish are not kept with other betta fish unless for breeding purposes.
Female betta fish can live with other female betta fish. These fish will establish a “pecking order” by fighting, but will generally be able to live together. To ensure success with a female betta tank, ensure the tank is large enough for multiple fish and having any tank decorations that can bring up line of sight in the tank can reduce the chances of conflict.

Plakat Bettas

Plakat Betta fish are a short-finned type of betta fish. In Thailand, plakat betta fish are the main fish used for fighting. I have read rumors that plakat betta fish are more aggressive but I have never personally owned a plakat betta fish.

Suitable tank mates

Ember Tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae)

Ember tetras tend to be small and school in nature. Furthermore, they are not known to nip at fins which is ideal for the betta. They do not resemble a male betta and will not be viewed as a threat by the betta fish .

Corydoras

Corydoras are a peaceful type of catfish. They are great tank mates for community tanks as they stay at the bottom unless they are swimming to the top for a breath and they will consume any food that falls to the bottom of the tank. Most corydoras appreciate temperature that falls in the ideal range for a betta fish. Before purchasing a type of cory, be sure to look up their ideal temperature!

Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma Heteromorpha)

Harlequin rasboras come from the same region as the betta fish. They are a peaceful schooling fish that will not nip at the betta fish’s fins. They do not resemble a male betta fish and will not be viewed as a threat by the betta fish.

Dwarf Plecos

There are multiple types of dwarf plecos that have different diets. The great thing about dwarf plecos is that they do not resemble a male betta fish and will not be viewed as a threat by the betta fish. Depending on the dwarf pleco, they will provide different benefits to the community tank. A clown pleco will eat driftwood that is in the tank, this will prevent the wood from decaying over time. A king tiger pleco is a bottom feeder and will eat any left over food that falls to the floor of the aquarium. A bristlenose pleco eats vegetables and some forms of algae.

Conclusion

The betta fish is one of the most beautiful fish in the aquarium hobby and can be kept either by itself or in a community aquarium. Contrary to popular practice by most pet shops to house betta fish in small containers, they should be provided with decent sized containers for their personal well being. A well cared for betta fish can provide years of enjoyment.

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