Picking out and Pampering your Betta

Tank Requirements:

A betta should be kept in no less than a 1 gallon container. Many breeders use Beanie Babie containers or quart mason jars, but these fish also get water changes multiple times a week. The larger the container, the less water changes you have to do, and the happier your betta is.

When you get up into the larger tank sizes, like 10 gallons and up, water changes are greatly reduced. Ten gallons also allow for the addition of more fish, if you desire. A community tank (multiple fish) should be no smaller than a 10 gallon. Most freshwater fish (besides guppies and teeny mosquito fish) require a minimum size of 10 gallons. In 10 gallons, the tank can cycle (bacteria grows that will turn ammonia to nitrite, nitrite to nitrate, and nitrite is plant food!) and you can have several fish (depending on the species you prefer), or even several bettas if you desire.

Bettas are tropical fish, and therefore do best in a water temperature between 78 and 82 degrees. Bettas are very sturdy and can handle water several degrees above or below these temperatures, but it is best to have them at a stable temperature. Using a heater in your tank will help keep the temperature stable. Aeration is not required. Since bettas are anabantoids, or air breathers, they rise to the surface to gulp air. However, if you wish to keep other fish in with the betta, aeration is needed. Aeration does not actually provide oxygen, it agitates the surface of the water to increase the waters oxygen level. If you have a well planted tank and a low fish load, aeration is not needed due to the plants providing oxygen. But for begginners, and for those who don’t want to risk fish suffocation, aeration can still be used.


Water Requirements

Bettas need clean, safe water to live in. There is a myth perpetuated by irresponsible pet stores that bettas live their entire lives in squalid mud holes. In reality, bettas live in thousands of gallons of waters in the rice feilds and swampy areas of Asia. During the dry season, sometimes bettas are forced to live in small amounts of water, but that is for short periods of times. Bettas, like any fish, do well in large amounts of clean, fresh water.

Make sure that your water is free of chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals. Sometimes well water can be used without any treatment, but most water, and all city water, needs a water conditioner to make it safe for fish. If you are unsure about if your water from the tap is safe or not, either call your city water company and ask about what chemicals are in the water, or have your water tested at your local pet store. If your water needs conditioning, there are several good products out there to use. Novaqua and Amquel are popular, and can be found in most pet stores. Aquasafe is a cheaper conditioner, but I love it. It removes chloraine, chloramine, and heavy metals, and is cheaper than other conditioners. Depending on the toxicity (to fish!) of your water, you may need to use a more expensive conditioner. Again, consult your local pet store as to which conditioner would be best for your fish.

Water changes are very important to water quality. Your bettas water should never be anything but clear and free of debris. While your betta can live a suprisingly long time is yellow, filthy water, its cruel to force it to do so. The way to have clean, clear water for your betta is to do water changes when needed. A one gallon container needs either a 100% water change one time a week, or else 50% water changes two times a week. The larger the container, the less water changes you need. Therefore, a two gallon can have a 50% water change one time a week, and a five gallon can have a 50% water change every other week.

In five gallon tanks and up, you can have the tank cycle, which will eventually cut down on the amount of water changes you need to do. Cycling, in short, is where bacteria grows that changes toxic chemicals into less toxic chemicals, which are then sometimes used as food by live plants. These chemicals are also drawn out by at least monthly gravel vacuums and water changes. Eventually, a cycled 10 gallon tank will need only a monthly gravel vacuum and to have evaporated water added weekly.


Plants are a welcome addition to any tank. Plants provide hiding spaces for shy or harrassed fish, resting spots (bettas love to relax on broad plant leaves), help oxygenate the water, help remove dangerous toxins, and give the tank a more natural look. There are numerous plants which are easy to maintain and easy to find at your local pet store. All of the following plants require minimal lighting (25-50 watts pet 25 gallons) and are useful in both community tanks and spawning tanks.

Apogneton ulvaceus : This is the most common type of apognetons I have been able to find. Apognetons are one of my favorite plants – they are easy to grow, very hardy, and grow quite large. I’ve been able to find packages of bulbs at Wal-Mart to start my plants from, and they have grown to be over 18 inches tall. The bettas love these. Apognetons have large, broad dark green leaves, and multiple stems from each bulb. These are perfect for 10 gallons and up. Apognetons don’t need to be rooted, which also makes them perfect for the bare bottomed spawning tank. Several of these floating in a 10 gallon provides shade, protection from other fish, and a great relaxing spot.

Pygmaea Helvola or Dwarf Water Lillies: These are much like the apognetons, and have the same care and benefits of the apognetons. Dwarf lillies do not grow as tall as apognetons.

Echinodorus, also known as Amazon swords and raddican swords: These broad leafed, rosette plants are very sturdy and can grow quite large. These do best when rooted, althogh they can be successful as free-floating plants. Swords are most often found as already sprouted plants. They can grow up to 1.5-2 feet, and their broad leaves are another favorite sleeping spot of bettas.

Ceratopterus thalictroides, also known as water sprite or water fern. A very pretty feathered, bright green plants with a dense rosette growth from the roots. This grows up to 20 inches, and is very prolific. Great for babies and harrassed adults to hide in.

Lemnaceae family, also known as duckweed. There are several different types of duckweed, each of which are different sizes. Duckweed is a floating plant that produces readily by budding. Duckweed is great to provide a shade for the bettas, and males love to incorporate duckweed into their bubble nests.

Vesicularia dubyana, also known as java moss. This is a favorite among fish breeders,. Java moss is a leaf moss with thin stems and teeny leaves. It forms a fairly dense clump that baby fish love to hide in. Bettas also like to go and bury themselves face first into it, as its easy to move through. It grows very well and can form mats across the tank. Java moss doesn’t need to be rooted, and is often left to just float free in the tank.


What to do before getting a betta

As when getting any fish, you want to be prepared. First, research the betta (as you are likely doing by reading this page!). Learn what to expect of his behavior, what equipment you need, water requirements, and what diseases are common. Second, set up his or her tank. Rinse out the tank thouroughly, and rub it down with a wet washcloth. Soap is not needed and shouldn’t be used. Treat the water and let the tank run for 3-4 days before adding any fish. This applies even to one gallon tanks. Get your food before hand. Make sure the tank is in a safe area. Tanks too close to the window may get too cold or too hot. You don’t want the tank where it will be bumped into, where it is not fully supported, or where its hard to access it.


Picking out and purchasing a betta

Its important to try and pick out the healthiest betta you can. If you are buying from a breeder, ask around on fish forums to see who has bought from this breeder. Reputations are pretty important in the fish hobby, and if you’re a bad breeder, people will soon know.

If you are buying from a pet store, try and find a pet store that has the most space for their bettas. Some pet stores keep their bettas in mason jars, and the pet store that does this is likely to take better care of them than one that doesn’t. You may also see bettas in the tanks with other fish. This is a better place for the betta to be than in tiny cups, but make sure to look at the other fish in the tank to check for illness. Finally, don’t buy from a store that doesn’t keep their bettas in very clean water. If the water is murky, or even yellow, don’t buy there. It often means disease.

When looking at the actual betta itself, there are several things to look for. Torn fins, curled fins, laying at the bottom, and heavy breathing are all possible indicators of disease. The ideal betta will have blown a bubble nest, be flaring at his neighbors, dancing around in his water, and have finnage that he loves to spread.


Acclimating the betta

Since your tank has set for a few days, the water should either be room temperature, or else at whatever temp you set your heater at. Float your betta in his container for 20 minutes. This allows the water temp outside the bag to equalize the temp inside the bag. This also provides time for your betta to chill out before being put into a new enviroment.

When putting the betta in the tank, open the bag, pour it into a net suspended over a bucket (to catch the water). Once netted, gently place him in the tank and let him swim out. You don’t want the water that he came in to be in the aquarium, as its often dirty and can carry diseases.

If there are other occupants in the tank, before releasing the betta give them a touch of food to distract them. You don’t want them swarming your betta as he enters his new home!!!
He may not eat for a day or so. Don’t worry, he will eat eventually!


Live food: Live foods can be offered, and most bettas love them. Large grindal worms, fruit flies, blackworms, mosquitos and mosquito larve are some of the more popular live foods. These can be used when alternating with Hikari Betta Bites, or if you have a large enough selection of live foods, these can be the only foods fed to the betta. The most important thing about live foods is making sure they are free of disease and parasites that might attack your betta.

For best health, your bettas should be fed a variety of foods. Hikari Bio-Gold Betta Bites should be at least 50% of their diet. Hikari Bio-Gold provides complete nutrition, and is the best pellet food out there. The rest of the bettas diet should be a mixture of foods. In our bettas, we feed them freeze dried (FD) bloodworms, FD brine shrimp, FD daphnia, frozen brine shrimp, and two other types of betta pellet. Other pellets are still nutritious, but none surpass Hikari (no, I don’t work for Hikari, I just know they make good stuff!).

When feeding your betta, you want to remember the bettas stomach is about the size of its stomach. Bettas can get by wonderfully with one feeding a day. If you want to keep your bettas in breeding condition, feedings should be increased to twice a day. Breeding condition mean simply that at any time the bettas can be put in the spawning tank. If you don’t ever plan to breed your bettas, you should not keep them in breeding conditions. Breeders sometimes walk a fine line between having conditioned bettas and overweight bettas, the latter being dangerous to the betta.

When feeding your betta once a day, alternate at least one other food (bloodworms are the favorite) every other or every three days. Replace the meal of Hikari Betta Bites with another food. This should keep your betta happy and looking forward to mealtime, since it will never know what kind of food is coming that night!
If you plan to breed your betta, then alternate the second meal of the day with food besides Hikari Betta Bites. We do this with ours and have great success with it.

Betta Tankmates

Bettas can make great additions to the community tank, but their tank mates need to be chosen with care and the bettas personality taken into consideration.

First, is your betta highly aggressive, or has it been alone for most of its life? Some bettas are solely solitary fish. Adult males can be aggressive to any fish, whether it is the same species or not. Males that have often been alone for several months may not welcome other fish into “his” territory. If it is an old fish who has been alone all of his life, then it is better to leave him that way. Old fish may become stressed when surrounded by new, curious fish, whose motives he isn’t sure of.

When picking out tankmates, be aware of all of the fish’s personalities. Watch for fish that might hurt the betta. Fin nipping fish such as barbs and most tetras will often rip at the males finnage, which can lead to the male killing its tankmates, or the male being killed from damage and infection from his torn fins. Gouramis are never good tankmates for bettas, as they are anabantoids like the betta. Gouramis will fight, and often kill, bettas. Other aggressive fish (cichlids, especially when spawning) shouldn’t be part of the bettas tank, as they may get into a territory battle. Next, consider whether or not the betta will be a danger to the fish. Fancy guppies and lyretail swordtails, with long finnage, may pose a challenge to the betta and be hurt or killed. Small, darting fish (mosquito fish or small neon tetras) may be mistaken for food and eaten. Livebearer (molies, platies, guppies, swordtails) fry will be swallowed eagerly.

So what kind of fish can you have with a betta? A whole bunch of kinds, actually. Catfish are fine, and are cute as can be, too. Livebearers (besides those with fancy finnage) make great companions, as long as you don’t expect the fry to survive. Danios and rainbow fish are peaceful and quite beautiful fish. Larger, non-aggressive tetras and barbs (adult Neon Tetras, Cherry barbs) make fine tankmates, as do plecostomus and many sharks, such as the bala or red tail shark (many sharks get quite large though, so be sure that you have enough tank space for the adult sharks). Shrimps can be good tankmates, but some bettas will eat the shrimp.

Bettas with other bettas:

If you want to have a species only tank, here are some considerations:
No more than one male can be kept in a community tank, unless there is a divider keeping the two males from coming into contact with each other.

Females need to be kept solitary or in groups of four or more in a community tank. A single female will not pick on or be picked on usually by its non-betta tankmates. Female bettas will always fight for dominance when in the same tank together. The important thing is for one female to not be picked on constantly, or for any female to get really hurt while jockeying for her position in the heirarchy. Three females or fewer will lead to one female being harrassed constantly. Four females spreads the fighting and sparring over more fish, and there is less of a chance for a single betta to be harmed by the encounters. After the initial dance for dominance, females will usually remain peaceful unless disturbed (a move, a new female or fish added, etc). Also, tanks with female bettas need to be heavily planted. This provides cover for girls when they need to rest, or are trying to hide from another female. Java moss is great for this purpose.

Males and females should never be kept together. Doing so will more than likely lead to one of the following: A) spawning, B) fighting and fin damage, and possibly C) death, from damage inflicted by the other betta during the fighting. If you want to spawn your bettas, you need a proper setup, not a community tank.

The aging betta

As bettas get older, they slow down, like everyone else. Bettas can be expected to live till about two years of age. Considering the average age that a betta is sold is 5 months, that means you should have about a year and a half with each betta.

When the betta gets 14-15 months and older, he will probably sleep a lot more, be slower to flare, and generally not be the same betta that he was when you first got him. To make him more comfortable, heat and filtration can be added. A betta prefers a temperature of 78 degrees, and cold will make any betta slow down. Filtration decrease the number of water changes required, which reduces his stress.

Feedings may have to be changed. Watch your betta, and if he isn’t eating as much, don’t feed him as much. Feeding him extra fod just means that it will decay in his tank.

Be extra vigilent about diseases. An aging betta is more supsceptible than a young rapscallion. The best way to prevent disease is to keep him in a heated tank and to have immaculate water.

If your betta is in a community tank, he or she may need to be removed. If your betta is being harrassed or seems distressed from being in the tank, remove the betta and give it a well-deserved rest by itself.

Finally, when your betta passes on, remove him or her from the water promptly and drain the water from the tank if the betta was the only fish in it. Many persons let the water remain in the tank until they get a new betta, but it is more sanitary to wash and dry the tank, and let it stay dry until you find a new betta to love.