An Intro to Betta Fish


Bettas or Siamese Fighting Fish are a tropical fish species reigning from Southeast East Asia. The domesticated bettas are of the species betta splenden. This species have been line bred over generations to produce the variety of fancy strains we see today. 

Contrary to popular belief, the bettas do not live in small puddles in the wild. Their natural territorial areas are indeed small, however, they are normally found in thick vegetation along large water bodies. As such water quality is of utmost importance in keeping a healthy betta. 

Is my betta male or female?

A combination of features is best to determine the gender of the fish. The features being: 
  • The presence of an egg spot
  • Length of Anal & Ventral Fins
  • Shape of the body

Egg spots are typically seen in females, however some males, especially young males can exhibit a false egg spot. The egg spot is a white dot that is found on the abdomen between the ventral fins. 

Males have a longer anal and ventral fin compared to females. This is most prominently seen in the Halfmoon, Crowntail and Delta-tail varieties whereby all fins are significantly longer in males. 

Males have a slender longer body than females, with females being more rounded around the abdominal area. This is most prominent in well matured females that are full of eggs. 

The ability to blow bubble nests and aggression is a weak trait to determine gender as both males and females can blow bubble nests. Some females can also be excessively aggressive whilst some males can be quite docile. 
Therefore, a combination of the 3 above mentioned features is best to determine the gender of the betta. 


What size tank should I use?

The general rule of thumb is 10L per betta in order for ease of maintenance of the water parameters. With that water volume, its less likely for spikes in water parameters to occur. Bigger is always better in these cases as a larger water volume would help prevent sudden parameter spikes. 

Smaller tanks and jars are still possible for bettas, but this would mean more time and effort must be put in to keeping the water quality pristine. This would include higher frequencies of water changes. This can be seen in breeders doing daily water changes in order to keep the fish healthy. 


Do I need to heat the tanks?

Yes, bettas are a tropical fish, so a stable temperature in the range of 24-27C is required to keep them healthy. As such a heat source is required with an aquarium heater being the most popular choice. With smaller jars and tanks, an aquarium heater might not fit, so other options need to be considered. The most common being heat mats or heat cords to run underneath the jars or heating the entire room. 

Do I need a cycled tank?

Yes, having a cycled tank for a betta is the best environment that can be provided. Ammonia and Nitrite levels can cause health issues with symptoms such as a lack of appetite, lethargy and clamped fins. In severe cases, ammonia burn can occur with a white film covering the body of the fish as the slime coat sloughs off. Nitrite poisoning causes red streaking in the fins and body as well as gasping and an increased respiration rate. 

These issues are commonly seen when bettas are kept in smaller containers without a proper water changing regime. 

What is the best medication to keep on hand?

We like to keep the following medications handy:
  • Blue Planet Tri Sulfa
  • Blue Planet Aquaricycline 
  • Methylene Blue
  • Levisamole / Praziquantel / Blue Planet Fluke & Tapeworm

Common diseases in betta fish are bacterial or fungal, with tetracycline being a broad spectrum antibiotic that treats most bacterial diseases and methylene blue treating most fungal ailments. 

Blue Planet Tri-Sulfa along with Aquaricycline is useful in cases of bacterial fin rot.
Levisamole and Praziquantel are internal parasitic medications, best used in worming bettas. We worm our bettas on arrival and every month as a preventative. 

Other items to we like to use as preventatives: 

  • Almond Leaf / Banana Leaf / Blackwater additives
  • Salt

Bettas are naturally found in blackwater environments with low pH and soft water. The tannins that are produced from the above mentioned products have numerous benefits to the health of the betta. With cases of stressed bettas, a thick coffee coloured solution of tannins is best to perk them up. 

Salt is a good preventative to some parasites and bacterial diseases. Typically a dose of 1 teaspoon per 8-10L is recommended for this.

What other fish can I keep with my betta?

Male bettas are too aggressive to keep with other bettas, however, they can be kept with other peaceful community fish such as corydoras, dwarf gouramis, mollies and platies. 

Bettas tend to keep to themselves with the only exception being reports of male guppies being nipped at due to the large fins being mistaken for another betta and of bettas hunting prey species such as shrimp.

With long-finned varieties, consideration must be made in that some tetras can nip at the betta's fins. 

Most other wild betta species can be kept in a colony setting if one wishes to keep male and female bettas together. The dwarf mouthbrooders and bubblenesters such as betta channoides, albimarginata, api api, burdigala, coccina etc are best for this.

Whats the best way to keep a sorority tank? 

Female bettas can be kept together as they are less aggressive. They will spar, so torn fins are to be expected in these settings. 

A fairly large tank is required for these set-ups, the recommendation being tanks 2ft and above. This is as water parameters are more easily maintained and a higher population is recommended to spread out the aggression among the females. As such, a good filtration system to handle to large bioload is required. 
A heavily planted or decorated setting is also required as it provides the illusion of more territorial areas for the fish as well as hiding spots for the less dominant females. 

A seperate hospital and quarantine tank is required too. Due to the fin nipping and sparring that occurs, disease spreads incredibly fast in these set-ups. A hospital tank to seperate any fish that looks worse for wear is essential in keeping the fish healthy. In addition, egg-bound females are a common issue and separating the female to fast for an extended period is needed while being able to feed the rest of the colony.

In the addition of new members, quarantine is a must even if the fish is from a trusted source. There are pathogens naturally present in the environment that are opportunistic. If the fish's immune system is lowered from stress of travel or introduction to a new environment, that can cause a cascade of issues in the main aquarium. 

Troubleshooting Issues

It is best to keep test kits handy for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to test water parameters in situations where the betta is behaving abnormally. 

In the first instance of abnormal behaviour, the first step is to take note of the appearance of the betta. Things to take note is any growths on the body, inflammed areas on the body, growths or inflammed areas on the fins and the colour of the betta. If there are ulcerations or inflammation, it is typically a bacterial ailment and antibiotics would be required. Cotton-like growths would indicate fungal issues. Loss of colour would indicate stress in the fish, which could be an internal bacterial infection or an issue with the water. 

If there are no physical symptoms apart from a lack of colour, the next step is to test the water. Temperature, pH, ammonia and nitrite are the main things to look at. Fluctuations in temperature and pH are common stressors as well as high levels of nitrite and ammonia. 

In situations of rapid acute onset of abnormal behaviour such as lethargy, gasping or in the worst case scenario, death. The most likely reason is a sudden change in environment such as toxins entering the water and large spikes in water parameters. 

Common Myths

Bettas can survive in cups.

Though bettas can take oxygen from the surface and survive short periods in cups. Without the proper care, the low water volume results in large swings in water parameters and eventually will reduce the lifespan of the fish. 

A comparison is made with farms and breeders keeping their livestock in small water volumes in jars and small tanks. However, there must be an understanding in the maintenance taken to ensure proper living conditions in these situations. High levels of labour is often seen to ensure proper conditions are maintained in the frequency of water changes, preparation of water etc. 

In the case of hobbyist set-ups, a filtered, heated and cycled tank is still the best set-up one can provide for the betta. This set up provides an ecosystem that enables proper water parameters to be met so long as weekly maintenance of the tankis taken care of.

I can keep the betta warm on the window sill 

Bettas require a stable tropical temperature in the range of 25 -27C. In warmer months there might not be too much fluctuation in temperature, however once the daytime and nighttime temperatures start to vary, the drop and rise in temperature everyday is going to be a stressor and result in a decline in health of the fish. 

Bettas need to eat everyday. Fasting is bad for my fish

A common issue is overfeeding. Overfeeding results in constipation and bloat in bettas. Some bettas can have a large appetite, but care needs to be taken not to feed too much. Metabolisms can vary with every specific fish, but a good indication is to view the betta fish from above. If the current feeding regime is resulting in the fish getting rounder and rounder along the abdomen, its a sign to cut back on feeding. If the fish is starting to lose muscle mass and the spine of the fish can be seen, then an increase in feeding is required.

Bettas can fast for quite an extended period if kept in good condition. In cases of bloat and eggbound females, the common treatment is to fast for days to a few weeks in severe cases. Prior to shipping, the bettas are fasted as well to minimize waste in their bags. 

Males & Females can be kept together as that happens in the wild.

It is true to some extent,  certain species of wild bettas can be housed in a colony setting and there are cases of domestic bettas being kept in a colony setting when they have been raised together from hatching to adulthood. 

However, the domestic strain of bettas were originally bred for fighting and they do retain that aggression to some degree. Even if raised together from newly hatched fry, once the fish reaches maturity and territorial instincts kick in, they can get increasingly aggressive. 

The betta splendens are a solitary fish in nature, with the fish coming together mainly for breeding. In the natural settings, they have the area to swim away after territorial disputes and after breeding, however this is not possible in an aquarium. 

I can fight my bettas for enrichment.

Flaring bettas in their own individual tanks or against a mirror is good enrichment. Flare training is especially recommended in long-finned varieties and giants to maintain the muscles that hold up their fins. 

However, the act of placing males or females for the sole purpose to fight is a cruel practise that often results in sustained injuries that can affect the eventual health and lifespan of the fish. Even in breeding, there is the process of conditioning both fish prior to introduction. 

Bettas need big bags and a large water volume to be shipped

It is true that the bigger the better in all cases as more oxygen and more water can never hurt the fish. However, a balance between shipping costs and the comfort of the fish need to be met. 

The standard betta tube bag used for shipping holds enough water for the fish to sit and turn comfortably. Though the water volume is low, the fish is fasted to minimise waste and the transit times normally are overnight to an extended delay of 3 days for regional areas.

Oxygen is used in the packaging process to ensure there is plenty of breathable air to survive the journey. As medical grade oxygen is used, along with the betta's ability to take surface air, the amount of oxygen in the bags is sufficient for them to survive up to a week or more. Though not ideal, the amount of breathable air and temperature are the main factors that determine the survival of fish in transit. 

A standard of 2/3 air to 1/3 water is the usual case due to the need for bettas to have sufficient air to breathe comfortably.