Last Updated: 2/19/14
Setup and Water Preferences
Links and Pictures
For information on my betta's tank, visit my aquarium page.
Common names: Betta, Siamese fighting fish
Scientific/Latin names: Betta splendens
Maximum length: 2 to 3 inches
Colors: Bright reds, yellows, blues, purples, oranges, and greens as well as peach, white, and black
Temperature preference: 75 to 90 degrees F
pH preference: 6 to 8
Hardness preference: Soft
Salinity preference: Low to medium
Compatibility: Two males will fight; male may pester females; females generally get along; compatibility with other species varies (see below)
Life span: 3 to 5 years
Ease of keeping: Easy
Ease of breeding: Moderate
The betta or Siamese fighting fish is very well known. Along with goldfish and guppies, they are commonly kept and usually it less-than-ideal homes. The betta, Betta splendens, is a small labyrinth fish from Thailand, Cambodia, and nearby areas. It is able to use oxygen in air to survive. Thus, it can live in small and/or polluted waters. Males do not tolerate other males. It is for this reason that males are kept in tiny containers of water by themselves. Females are rarely even sold. They are a little smaller or seem so because their fins are much shorter. They have less flashy coloration and are more tolerant of other bettas.
Males grow to about three inches and are brightly colored. Colors may include green, red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, white, black, and more! Most bettas are mostly red or blue/green. Females contain these same colors but more in a pastel shade. They have more apricot colored areas too (non-colored). Females grow to about two inches.
Setup and Water Preferences
Bettas like soft, slightly acidic water. A pH from about 6 to 8 will do. They need warm temperatures of at least 75 degrees F but can take short periods (less than a day) in the 60's. Low temperature is one of the most frequent causes of death for bettas. They do not do well at "room temperature" if that temperature is below 75 degrees F for long periods of time. One disadvantage of keeping them in cups and bowls is this lack of temperature control. For a fish that can take down to about 50 degrees F in a bowl, a paradise fish is a better choice (although it is a bit larger and more active and would prefer a tank).
Bettas prefer to eat small, live foods but will eat most small, meat-based foods. Live brine shrimp are a favorite food. My betta ate brine shrimp on his first day with me but strangely on the second day, he took every live brine shrimp he could find into his mouth and then spat them out! Then, he switched to flakes! Many bettas like the small pelleted foods. Bettas spend most of their time at the water's surface so they find it easiest to eat floating foods. My betta also explored other levels in the tank but slept at the top.
Male bettas are sold to be kept in tiny containers of water all by themselves. Because they can gulp and use atmospheric oxygen, they can survive in small puddles of water or small cups. But, just because they can does not mean they have to do so or even should. I put one in my 20 gallon community tank (see below for precautions). He was a bit confused at first, never having seen other fish, plants, and room to move! But, then he loved it! Bettas kept in less than a gallon of water should have the water changed at least a few times a week or as it gets dirty. Because males fight with one another, breeders with lots of fish have no choice but to keep the fish individually in small containers, like bowls, vases, or pickle jars. Bettas are often sold with a "betta vase" which is just a small container usually with a plant stuck in it. While a few microbes or algae might be on the roots short term, the betta will quickly eat those. He may pick at the roots to gather oxygen as well. But, the betta cannot live off the plant alone and must be fed at least a few times a week. Small containers can also foul quickly so frequent 50% water changes are good. The water should never be cloudy or stinky. If you would not drink it based on how it looks (not knowing a fish had been in it), it is not fit for your betta. Please do not keep bettas in tiny containers. See this site for more information.
Compatibility of Bettas with Other Fish:
A male betta attacks other males, females when he sees fit, and fish that HE thinks look like a betta too. He will "fight" with his reflection. Fighting males spread out their gills like wings, lunge, and bite off pieces of fin. Fish with flowing fins may find them nipped by a male betta. These include fancy goldfish (who do not like the heat that a betta likes anyway), fancy guppies, and other longfinned fish. Female bettas are more tolerant. They generally can tolerate other females but there are tales of females who think they are male and nip other fish. Fast moving and nippy fish like many barbs and danios will often nip at slow bettas' fins. If a male betta is put in a warm community tank with no other fish that looks like a betta (no flowing fins) and no fish that may nip or eat him, then he will get along fine. Goldfish and bettas are not a good mix. This is for a number of reasons: the betta may nip the goldfish, the goldfish may pester the betta to death or rip his fins, the goldfish likes it cool while the betta likes it warm, and the piggy goldfish will eat any food added for the betta. Single-finned goldfish grow over a foot long while bettas stay at an inch or two. Goldfish like to move around at a good pace making a mess while bettas like to take their time to move around. I love both goldfish and bettas but just not together.
On 7/31/06, Jennifer pointed out the following:
"...Although females can get along with each other and sometimes with males, the tank setup makes a huge difference in whether or not the attempt is successful. Having plenty of hiding places and room to get away from each other will go a long way in keeping the bettas from hassling each other to death. I mention this because a number of customers in my store commonly misunderstand the idea that females are relatively peaceful to mean that they can toss two or three bettas into a small bowl without a problem as long as only one is male..."
A male betta has bright colors and long fins. An average female has more subdued colors and shorter fins than a male. Some females are more colorful and can be mistaken for males but are generally smaller. When ready to spawn, her abdomen will enlarge with eggs. Because females are rarely sold, most bettas encountered (usually in cups) are male.
Males will build a bubble nest in water less than six inches deep that has floating plants and no water movement. A breeding setup should not have running filters or aeration, or the nest may be destroyed. Floating plants will anchor it in place. Usually, a male and female are conditioned separately but in sight of one another (in two half-filled five gallon tanks for example). They are fed live foods. The male should build a nest as the female's eggs develop. When the nest looks done, and the female is fat, they can be put together. He may bully her. If he gets violent, they need to be separated. Otherwise, they will spawn, and he will put eggs in the floating nest. After her eggs are all out, she should be removed as he will then attack her to protect the nest. Fry hatch in about 24 hours at 80 degrees. Newborns can eat infusuria, egg yolk, and maybe even crushed flakes. Breeding is reported to be easy but it is vital to remove the young males into separated quarters as soon as their sex is apparent.
I redid my aquariums in 2001. I had room for another fish and decided to finally get my first betta. I had always wanted to rescue one from life in a cup. I bought a multi-colored male on 7/29/01 and put him in my twenty gallon tank. He was pretty slow and seemed almost confused by all the stimulation of plants, animals, and room to swim. He flared his gills once that I saw at a little honey gourami who dashed off. It was funny to watch another honey gourami follow the betta with his feelers out, trying to make contact! Fifi got along well with the other fish. I named him Fifi which is sort of short for fighting fish (the first two letters of each word). Fifi was gorgeous! My only concerns were the water movement which may be too much for the betta who has never had to deal with that and also that he may get his fins sucked into the filter intake if he rests near there. Really though, the filter was mild especially once the surface was nearly 100% covered in floating fern which broke up the water movement. By his second day with us, Fifi was swimming more vigorously (making up for lost exercise!) and eating flake food.
On 8/3/01, I discovered that Fifi had ick. Since I did not quarantine (bad me!), I had to treat the entire tank with increased temperature, salt, and ick medication. He recovered easily but nine other fish in the tank died (out of 18) within the few weeks after they were cured of ick. Fifi's photo on 8/4/01 is at the top of the page.
Unfortunately, Fifi died on 12/19/01 for unknown reasons. He had not been himself for a few days and not coming to eat. There were no signs of external parasites, funguses, or infections of any sort. I am not sure if he died from non-visible parasites or from old age. Bettas are known for only living a few years. I only had him five months but have no idea what his age was when I got him. Since they take about 6 months to be large enough to be sold and then often sit in the store for months, he could already have been a year or two old when I got him. I miss Fifi because he was always eager to be fed, would seem to look at me, and moved around the tank with real purpose making funny movements as he eyed in on something and would nip at it.
Homer and Marge:
On 10/19/07, I finally got another betta after almost six years. I wanted some fish in my basement pond and decided on a betta. My 2.5 year old niece
wanted a purple one so I got one that is kind of white/pink in the body with blue and purple fins.
I named him Homer. I added a little aquarium salt, Stress Coat, Stress Zyme, MelaFix, and
Aquarisol (for ick prevention) to the tub pond. Here are some photos. The first three were taken
while he was in the cup I got him in.:
Homer - right side
Homer - left side
Homer - top view
The basement pond with Homer in it
Homer started making a lot of bubble nests. I felt bad that he was destined to be alone. I decided to buy him a female friend. I obviously cannot house a lot of bettas so I will not try to raise any resulting fry apart from their parents. If any survive, I will certainly take care of them (I have three aquariums that can take some if needed). I added Marge on 11/16/07. She is half his size and definitely was not egg laden (yet). She was kind of naturally colored with light blue fins (initially). I will let you know if Bart, Lisa, and Maggie show up. I had always read that male bettas are so mean, especially to female bettas. Well, when I put her in, he saw her. Instead of attacking, he swam away from her! It has only been a day now that she has been in there but I have not seen her again as she is hiding. There is plenty of room in there to hide. He, on the other hand, comes right up when he sees me and shows off. He is really getting pretty now that he is out of the horrid cup he was in. Homer is not bothering Marge but she is also still in hiding.
Here are two not so good photos taken on 11/16/07 before I put Marge into the pond. I am sorry
that my camera would not focus on her.
Marge - top view
Marge - top view
Aha! On 11/24/07, I finally spotted Marge after 8 days. She is fine. She has gone from light in color to almost black with really blue fins, almost like that female betta shown above (photo someone sent me). I think she may be trying to show him who is boss. Her fins might be a little tattered (hard to tell from above), and she seems to have already grown (although she is still tiny). I could see both of them at the same time (they could see each other), and they were not bothering each other. When I fed them, I saw both of them eat.
I noticed that Homer was guarding about a dozen eggs on 12/24/07. They were gone a few days later, and he stopped guarding that spot under the big white fake floating plant. I do not know if any hatched but I do not think that any survived. There were pond snails (that came in with the plants from my pond) who were driving around the eggs but Marge may have also eaten some. Sometimes Homer chases her to nip at her but she is faster. Other times they will both be close when I put in food, and he does not go after her. I think the aggression of bettas is overrated (except for males with males which I have not done or suggest!).
On 1/17/08, I noticed that Homer was guarding a nice batch of eggs. There was a little pond snail there too though. I feel bad not rescuing the eggs but also know it is hard to raise fry, especially with bettas where the males have to live separately as adults.
Marge on 1/13/08. You can see the intense blue on the edges of her dorsal and caudal fins. The rest of her is pretty much black. The red thing is the adjustment dial on the submerged heater. Behind her is the black intake of the Penguin Mini filter.
I noticed in early March that I had not seen Marge in a while. I realized the morning of 3/11/08 that something was stuck to the filter intake. I feared it was her. I confirmed that when I got home from work and took it off. I do not know if Homer contributed to her demise but it is certainly possible. When I had seen them interact the last few months, it was never overly aggressive, just mild chasing. She had not been damaged by him before. I guess all it would have taken was for him to have one attack mode. Her body was too degraded to tell if she had been bitten. I do not plan to get another betta so do not worry.
On 3/14/08, I bought seven rosy red minnows in an attempt to get my turtle to eat. He killed two but ate none so I had to find a place for the five minnows. I moved Homer from the basement pond and put him in to the 20 gallon aquarium on 3/18/08. The minnows then went in the pond. Homer really seems to like the 20 gallon tank! He is getting along with the fish, frogs, and shrimp. I was worried he might bother the shrimp but Homer is a slow mover with a tiny mouth. He is enjoying the added food variety.
Here is a photo of Homer in the 20 gallon tank right after I put him in there. It was the best betta
photo I have ever taken so I also put it at the top of the page!
Homer on 3/18/08.
Homer on 4/5/08.
On 11/7/08, I realized that Homer was developing what so many bettas get. His tummy is starting to bulge. Whether it is dropsy, fish tuberculosis, or some kind of tumors, it seems to be what afflicts the bettas of most of the people who contact me. I hope Homer hangs on and does as best as he can. I have had him a year. Most bettas are almost a year old when bought at the store and only live a few years.
Here is a photo of Homer from 12/13/08 when he was moderately bloated up (filled with fluid).
As I type this on 12/26/08, he is huge and probably will not live much longer.
Homer continues to get larger. I can see through his body to the other side. It is just full of water
inside. This photo is from 1/8/09:
Homer died on 2/14/09. My niece and I will miss him. She always would ask, "Where's Homer?" or say "I see Homer!" with such zest.
I impulsively bought another betta for my 20 gallon tank on 6/19/09. This time, I got a female. She was powder blue. I named her Pretty because she was.
These photos of Pretty are from 6/19/09:
Pretty - two adult panda cories are in the photo; you can see how small Pretty is.
Pretty has done well but already a problem has appeared. Sometime in early September of 2009, she started to develop a small growth, cyst, or infected tumor on her right gill plate. I hope it does not get any larger.
I was saddened to find Pretty dead on 10/31/09. I did not think she would die so soon and suddenly. I will not get another betta anytime soon.
I got a new betta on 3/9/12 for the 20 gallon tank. I wanted him to be strong so his name is Rambo. He is a double tail male betta. He is still small with a dark body and white fins. He is having fun exploring after a life of tiny containers.
I took these photos of Rambo on 3/9/12 on the day that I got him.
Rambo - in the cup they had him in
Rambo - in the cup
Rambo - from above, in a bowl during acclimation
I saw Rambo on 3/15/12, and his fins were red as from septicemia. I do not know what is wrong or why. He is mostly hiding. I hope he can hang in there. I have not seen Rambo since. No body was found. He is presumed dead. I will update if he shows up. I will make a note to never get a betta again. I thought his life would be better in a 20 gallon tank than a bowl but I was wrong.
Links and Pictures
Betta FAQ - This is an archived version as the site is now gone. The last archive says they did not pay their bill so this is the archive before that.
California Betta Society and Betta FAQ
Betta Talk - a great site, especially for beginners
Tera's Bettas - information, breeder lists, breeding, etc.
The Betta FAQ
bcbetta - a betta breeder with lots of gorgeous photos of fancy bettas and some information on breeding, etc.
Fish Profile on Betta
Healthy Betta - "Your source to keep your betta happy and healthy."
Not Trash Pets - a site dedicated to spreading the word that small animals are not trash pets.
Ultimate Bettas - a betta forum
Photos are listed from oldest to newest.
Here is a photo of a male betta that Sascha sent to me on 6/9/05. The betta has a kinked spine and scales sticking out. He most likely had dropsy. The poor guy died about a week later.
Deb sent me this photo on 8/14/05 of her female betta.
Gina sent me these photos of her betta on 3/6/06. His name is UB.
UB right side
UB right side
UB left side
UB front view
Gina later sent these four photos on 6/29/06 of another male betta, a real beauty named Pinky.
When she first got him, he was all white and sick but look at how gorgeous he turned out!
Pinky - right side
Pinky - right side
Pinky - right side
Pinky - left side
Go to this page to see photos of a betta with a tumor that Diana treated with surgery.
Xochitl sent photos of his sick male betta on 9/10/06. The betta has some sort of swelling on the
right side. It is hard to tell from the photos what it is but it may contain fluid.
Betta - top view.
Betta - side view.
Meg sent this photo of her male betta, Pinot Griso on 10/2/06.
Melissa sent these photos of her sick betta with dropsy on 7/24/07. His name was Guido and
he died shortly after the photos were taken.
Paul sent this photo of his male betta UMB on 10/21/07. He is a multicolored crowntail.:
Paul sent another photo of UMB on 12/14/07. UMB died of dropsy in the fall of 2008.
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