The betta fish is a gorgeous and interesting addition to an aquarium. Also known as the “Siamese fighting fish,” the betta has a very unique and feisty personality, making it a favorite among amateur and expert fishkeepers alike.
If you haven’t owned a betta before, though, you may be a bit intimidated about caring for one. Don’t worry: this betta fish care sheet has everything you need to know.
Betta Fish Fact Sheet
|Temperament||Aggressive toward other bettas and other fish when it feels its territory is threatened, but can have unique and friendly disposition toward owner|
|Color||Varies: countless different vivid colors and patterns are possible, with the male tending to be more colorful than the female|
|Lifespan||2-4 years on average|
|Size||2.25 – 3 inches, with males being larger than females due to their longer fins|
|Diet||Carnivorous: pellets, flakes, live/freeze-dried/frozen shrimp, insects, etc.|
|Minimum Tank Size||5 gallons|
|Tank Set-up Difficulty Level||Medium|
|Compatibility with other Fish||Typically solitary fish. Incompatible with other betta fish, but can live with some other small, docile species|
Betta fish (B. splendens) are well-known for their combative personality, as well as for their beautiful, long, flowing fins.
Bettas can still be found in their native rice paddies in Thailand and Cambodia, but studies have shown that bettas are one of a small number of animal species that actually live longer in captivity than they do in the wild. The rice paddies where they make their homes in the wild are susceptible to pollution, to the extent that some varieties of bettas are now considered to be endangered species.
Luckily, keeping a betta fish as a pet is easy, fun, and good for both you and the betta. You can save the betta from bad water conditions — not just in the wild, but also in some pet stores (more on that later) — and you can gain a long-term friend. Betta fish are some of the only fish that can form a genuine bond with their owner, making them even more appealing for a potential fishkeeper.
Before you run right out and buy a betta buddy, though, there are some important things you need to know about how to take care of a betta fish. Keeping the following things in mind will ensure that your betta lives his or her best life, and you both have a great experience.
Betta Fish Requirements
With all his attitude and flashing fins, the betta seems like a pretty tough guy. It is important to note, though, that this type of fish can be more susceptible to diseases, problems with water quality/temperature, and dietary issues than some other fish.
It is even more important to note that the conditions that bettas are kept in at the pet store are not optimal, so the first thing you have to do is build a much better setup for your little guy or gal at home.
The essential requirements for keeping a betta fish are tank size, water conditions, and diet. Here is a quick look at the minimum requirements for each of these, so you can have everything set up and ready before you bring your betta home.
Betta fish are so pretty that some people think of them more as a decoration than a living, breathing creature. This is why they are often kept in small, decorative vases or cups in pet stores, intended to show off their bright colors and long, flowing fins.
Unfortunately, these conditions are far from ideal. The smaller the tank, the dirtier and less healthy the water is inside, and the plastic cups are a pollutant in and of themselves.
So, with that being said, what is an ideal tank setup for a betta fish?
While the recommendation for minimum betta tank size was once 2.5 gallons (9 liters), now expert fishkeepers recommend nothing less than a 5 gallon (20 liters) tank.
Bowls are too small for betta fish, and they will be neither healthy nor happy inside one.
The more space the betta has, the happier and healthier he or she will be. Most betta fish owners (myself included) have seen the most success with tanks that are at least 10 gallons (38 liters), especially if they are keeping other fish as well.
Once you have a large enough tank, you can add plants and gravel. Both natural and silk plants (not plastic!) are fine for betta fish and provide great hiding places and mental stimulation — just make sure to do your research on which natural plants the betta is compatible with.
You should also make sure any artificial plants are clean and safe to use. Check for sharp edges or points on the plants, because you don’t want the betta to scratch himself when he swims past.
When it comes to gravel and substrate, your options are endless (colorful, natural, glow-in-the-dark, etc.), but be sure to get a substrate that is made of smooth pieces. Bettas spend a lot of time exploring at the bottom of the tank and can easily damage their fins on rough rocks.
Betta fish are from a tropical climate, so in order for them to stay happy, you are going to have to make sure they have warm water.
The ideal temperature for betta fish water is between 76 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 24 degrees Celsius). So, unless you live in a tropical climate yourself, you will probably need to invest in a tank heater to keep the water at the right temperature.
Aside from temperature, another important requirement for betta fish is water conditioning. Tap water can be used in a betta tank if you use a special water conditioner to make it safe for them (you can usually find this in the fish care aisle at your local pet store). Do NOT use distilled water, though, as this is missing several minerals that they need.
When it comes to filters, there are multiple schools of thought. Some say that as long as you keep the tank clean, a filter is not necessary because bettas come from still waters. Others say that a filter is needed to make sure the water conditions remain optimal.
If you do choose to buy a filter, though, be sure that it is a gentle one; otherwise, your betta will have difficulty swimming or may even get pulled into it!
Betta fish are naturally carnivorous, meaning that they eat meat.
In the wild, they typically feast on insects and insect larvae in the water. At home, you probably can’t recreate that experience for them on a daily basis, but you can get pretty close.
Betta fish can eat specially made pellets and flakes that contain dried insects, shrimp, and other things they would naturally eat. Just watch out for brands that contain wheat and/or corn, as bettas have trouble digesting this and it could lead to illness.
Bettas can also eat certain types of live, frozen, or freeze-dried worms, shrimp, mosquito larvae, and even wingless fruit flies. The important thing is that the betta gets lots of protein.
How to Care for a Betta Fish
Now that we know more about betta fish and what they require, here is a step-by-step betta fish care guide to get you started.
Step 1: Prepare The Tank
Before you even consider bringing home a betta, you must first get the tank ready. Buy a tank that is at least 5 gallons (though 10 is better) and clean it — with just hot water, no soap!
Step 2: Set Up the Tank
Add your (clean) substrate, plants, heater, and filter (if you are using one) to your tank to provide your betta with hiding places and decorative touches. An expert tip is to fill the tank halfway, then add the substrate and plants so that they stay in place when you add the rest of the water.
Step 3: Check the Conditions
Theoretically, once you have the water at the right temperature, the filter set up, and the decorations in place, the tank is ready to introduce the betta. But if you really want to do it right, it is recommended to cycle the tank. This is a process in which you let the healthy bacteria inside the tank grow for a while so that the conditions are optimal for the betta.
Whether you cycle the tank or not, never add the betta without checking the nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, and pH levels first. You can find kits to test these things at the pet store or online.
Step 4: Choose a Betta
Most people probably think this should be step one, but not if you want your betta to thrive in his or her tank!
Once the tank is ready, head to the pet store. Look for bettas that appear healthy: bright colors, bright eyes, fins that are not torn, discolored, or covered in a filmy substance, no strange bumps on the body. You should also look for bettas in clean water and who seem alert and interested, not just sadly sitting on the bottom of the tank.
You get bonus points if the betta has bubbles on the top of its water: this means it is already happy.
Step 5: Introduce the Betta to the Tank
Once you have chosen your betta buddy, you will probably be itching to add it to the tank. Not so fast!
Introducing a betta to a new tank too soon can lead to shock and even death. First, you must allow the water in container the betta came in to reach the same temperature as the water in the tank. To do this, clip the container to the inside of the tank so that it floats in the tank water (but don’t submerge it, bettas need oxygen!).
After about 15 minutes, the water should be coming closer to the same temperature, but the other conditions are not the same. To remedy this, gently pour some of the tank water into the betta’s container so it can adjust to it. Repeat this process at least one more time, until the water is exactly the same temperature. Then, finally, you can gently release your betta into his new home.
Step 6: Feed Your Betta
Aside from a proper tank, the most important aspect of betta fish care is feeding. It is recommended that you feed your betta twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Just two to three small pellets should suffice — bettas have small stomachs, so giving them too much food can cause digestive problems.
A few treats in the form of freeze-dried bloodworms or similar fare can also be given once or twice a week.
Step 7: Keep the Tank Clean
To keep your betta healthy and feeling great, you have to clean the tank regularly. How often you do this depends on the size of the tank and whether or not you are using a filter. If your tank is small-ish and has no filter, you should change 30-50 percent of the water once a week. If it is larger, you can get away with cleaning it every 10-14 days.
Be careful when you do this, though, and remember to treat the water with water conditioner, as you don’t want to add in cold or untreated water and send your poor betta into shock!
Frequently Asked Questions about Betta Fish
How long do betta fish live?
On average, betta fish live from two to four years, with the females outliving the males by a few months. There have been cases, though, where a betta has lived to be a teenager!
How much do betta fish cost?
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to pricing a betta fish. Things like coloring, species, and age all come into play, but the price range of a betta fish alone (without adding in the tank, substrate, filter, etc.) can range from around $2 to around $80.
Do betta fish need a light?
Betta fish need a daily light/dark cycle to keep all of their bodily functions running smoothly. If your betta is kept in a room that regularly sees light during the day and darkness at night, you don’t really need an artificial light.
But if you keep your betta in a dark basement or an unused room without much in the way of lighting, installing an artificial light and using it during the day could be very useful. Just be sure to turn it off at night — too much light is just as bad as not having enough.
Do betta fish get lonely?
Loneliness is one thing you never have to worry about with betta fish. Betta fish are solitary, and typically prefer to live alone.
While some females do enjoy living with a couple of other female bettas, the males (and even some females) are aggressive and are best kept on their own. If one male betta is put into a tank with another male betta, they will constantly be fighting for territory, which can result in damaged fins or even death for one or both of them.
Can bettas live with other types of fish?
Yes and no. Some bettas can live with other species of small, calm, bottom-dwelling fish such as Kuhli loaches, catfish, some varieties of tetras, and snails, but it really depends on the personality of the betta. If the betta is very territorial, it is best to keep him or her in her own tank.
How often should I feed my betta fish?
Twice per day is ideal, but take care not to overfeed. This can lead to cloudy, dirty water, as well as gastrointestinal issues. The stomach of a betta is only as big as one of its eyeballs, so it is easy to see how quickly they could get filled up!
Can you breed betta fish at home?
Yes, but it is not for fishkeepers who are looking for a quick and easy way to make money or something of that nature. It takes a lot of time — and a lot of tanks — to breed betta fish, as well as a lot of consideration and preparation.
First, you must choose the right mating pair, then set up a tank for each of the two bettas and let them acclimate for at least a month. Then, you will need a tank specifically dedicated to breeding, where the eggs will be laid, and the babies (called fry) will eventually hatch and grow.
You have to keep these fry separate from the male betta when they start to grow. Otherwise, they will be eaten, so you have to keep an eye on your fish if you don’t want to lose any of them!
Additional Tips and Tricks
Be sure that your betta fish tank has a lid
Bettas are notorious for being jumpers — some even jump right out of the tank! While their unique breathing system makes it possible for them to breathe air for a time (some have been known to survive out of the water for a whole day), this is definitely not a situation you want to put them in.
Don’t let your betta get bored
Small tanks with no decorations or hiding places can cause bettas (males in particular) to get listless and start biting their own fins. This leads to rips and tears and eventually to infection and illness, so always be sure that your betta has plenty of things to look at and interact with in his tank.
Don’t tap on the glass
While sticking your finger up to the side of the tank to encourage your betta to flare and interact with you is fine (and is even encouraged to judge his health and alertness), don’t tap on the glass. This is very disturbing and scary to the fish. How would you like it if someone started banging and shaking your house just to see how you would react?
Use a mirror to play
Another way to keep a betta in shape and to check his stamina is to hold a mirror up to the tank. Bettas love a good fake fight, and would really enjoy flaring at this other fish that looks just like them. Just don’t leave the mirror up for long periods of time, or he will get overtired.
Establish a routine
Bettas can come to recognize and even show affection toward their owners. The most important step towards forming this kind of bond is to create a routine and stick to it. Feed your betta around the same time every day and frequently spend time interacting with him so that he gets used to you and comes to expect that you will be there.
When he sees you, he will be happy, and so will you!
Betta fish can bring a lot of color, fun, and joy into your home. But if you want your betta to thrive, you have to provide it with proper tank and water conditions, a healthy diet, and enough mental stimulation to keep it feeling alive and alert. If you can do all of these things, you will be sure to have many happy years with your beautiful betta buddy.