If you are like many fish owners, you might be wondering if your beautiful little betta might like some company in his tank. Due to their bright colors, tetras are often the go-to choice when adding a new fish to your community, but are they a good match for the betta? The answer is a bit more complicated than you might think.
Can You Keep A Betta With Tetras?
While bettas and tetras can live together, the circumstances (and the species) must be just right. In order to keep a betta with a school of tetras, the tetras must have the correct temperament and coloring. This means that only certain types of tetras can coexist with bettas, and if you get the wrong type, you could be in for a sea of trouble. There are also many other factors that come into play, such as tank size and territory preferences, that cannot be ignored.
What Makes Bettas and Tetras a Good Match?
When most people think of the betta fish, they think of a creature that is stunning and mysterious, but also aloof. Often, betta fish are kept alone because they have quite the penchant for dueling with anyone or anything else that comes along. Adults and children alike are enchanted by this fish and spend hours putting their fingers up to the glass tank to watch the betta flare its fins in its telltale threat.
It is just this type of behavior that has earned this Southeast Asian import the nickname “Siamese Fighting Fish.” So how can we expect a fish with such a combative personality to be able to live with any fish, let alone the tetra, which should only be kept in large schools of 10-12 other tetras?
One of the main reasons that tetras and bettas can coexist relatively peacefully is that the two fish claim territory in different areas of the tank. Bettas prefer to stay near the top of the tank, just under the surface. Tetras, on the other hand, tend to swim near the middle of the tank, staying out of the betta’s way.
One of the best ways to make sure that this relationship goes as smoothly as possible is to ensure that you have a tank that is heavily planted. Tetras like to swim around (and sometimes like to cause trouble), so they need places to explore and to hide from other fish.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while tetras can typically thrive in a 10-gallon tank (and a betta can live in one that is just two gallons if he lives alone), the tank must be larger if you are keeping the two species together. A 20-gallon tank gives everyone plenty of room and allows both the beta and the tetras to have their own territories.
The betta tends to be a more aggressive fish. Tetras, on the other hand, are typically more submissive and are happy as long as they are in a group of their friends. When they are put together, the betta may want to fight for his territory at first, but will later come to realize that the tetras are not a threat to him or his territory since they are usually not actively trying to aggravate him. Once everything has settled down, he will have a more even temperament, something that is usually already a given when it comes to tetras.
Another reason that the two fish go well together is that, even if the betta were to try to attack a tetra, it is highly unlikely that he could catch it, due to the tetra’s speed. However, you should always make sure to put full-grown tetras in with your betta… otherwise, they might be small enough to be confused with the latter’s lunch.
Perhaps the most convenient aspect of the betta-tetra relationship is that both fish eat the same food. Both species can live on your typical fish flakes and pellets, but even when it comes to live and freeze-dried options, they both have the same appetites.
Bettas, well-known to be carnivores, enjoy things like freeze-dried shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms and tubifex worms, and freeze-dried daphnia. Tetras, while they may not look it, are also carnivores, and prefer the same delicious wormy fare. The only downside of this is that feeding time may be the only time you may see a betta attacking your tetras, but this can be remedied by simply making sure that there are enough tasty treats to go around.
Which Tetra Species Make the Best Company for Bettas?
Based on the previous information, it is clear that bettas and tetras can get along swimmingly. Certain types of tetras make better tank mates than others, though. The three tetras listed below are some of your best bets for ensuring a harmonious habitat for all of your tank’s inhabitants.
Ember tetras are well-known for their docile nature. They don’t care much for fighting, and many of them come in muted orange colors that won’t stimulate the betta’s urge to attack bright things (although the bright, fiery red ones might not be the best choice). They also thrive in the same tank conditions as a betta, so there is no need to make too many adjustments to keep everyone healthy.
Rummy Nose Tetras
Rummy nose tetras get along great with bettas because they like to stay near the middle or bottom of the tank, leaving the betta plenty of space to roam around at the top. The only caveat is that these tetras are larger than most other species of tetra, meaning that they take up more space in general. With a large enough tank, though, this is no problem either.
Black Neon Tetras
While neon tetras are usually considered a no-no when it comes to buddying up with bettas (more on that later), black neon tetras can actually be a great choice. Like the ember tetra, their muted colors (or lack of much color in general) means that they don’t show up on the betta’s radar as something to attack. So everyone can live peacefully and keep to themselves.
Tetras That Should Never Live with Bettas
Even if it is true that bettas and tetras can exist peacefully together, this is not true for every betta and every tetra. Here are three types of tetra that should never be put into your betta tank:
If you do a search for neon tetras on Google, you will undoubtedly see many forum posts in which fishkeepers complain about their neon tetras nipping the fins of other fish. The betta is not immune to this: neon tetras love nipping at the long, flowing tails of their betta tank mates. There is a solution to this, however. If you keep your neon tetras in a school of at least six, they will only nip at each others’ fins and won’t search for other fish to bite.
Black Phantom Tetras
Male black phantom tetras (not to be confused with black neon tetras) make bad company for the betta because they enjoy a good fake fight. Bettas, who are always ready for a real fight, don’t take too kindly to others trying to spar for their territory, so it is best to keep these two fish apart.
There is no denying that GloFish tetra are a spectacular breed. These genetically modified fish come in a wide variety of amazing colors — and they literally glow. Unfortunately, though, while we as humans might think these florescent tetras are beautiful to look at, to Bettas, they are nothing but a big neon sign saying “attack me!” If you would like to keep both types of fish, it is best to it in separate tanks.
Tips for Keeping Tetras with Bettas
As you can see, tetras and betta fish can make great tank mates if you follow a few simple guidelines. You just have to make sure that the tetras you buy are compatible with a betta fish in terms of temperament and territory needs, and you have to give all of your fish ample space and food. Here are a few other ways you can help your bettas and tetras become best fishy friends:
- Know your betta – Is the betta you already own naturally aggressive? If so, it might be best to let him have a tank to himself so that you don’t risk bringing harm to any tetras (or other fish).
- Try a female betta: Female bettas are typically less aggressive than their male counterparts, meaning that they could much more easily get along with a group of other fish.
- Add your fish in the right order: Adding another fish to a betta’s tank can cause the betta to feel like someone has just barged in to try to take over his territory. The same is not true when you add a betta to a tank full of tetras, so it is best to start with the latter. The betta will feel more like he is the new kid in town, and he will then simply find his own territory instead of having to fight to protect his whole tank.
- A large tank is a must – As we said earlier, a 20-gallon tank is ideal for housing a betta and a school of tetras. Anything smaller will result in squabbles over space, which makes everyone (including the fishkeeper) stressed.
- Make sure you have enough tetras – Tetras are a schooling fish, so they need the company of other tetras to stay happy and healthy. While six is usually seen as the minimum number of tetras you should have per tank, a better number is 10-12.
- Have plenty of plants – Everyone needs their own space in their home, and fish are no different. Make sure that your tank has plenty of places for both the betta and the tetras to hide so that they will feel safe and comfortable.
When it comes to living together, bettas and tetras can make a great match. Compared to other combinations, they are very compatible species. As long as you do your homework, set up your tank properly, and make sure you pick the right type of tetras, you can have a beautiful tank full of some very happy fish.