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The Betta Fish: Fact vs Fiction

Learn the facts about these easy-to-keep, popular fish.

By David A. Lass |

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Bettas (also known as Siamese fighting fish and scientifically known as Betta splendens) are one of the most popular fish in our hobby and justifiably so. Bettas are hardy, require little space and come in a gorgeous range of colors and color patterns. They are also, unfortunately, the victims of a great deal of fiction and misinformation regarding how to successfully keep them. What follows are my opinions, from having kept, over many years, literally thousands of bettas both in my wholesale fish business and for my own pleasure.

Siamese fighting fish
Siamese fighting fish. Photo by Daniella Vereeken/Wikipedia

Betta Myth No. 1

Bettas are good community tank fish.
Wrong! Bettas do not do well at all in a community tank with other fish. Typically, one of two things usually happens — 1) the betta gets picked on by other fish, such as barbs and tetras or 2) the betta picks on other fish, such as other fish with trailing fins like fancy guppies or angelfish.
FACT: A betta does best if given a tank of its own. Every male betta (those are mostly what are sold, as females don’t have much color and have short fins) has never been with another fish for his entire adult life. He was raised in his own little space, transported from breeder to wholesaler to retail store in his own container, and does best if given a "tank” of his own.

Betta Myth No. 2

Bettas require at least a XX gallon tank (Where XX is usually 2.5 to 5).
Wrong again! Bettas are anabantid fish, which means that they take their oxygen directly from the air. They are not dependent on oxygen dissolved in their water as are other fish. They are also very slow-moving fish, with an equally slow metabolism. The little clear plastic cups that bettas are usually displayed in at your local fish store are not good long-term homes.
FACT: Bettas will do just fine in a tank of half a gallon or less. I have a betta in a little acrylic tank that is 4-inches by 6-inches tall. He has been very happy for months and will continue to be perfectly fine. Given that bettas are best alone, you don’t really need a large tank, as long as you can keep it warm. This leads us to our next misconception.

Betta Myth No. 3

Bettas do fine at room temperature.
Very wrong! Unless your room is in the high 70s Fahrenheit, room temperature is much too cold for bettas. They will survive at lower temperatures for quite a while, but for them to be happiest and healthiest they need to be kept in the high 70s.
FACT: Bettas actually prefer water temperature in the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Most local fish stores that have problems with bettas are keeping them too cold. The one I own is on top of my 300-gallon display tank, which is kept at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the small tanks sold today have little heaters in them, and if you cannot provide a warm spot, you should really get a little tank with a heater in it.

Betta Myth No.4

Bettas need to be fed every day.
Totally wrong! Many more bettas die from being overfed than from starvation.
FACT: Bettas will do fine if you feed them every other day, or even every third day. I keep hundreds of bettas in my little wholesale fish business, and they get fed once a week, with a water change the day after they are fed. Any good floating flake or freeze-dried food is fine for them.

David A. Lass has been in the fish business since 1970. He currently wholesales fish to stores throughout New England, and he is also a moderator in the forums on


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Reader Comments

Brenda    Boyne City, MI

3/4/2014 10:12:05 AM

This is a very good article. I've owned bettas for about 8 yrs. now. I'm by no means an expert, but I'm always trying to learn more about them.

Jim    Denver City, TX

1/10/2014 1:09:14 PM

Betta Myth No.5, as presented by PD:

Bettas need plants to nibble on, perhaps just the roots of a peace lily dangling in the vase/tank.
FACT: Bettas are carnivores. While they will be seen occasionally picking at the plants of whatever is provided, they are most likely only doing so in search of the tiny worms that might be hiding there in the wild. There are other good reasons to include a plant in the setup, but to feed, or even supplement their diet, is not one of them.

PD    Oxford, NY

1/10/2014 9:17:39 AM

I am setting up a 5 gallon Tetra marineland closed tank for a betta I purchased last week from my local fish shop. It was sooner than I was ready but he is just the color I have been waiting for-- not dark blue or dark red, but white-gold.
i duplicated the glass vase with the plant roots hanging down in it for his temporary site until I found the tank.
I have everything soaking, rinsing etc. at the moment.
I also bought his larger tank because I want to move my 4 octiocintius in with him to rescue them from aggressive dwarf gouramis and to let them do their cleaning work. But they are getting mature or pregnant (have read up more on them) and I may put a pygmy cory or two in the thank.. There is black washed sand ready to go in and no live plants. They run in the water faster, I think. If you think the betta needs a live plant for nibbling let me know and I will get a new one.
thanks.. can you email you answer?

Bob    Burlington, NJ

1/10/2014 8:58:21 AM

Generally agree with you, David. I keep my granddaughter's Betta in a heated hex-5 tank with two cories. All seem to tolerate each other and have been together for over a year. Good tip on feeding! I learned something.

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