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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 FishChannel.com

 

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Reader Comments

Katie    Williamport, PA

9/14/2014 6:19:50 PM

I wish this article actually addressed the more common myths associated with bettas, such as
"They live in puddles/buffalo footprints"
"Bettas eat plant roots"
"Bettas live in puddles so you never/rarely have to change their water"
Yup, work in a pet store, heard all of them.

I also find that the fact that the article says that bettas can live in spaces smaller than a half gallon ridiculous.
Sure bettas can live in a smaller space, but the upkeep required to make the habitat suitable is not feasible, or preferred for most people. Waste builds up in small containers amazingly fast, and frequent water changes are a must. Most people don't want to be performing water changes every few days.
Non-use of a filter does not mean the tank has to be small. Just because bettas can surface breathe does not require a tank to be small.

And of course, there is the ever present question: "Why?"
Why would you want to keep a fish in a tiny container he can barely turn around in?
Why not provide a larger space that can better replicate his natural habitat, and provide a stimulating, interesting environment?

Myth 3 states that bettas require a heater. Ever try to find a heater for a tank smaller than a half gallon, not to mention trying to fit said heater into that tank? Didn't think so.

Bettas are slow movers? Please, the male veil tail at work has his own 20g to patrol, and he zooms from end to end with ease.

Although the rest of the points are decent, I find it sad that people are still perpetuating the small tank myth with bettas, simply because they are equipped to survive in small spaces if necessary.

Michele    Diamond Bar, CA

7/16/2014 9:02:02 PM

This article contradicts another article posted on fish channel that says Bettas actually can be good community fish if you choose the appropriate tank mates. For those of us that are on fish channel to learn, it's confusing to see two completely opposite views posted on the same site.

Justin    Waynesville, NC

6/1/2014 2:25:25 PM

I find this article pretty disturbing. Saying bettas are fine in a 1/2 gallon "tank"?! I mean, someone could lock you in a small closet for a year,feed and water you every now and then, and you would survive but I doubt you would be very happy. You make it out like bettas are lazy fish but given enough space they are very active, curious fish that need as much room as any another fish.

VICTOR    MOCA, PR

5/9/2014 7:38:13 AM

I HAVE A PON OF 600 GAL. AND HAVE GOURAMIS, PLATIES, MOLLIES, TETRAS IN THE POND AND ARE ALL VERY WELL. CAN I ADD SOME BETTAS TO THIS POND

THANKS

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