Betta Fish: Care Guide, Lifespan, Facts And Compatibility

Most people will have heard of Betta fish, they are infamous as one of the most aggressive tropical fish around.

Their aggression should not put you off though – they are a colorful species with plenty of personality to keep you captivated.

They might be a little harder to handle than other popular fish, but even beginners will be able to look after one with a little preparation beforehand.

This article will explain everything you need to know about keeping your own Betta fish, covering their ideal tank setup, diet, breeding and much more…

Category Rating
Care Level: Moderate
Temperament: Aggressive
Color Form: Various Colors, Patterns and Shapes
Lifespan: 3 Years
Size: 2.25 inches
Diet: Carnivore
Family: Osphronemidae
Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater: Plants and Caves
Compatibility: Kept Singly or with Peaceful, Shoaling Species

Overview Of Bettas

Betta Fish

Bettas (Betta splendens) are one of the most famous tropical fish – you have probably seen them or heard about them before.

They are a species from the Osphronemidae family. This means they are closely related to other popular aquarium fish, such as Gouramis and Paradisefish.

It is native to Asia, and most commonly found in Thailand, but they live in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam too. Though they are one of the most common fish in home aquariums, they are listed as a vulnerable species in the wild.

Their lifespan is relatively short. A healthy individual in a clean tank usually lives for around three years.

Since they are so popular, nearly every pet store will sell them, so you won’t struggle to find one in your area. You can find individuals for roughly $5, but this price will double depending on the store and type of Betta fish.

They come in many different variations and are usually classified by features such as colors and patterns.

Typical Behavior

They have another common name which gives away how they behave. They are often called Siamese fighting fish due to their aggressive tendencies. Before the 20th century they were even bred for fighting.

Both males and females will flare their gills to intimidate rivals. Even on their own they will establish a territory and defend it. Because of this most people keep them singly to avoid this aggression.

Females like their own territory, but they are less prone to fighting than males – this makes them more suitable for a community tank.

When not having to compete with rivals, most of the time they will slowly swim around the middle and upper levels of your tank.

Do Betta Fish Breathe Air?

They have gills paired with something called a labyrinth organ. This allows them to extract oxygen from air, so technically they breathe both water and air.

This is important because in the wild they would often be forced to survive in shallow puddles if their habitats evaporate in dry season.

Betta Fish Types and Appearance

Betta Fish Appearance

These are some of the most beautiful tropical fish available. Not only are they incredibly colorful, but their fins are large and majestic.

They have been extensively cross-bred, so they come in many different varieties. This means that you can pick your personal favorite. No one fish is the same, so you will quickly fall in love with them. Their tails are a particularly attractive feature, these come in a few different styles.

One example is the Crowntail Betta. This variety has fins covered in spikey extensions, like a crown. If the spikes reach 2/3 of the way up the tail, then the individual is technically classed as a Combtail Betta.

Veiltail Bettas have long, flowing tails without the extensions. This variety is particularly vibrant because the fins are a solid color.

An individual might have more than one color; 2, 3, or more colors are possible. These could be solid, speckled, marbled, or even resemble a Koi fish.

The colors intensify when fighting (to intimidate a rival) and when breeding (to impress a mate).

It’s quite easy to tell males and females apart. Females have a smaller body and fins – their colors are greatly reduced as well. Females are less extravagant compared to males, but they are still attractive fish.

Expect them to grow to around 2.5 inches.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Betta Fish Habitat

Their natural habitats are freshwater rice paddies and river basins. The water here is warm, shallow and slow-moving.

There is also normally lots of vegetation.

Let’s look at how to recreate these conditions in an aquarium.

Tank Setup

Use fine gravel or sand as a substrate to cover the bottom of your Betta fish tank. Place some decorations on top of the substrate, and try to use a couple of caves to act as separate territories.

Spread some plants around the tank too – these will provide some shelter and oxygenate the water. Don’t let the plants block large areas of the surface. Bettas head to the surface to breathe, feed, and breed.

Most plants pair up well because they prefer similar water conditions. Java Fern and Hornwort are hardy examples – beginners can easily care for them.

You will need a heater to bring the water up to a suitable tropical temperature. Keep this in the range of 75-80°F.

The water’s pH should be 6-8 and hardness should be 5-35 dGH.

In terms of other equipment a filter is needed. Water and air pumps aren’t necessary because Bettas are used to almost still water.

You might want to invest in some LED lights also.

Do Betta Fish Need A Filter?

Yes, Bettas need a filter in their tank. Your fish will start to die if they go for an extended period of time without one.

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

If kept alone, they need at least a 10 gallon tank. If you are mixing them with other species, they will need extra space so they can claim a territory and defend it.

Give each female Betta at least five gallons, but ideally more.

Compatibility and Tankmates

Neon Tetra

It can be difficult to choose tank mates for aggressive fish. So you might be surprised to hear that Bettas can go in community tanks. In the wild they would mainly live a solitary life, but they would still encounter fish without confrontation.

Shoaling fish make good companions in an aquarium because it’s hard for one fish to be bullied repeatedly. They are usually faster too, so can escape a territorial species.

There are lots of possible tank mates, including: Neon Tetras, Endlers, Fire Rasboras, Corydoras Catfish, Short-fin Mollies, Celestial Pearl Danios, Kuhli Loaches, White Cloud Mountain Minnows, Glass Catfish and Yoyo Loaches.

Avoid fin-nipping species (like Tiger Barbs) because your Bettas have large fins. You also don’t want to introduce another territorial species (like Oscars), as they will start to compete.

Female Bettas are less likely to attack the rest of your fish, but you should still stick to the guidelines above when choosing tank mates.

If you don’t want to risk adding other fish, you could opt for some invertebrates. Cherry Shrimp and Nerite Snails are just a couple of options.

You can read all our Betta tank mate suggestions here.

Keeping Betta Fish Together

The safest option is to keep males on their own, you should definitely only have one male per tank.

Females have been found to display similar aggression levels but they are usually much calmer, so it’s safer to keep females together.

A group of at least four females is called a sorority. Females need their own space just like males, so if you want a sorority you need a big enough tank (30 gallons) to give each of them their own territory.

Only introduce a male to a female when they are ready to breed.

Diet and Feeding Requirements

Bettas are carnivores so they need plenty of protein.

In the wild they would eat any small animals that pass their way, such as worms, daphnia, bloodworms, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae and even other fish.

There are many options to choose from when recreating this at home.

The simplest choices are flake and pellet foods. These are found in all pet stores and aim to provide the nutrients they need.

More nutritious options are freeze-dried foods, or better yet frozen or live foods. All three involve using the same creatures, but freeze-dried foods have had the moisture and some of the nutrients removed.

Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia are some popular creatures that come in each form.

These fish will keep eating until there is nothing left, so be careful not to over-feed them. Feed them an amount that that they can easily finish within two or three minutes.

Do this twice a day. Spreading the feeding out makes it easier for their digestive system to handle.

Betta Fish Not Eating

If your fish aren’t eating, it’s usually because they are sick.

Another possible explanation is that they don’t enjoy the food you are giving them. This could be because of their personal preference, or the food isn’t suitable for Betta fish in general.

Try switching up the diet to see if the situation improves.

Betta Fish Care

Crowntail Betta

Though they are one of the hardiest aquarium fish, Bettas can still get sick just like any other fish.

Infections are the most common problem. Injuries are often picked up when fighting with other fish, this opens up cuts leaving them exposed to infections. The same can also happen with sharp substrates and decorations

Disease will be much less common in your tank if it’s properly maintained. It’s important to know how to keep everything clean, including performing regular water changes.

You will need to change 20% of their water weekly. For more information read our complete Betta Care Guide here too.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a common disease that affects most fish. It’s a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and irritation. It either develops in unclean water or is introduced to the aquarium.

If you notice this disease, treat it as soon as possible using medication.

Bloated

Bloat goes by many names: ‘dropsy’, ‘edema’, and ‘Malawi bloat’ for Cichlids. It’s a condition where the abdomen swells and the scales stand out. This results in breathing difficulties, loss of appetite and lethargy.

It is caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. However the usual cause is overfeeding. Ration their diet and watch if the swelling goes down.

Betta Breeding

Bettas Breeding More

This is one of the few occasions where you should introduce two Betta fish together.

Breeding them can be difficult, as their environment needs to be perfect and they need to be conditioned for a couple of weeks in preparation.

Preparing them involves feeding them high quality, live, foods in small amounts 2-4 times a day. The tank temperature should be at the higher end of their preferred range (75-80°F), and the water should be kept clean.

After this, you can introduce the female to the male. Add the female using either a divider or floating her in a see-through container.

If the female is interested she will darken in color and display vertical stripes. If the male is interested he will darken and start to build a bubble nest.

Betta Fish Bubble Nest

The male builds a bubble nest within 24 hours of seeing the female. It’s made from air bubbles that are covered in saliva to make them sticky and durable.

They are often built at the surface or objects near the top of the tank.

Once the nest is made you can release the female. It will probably head straight to the nest for inspection, and if it is not good enough, she might destroy it.

The pair will start to court with some impressive displays. This might involve chases and biting, be ready to intervene if things get aggressive. The male will then flip the female upside down and wrap himself around her to fertilize her eggs as she releases them. This can repeat for up to a few hours.

He will catch the eggs and take them up to the nest.

Cover the tank in plastic wrap to make the aquarium humid to encourage the fry to hatch.

Hatching should occur over 2-3 days. It will be another four months before the fry hit adulthood.

If you want a more in depth look at how to breed these fish you can read our full guide here.

Betta Fish Facts

  • They are the national fish of Thailand.
  • Aggressive behaviors are more prevalent in the morning than the afternoon because they use up energy.
  • They are so prone to fighting that they were used for gambling. Males would be put together, resulting in injuries or death.
  • Their colors become brighter when mating to give them the best chance of attracting a mate.
  • They can take oxygen from both water and air since they have gills and a labyrinth organ.

Are Betta Suitable For Your Aquarium? (Summary)

When keeping Betta you have to be careful and plan everything around their aggressive nature.

For beginners this means keeping them singly.

If you are comfortable and have kept them before you can increase activity by adding some shoaling, peaceful freshwater fish.

Your job is to keep everything clean, so the fish stay healthy.

They are an interesting species with plenty of personality, so make sure you choose a name which matches!

Do you keep Bettas with other fish? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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