Betta Fish Care: Habitat, Breeding, Lifespan & Compatibility

The betta splenden, more commonly referred to as the fighting fish or betta, is a species of fish that has been a popular choice for a pet fish for decades. Their hardiness, ease of care, and vibrant colors are just some of the reasons why many keepers choose to keep bettas.

In today’s article, we discuss the betta in detail, its habitat, general care, breeding, and possible tankmates.

Distribution map

Habitat

The betta originates from the muddy waters of Southeast Asia. Ranging from Singapore to the tip of Thailand, wild bettas can be found in places such as rice fields, streams, and stagnant pools during the monsoon season.

Betta fish are quite common in South East Asia and help the control of mosquitoes as well as fertilize rice fields, therefore farmers often welcome these fishes to their fields.

Usually, you will see bettas inhabiting slow-moving streams or stagnant pools of water that are deep with leaf litter that is a golden brown color due to the tannins released and the water is generally more acidic, usually in the pH range of 5.5-6.5.

Most of these waters are oxygen-deprived, however, the betta does well in these conditions due to their labyrinth organ which allows them to extract oxygen directly from the air. This behavior is commonly noticed in the home aquarium when the bettas swim to the surface seemingly trying to gasp for air.

Since betta fish are native to tropical habitats, it’s important that we provide them with a warm environment. Generally, most fishkeepers agree that the optimal temperature for betta fish is between 25 and 27 degrees Celcius (or 77 to 81 Fahrenheit).

In order to provide optimal water temperature, fishkeepers should ensure that their aquarium is equipped with a reliable heating unit. Popular betta tank heaters include the EHEIM Jager and the Fluval E 100.

Bettas also prefer stagnant water due to them being bubble nesters, which requires little to no movement of water for the males to build their nests.

This habitat can be recreated in an aquarium. Tannin-inducing products like Indian almond leaf and blackwater extracts can help create the acidic habitat in which bettas thrive. To create this type of aquarium, visit our blackwater aquarium guide.

Appearance

Sexual dimorphism

Telling males apart from females is easy in this species as they are sexually dimorphic, meaning males and females have a different physiological appearance.

Below are a few methods you can use to tell male bettas from the females.

Size and shape

Males are usually slightly larger and look more slender as compared to females. Females on the other hand usually look more stout as compared to males and have a round, almost bloated looking belly when it draws closer to breeding season.

Color

Like most animals in the animal kingdom, males are very much more vibrant than females. While females can be colorful as well, they generally pale in comparison to the males of the same breed.

Vertical stripes

Female bettas display vertical stripes on their bodies during the breeding season. While there has been debate on the reason for the appearance of these stripes, it is certain that only females display this trait whilst males do not.

Fins

Males usually have much longer fins all around compared to their female counterparts. While it sometimes can be tricky differentiating males from the females in the short-finned variety, it is still usually quite obvious in the longer finned varieties.

Egg spot

During the breeding season, you will notice that females tend to have a white spot right beside its anus. This is not something to be worried about, it is the ovipositor which is used to lay eggs. Males displaying white spots could signal a bacterial infection or constipation.

Wild Type Betta Fish

The Betta splenden is known for its color and beautiful finnage. While the specie is widely known, many are not aware that many different species of Betta. These are oftentimes labeled as wild betta fish and aren’t usually found in local pet stores. These include the Betta Hendra and Betta Imbellis.

Gill Membrane

These membranes are sometimes referred to as ‘beards’ and are much more apparent in males. These ‘beards’ are most pronounced during the flare when the fishes push their gill plates forward as a sign of aggression.

The membrane appears as a thick dark-colored line that accentuates their jawline, located just behind the gill plates. Which is why they are commonly called beards.

While they are present in both males and females, they are most pronounced in males.

Nesting Behavior

When males are ready to breed, they will build bubbles nests out of their saliva on the surface of the water. These nests are usually anchored to either a plant or an object that extends past the surface of the water.

The function of these nests is to house the eggs once mating has taken place to ensure that the fry have a safe place to absorb their yolk-sac once they have hatched.

While females sometimes do also create bubble nests, it is usually nowhere near as complete as what a male betta would do.

Diet

Bettas are carnivorous by nature. This means that their diet consists mainly of animal matter.

In the wild, bettas are opportunistic feeders who are always on the hunt for food. These food items usually come in the form of insects that fall on the surface of the water, mosquito larvae, worms, and other small animals that can fit into their mouths.

Their diet consists of protein-rich and meaty food items. In the home aquarium, keepers often choose to go with commercially available pellets that are formulated especially for bettas as it is cheap and convenient.

While these pellets do a good job nutritionally, there can be complications when feeding this option in the long run, such as constipation. This happens usually due to overfeeding and bettas are exceptionally susceptible to this disease as their digestive tracts are short and prone to blockages.

Therefore to curb problems such as constipation, it is best to supplement your bettas’ diet with other food items such as blood worms or tubifex worms to keep their diet balanced and the fish healthy.

Breeding

Bettas are amongst some of the easiest fishes to breed, hence making them a popular choice amongst novice keepers who would like to begin breeding fish.

Sexual Maturity

For breeding to happen, you will need to have sexually mature fish. Bettas generally reach sexual maturity at around 3-4 months of age. However, we suggest breeding bettas that are fully grown which is around 9-12 months of age.
Breeding bettas prematurely causes stress and could end up killing your fishes.

Pairing

In the wild, it is usually the female that roams and enters the male’s territory (males rarely move far from their territory). However, in the home aquarium, it is most likely that you already have chosen a pair to breed.

While there are more nuanced factors such as choosing the best-looking fishes to breed, essentially you only will need a confirmed male and female fish for breeding to happen.

How to breed Betta Splendens

Aquarium divider by Penn Plax

Most breeders choose to introduce the female betta into the male bettas’ tank either via a divider or in a separate but see-through container.

Upon introducing the female, a few things will happen. You will see the male courting the female by flaring its fins at the female as well as turning a darker color.

If the female is ready to accept the male, her color will also darken and she will begin to display vertical stripes on her body.

If the female is not ready to accept the male, she will try to evade the male in her container and move away from the male. Remove the female and try again in a few days. Should the female be left together with the male while she is not ready, it could stress her out.

Usually upon the introduction of the female, the male will (if not already) begin building a bubble nest with his saliva. And like what we mentioned earlier in the article, this bubble nest is usually anchored to either a plant that extends through the surface of the water or an object that is on the surface of the water i.e styrofoam.

Releasing the female

When you are certain that the female is ready and is displaying the correct signals, slowly release the female in the far side of the tank away from the male.

The female will then move closer into the male’s territory to inspect the bubble nest. This is a crucial step that you will need to monitor.

If she is satisfied with the nest, mating will occur. However, if she is not satisfied, she is likely to destroy the nest. Remove the female immediately if she does this and re-introduce her again after a few days.

You will also observe the male being more aggressive with his courting displays, some chasing and nipping might occur. Do not worry too much unless you see the female in distress.

The courting displays from both fishes will continue up until they begin spawning.

Spawning

Once the female has succumbed to the males’ advances, spawning will begin. The male will try to ‘hug’ the female upside down with his body to fertilize her eggs while she releases them.

The fertilized eggs then fall to the bottom of the tank. The male will quickly swim down to collect them in his mouth and deposit them in his bubble nest.

This process happens a few times and the female will continue up until she is unable to do so. You will also notice that the female appears to be in a trance-like state during each ‘hug’, but do not be alarmed, this is perfectly normal behavior.

Each spawning can result in 30-50 eggs depending on the size of the female, so make sure that you have enough space for the fries.

You will know when the process is over as the female will refuse the male. When this happens, remove the female from the tank.

Hatching

The males will continue to watch over the eggs and defend their nest. Some eggs will fall from the nest from time to time, but do not worry as the male will pick up these eggs and redeposit them into the nest.

The eggs will begin hatching in about 36 hours. This will be noticeable as the fry will have their tails hanging below the nest for the next few days, up until they have fully absorbed their yolk sac.

Usually, they will be free swimming at around day 4-6. Once the fry are free swimming, remove the male.

Artemia Brine Shrimp are an excellent choice for growing betta fish fry.

Raising the fry

When the fry is free swimming, you will need to feed them live food items such as baby brine shrimp, infusoria or micro worms.

Feeding them is not as tedious as preparing their food. Like their parents, betta fry will readily consume anything that moves and fits into their mouths.

Usually, most keepers opt to feed baby brine shrimp as it is easier to vary the size of the brine shrimp as the fry grow. The fries take an average of 9 weeks to take on their adult features and you can then switch them over to dry foods.

Neon Tetra

Tank Mates

Bettas are territorial fishes which should be kept in solitary. However, it is very possible to keep a single male betta in a community tank that has enough hiding spots.

While they are usually not aggressive towards other species of fishes, it can happen when the tank is too small, causing the other fishes to constantly swim into its territory.

Males should only be housed in a tank alone or in a community tank with only 1 male. There are no exceptions. 2 males in the same tank will kill each other eventually.

Females on the other hand can be house together in small groups and will develop a hierarchy.

Suitable tankmates are fishes that are of similar size and have a non-aggressive disposition.

Some examples are :

  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Platies
  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Neon Tetras
  • Harlequin Rasbora

Bottom feeding fish, like the rubber lipped pleco or Corydoras Catfish are suitable with betta fish.

Lifespan

The betta fish lifespan is between 2-5 years. Many factors affect the lifespan of a betta fish. Fishkeepers should maintain a high level of care, as this will ensure the longest and happiest life for the fish.

When a betta fish purchased at a pet store, it is usually fully mature. For male betta splendens, it may take up to a year before they reach the maturity stage. Prior to this, male bettas will not have fully developped their color and finnage. Before then, its unlikely that the fish will be sold.

This is in part the reason why many fishkeepers may find bettas to have a short lifespan.

Behavior in a community tank

Like what we mentioned above, bettas are generally not aggressive towards other fishes. They tend to shy away from most confrontations and prefer to be alone in their spot.

That said, bettas can get aggressive towards fishes that infringe on their territory as they are very territorial, males especially.

This can be prevented by ensuring that your tank is of an adequate size with plenty of space to roam, as well as fixtures like plants or driftwood to provide enough hiding spots for your betta.

Aggression

Male bettas are very much more aggressive than their female counterparts. While females can be housed in groups, males should ever only be housed alone.

Males often will fight to the death, as such should only be housed alone.

References

seriouslyfish.com/species/betta-imbellis/

BIOACTIVITY STUDY OF CLEOME BURMANNI L.MERR. (TAW-HINGALA) AND ELEUSINE INDICA L.GAERTN.(SINNGO-MYET)

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