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What are 'betta' or 'Siamese fighter' fish?

Betta Fish

Marc Grover (Professional Aquarist) gives expert video advice on: Why aren't male bettas kept in the same tank?; Can I put a betta in my aquarium with other fish?; Where is the best place to put my betta? and more...

What are 'betta' or 'Siamese fighter' fish?

Anabantid is what the actual name of a betta fish is - the type of species that it is. It is an unique fish, most of them come from Thailand the orient Siam. They typically live in the wild in small muddy pockets of water - think rice patties. They call them fighting fish because the males will fight each other to the death. You don't want to put two males together.

Are betta fish easy to take care of?

Betta fish are probably the easiest fish that I know to take care of. The reason is because they don't need filtration, per se. They don't need extra aeration, a heater; in fact they don't really need anything. You could put them in a really small bowl. Betta fish are really neat, because they're one of the few fish in the Anabantid family. They're cousins. They can literally gulp air out of water, and they can stick their head out of water and breathe. It's a real neat function to have when you don't have filtration, to oxygenate the water, so they're really simple to take care of from that standpoint. Their food requirements are very easy as well. They typically live from nine months to two years. I have one at home almost all the time, and I have real good success with them. There's not a lot you have to do with them.

Why aren't male bettas kept in the same tank?

Male bettas are not kept together, at least in small tanks, because they don't like each other. Bettas have bad vision, for the most part. And anything with a lot of fins that looks like them, typically another male betta, they will fight them to the death. I don't really know why they do that, if it's a territorial thing, because they're in such small territories in the wild, that they defend it vehemently, if it's a breeding thing, or if it's a combination of the two. But they don't like each other and they will fight to the death, so it's a really bad idea to keep them together. Even in a big tank it's a bad idea to keep them together.

Can I put a betta in my aquarium with other fish?

People ask about bettas and other fish quite frequently and the answer is yes and no. We put them in a lot of times but the pat answer, the old school answer is no. Typically because, as mean as they are towards one another, they're kind of wimpy towards any other fish and they have a lot of fins, and they're easy targets, and they're really slow and most of the time they have bad vision so they have bad defense mechanisms. If you don't have a lot of aggressive fish and you don't have a lot of really finny fish, or flamboyant fish most of the time you'll get away with doing it. And that does go kind of against the grain of what's been taught over time but for me the proof is in the pudding, we do it quite often and we get away with it.

Are bettas content in smaller bowls?

Bettas are typically sold in a small bowl, and because of how they live in the wild in very small pockets of very still water, it doesn't seem to bother them one bit. You can't really compare them to other fish, because other fish come from lakes, rivers and fast moving vast bodies of water. Bettas simply don't. They come from very tiny, muddy, still pools of water, where most bowls are probably bigger than those pools for the most. So they can live no problem for long periods of time, probably between 9 months to 2 years is the typical life span of a Betta in the wild, as well as, captivity so they do just fine in bowls.

Should I put my betta in a 'betta bowl' with a plant?

You may have seen recently a lot of vases with big peace lilies in them, and then a betta swimming around in the bottom. You can do that, but you have to keep some things in mind. A lot of those were sold in flower shops and plant stores, which didn't know anything about fish and didn't realize fish need to breathe. And they put a cork in the top, and then put the plant through the cork and let the roots all live in the water. And the plant's doing great, because it's got fish waste and it's got light. But the fish is not doing so well, because it doesn't have any gas exchange. It respirates, it exhales carbon dioxide, pretty soon all the water is filled with carbon dioxide. And even though a betta can actually breathe air, there isn't any air because the cork or whatever is covering the top of the bowl or the vase. So if you're going to do that, you've got to put the thing in there, whatever it's a peace lily or an immersion sword plant or what have you, there's got to be room, you've got to be able to see the surface of the water so there can be gas exchange and the fish can live. So you can do it, but you've got to do it right.

Where is the best place to put my betta?

Whenever you're considering a location for your betta, keep some general rules of thumb in mind. There's nothing to control the temperature in the betta bowl. It's a small body of water, so things are going to fluctuate very quickly, especially temperature. You want to keep it in a room that has a pretty consistent temperature, if you can. Not too hot, not too cold. They can usually handle low 70's all the way up to low 80's. You just don't want it bouncing around between those two numbers a lot because a fish cannot regulate its body temperature. No sunlight, unless you have a plant, then you have to have some sunlight, but no real direct light so you're not getting a lot of algae build-up on the bowl. A lot of the same rules apply toward fishkeeping to keep a betta: temperature control, and no direct sunlight. You want to keep it in a place where someone's not going to bump into it, and knock it over. Obviously, that's a pretty significant concern.

What kind of water does my betta need?

You can use tap water for bettas as long as you dechlorinate it. Ensure that it is at room temperature, because that's what it's going to be in, a bowl sitting in your room. Also, you can use bottled water that doesn't have any chlorine in it to begin with, as long as it's room temperature. Temperature with everything is critical, so you want to match that temperature. Fish can't regulate their own temperature.

What are the most common diseases that affect bettas?

Most the time you'll see what they call 'betta disease,' and I don't even know what that means, but it's not really scientific. Fin and tail rot is mostly what you'll see. Sometime you'll see a mouth fungus and it's really noticeable. They get a lot of deterioration on their lip area of their mouth. There are some remedies for the fin and tail rot, I believe it's antibiotic, and probably for the mouth rot as well, antibiotic or antifungal.

How long do bettas usually live?

Typically bettas could live for a very short period of time if they've got problem. Typically though, it's nine months up to 2 years in captivity. In the wild, it could be a lot less amount of time due to the amount of environmental problems they've got to deal with and the natural territorialism and fighting with one another which you've eliminated when you keep them by themselves. But I've personally kept one over 18 months and I've had people tell me even two years could be typical. So nine months to two years is the widest parameter I'm giving betta fish.