Betta Fish Care Guide

Introduction

Bettas are some of the most popular and easily recognizable fish sold in pet shops. Males are the ones you see with the long fins and striking color patterns, while females are a little more drab and without the impressive finnage. These fish are inexpensive and easy to care for, and don't require a big expensive aquarium. This has led to them being not only popular, but over-bred by commercial breeders. The scientific name for the common Betta is Betta spendens, but there are many different species in the "Betta" genus. In nature, even the males aren't that impressive looking, but breeding has brought forth the popular color varieties seen in the hobby today.

As you may know, two males should not be kept together in the same tank as they will fight for territory, leading to the fish's other common name of "Siamese Fighting Fish."

Purchasing your Betta

When selecting a Betta from the store, your first instinct will be to select one that has the brightest colors, but there are other factors to consider. Does the Betta appear to be in proper health? Check for any cloudiness in the eyes or on the fish's scales. A healthy Betta should be bright in color and have perfect fins that show no signs of degeneration. Don't be afraid to ask questions, either. Have any of the Bettas available at that particular pet shop been sick? You may also want to ask to see the Betta of your choice eat some food. A healthy Betta should readily feed; if it doesn't, ask why, and see if any of the others will eat.

If you can find a private breeder, the color varieties that can be found are much more impressive than seen in most stores. You can also find healthier fish this way that may not be exposed to over-breeding and may live a longer life.

Setting up a Betta tank

While Bettas are sold in small plastic cups, they really should be kept in an aquarium of around five to ten gallons in size. These fish can actually become shy and reclusive in larger aquariums of more than fifteen gallons. They are very slow-moving fish that don't swim around a lot, which is why they don't require a lot of space. A tank larger than the bare minimum, however, will provide more stable water conditions that are less likely to be affected by the fish, and in turn will make for better living conditions for your Betta. "Betta Bowls" are often available for sale, and do make good homes for Betta fish, but a standard glass aquarium may better provide an opportunity to use a small filter and heater, which we will get into later. A gravel substrate and a few plastic plants or aquarium-safe ornaments are appreciated. There's always a wide variety of different artificial caves and different decorations available in pet shops; be sure, however, that everything placed in the aquarium will not affect water conditions. Certain types of rocks found in nature are not aquarium safe, nor are sea shells. Anything placed in the Betta tank should be specifically intended for aquarium use.

A small filter is best used to help keep the water clean. A very small Aquaclear or equivalent power filter on its lowest flow setting will do the job. As mentioned, Bettas are not particularly strong swimmers due to their long, droopy fins. As such, Betta tanks should only have minimul water movement, and the flow of the filter will be enough to keep the water oxygenated. In a smaller bowl, a filter may not be possible, in which case the smallest available air pump with air stone can be used to keep a bit of water movement but is not an absolute requirement. A small heater of 50 watts is recommended as well, as the water temperature should be kept around 75 degrees fahrenheit or so. That's right, even though they are sold in cups with no heaters, Bettas should be kept in heated water.

Because Bettas can be shy, they appreciate floating plants, which can be purchased at most local fish shops. These will help to block some of the light and provide shady areas. Generally speaking, dimmer lighting makes for more calm and less stressed out fish. As such, a low wattage light bulb should be used for lighting the betta tank. Keep the tank's light on for eight or less hours per day. A timer can help achieve this.

Water conditions are another important factor for your Betta's health. As mentioned, a temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended, as well as a pH value between 6.5 and 7.5. Check your tap water's pH value to know exactly what you're putting into your aquarium, and adjust as necessary. All local pet shops will sell test kits for pH, as well as additives to adjust the pH if any adjustments are needed. A product such as "proper pH 7.0" can be added to the water and will safely adjust and hold a pH of 7.0 (also known as a "neutral" pH) for you without the danger of adjusting too high or too low. If you do make adjustments to the water containing your fish, do it gradually as it can cause stress. You will also need to use a chlorine neutralizer to eliminate the chlorine dangers commonly found in tap water.

Introducing your Betta to its new home

Your Betta aquarium should already be set up before you purchase the fish. This is important as it gives you time to get everything set up properly and have a home ready for your new pet right away. The water that the fish is sold in will likely not be heated, and so you must acclimate the Betta to its new water. Important: Do not simply dump the fish from the bag directly into the aquarium without acclimating it first. To acclimate the fish, float the sealed bag that it was sold in, in the aquarium for at least forty five minutes. This will ensure that the water temperature that the fish is in will become the same as what is in the aquarium. Next, open the bag and add about 20% more water to it from the aquarium's water. Every twenty minutes, add more water to the bag. Do this at least four times. If the bag becomes too full, simply dump some out. Your Betta's bag water should now be close enough to its new tank's water that you can release it to its new home. Let the Betta swim out at its own leasure and then dispose of the bag.

What to feed your Betta

Bettas are "top feeders" and will do best being fed floating food such as those purchased at local pet shops. There are many types of tropical fish flakes as well as small "Betta pellets" that should provide all the required nutrients for the fish to thrive and show its full colors. Some live brine shrimp can also be fed occasionally as a treat. Important: Do not over-feed your Betta. This is the number one mistake made when keeping Betta fish. Yes, feeding is the main interaction you will have with your new pet, but over-feeding leads to uneaten food rotting and spoiling the water. Feed several small meals per day; only put in a few pellets or flakes at a time and be sure the Betta eats them all within five minutes. Take note of how much your fish will eat in that time span and remove any uneaten pieces. They won't be scavenged for later, they will simply rot and spoil the water.

Betta tankmates

Bettas are really best kept in species-only aquariums. Only one male should be kept per tank, as it is well-known that males will fight each other and are quite territorial. They can also be territorial towards other slow-moving fish with long fins such as guppies, angelfish or gouramis. Conversely, fish such as tetras or barbs will often target Bettas and nip at their fins. Small catfish such as Corydoras should be fine and will actually help eat any food that sinks to the bottom. Males can also be kept with females, but that topic (as well as breeding Bettas) requires a whole article on its own.

Maintenance

To keep your Siamese Fighting Fish healthy you will have to perform regular water changes of about twenty percent of the total tank water capacity, and this should be carried out every week to ten days. This is important whether there is a filter present or not. You should always be sure to not just "top up" the water, but actually take out some of the old water and replace it with new water. Be sure that the new water being added has the same temperature (a cheap floating thermometer will work well here) and pH values, and has been de-chlorinated. If cleaning any decorations, be sure not to use any soap.

Enjoy your new little friend!

Care for your Betta properly and they are a treat to watch and will provide an interesting addition to any room or office desk. With regular tank maintenance and avoiding over-feeding, your Betta is sure to live a full and happy life.


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