Everyone’s seen a betta fish at one point or another, whether it’s on a receptionist’s desk in a glass bowl or in a well-manicured aquarium. Everyone also thinks they know everything about betta fish, even if they’ve never owned one personally. They think: “Betta fish can’t be with other fish. They can also live comfortably in a fishbowl.”
Both things are two of the biggest misconceptions about owning one of these little guys. Here, one can learn everything they need to know about properly caring for a betta fish and what it entails.
What Is a Betta Fish?
Before going into the biggest misconceptions surrounding betta fish, it’s good to know what these fish are in the first place. Betta fish (also known as “fighting fish”) come from Asia, specifically Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos. According to National Geographic, they thrive in shallow waters, usually rice paddies or other low-moving bodies of water.
Some other facts of note include:
- Betta fish can live anywhere from to two to five years.
- The average betta fish can measure two to three inches long.
- Betta fish are omnivores, meaning they can eat both vegetation and meat.
While betta fish commonly adorn aquariums, some parts of the world use them for sport, allowing spectators to place bets on curated “fights.” This practice is illegal in the United States, along with several countries in Asia.
Misconception #1: Betta Fish Can’t Live with Other Fish
As one can imagine, in the wild, betta fish encounter dozens of fish every day. Fighting every fish in sight would be a waste of energy and resources. This is where misconception number one comes into play; betta fish can reside with other aquatic creatures. There are some things to know, however:
- Males can’t reside with other males: Betta fish are extremely territorial, meaning they militantly patrol their homes’ perimeters. They also fight for dominance and mating privileges.
- Betta fish can live with different-looking tank mates: Snails, shrimp, dwarf frogs, and plecos all make excellent companions for betta fish, and for good reason: they don’t feel threatened by them.
It’s important to know that if a betta fish feels stressed out, it may lash out at others around it. This means aquarists should monitor their betta fish’s behavior when introducing it to a new tank.
Misconception #2: Betta Fish Can Live in Bowls
No animal, not even a ghost shrimp, can thrive in a tiny fishbowl. The same goes for betta fish. The University of Illinois’s College of Veterinary Medicine notes that betta fish require:
- A five-gallon tank (or bigger): A well-balanced aquarium should reflect a fish’s natural environment. With five gallons or more, a betta fish can comfortably find hiding spaces and stretch their fins. The tank also needs a filter to promote good, dissolved oxygen levels.
- Moderate water levels: Betta fish thrive in moderate temperatures. Their water should hover around 76 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. An aquarist may purchase a thermometer for their tank to check the water’s temperature.
- Tank decorations: A betta fish needs stimulation, no matter how trifle it may seem. This means their tank should have decorative rocks or even live plants.
Betta fish also thrive in fish tanks that have gravel on the bottom. Not only does this simulate their natural habitats, but it makes cleaning the tank easier.
Misconception #3: Betta Fish Are Great Starter Fish
Life can go downhill (or downstream, rather) for a betta fish fast. When they start exhibiting signs of distress or illness, they need prompt attention. Otherwise, they could die. So, they’re not great pets for first-time aquarists. One needs some familiarity with fish and how they thrive in captivity.
If one’s looking for a “starter” fish, one should start with:
- Neon tetras
- Bristle-nosed plecos
One may even consider starting their tank with “feeder fish.” These fish cost about 10 cents apiece and can offer invaluable insight into whether aquascaping is a suitable hobby.
Misconception #4: Betta Fish Aren’t “Fun”
While many people get betta fish to spruce up their aquariums, they’re also very interactive. With some time, effort, and practice, there are many tricks a betta fish can learn, including:
- Follow-the-finger: Once mastered, a betta fish will follow someone’s finger as it runs alongside the outside of the tank.
- Swim through a hoop: First, an aquarist makes a small hoop out of a bendable material, like a paperclip. Then, using high-value treats and positive reinforcement, one can coax the fish through the hoop.
- Jump: Believe it or not, betta fish are great jumpers. This is how they escape predators in the wild. Again, by using high-value treats and repetition, one can treat their fish to jump on demand.
One can learn more about the nuances of these tricks by clicking here.
Misconception #5: Betta Fish Are Short-Term Commitments
Some people get betta fish thinking that, in a few weeks, it’ll go “belly up.” However, as noted, betta fish can live two to five years in captivity. That means someone should think about their commitments before springing for one of these guys. That means considering:
- Whether the pet owner goes away for long periods
- How long the fish is expected to live
- Whether the pet owners are moving anytime soon (transporting fish can be cumbersome)
- Whether any other animals live in the tank
- The homeowner’s budget
- Any other relevant obligations
When taken care of, betta fish are an elegant addition to any freshwater aquarium. Yet, it’s important that aquarists do their homework first. Five minutes of research could mean the difference between a healthy underwater ecosystem and a tank full of struggling organisms.