So my neighbor came over the other night and said they got a fish. A Betta to be exact, aka Betta Splendens, or Siamese Fighting Fish, as they are more commonly known among non-fish enthusiasts. (Oooh she’s talkin’ fancy) Siamese Fighting Fish? Yup… The males are extremely territorial fish and will fight to the death, or severe injury of, another male Betta that comes it’s way. They’ll even fight the females if they’re not in a mating mood. Heck, she’ll beat HIM up if she’s not feeling friendly herself, but typically the females are more peaceful. Most commonly, pet stores only sell males, because they’re “the pretty ones that everybody wants” and their aggressive nature is why you see them in the tiny little containers all by themselves. In the wild, male Betta’s tend to be more colorful and have much longer fins than the females. However, as shown in the picture above… captive bred female Betta’s can be quite beautiful themselves… though a little harder to find. NEVER keep two Betta’s in the same tank. They WILL (more often than not) kill each other, or at the very least rip each others beautiful fins to shreds and suffer major injury to the scales on their bodies and faces, which can lead to infections and other problems… why make them suffer?
Betta’s are, in my opinion, the easiest of all the fish to keep. Even easier to keep than goldfish! Unlike goldfish*… they can do quite well in small un-filtered bowls. I’m not saying a Betta wouldn’t appreciate or benefit from a nice big fish tank like the rest of the tropical fish, (preferring water temperatures in the mid 70′s range) but they won’t be injured or hindered by being kept in a smaller tank as long as you keep the water clean, feed them properly, keep them away from drafts and out of windows (direct sunlight). As long as they are properly cared for the worst that can happen is boredom. Small bowls or jars are convenient… but try to provide AT LEAST a half gallon of water.. A gallon or two would be preferable and if you have the space, give him a 4 or 5 gallon tank with some pretty plants and non-jagged edged decorations (you don’t want him to snag his beautiful fins!) in other words… give the little guy room to move!
If you had a 5 gallon tank with a proper tank divider, you could even keep 2 Betta side by side. Place a good amount of plant growth (or decorations) along the divider wall so that the fish don’t have to see each other ALL the time…as that could be stressful to them. Allow a small section on the divider where they can occasionally catch a glimpse of each other…It will give them some entertainment.
But let’s talk about how MOST people keep Betta fish…. in small bowls or jars. Again, this is okay, but keep that water clean! “How?” you say? EASY!!! First let me tell you what NOT to do.
- DO NOT DUMP YOUR POOR LITTLE FISH FROM ONE JAR INTO ANOTHER.
- DO NOT NET HIM INTO ANOTHER TANK.
- DO NOT TRY TO DUMP MOST OF THE WATER OUT OF THE JAR INTO THE SINK WHILE TRYING NOT TO DUMP THE FISH OUT.
- DO NOT DUMP WATER STRAIGHT OUT OF THE FAUCET INTO YOUR BETTA BOWL.
- DO NOT DUMP HOT OR COLD WATER ON YOUR BETTA.
- DO NOT REPLACE ALL OF HIS WATER AT ONE TIME**
This is not only stressful to the fish, but a WASTE of good cultured water and beneficial bacterial. Adding hot or cold water could burn your fish (if hot) or make him sick (if cold). And you wouldn’t believe how many times I have heard the story of how someone dumped their poor fish into the soapy dishpan with the dirty dishes… or WORSE.. down the drain of the sink. Or how they got his fins snagged in the net. LEAVE THE FISHY IN HIS TANK.
- Get out a jar, glass, jug…something that will hold about half the amount of water you use in your Betta bowl.
- Fill this jar with tap water… If you have poor tap water you can mix it with some bottled water, but do NOT use distilled water… it has no nutrients in it. You can also purchase aquarium specific products that can treat your water and make it suitable for fish.
- Assuming your fish isn’t DESPERATE for clean water RIGHT NOW. Let the water sit over night (24 hours is even better) next to your Betta bowl. This will give the chlorine a chance to dissipate and let the water temperature stabilize to match the temperature of the water in your Betta bowl. If your fish is desperate, use a water conditioner and make sure the water temperature is as close to the temperature in the Betta’s bowl as possible to prevent illness or shock.
- Get a Turkey Baster (at any local grocery store), and dedicate it to your fish. (Use a separate one for your cooking needs please)
- Gently use the Turkey Baster to siphon the water and waste from the BOTTOM of your Betta’s container. If you use a gravel base in your Betta bowl you can stir the water (not with a spoon!!) GENTLY by sucking a little water into the baster and GENTLY blowing it back out into the gravel of your tank. This will lift some of the waste out of the rock and you can suction it out of the tank with the baster. But try not to do this too often as it also releases toxins from decaying waste into the water that were previously trapped within the substrate. (It’s like blowing cigarette smoke directly into your Betta’s face) Squirt the dirty water into a separate bowl, or into your sink with the drain closed in case you accidentally suck up any gravel (you can pick it back up when you’re done, give it a quick rinse and put it back in your bowl)
- Siphon 25%-50% of the water out of your Betta Bowl… the dirtier your water, the more you want to remove… always taking the water from the BOTTOM… where the dirt settles. Try to leave at least 25% of HIS water in HIS tank…to keep some of the beneficial bacteria.
- When you’ve removed all the waste from the tank in this fashion, top the tank back off with the clean water you left out over night.
TaDa! You have a clean bowl and, as long as you were gentle, a non-stressed and happy Betta! And assuming you know how to use a Turkey Baster, it only took a few minutes! 🙂 The smaller your tank, or the dirtier (cloudier) your water, the more often you will need to do this. I recommend at least once a week for anything 1/2 gallon or less. Every other week for anything around a gallon or two.
If you have a larger tank or one with a filter, you can probably get away with once a month. Keep in mind with filters though, that Betta’s have LONG, FLOWING, FINS. This means that water currents can carry them away, so make sure your filtration is not too strong… and try to break up the flow with plants or other decorations. If your Betta is constantly battling against the water current, he will wear out and get sick. Make sure he has a few places that are safe to rest in. Better yet, use an undergravel filter.
But what should I feed my Betta? Contrary to the “Betta Vase” craze that went around some years ago… Betta’s DO NOT eat plant roots. They are carnivorous…meaning they eat meat. They like brine shrimp (aka sea monkeys), blood worms, bug larvae, etc. If you’re not into live foods… I HIGHLY recommend Hikari’s Betta Bio-Gold. If you can’t find it, use Hikari’s Mini (or baby) Cichlid pellets. If you can’t find Hikari (I always find them in PetCo or PetSmart or just about any Fish Store) there are other Betta specific pellet foods. I DO NOT recommend flakes, even if they say they are for Betta’s because flakes are rejected more often by the fish and just dirty up your water faster. Feed your fish once or twice a day. Usually 6 – 8 pellets per feeding. If he looks hungry after he eats what you gave him go ahead and offer a few more, but if he doesn’t eat it all within 5 minutes, take the left-overs out, and give him a little less next time. This will keep his water cleaner. Also, don’t feed him right before turning out the lights at night… he won’t be able to find the food and it will rot by morning.
So to sum up: Give your fish a few gallons of water to play in. Keep him warm, in the mid-70′s. Keep him clean. Feed him a meat based pellet food (preferably supplemented with live foods) once or twice a day. Pretty simple! Happy fish keeping!
* Goldfish… I don’t care WHO you talk to… do NOT belong in bowls, they belong in LARGE tanks and ponds. A goldfish, for proper growth and health, requires a minimum of 2 GALLONS of water per inch of it’s length. In other words… if you have a goldfish that is 2 inches long from head to the base of it’s tail (do not count the tailfin) then you need a MINIMUM of a 4 gallon tank for that ONE fish. If you have two of them… You need a MINIMUM of 8 gallons for those two fish to be fully healthy and happy. As they grow your tank should grow as well. Goldfish are DIRTY fish. Dirty water means low oxygen in the water. It’s like being trapped in a smoky bar… do you like not breathing well? Neither does your fish. Are you going to do a proper water change on that “goldfish bowl” EVERY DAY? Probably not. (The reason Betta’s can handle small bowls better is because they create less waste and have something called a “labyrinth”.. it’s like a lung, that allows them to go to the surface and breathe AIR like humans. They don’t rely on getting oxygen solely through the water. Gourami’s are also able to do this.)
Goldfish are BIG fish. Small tanks with low oxygen content STUNT fish growth. Goldfish do not “grow to the size of their container”… they are INHIBITED by the size of their container. Be nice to your goldfish and let them grow like they are supposed to. Ever look in a nice garden pond and see those HUGE colorful fish swimming in there? Those are goldfish. Big huh? These are the same fish that your kid brings home from the school carnival…
There are many other factors involved, but this is supposed to be about Betta’s… so my point here is simply this…. if you insist on having a fish in a small container… or “goldfish bowl”, get a Betta and take good care of him.