Betta Fish For Beginners: The Complete Care Sheet

Even if you are not an aquarium expert chances are you have heard of the Betta!

They are second only to the Goldfish in terms of their popularity. While the Goldfish is king of the temperate fish tank, the Betta is the king of tropical setups.

The Betta Fish has iconic trailing fins that can come in just about any color.

They are commonly kept by first time fishkeepers, however there many misconceptions about this fish that often catch beginners off guard.

Are you interested in learning more about this fighting fish?

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to keep your Betta happy…

Red Betta

Betta Fish
Other Common Names: Siamese Fighting Fish
Scientific Name: Betta splendens
Family Name: Osphronemidae
Distribution: Thailand
Size: 1-3 inches
Color: Red or blue most popular
Care Level: Easy to medium
Temperament: Aggressive
Lifespan: 3-4 years
Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Nano fish and bottom dwellers

Betta Fish 101

Betta Fish

Betta fish (Betta splendens) are one of the most popular freshwater fish around.

They are best known for their stunning appearance and fiery personality. Their underwater acrobatics can leave you amused for days, and their alluring appearance can captivate even those who do not consider themselves fish people.

Bettas have roughly the same body shape as a Gourami, but their fins are much longer and can come in many different shapes and sizes.

While they are naturally found in Thailand, they can now be found in many other parts of the world as a result of the aquarium trade.

You can find them at most aquarium fish shops but we recommend that you should only buy a Betta from a specialist. The highest quality Bettas are usually sold at specialty farms and dealers.

Expect to pay around $6 for a common variety from a pet shop and $30-$50 for a high quality specialty Betta.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Freshwater fishkeeping.
  • Nicknames: Siamese Fighting Fish.
  • Color Forms: Blue or red (most common).
  • Size: 1-3 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 5 gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 75°F to 80°F.
Pros

  • Makes a great beginner fish
  • Highly intelligent and responsive to humans
  • Curious and amusing to watch
  • Beautiful and eye-catching appearance
Cons

  • Very territorial and aggressive
  • Short lifespan
  • Often injured by filters
  • Very sensitive and delicate

Appearance

Blue and Red Betta

At this point it may surprise you to learn that the Betta fish is actually a unique type of Gourami.

They belong to the family Osphronemidae along with every other Gourami fish. However most aquarium keepers consider Betta separate from Gouramis.

The Betta Fish has a similar shaped body to other members of the Gourami family.

Their bodies are wide towards the caudal fin and thin out gradually as you reach their head. Their head slopes downward past the dorsal fin, and ends in an upturned snout.

Of course one of the most famous parts of their appearance is their trailing fins. They give off the appearance of a long gown or veil.

In total they have 6 fins but their size and shape depends on which breed you have. The paired pectoral fins are located just under the snout. Behind them, a fused pelvic-anal fin extends all the way to the tail. Their dorsal fin also extends to the caudal fin, which is wide and shaped like a lady’s fan.

Many different varieties of Betta exist and they can all be identified by their color, pattern, and the shape of their fins. Popular variants include the Halfmoon, Veiltail, and Elephant Ear.

Bettas also have a unique type of organ known as the labyrinth organ, which lets them survive in low oxygen environments.

Most will reach between 1.5-3 inches in length, however some larger breeds can grow all the way up to 4 inches.

The dimorphism between the two genders is very distinct.

Females are smaller than males and their colors are much less striking. Females can be identified by their rounder shape, shorter fins, and a small white dot on their undersides. This is called the egg spot and it marks the female’s ovipositor.

The iconic long, gown-like fins are only found on males. Males are also much brighter and more strikingly colored.

Color Varieties

These fish do not look anywhere near as colorful in the wild as they do in the aquarium. Many of the showiest colors and patterns were specially bred for aquariums. In total there are over 70 different color varieties of Bettas.

Here are several of the most popular color forms:

  • Dragon Scale: This particularly eye catching variety features chainlike scales that look like a reptile. Colors include deep red, jade green, and turquoise.
  • Red: They can have either a solid red body or an orange and red gradient. This is the most popular color variety around.
  • Purple: Purple is the second most popular color after red and it is a tyrian purple that makes the fish look like royalty.
  • Yellow: This variety has a golden or buttery yellow body with matching fins.
  • Blue: A solid blue or turquoise colored body and fins. This may also be marketed as green, though a true green Betta is rare.
  • White: As their name suggests they have a pearly white colored body and fins.
  • Butterfly: A butterfly patterned fish that is a dark-to-light color gradient. The body’s color extends to the fins, and brightens as it reaches the edges.

Betta Fish Care Guide

A Betta Swimming

Betta fish are susceptible to a handful of different illnesses.

Fin rot is probably the most common you will come across. This is the result of a bacterial infection which is usually caused by a dirty tank. If fin rot goes untreated it will quickly spread and lead to necrosis. A case of fin rot is always a medical emergency.

Velvet disease is another illness that affects this fish.

It is caused by a parasitic nematode and the most most noticeable symptom is a sprinkling of yellow dust across the scales. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite and a persistent itch which causes them to rub against the rocks and décor in the tank. During the later stages of the disease, lesions that look similar to fin rot will form. An affected fish should be isolated from the rest of the tank.

The last illness you should be aware of is dropsy.

Any bacterial or viral infections can also cause dropsy – this is a type of bloat that is almost always fatal. If your fish’s scales are spread wide like a pinecone then dropsy is the likely cause. Since you cannot use a powerful filter you will need to rely on frequent water changes to keep the tank as clean as possible. You will need to make two 30% water changes every month.

Diet and Feeding

Betta Fish Care

In the wild Bettas feast on insects and tiny micro-prey. These little carnivores are often found in the most productive areas of the river where tiny prey can be found in abundance.

Zooplankton, small flies, snails, larvae, and worms are all on the menu.

Because of this you should feed them mostly live prey.

You should supplement this with a live prey diet with high protein fish flakes and special blends for Betta Fish. Most pet shops sell formulas that include all of the essential nutrients for Bettas. You can also give them any other kind of protein packed pellet or flake food.

Protein is the most important part of their diet.

Brine shrimp, water fleas, insect larvae, and adult fruit flies will satisfy their appetite for live prey. You can also offer worms, small snails, and veligers.

Frozen microworms, larvae, and brine shrimp can be given as a treat from time to time. Just remember that all frozen foods must be chopped up before you feed them to your fish.

Vegetables make a nice occasional treat.

Peas, cucumbers, and zucchini are safe, but avoid tender and leafy vegetables like broccoli or lettuce.

Bettas are notoriously picky eaters so they will not all enjoy the same foods. You will need to experiment to find what they like best. Start by giving them a little bit of everything on this list:

  • Daphnia
  • Moina
  • Brine shrimp (adult and larvae)
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Fruit flies
  • Microworms
  • Snails (adults and larvae)
  • Frozen worms
  • Frozen brine shrimp
  • Pellet and flake foods (high protein)
  • Betta flakes
  • Peas (treat)
  • Cucumbers (treat)
  • Zucchini (treat)

Your fish should be able to finish their meal in 5 minutes. Any food that is left after 5 minutes should be removed from the tank.

Adults can be fed once a day and juveniles should be fed once in the morning and once at night.

Can Beginners Keep Betta Fish?

Betta Fish are beginner friendly.

However they are susceptible to problems caused by common beginner mistakes. Incorrect tank size, dirty water conditions, poor diet, and failure to acclimate are all of the most common mistakes that affect these fish.

If a first time fishkeeper studies this article and avoids these simple mistakes then they will have an easy time caring for this species.

Habitat and Aquarium Set Up

Royal Betta Fish

In the wild Bettas live in floodplains and rice paddy farms along the Mekong River basin.

These fertile areas are very rich in nutrients.

They are usually found in the parts of the river with lots of plant and algae growth. Here the water is almost stagnant and temperatures remain above 75°F. The water is usually slightly acidic due to the amount of plants.

Your aquarium should match their natural environment as closely as possible.

Aquarium Conditions

You will need at least a 5 gallon aquarium.

But a community setup must be at least 10 gallons.

For the water parameters, the temperature should range between 75-80°F, with a pH range between 6.0-8.0, and a freshwater hardness between 3-6 dGH.

The substrate should be soft so you can use mixed gravel made of natural materials. Stay away from the colored novelty gravel that is often sold in pet shops.

Now onto tank equipment.

Bettas are often injured by powerful filters so you need to use a very low powered internal filter like a sponge filter or a HOB filter. If you need to use a stronger filter because of the other fish in your community then place a sponge over the filter to protect your Betta’s fins.

The lighting does not matter so long as it comes from only artificial lighting and not direct sun. You can use either LED or fluorescent lights.

They are also very good jumpers so you need a secure hood – you can also purchase a lighting system that connects to your hood.

Finally lets talk about tank decorations.

Artificial plants are not recommended but if you are going to use them they should be made of silk. Your fish will always prefer real, natural plants from their native environment. The very best plants for this habitat include Anubias, Java Fern, Marimo Moss, and Hygrophilas of any size.

You can include just about any kind of aquarium plants since there is no risk of damage from your Fighting Fish.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 5 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater planted
Temperature 75-80°F
pH 6.0-8.0
Hardness 3-6 dGH
Flow None
Substrate Soft gravel

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

Perhaps the biggest misconception with Bettas is what size aquarium they need.

Many pet shops and aquarium guides will recommend a smaller tank size.

5 gallons is the bare minimum for a tank that includes a single Betta. A community setup should be at least 10 gallons, with 5 additional gallons for each additional fish you add.

Tank Mates

Blue Betta Fish

Finding tank mates for these hot tempered fish can be very difficult.

If you are new to the species then you should not try to keep them in a community setup. There is an art to stocking a community Betta tank and this is best left to those who have kept the species for a while.

They are extremely aggressive to one another and to any other fish that looks like them.

Surprisingly though they get on very well with schools of nano fish. This is because the shoaling protects small fish from the Fighting Fish’s temper.

Try introducing a group of Cardinal or Ember Tetras, Harlequin or Pygmy Rasboras, or Pearl Danios. Catfish and other bottom dwellers can work well too since they remain close to the bottom and do not venture into the Betta’s territory.

Small to medium sized Plecos, Glass Catfish, and Cory Catfish will fit in just fine. Yoyo and Kuhli Loaches work just as well too.

If you are keeping a paludarium then the African Dwarf Frog makes a very interesting and safe tank mate for this fish. Other good non fish tank mates include the Bamboo Shrimp and Apple Snail. Both of these helpful invertebrates are very good at keeping the tank clean.

You should never keep other Gourami species in a tank with a Betta. Even the more peaceful Gouramis (such as the Dwarf and Pearl) should be avoided. Fin nippers are also bad news. The Siamese Algae Eater, Tiger Barb, and certain species of Tetra should be kept away.

Cichlids of any kind are a recipe for disaster too. There is no Cichlid species peaceful enough to avoid getting into conflicts with this fiery tempered fish.

Keeping Betta Fish Together

There are special conditions for keeping these fish together.

Never keep a group of males, or a group of mixed males and females. Males will fight to the death for dominance, and a mixed gender group will lead to tragedy for your females.

Females can live in small groups (4 and 6 members). However even the females may turn on each other at times.

If this is your first time with the species then it is best to only keep one at a time until you gain a little more experience.

Typical Behavior

There is a reason why these fish are known as Fighting Fish.

They are extremely aggressive and territorial to one another and also to any other fish that looks similar to them. Males will fight to the death when kept together and they will also attack a female that rejects their attempt to mate.

Bettas are even ferocious enough to attack fish much larger than they are.

You will find that groups of females tend to be much calmer than groups of males and they often travel in small schools called sororities.

These curious fish will explore all areas of the tank but they will spend most of their time in the middle or upper levels.

They are surprisingly intelligent and perceive their environment in ways that most fish do not. They can learn to recognize you and can even be taught to eat from your hands. Bettas love to show off by flashing their fins and engaging in underwater acrobatics. This is truly one of the most entertaining fish that you can keep.

Are Betta Fish Good Pets?

A Betta is not a toy or a decoration.

They are a living being that needs a proper diet, clean water conditions, and enough space to explore its environment.

That being said they do make amazing pets for any age and skill level.

However their owners must be prepared to take on their various care requirements.

History and First Sighting

People have been keeping Betta fish since the 1800s.

The first recorded case dates back to the Thai monarchy in the 1840s. Royalty and nobility in Thailand were captivated by the beauty of the rice garden fish.

Fish fighting became a popular pastime in 19th century Thailand. Two Fighting Fish were placed in a small tank and goaded into fighting to the death.

Eventually however the Thai monarchy outlawed this practice.

Since then the Betta became known as an ornamental fish rather than a fighter.

Throughout the 19th century their popularity spread from Thailand to Japan and China. They were introduced to the west in the early 20th century and reached the US by 1910.

Today the Betta is the most popular freshwater aquarium fish after the Goldfish.

Breeding Betta Fish

Breeding Bettas

The breeding behaviors of Bettas is fascinating to watch in action.

However, their worst aggression also comes out when they are getting ready to breed. Because of this breeding should only be done by experienced keepers, and a courting pair must be separated from the rest of the tank.

Once they are in breeding condition the male’s will grow brighter and the females will develop stripes across their body.

Before courting the female the male will create a bubble net on the surface of the water. This serves as the nest for laying eggs.

The male will attempt to lead the female over to the bubble net and create an elaborate displays with his fins. If the female rejects the male then he will charge her until she either accepts or dies. You should remove a female that is unwilling to breed.

If she accepts then they will copulate on the surface of the water. The female will lay her eggs into the water, which the male will catch them in his mouth and stick the eggs to the bubble net.

Up to 500 eggs can be laid at once but only about 40 of them will be caught and placed in the nest.

When all of the eggs are laid the male will attack the female until she moves away from the nest. At this point you should remove the female immediately and place her back in the main tank.

The male will defend the nest and the eggs for about 2 days. He will continue to look after the fry until they lose their yolk sacs and are able to swim upright.

You can feed infusoria and larval brine shrimp to the fry.

Once they leave the fry stage, they can eat what the adults eat. It will take about 4 months before the juveniles are fully mature and ready to join the main tank.

Should You Keep The Betta Fish? (Summary)

The Betta is a truly splendid addition to any aquarium.

However, their specific care requirements must be taken into account.

These delicate little fish should never be placed in any environment that is too small for them. It should also be kept as clean as possible.

In most cases these fighting fish are better off on their own. But if you really know what you are doing then you can try to keep them in a community full of compatible tank mates.

From underwater dragons to flaming flamenco dancers to regal purple princes, there is a Betta fish out there for everyone.

What is your favorite kind of Betta fish? Let us know in the comments section below…

About David Thomas

David Thomas David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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