Because of their sheer popularity and stunning beauty, I’ve decided to do this article on Betta Fish Care for Beginners to get you home with your new buddy as quickly – and safely for your new pet as possible.
In my opinion, a Betta (also known as Siamese Fighter) is the closest, if not only fish that can be compared to a dog or cat when it comes to companionship…
A Home for your buddy – Size Does Matter
Just as we like to live in comfort, so does your betta. A home for your betta will, as for us, probably be the single most significant investment you have to make in his life.
Please don’t believe the stories that you can keep a betta in a small vase or bowl – that is a sales trick, and WILL kill your betta.
FACT: Your betta NEEDS at least 2.5 gallons (or 9.5 liters) to live happily.
Please do not compromise on the size (or water capacity of the tank) of your betta. I can, through extensive experience, assure you that firstly, your betta will not be happy at all, and secondly, even die in a short time.
An important thing to remember is to find a tank that has a lid. Bettas are avid leapers and can jump up to 3 inches. They don’t jump all the time, though, mostly lounging around in their habitat between the plants, but when irritated or aggravated, they will jump to try to escape.
Note on Placement: I am sure that this sounds obvious to most, but I feel I have to say something about placement. Be sure to place your betta tank in a safe area. By this, I mean not too close to a heater or air conditioner and not in direct sunlight; these will all affect the water temperature and conditions of the water.
Did you know that bettas originate from Thai rice paddies? So you can imagine the size of living quarters they are used to. A small home will simply not do!
About Mirrors: Another point I want to talk about, and it is important, is the use of mirrors in and around your betta’s tank. PLEASE DON’T DO IT. Shortly after I got my first betta years ago, I heard this: “it is so much fun to have a mirror on the inside or outside of your betta tank.” I tried it. I had great fun watching my betta (called “Rocky”) have mock-fights in his tank.
What a TERRIBLE mistake it was, as within three weeks, Rocky was no more! I learned later that this is highly stressful to the fish, as he is constantly fighting. So – I will stop there and ask nicely: Please don’t expose your beautiful betta to this cruelty.
Moving along, now that you have your new buddy’s tank, let’s fill it up with his water and the rest of his habitat.
Your Betta’s Water
Quick Water Condition Facts:
- Temperature: 78 – 82 Fahrenheit or 24 to 27 Celsius.
- Water Source: Don’t use bottled water, instead use tap water with a good water conditioner.
- Bettas prefer a neutral pH of 7, as they are soft water fish.
- It is always important to introduce your betta to an already cycled tank.
Filtration is Important
I cannot stress enough how vital proper filtration is for your betta. Not only do you NEED a sound filtration system to keep the water clean and a healthy bacteria colony going, you betta needs proper water conditions to thrive and be happy.
Sponge filters are the best ones to use for bettas, as they are the least likely to hurt your fish’s delicate fins. You should set any other flow filter to its lowest flow setting to prevent stress or damage to your fish (remember the stagnant rice paddies in Thailand).
My friend used an old technique to let water stand for a couple of weeks or so and then introduce new fish to a tank. But I have learned that this is NOT a good idea, as many heavy metals remain in the water. Water conditioners removed everything terrible from tap water and introduced exactly what is needed by your fish.
Decorating Your new Friend’s Home
This part is entirely up to you. Just keep in mind the natural habitat of the betta, Thai Rice Paddies. They do like to lounge around in lots of plants.
I will always suggest live plants over artificial plants, as they help a lot with keeping the water clean and healthy.
If you do want to use artificial plants thought, please try to get the silk variety. I was taught the “stocking method” – sounds weird right? It works like this; if a plant would rip or damage a silk stocking, leave it, and move along. This will keep your betta’s delicate fins in tack. Also, don’t use too sharp a substrate.
Finally: Introducing your Betta to his new tank!
Yay – it is time to buy, then introduce your betta to his new home, which you have so carefully prepared for him.
Let’s get to the store with the below checklist and get your betta.
Here is an overview of how to find the best betta for you:
- Color: Everybody who keeps bettas, keep them for their beauty and stunning colors. I always try to find the brightest colors. The darker, more intense blues and reds, the better. Do note that you get many variations of the species. So, you could find a lighter (seemingly dull) color fish with light blue and pink tints.
- Fin Inspection: Don’t laugh at me, but when I go out to buy bettas for myself or my friends, I go to the shop with a magnifying glass. I use a large magnifying glass for two reasons. a) a comprehensive inspection of his fins. Some small tears could still pass the test, but longer, more severe tears in fins, will get reported to the store owner immediately, and I will have to pass on that particular fish. b) I check the fish’s body for any growths or lumps of parasites on the fish.
- Movement: Although the bettas in the shop probably have gone through a lot of stress to get to the shop, they should still show some form of life and awareness of their surroundings and what is happening outside their small confinement in the shop. I will take my finger and slowly wave it in front of the fish to see if there is any reaction. This is a good indication that all is well with the betta. Please NEVER tap the glass or bowl that the fish is kept in – it is very stressful to them, but then, you already knew that- I am sure.
When buying your betta, remember that we keep one male per betta tank. Contrary to popular belief, females will not live well with other females, and males cannot be kept together because of their territorial behavior and aggressiveness towards one another. You also don’t want to have a male and female in one tank at this stage – breeding in the betta world is an all-together other (and somewhat tricky) ball game in captivity.
Rule of thumb: Let’s keep our bettas (males, for their beauty) alone in a tank, to be sure, and to keep him as happy and peaceful as possible. Two males will fight to the death over territory – hence their other name: Siamese Fighters.
On the bright side, as I mentioned before, bettas are fun to keep. They will get used to you as the owner if you interact with him often.
Fun Exercise: Feed your betta at exactly the same time each morning and evening. In a short while you will notice that he actually comes to the surface at those times for his meals. I have done this succesfully with many of my bettas.
Introducing your betta to his new home
When you get back home from the store, it is vital to introduce him slowly and carefully to his new home.
I will transfer the betta from the transport bag to a glass bowl rinsed in his new home water and float the bowl in his tank. Use a thermometer to make sure the water in the bowl matches that of his tank.
Then I start scooping small amounts of water from his tank to the bowl to get him used to the new water conditions. I won’t use more than 1 part of freshwater to 3 parts of transport water. Once he seems calm, it is time for him to step (or swim) into his new home. I try not to get too much of the pet shop water into his tank, as this can introduce contaminated water to his new tank.
Give your new betta a day or two to acclimatize to the new environment and water conditions before you expect him to look completely relaxed and at home.
Bettas are carnivores that mainly eat insects in their natural habitat.
The best diet I have come up with, which keeps my bettas happy, is a mix of pellets specially formulated for bettas, frozen brine shrimp, and blood worms.
When buying pellets for your betta, please read the packaging carefully and ensure that the protein content is no less than 40%.
I feed my bettas twice a day, and I do try to feed them at the same time every day.
A betta will have a hard time eating anything that does not fit into his mouth, so if the pellets are a bit big for your betta, feel free to slice it with a sharp blade before feeding time.
Tip: Soak the pellets in a bit of water from the betta’s tank before you feed him. Eating a dry pellet could result in swelling in his stomach, making him very uncomfortable or fatal if he overeats.
If there is any food left after one to one and a half minutes after feeding, remove the leftovers immediately – no doggy bags allowed.
A betta fish’s stomach is no larger than his own eye – so keep that in mind at feeding times – small portions at a time.
Keeping your betta’s tank and water clean.
Vacuum at least once a week, removing no more than 25% of the water. When you introduce the top-up water, make sure that it is at the same temperature as his tank water.
Also, remember to add your water conditioner to the new water before adding it to the tank. Use your test kit to ensure that the water you are adding is the same as what is already in the tank.
It is also good practice to regularly test your tank water to ensure conditions stay stable in the water.
And there you have it, my guide to caring for your new betta in a nutshell.
I would love to hear from you on this subject, so please leave a comment below, and let’s chat about this.
Jesse is the principal author of this blog. He is an avid fishkeeper with rich experience spanning several years. He is here to share his knowledge and ensure you also have a guiding compass, as he did with his father.