The betta has often been referred to as “The Jewel of the Orient.” Another common name is the Siamese Fighting Fish. The betta is a vibrantly-colored fish often seen swimming solo in brandy sniffers and ornamental vases in both the office and home. But do these small, aesthetically-pleasing fish bowls provide a healthy environment for the fish?
The betta got its name from an ancient clan of warriors, called the “Bettah.” The fish were given a combatant name after the fighting fish became popular in the mid-1800s. In fact, the sport became so renowned in Thailand that the former King of Siam had it regulated and taxed! Spectators of the sport based their bets on the bravery of the fish, rather than the damage inflicted by the victor.
- Siamese Fighting Fish
- Labyrinth Fish
- Betta Splendens
The betta was first discovered in Southeast Asia in Tailand. Making its home in rice paddies, drainage ditches and the warm flood plains of the region, the betta became accustomed to frequent storm flooding and devastating droughts. The cyclic, drastic changes in its environment helped the fish to adapt – becoming a true labyrinth fish.
A labyrinth fish has the unique ability to breathe oxygen directly from the air and also take in oxygen from its gills. As a result, bettas and other labyrinth fish can survive for short periods of time out of water and if needed, can inhale the air around them (provided they stay moist.) This also explains why a betta can sustain itself in stagnant, oxygen-deficient water.
Bettas have several different tail shapes – the most common being the “veil tail.” Other tail shapes include the “half-moon,” “double tail,” “short-finned fighting-style tail” and “crown tail.”
They come in a wide variety and combinations of color, from nearly white to black and many shades in between. Blues and red hues are especially common, but may also contain yellow, turquoise, and many other rainbow hues.
Bettas will grow to an average size of 2 1/2 – 3 inches.
Generally, the Siamese Fighting Fish normally lives about two to three years. However, there have been reports of individual bettas who lived into their teenage years.
Bettas are not schooling fish and will fight with each other, regardless of gender.
The male betta fish along with the female betta fish will both flare out or display their gill plates towards other fish in an act to show hostility, spawinging activites, or when it feels threatened.
This cool display is natural and is used to intimidate other fish. If you hold a mirror up to your beta fish you will see a cool show that can actually last a very long time. This act is very similiar to that of a turkey or a peacock displaying their colors when they are about to fight or duing breeding to attract mates. Both the male and female betta fish can be aggressive towards other fish. Males especially will fight and nip fins of other male beta fish.
Bettas prefer to swim alone and also need a comfortable place to hide. Aquatic caves or dense, planted corners work great in making a betta feel safe.
The discussion on what type of tankmates you can keep with betta fish comes up often. First, you can not keep more than one male betta fish in the same tank. These fish will fight until one eventually dies. It is strongly suggested to keep one male and one female per tank. One can keep multiple female betta fish in the same tank as long as they are kept in a group of more than two. They will fight some, but not to the extent it harms or kills another.
Now, what other type of fish can you keep with a beta fish? This will depend on your individual fish. Like humans, they all have different personalities. But, most have success with the smaller, more peaceful fish such as black skirt tetras, neon or cardinal tetras, swordtails, mollies, hatchetfish, corydoras catfish, white clouds, and you can try guppies. On occasions, bettas may nip at the guppy’s tail but it will all depend on you individual betta.
Recommended Tank Size:
Although bettas are often kept in small spaces, they do best in slightly larger tanks of 2 to 5 gallons minimum. A 10 gallon tank is even better.
While they can survive in stagnant waters, they won’t thrive, and appreciate frequent water changes.
Bettas prefer slightly acidic water (pH 6.5 to 7) and warm water. The preferred water temperature for a betta is 76-82 degrees F. Cold water can suppress the immune system and cause illness.
When cleaning a betta’s tank or bowl, make sure you only take out a third of the water each time and replace it with fresh water. This will gently allow the fish to adjust to the temperature and pH of clean water – while not upsetting the biological balance of the fish’s environment.
This should be done about every three or four days for small bowls or tanks. If your water has a high level of chlorine in it, you may need to add a drop of declorinator to the tap water before adding it to the tank or bowl. And never use soap or disinfectants to clean off fish ornaments or decorations. This will harm the fish. Plain warm water will work just fine for cleaning these items.
You can also use a small turkey baster to siphon debris from the bottom of the tank. This will prevent excessive ammonia and bacteria from building up.
Siamese fight fish do not need strong flowing water. The long fins can not manuver through the strong current. So tank filters should be turned down on low.
Bettas have upturned mouths and primarily feed on the water’s surface. In the wild, betta fish will eat small organisms especially insect larvae. Feed your betta fish once per day ensuring you do not overfeed.
A good diet consists of dried bloodworms, brine shrimp or daphnia. Commercial betta food or pellets are best because it combines all three foods, in addition to vitamins and minerals. This improves the betta’s brilliant coloring and longevity.
It is a common misconception that peace lilies or plant roots grown out of “betta vases” can sustain the fish. Nothing could be farther than the truth! Bettas cannot survive on plant roots and need a diet high in protein and fiber to survive.
There are a wide variety of Betta fish diseases and while it may seem to the untrained eye that the symptoms of these diseases are similar, often times they can be distinguished when you know what you are looking for. Becoming educated in regards to the health of your Betta is one of the biggest steps that you must take in order to ensure that your fish remains healthy.
Below are some signs that you should watch for that may suggest a sick Betta fish:
- A fish that stays at the surface of the water in the corner of its tank.
- A fish that lies at the bottom of the tank and only comes to the surface to breathe.
- A fish that does not eat, does not show an “excited” reaction to being fed or a fish that spits out its food. It should be noted that some Betta fish pellet food can come in pellets that may be too large for your Betta fish, a healthy Betta may spit these out and wait for them to become soggy before trying to consume them a second time – this does not indicate a sick fish.
- A fish that appears to have “lost” its color or appears to be a much less vibrant colorful shade.
- A fish that appears to be scratching itself by rubbing against items in its tank.
- A fish that appears to have unusual sores or markings on its body that were not present previously.
- A fish whose tail or fins are no longer spread out and have the appearance of being unhealthy, closed or clumped together.
- A fish with gills that do not close completely due to inflammation, inflammation can also cause the gills to appear red in color.
- Swollen or protruding eyes.
- A swollen stomach or “hollow” appearing stomach.
- Raised scales that give your Betta the appearance of having a prickly texture.
A Betta fish that exhibits any of these signs should always be isolated from any other fish if it is being kept in a community aquarium because a number of common Betta fish diseases can be easily communicated from one fish to another.
Having a disease pass from one fish to another is not only unfortunate for the fish involved and more expensive to treat but it is also a way for the disease to be contracted a second time by a fish that has already been effectively treated.
If you have a Betta fish that has become ill that is kept in a community tank make sure that you do keep an eye on other fish in the tank for any signs of the disease in question being contracted by them.
ALWAYS wash your hands with an antibacterial soap if you handle a fish that has any type of illness or disease to ensure that you do not spread the disease from one fish to another – not to mention that this is the sanitary thing to do whenever you handle your fish.
Fin Rot and Tail Rot
Fin rot and tail rot are often classified together however, they may or may not both occur together. Tail or fin rot tend to be contracted by a Betta fish through contact with dirty water so it is important to ensure that you maintain a clean and healthy Betta fish tank.
Fortunately for the Betta fish that contracts tail or fin rot damage done to the fins or tail is repairable if treatment is issued in a timely manner and fin and tail tissue will regrow (although it may not be as resplendent as it previously was.) A fish with fin or tail rot will exhibit a variety of symptoms but the most obvious are clumped fins or tail tissue or fin or tail tissue that appears to be disintegrating and disappearing little by little.
This type of Betta fish disease should be treated with Ampicillin or Tetracycline and your Betta fish tank should be thoroughly cleaned and clean water should be used in the new tank. Ensure to treat the new water before filling the tank. A fungus eliminator should also be utilized in the new tank to ensure that your Betta begins recovery.
It is important to be consistent with tank cleaning and water change when treating fin or tail rot, this should be done once every three days or so with medication being added with each water change. Once your Betta fish no longer shows signs of losing tissue on their tail or fins and begins to show signs of new growth you can resume a normal tank cleaning schedule.
Ich may sound funny but there is nothing funny about this parasite! This parasite is most commonly contracted by your fish through frozen live food and most commonly presents as small white dots on your fish’s body, head, tail and fins.
Ich can be prevented by ensuring that you add a small amount of aquarium salt and Aquarisol to your Betta fish tank when maintaining your tank; however, if your fish does contract this parasite it should be treated quickly.
Fishes with ich not only present with small white dots but they also appear to be scratching themselves against items in the tank and may become less active than normal. Ich is an extremely contagious parasite and if one fish in a community tank has it there is an extremely high likelihood that other fish have it or will develop it so you should always treat the entire tank.
Ich is most commonly treated by raising the temperature of the Betta fish tank; however, this can only be successfully done in tanks lager than 5 gallons since smaller tanks can quickly overheat killing your Betta fish. In larger tanks, temperatures of 85 degrees will quickly kill off the ich parasite.
If heating the tank is not an option because of a smaller tank you should completely clean your tank, replace all water in the tank and treat with Aquarisol and aquarium salt. It is also commonly recommended to put your Betta fish in a holding container after cleaning the smaller tank and raising the temperature of the water to 85 degrees to kill any remaining parasites without risking overheating your Betta fish.
Fungus is common in tanks that are not treated with salt and Aquarisol when water is added. Once a single fish in a community tank contracts a fungal infection there is a high likelihood that another fish may also contract the fungal infection so it should be treated quickly when spotted.
Betta fish that have fungal infections can appear to be a much more pale hue of their normal color, they may not be as active as they usually are and their fins may have a clumped appearance. A fish with a fungal infection can have patches of a white cotton-like appearance on their body.
Eliminating fungus should begin with a full water change and treatment of the new water with a fungus eliminator, this type of medication will cause the water to change to a gold-like color, this is normal.
Every three days the water in the tank should be replaced and a new dose of fungus eliminator should be administered. Once all visible signs of the fungal infection have disappeared ensure that you treat your tank with BettaZing or Bettamax to treat any trace signs of the fungal infection that may remain.
Popeye is one of the more noticeable diseases in Betta fish because as its name suggests, a fish with this disease will appear to have one or both eyes protruding from the head. Most commonly popeye develops from dirty tank water because it is a bacterial infection; however, popeye can also be the result of a much more serious illness.
Most commonly when popeye does not respond to treatment it is a symptom of a much more serious disease like tuberculosis which is incurable and your Betta fish will be unable to survive.
For the fish that has contracted popeye as a result of dirty tank water however, treatment can quickly remedy the bulging eyes that result from this disease. Treatment for popeye should be immediate in order to prevent any long-term damage or loss of sight in your fish.
To treat popeye clean your tank and do a complete water change and add Ampicillin to the clean water. Clean water should be changed every three days and medication should continue to be added until one week after your fish’s popeye symptoms disappear.
Advanced Fin and Body Rot
Advanced fin and body rot is a case of regular fin rot that goes on for far too long. When regular fin rot is not treated or when it progresses extremely quickly it can be extremely difficult to stop.
A fish with this disease will experience a loss of fin and body tissue as the rot progresses. Once the rot progresses on to body tissues there is very little that you can do to help your fish as the bacteria quickly eats your fish alive.
In cases of extreme fin or body rot you may begin to see small bones protruding from your fish’s body. If the affected fish is not treated in time they will die quickly but this death likely causes the fish to suffer a lot of pain.
It is occasionally possible to control the progress of advanced rot and the fish can continue to live while being treated.
Stopping advanced fin and body rot is difficult and you will need to completely change your fish’s water and combine a number of medications designed to treat fin rot. In cases of severe rot you may want to over medicate the water and then continue cleaning your fish’s water every three days adding new medication each time.
Once your fish shows new growth in the fins and on the body you can switch to a medication designed to prevent bacteria from growing in the water again.
Velvet is a parasite that can be prevented completely by adding aquarium salt and water conditioner to your fish’s tank. Velvet is particularly contagious and if you have shared aquarium nets between tanks and have a case of velvet, you will want to ensure that you treat all of your fish for velvet.
Velvet is completely treatable but it can be difficult to see in your fish. In order to check your fish for velvet you will want to shine a flashlight on your betta and if they have velvet you will see a fine mist over their body that looks gold or rusty in color.
Betta fish that have velvet will clamp their fins to their body, will lose its color, will not eat normally and they will scratch against the gravel of the tank.
Velvet is a parasite and it can be treated. If you have a number of fish in a tank and one shows signs of velvet, it is best to treat all of the fish due to how contagious velvet is. A medication called BettaZing is effective at eliminating velvet completely.
Dropsy is seen often in betta fish and it is particularly fatal. Dropsy is most often contracted through the feeding of live food. Not a lot is known about dropsy other than the fact that it comes from feeding contaminated food. A betta fish with dropsy will present with raised scales as a result of a buildup of fluid underneath the fish’s scales.
The buildup of fluid is the result of kidney failure and just as with any animal, once the betta fish’s kidneys fail, the fish will die. The bacteria that cause dropsy are very contagious and it is these bacteria that cause kidney failure.
Spotting dropsy in your betta fish is relatively easy, your fish will have puffed out scales that look similar to pine cones and it may also appear to have a big bloated stomach.
There really is no known cure for dropsy but a good preventative is to avoid feeding worms to bettas. It is important if you have a betta that presents with dropsy, that you keep it away from other fish.
Swim Bladder Disorder
Swim bladder disorder is not contagious but it is a common illness among betta fish that comes as the result of overfeeding. Young bettas and double tailed bettas are susceptible to this illness.
The swim bladder of the fish is located between the belly and the spine of the fish. When the betta fish has a swim bladder that is too short they will not be able to swim horizontally.
When a betta fish has a swim bladder that is swollen they will float on one side. Many times when fish have shorter swim bladders they will prefer to lie at the bottom of the tank because swimming is too difficult.
A betta fish with a swim bladder disorder can recover by themselves but it is also important to pay attention to how much food you are feeding your fish.
You should know that swim bladder disorder does not hurt the fish and at any point it can recover from this condition so you should not kill your fish out of “mercy.”
It is possible for a betta fish to contract external parasites in the pet store or from the foot that they are being fed or from other fish being introduced to the tank. It is usually possible to see parasites by looking closely at your fish.
In the case of some parasites like anchor worms, you will have no problem spotting them. A fish that has external parasites will show symptoms of needing to scratch itself against anything it can find and it will not behave as it normally would showing signs of being uncomfortable in its tank.
If your betta fish shows signs of external parasites you will want to change out 70% of your fish tank’s water. Changing out a percentage of your fish’s water will help to reduce the population of the parasites and their eggs but it will not remove them all completely so it is important to treat the remaining water. After replenishing the water you will want to treat it with BettaZing, a product designed to clean the water and kill the remaining parasites and their eggs.
The Importance of Prevention
Prevention is the most important part of Betta fish diseases because prevention is much easier than treating or trying to cure Betta fish diseases.
Most Betta fish diseases require a large amount of work in order to save your Betta fish from succumbing to the disease that they have contracted, most often this involves cleaning the tank and replacing your Betta’s water once every three days in addition to the application of medication.
In most cases Betta fish diseases are easily preventable by maintaining a clean tank and feeding a healthy diet.
With the more popular Betta Splendens and other selectively bred varieties, distinguishing between males and females is rather easy and breeding in captivity is common.
The male betta will have large, beautiful flowing fins. Males will be more colorful and have a more narrow body.
Female betta fish are usually a bit shorter, have a thicker belly, and less finnage. Females can still portray beautiful coloration but most are less vibrant than the males.
Betta fish are not hard to breed. The male will form a bubble nest against one of the sides of your aquarium. The female betta wll lay her eggs, the male will pick them up and deposit them into the bubble nest. Fry will begin to hatch after 3-4 days. Most aquarium keepers remove the female after breeding to prevent fighting and fry from being eaten.
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