By Kali Wyrosdic
Betta fish, also called Siamese or Japanese fighting fish, are beautiful to look at, fun to watch, and don’t require much space at all. Most bettas sold in pet stores can be kept in small fish bowls, sometimes with plants and even other fish (depending on the species). Keep reading to learn all about betta fish, plus some fun betta trivia.
A Fighting Fish Throughout History
Bettas have always been used as fighting fish, bred for their aggressive nature and, later, for their brilliant colors. In fact, it was a tradition for Malaysian children to pluck the fish from their homes, sometimes 50 at a time, and pit them against each other in fish fights for local bragging rights. Bettas of the 1800s and 1900s were dark and muddy-colored, turning vibrant shades when agitated. It’s only present-day betta fish that come in all the colors of the rainbow.
The majority of betta fish that you’ll find pet stores in the Untied States come from commercial betta farms based in Malaysia and Singapore. Bettas are widely available at pet stores nationwide for between three and ten dollars per fish, depending on the type and fin shape. If you’re looking for a rare color or prized fighting fish, however, you can expect to pay more and you’ll have to seek out a breeder.
Habitat of the Betta Fish
Betta fish are native to the rice paddies, canals, floodplains and drainage ditches of Southeast Asia, most notably Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia. Bettas are simple creatures, even for fish, and don’t require much décor in their tanks. While betta fish call Southeast Asia home, they are an invasive species and have been found in rivers and lake systems around the world.
Bettas are labyrinth fish, meaning they have the ability to breathe oxygen directly from the air or from their gills. This unique ability is a result of the cyclical droughts and floods common to Southeast Asia and explains why bettas are able to tolerate small spaces and poor water quality (though changing your betta’s water regularly is recommended). Even though many bettas are sold in one-gallon tanks, try to keep your betta in a 2.5-gallon tank or larger.
Betta fish typically live in warm water (75 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer), and can be fed a diet of betta fish pellets and frozen food including brine shrimp, bloodworms and daphnia. In the wild, betta fish eat insects and small crustaceans. They generally live between two and five years in captivity.
Keeping Your Betta in a Community or Alone
As their nickname suggests, betta fish are quite aggressive, but don’t always require solitary confinement. Male betta fish are territorial and should be kept in separate tanks, but some female betta fish can coexist more comfortably. Neon tetras, minnows and various species of catfish have also been known to cohabitate with bettas. Keep any fish known for nibbling out of a betta’s tank, however, as bettas will bite back.
How Big Do Bettas Get?
Bettas love to eat, but will generally only grow to an average length between two and four inches and are the perfect pets for people with small living spaces. Should you want a larger betta, one technique to increase your betta’s growth potential is to replace 50 percent of their tank water every day because they excrete a hormone that inhibits their growth and replacing the water will remove the hormone. This process is quite labor-intensive, though, and bettas can take up to a year to grow larger.
When it comes to breeding your betta, it’s recommended to leave that to the professionals, however, if you have a single male betta fish you’ll still be able to enjoy one of the breeding rituals. Male bettas are the ones who take care of their offspring (called frys) and will build a bubble nest in its tank regardless of whether or not there’s a female present (and, of course, there won’t be any eggs or babies without a female).