When I first started keeping tropical fish, I tried to find good betta tank mates.
Sadly, a small sized “community aquarium” filled with all kinds of fish is more myth than reality.
Here is everything you need to know about betta fish companions, including:
- A list of fish that can live with bettas (with water temperature already accounted for)
- Fish you should never mix with bettas
- What to do if something goes wrong
- How to set up a hospital tank and choose antibiotics.
4 Common Myths That Cause People to Put Bettas With Other Fish
Each time people ask me “What are the best betta fish tank mates?”, I can’t help but feel puzzled. Here are the most common, and worst reasons for putting bettas in with other fish:
MYTH #1: Bettas Get Lonely
Male bettas are solitary, territorial creatures, while females usually do not live after laying eggs.
Putting male bettas in with other fish is a torture to them.
Females are less territorial, but still have needs similar to male bettas.
MYTH #2: Bettas Need Large Aquariums
Wild bettas live in very shallow waters, and jump from puddle to puddle as rice paddies dry out.
Bettas are not made to live in water more than 12” deep.
The way modern bettas are bred and raised makes it even less likely their swim bladders and gills will be adaptable to a larger tank.
MYTH #3: It is OK to Keep Small Fish in a Tank Suitable for Bettas
Many small fish live in large, fast moving volumes of water.
Just as betta gills and swim bladders are adapted for shallow water, other fish are adapted for their own habitat.
They cannot adjust any more easily than bettas to wrong tank size and depth.
MYTH #4: Bettas Can be “Introduced” to Other Fish
When bettas are being trained to fight, they are often kept in containers where they can see a female or an adversary, but only for a short time.
If you put a betta in a confined space, it can and will become aggressive towards any fish that it sees.
6 Things to Consider When Choosing Tank Mates for Bettas
Since bettas are brightly colored, they will automatically target anything that is red, or has other bright colors like their own. You’ll want to find fish that are not so bright.
#2. Adult Fish Size
When you buy tropical fish, they may be less than half the size of an adult fish.
As a general rule, the bigger a fish gets, the more likely it will prey on smaller fish in the tank. In other words, don’t get a fish that will dwarf a betta and eat it.
#3. Tank Size
Unless a betta is slowly acclimated to tank sizes up to 5 gallons, they will struggle and die.
Most other tropical fish cannot be acclimated down to smaller tanks.
#4. Water Chemistry
Fish get stressed by many things, including sudden water chemistry changes.
This can be resolved by swapping water between the betta tank and the target tank.
#5. Gender Behaviors
Male bettas, guppies, and others, will show off their fins and tails to attract a mate.
Even if a female betta is not present, male bettas may attack other male fish if they see a mating display similar to their own.
#6. Salt in the Aquarium
Bettas will also benefit from a small amount of salt in the tank.
Some plants, and fish, like corys, will die if exposed to too much salt. If you decide to add salt to the betta tank, do so very slowly over the course of several days.
Do not go beyond 1 tablespoon to 7 gallons of water.
The 10 Best Tank Mates for Bettas
The fact that snails aren’t fish shouldn’t deter you from keeping them with bettas. Mystery snails make great tank mates that will help keep the tank clean.
These snail do best in medium to hard water with a pH ranging from 7 to 7.5. They can be kept in any sized aquarium from 1 gallon to hundreds of gallons.
Since they are capable of jumping, you will need a tight fitting lid that does not have holes big enough for them to get through. (But you should have this for your betta anyway.)
Mystery Snails reach about 2” in length, but only live for about 1 year. They are fairly easy to care for. You may need to add calcium supplements if you notice pitting or shell thinning.
Unlike many other tank mates, bettas will approach mystery snails with curiosity, but not aggression. At most, the betta will nose the snail and push it around. The snail, in turn, will simply retreat into its shell and wait for the betta to go away.
When keeping bettas and snails together, make sure the filter inlets and outlets are covered so that the snail does not wind up in the filter. I have seen male bettas put some strange things in their filters inlets!
Platys are hearty fish that come in many colors. They live up to 2 years, and reach lengths between 1.5 and 2.5 inches.
You can put about 5 fish in a 10 gallon tank. For smaller tanks, choose just female fish because they are less aggressive. Since platys are livebearers, it is best to keep a maximum of 1 male to 4 females.
Insofar as water quality, they do best in hard water with a pH ranging from 6.8 to 8. These fish prefer to stay in the upper to mid levels of the tank.
There is some debate over whether these fish require aquarium salt. I have kept platys with and without salt, and didn’t notice any difference in lifespan for the males.
On the other hand, I did lose several females around the time when they released their fry when I did not use aquarium salt.
Platys can live with both male and female bettas. Choose fish that are not in the red or orange colored spectrums.
Overall, platys are an easy to medium level fish to care for. Just be careful about your ratio of male and female fish. It is also important to consider using aquarium salt if you notice females dying off.
There are many species of rasboras, including some that live in the same habitat as bettas. While harlequin rasboras may also be safe, they do have red colored flares near their tails that may trigger betta aggression.
Lambchop Rasboras are a better choice because their coloring is more of a pink or bronze. They also have a larger black flare near their tail when compared to harlequins.
You can try mixing these rasboras with both male and female bettas. Lambchop Rasboras are very peaceful fish that must have a school of 8 members to feel safe. The large school also helps deter attacks from bettas.
For the most part, rasboras are easy to care for. They prefer soft water with a pH ranging between 6 and 7.0, and will stay mostly in the upper or mid levels of the aquarium.
Lambchop Rasboras will live between 3 and 5 years and reach a length of 1.2”. Since they are fairly small fish, they can do well in a 10 gallon tank. Unfortunately, a smaller tank will not work because of their innate need for a large shoal.
As live bearers, female guppies will do better with a small amount of salt in the tank. Insofar as lifespan, males and females will live up to 2 years, and reach a size of about 2 – 2 ½ inches.
You can keep guppies in tanks as small as a 3 to 5 gallon tank as long as there are only females in the tank.
If you are going to add males, keep at least 4 females to 1 male; and use a 10 gallon tank or larger.
Some aquarium keepers say you can use a ratio of 2 females to 1 male, however I found the males too overbearing in this ratio.
Overall, guppies are easy to care for. They do well in hard water with a pH ranging from 6.8 to 7.8.
You can mix guppies with male or female bettas.
It is best to avoid mixing male guppies with red or orange tails with either betta gender.
Females guppies are always a better choice to mix with bettas because they are less brightly colored.
Despite being bright orange, their small size and tendency to school together make them good tank mates for male and female bettas.
Ember tetras will live about 2 – 4 years and will not reach 1” in size. For safety and comfort, you should keep at least 10 ember tetras in the tank. They are very easy to care for.
Insofar as tank preferences, Ember Tetras do best in soft water with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 7. They tend to stay in the middle level of the aquarium, and will do well in a 10 gallon tank.
Since they prefer dim lighting, it is also best to provide a lot of plants for them to hide in.
These are fairly peaceful fish that require a school of at least 5 fish. Since they can get up to 3” in length and live 3 – 4 years, you should not keep them in less than 20 gallons of water.
This is too deep for male and female bettas unless you use a long, shallow tank that does not have water more than 12” deep. Other than that, they can live with bettas of both genders.
Glass tetras are very easy to care for as long as you choose ones that are undyed.
As with neon tetras, dyed tetras also have very bright colors, and they will trigger attacks from bettas.
These tetras do best with soft to medium hardness water and in a pH ranging from 6.5 to 7.5.
It is best to avoid using aquarium salt in tanks that house glass tetras. As with corydoras, you may be able to acclimate tetras by adding very small amounts over a long period of time.
These fish are easily confused with other algae eaters that are more aggressive. Siamese algae eaters get up to 6” in length, and will live up to 10 years.
They do well alone or in a schools with other fish. They make good tank mates for both male and female bettas.
Since they are slim bodied, you can put them in a 10 gallon tank.
Insofar as water chemistry is concerned, these fish do best in a pH of 6.5 to 7, and will do well in soft to medium hard water.
Siamese algae eaters are easy to care for scavengers as long as you use sinking food pellets.
These fish spend most of their life in the bottom of the tank. If they do go to the top, however, they can jump out. Use a tight fitting lid on the tank.
Kuhli Loaches are also bottom dwelling fish that enjoy soft water and a pH ranging between 5.5 to 6.5. Kuhli Loach and bettas will get along well regardless of gender.
The biggest problem is Kuhli Loaches get 3 to 5” long, and require a fairly large tank (at least a 20 gallon tank). If you put them in a shallow, long tank it will be much better for them and the betta.
For the most part, Kuhli Loaches are easy to care for, and will live about 10 years.
As with many other fish, they can jump, and will try to exit the tank. A tight fitting lid is essential.
Since they are very slim fish, they are also prone to getting trapped by filter inlets. Cover inlets with sponges to prevent this problem.
These are bottom feeders and dweller corys that do well in a 10 gallon tank. Other than the need for sinking food pellets, they are easy to care for. Adult cory catfish will reach about 1.5” in size over their 5 years lifespan.
With regards to water chemistry, cory catfish do best with medium to hard water, and a pH between 7 and 7.8.
As with other corydoras, they can adapt to small amounts of aquarium salt, but it is best to avoid using it altogether.
Cory Catfish can be mixed with male and female bettas. They also need at least two of their own kind in the tank because they are schooling fish.
This “non-fish” tank mate will do well with both male and female bettas.
Since they are almost invisible at the bottom of the tank, bettas usually don’t attack them.
They do best in hard water with a pH ranging from 7 to 8, and will grow up to 1 ½” long.
Ghost shrimp are easy to care for, but will only live about 1 year, even in the best of water conditions.
There are four main challenges associated with keeping ghost shrimp with bettas:
- First, they require bubble curtains that may be upsetting to bettas.
- Second, most ghost shrimp in the pet store are sold as feeders. You will need to quarantine them for some time to make sure they do not introduce diseases into the community tank.
- Third, they tend to be aggressive with each other in small tanks. Do not put more than 1 ghost shrimp to a tank under 10 gallons or there will not be enough space.
- As a feeder species, most ghost shrimp are in poor condition upon purchase. This means you will have to buy several of them to account for the number that will die off while in quarantine.
What to Do If Something Goes Wrong with the tank mates
There are many factors that can lead to success or failure when it comes to mixing fish of different species. Since bettas are notorious for having problems with other fish, you must have a backup plan.
Here is what you can do:
Setup 2 Hospital Tanks
You will need a 1 gallon bowl and an aquarium about ½ the size of the tank you are planning to use for the community tank. Try to choose a tank shape that is long and shallow as opposed to deep.
Both the bowl and the aquarium should have water with the same chemistry as your betta tank and the community tank. Keep enough of the same water on hand to do at least 2 complete water changes.
Use floss in the filter, but not activated carbon or resin media. Floss is the only thing that will not remove antibiotics.
Do not put a moss ball or other live plants in the tank because they can also neutralize antibiotics. You can use sand in the bottom, but not gravel because you may have to put injured fish in the hospital tank.
Keep a stock of antibiotics onhand, including edible anti-parasite food
After decades of treating sick and injured rescue fish, I recommend the old standbys based on penicillin, erythromycin, tetracycline, sulfur, formaldehyde, methylene blue, and nitrofurazone. I have never had good results with “natural” fish disease products.
As a very quick guide, most fish will respond well to either a methylene blue or erythromycin based antibiotic. Most antibiotics will not treat velvet at the same time as diseases most common in injured fish.
If you use one that does not treat velvet, filter for 24 hours with activated carbon after completing the medication course.
Next, do a 60% water change using aged water, remove the activated carbon, and follow up with a nitrofurazone (if the fish species can take it) based product. This will cure a secondary velvet infection after a primary antibiotic treatment.
Make sure you have at least 3 days when you can monitor the fish around the clock
During night hours, use a low light so the fish can sleep without being disturbed.
I have seen bettas chewed up in as little as 20 minutes, and kill other fish in less than 5.
Know the signs of distress in Bettas and Other Fish
This includes color flushing, paling, gill pumping, and hiding.
Male bettas display their gill ruffles as a sign of aggression.
As soon as you see one species of fish chasing the other, move the betta back into its former home.
Once fish from different species chase each other, it will not end until one or the other is dead.
If the fish nip or bite each other, Move the injured fish into the hospital tank (or bowl for the betta)
Give them crushed canned peas to relax their swim bladders, and use antibiotics where appropriate.
Feed the injured fish medicated food to reduce the risk of opportunistic parasites.
10 Worst Tankmates for Bettas
Fish that will nip fins or chew a betta to pieces:
#1. Buenos Aires Tetras – Based on personal experience, they are very aggressive fish that will chew the fins off a betta in less than 20 minutes.
#2. Barbs – Tiger barbs are notorious fin nippers
#3. Puffer Fish
#4. Plecos, including clown plecos and bristlenose plecos
Fish that will bash a betta to death:
#7. Fan Tails
Fish endangered by bettas:
#9. Angel Fish – Even minor injuries from nipping to an angel’s fin can lead to infection and death.
#10. Feeder Guppies/other feeder species – because they are not expected to live very long, feeder animals are kept in poor conditions. This will increase the risk of introducing diseases into the aquarium. If you choose feeder guppies because they have less vibrant coloring, be sure to quarantine them for at least 60 days and vary the temperatures during that time to reveal opportunistic infections.
Overall, the best thing you can do for male bettas is to keep them in a tank by themselves.
While females are slightly better at coping with other fish, it is still not an optimal situation.
If you are determined to give betta fish companions a try, at least have a hospital tank ready for any fish that need it.