How to Care for Bettas: A Complete Fact Sheet, Breeding, Behavior, and Care Guide

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For me, bettas were love at first sight, and remain some of my favorite aquatic pets.

I have found them to be inquisitive, highly interactive creatures that are fairly easy to train and take care of as long as you keep a few basic things in mind. 

Bettas are sleek, slim bodied fish with eyes that usually match the color of their scales. Their mouths turn up slightly, and can be used to draw oxygen directly (a secondary means of obtaining oxygen) from the air as well as for making bubbles and assembling them into nests. 

betta fish in aquarium

Males are usually a good bit larger than females, and also have larger fins. You will find bettas in many bright colors including scarlet/red, blue, green, iridescent, and combinations of colors.

The most rare colors for bettas are brown and dull green. It is also very rare to find bettas with stripes or pronounced patches (some Koi-like patterning is possible).

Today, there are some fascinating bi-colored and tri-colored bettas available for sale. Even these relatively new fish, however, usually have just one color on their body, while their tails have one or two different colors.

Since Bettas have been bred in captivity for some time now, you will also find a number of tail variations to accommodate their brilliant colors. 

On one end of the spectrum, male veil tailed bettas have tails that are so big they are often heavier than the fish’s body.

Female veil tail bettas have much smaller tails, however they are still a good bit bigger than tails on other female bettas. Veil tail bettas have a hard time swimming at deeper levels in the fish tank, and will usually stay near the surface. They also do poorly in tanks with strong water current. 

In the mid range, crown tail bettas have long spikes that extend from a rounded tail that is much smaller than what you would see on a veil tail.

Bettas with mid sized tails don’t have as much weight in the tail, so they do swim a bit more efficiently than Veil Tails. When compared to other species, however, their swimming habits are still inefficient at best.

You will find the smallest, roundest tails on Plakat Bettas. The tails on Plakat Bettas are also the closest in size and shape to bettas found in the wild. These fish can swim a bit faster, but they do not have the power of fish with more compact fins and bodies made for speed.

Male bettas are often one of the first tropical fish that home aquarists will purchase. They easily fit in small tanks, and require very little in the way of complex care. Both male and female bettas are attractive fish with personalities as vivid as their coloring. 

Quick Intro To Bettas

FamilyOsphronemidae
Scientific NameBetta Splendens
Other namesSiamese Fighting Fish, Labyrinth Fish
Care LevelEasy

Wild bettas usually live in shallow rice paddies and other forms of shallow, slow moving water in and around Thailand and Southeast Asia. Since they live in water that can dry up fairly quickly, bettas are also avid jumpers that can also breathe some air. 

In their wild setting, bettas usually aren’t as large or as colorful as the fish you might see in a pet store. Nevertheless, the biological needs of bettas are pretty much the same in the sense that both do better in shallow, slow moving water. 

Even though there are over 70 distinct species of Bettas in the wild, only B. Splendens is commonly available for sale as a pet. Since bettas are in the same family as gouramis, the latter is often considered to be the closest relative to bettas available for sale to home aquarists. 

Optimal Water Conditions For Bettas

Water Temperature76 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Water Flow RateSlow. It is very important to realize that just because a betta can breathe air, that doesn’t mean it can live without a suitable amount of oxygen in the water. Bettas still need proper filtration in the tank as well as aeration to ensure good health and longevity.
pH6.5 – 7.5
HardnessSoft to medium
Aquarium Salt RecommendationsBettas can tolerate small amounts of salt in the water, however I don’t recommend using it simply to prevent illness in these fish. It is better to take good care of the water quality and reserve salt for times when the fish is actually sick and other antibiotics are not available.
Tannin RecommendationsYes.
Other Water Chemistry NeedsUse water conditioners to neutralize any chlorine, chloramine, or other common tap water additives that might be harmful to the fish.

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank SizeGo to 1 gallon. Never put a betta in a fish bowl, vase, or other vessel that won’t accommodate some kind of filter.
Optimal Tank SizeNot more than 3 gallons unless the tank is not more than 12” deep.
Optimal Tank ShapeLow, long, and wide with a tight fitting lid. Cover airway and feeding ports with screen to prevent bettas from jumping out. They are very accurate when jumping.
Recommended Filter TypeBubble up filter
Extra Air Flow and and How to Provide ItMale betta do best without excess water current in the tank because they are always building bubble nests at the water’s surface. Too much air flow can disrupt the nests and cause males to become depressed.

While female bettas do not make bubble nests, they still do better in slow moving waters. Neither male nor female bettas actually need extra air flow for good health. It is best to optimize filter flow for water chemistry purposes instead of adding airstones or air curtains. 

When you set up a 1 to 3 gallon tank, it will complete its first nitrogen cycle faster than larger tanks. In some cases, the process may be complete in as little as 3 weeks, but usually won’t take longer than 6 weeks. 

Since these tanks are very small, always check the pH, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, and water hardness bi-weekly as long as you have living creatures in it. Keep water softening pillows, nitrate/nitrite absorbing pads, and zeolites (for ammonia surges) onhand to manage water chemistry needs

2 female betta fish in aquarium

Creating the Landscape 

In their natural habitats, bettas usually live in water with a lot of plants in it. Males will pay special attention to any surface covering that will make it easier to maintain bubble nests. 

Best PlantsMoss balls small enough for bettas to push around the tank. Since bettas don’t eat plants, they will do well with both slow and fast growing live plants. You can also put some floating plants in the tank with males to act as a water flow break near the surface. Just make sure there is enough room for the male to build a bubble nest.
Best LightingAll lighting conditions are fine. Bettas do need dark to sleep, so it is important to turn off all lights in the room and in the aquarium at night.
Best DecorationsLedges about 1/3 below the water surface where bettas can lounge.
Decorations to AvoidAnything with moving parts or sharp edges. Bettas tails are very fragile and can easily develop infections if they get scratched or nipped.

Put mosses or grass along the walls of the tank to prevent mirror surfaces. If males see a reflection of themselves, they will show signs of aggression and seek to attack it until they tire themselves out. After they are rested, they will go right back to it. This is psychologically and physically very unhealthy for bettas. 

Physiological Considerations

Maximum SizeFemales – 2 inches and under.
Males (minus the tail) will grow to around 3 inches. Tail sizes can range from ½ inch up to 3 inches in length.
Rate of GrowthBoth male and female bettas reach full size in about 1 year.
Life Span2 – 4 years, maybe longer with proper care.
TemperamentFemales are peaceful, males are aggressive.
Preferred Tank RegionUpper to mid level.
Scale ThicknessBettas have scales that will tolerate aquarium salt as well as other medications used in freshwater aquariums.
Gill ConsiderationsSince bettas are accustomed to living in slow moving water, their gills are not adapted for fast moving currents. They can also use their labyrinth organ to take oxygen directly from the air for a short time.
Swimbladder ConsiderationsBettas are not at all well adapted to navigating deep water because their swim bladders are best suited for shallow water. Asking them to swim easily more than 12” deep is like expecting a boat to move like a submarine.
Fin Shape ConsiderationsA betta’s fins are compact useful for moving the fish easily from side to side and in tight turns. Their tails, however, lack the compactness and shape suited for fast swimming.

Never put bettas in tanks with fast moving fish that are aggressive or inclined to nip. They will also do poorly in tanks with goldfish and others that are inclined to bash.

Society

Female bettas are peaceful and gentle creatures that will school with other fish. I’ve seen them get along especially well with female mollies and guppies. It is best to keep female bettas away from male live bearers, especially guppies, because the male fish will mistake them for females of their own species and try to mate with them. This, in turn, can cause some damage to female bettas.

Male bettas are solitary creatures that are known throughout the world for their aggression. In some parts of the world, males are bred and trained to fight other male bettas. 

Never house male bettas with other males because they will fight to the death. Do not put male bettas in with a female unless she is ready to release eggs. 

Insofar as other fish, it is very difficult to find suitable tank mates for male bettas. They will show aggression to any fish that they see or can get close to. If the other fish is weaker or more peaceful, the betta will kill it. 

If members of the other species are bigger or more aggressive, then the other fish will more than likely attack the betta and kill it. For example, Angel Fish usually won’t start a fight with other fish. That doesn’t mean they will put up with male bettas ruffling their gills at them and attacking. 

brilliant blue and white betta fish

Once the betta gets an Angel Fish’s attention in the wrong way, it is very likely the betta won’t survive the encounter.

Despite their unusual fin conformations and narrow bodies, Angel Fish are actually much better fighters and far more effective than bettas. In addition, even a small, but aggressive fish such as some tetras or a Tiger Barb can easily de-tail a betta and kill it in a short period of time. 

Despite their unusual fin conformations and narrow bodies, Angel Fish are actually much better fighters and far more effective than bettas. In addition, even a small, but aggressive fish such as some tetras or a Tiger Barb can easily de-tail a betta and kill it in a short period of time. 

Bettas can live safely with snails and other small aquatic creatures that can withstand a bettas curiosity without getting hurt. I have found snails ideal because bettas will also push them around the tank, but neither species can hurt each other. 

When it comes to showing signs of aggression, both male and female bettas will extend ruffles from their gill openings. Males will move in on their adversary very quickly and attack. While females are more inclined to produce gill ruffles as a warning, they can also attack when provoked.

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

Sadly, I’ve seen many people buy female bettas because they think it will be easy to breed bettas and sell them. As with most other fish available to the home aquarist, bettas are over bred and not always capable of producing viable offspring.

I don’t recommend breeding bettas for “the sake of experience” or as a “learning exercise” for children. Up until female bettas are ready to release eggs, the male will see them as territorial invaders and chase them away. In the confines of a small tank, it is very likely that the male will kill the female.

If you want to breed bettas, start off with a clear idea about what you want to accomplish. For example, do you want to produce fish with bi-colored or tri-colored tails? Are you looking for a particular set of colors? 

Take the time to learn more about betta genetics, and then figure out which fish you will need to get the pattern you are after. As you will see later in this article, females usually only get to breed once because the males kill them during the process. 

Raising fry can be complicated because it is very easy to foul the water when you feed them. In addition, if several hundred eggs hatch, you will need a good bit of room to raise all those babies to maturity. 

When it comes to bettas, I do recommend using a fairly large breeding tank. You may need to design your own tank, about 35 gallons, but not more than 12 inches deep. From there, it will be useful to add partitions so that the male and female have plenty of time to get adapted to the breeding tank before mating. 

Once the female is ready to release eggs, the male will display his tail to attract her attention. If she’s interested, they will swim together, usually under the bubble nest.

 A female cannot release eggs unless the male wraps his own body around her middle section and squeezes until the eggs come out. A female betta may release several hundred eggs over the course of several hours.

red betta in a planted tank

The mating process usually results in serious internal injuries that will kill the female. Depending on your skill level, you may be able to get the female out of the tank in time. 

After the male betta fishla fertilizes the eggs, he will take them in his mouth and put them in the bubble nest. From there, he will guard the eggs and take care of them until they hatch and the fry begin to swim freely.

At this point, the male may either try to put the fry back into the nest, or he may decide to eat them. You can remove the male from the tank, and then raise the fry much as you would for other fish species. 

Feed the fry infusorans or commercial fry formula for egg layers. As they grow in size, you can try crushed fish food flakes, killed baby brine shrimp, and insect larvae.

As a side note, if there is one reason why I don’t recommend keeping female bettas, it is precisely because females will either die during the mating process, or they will die when the eggs cannot leave the body and cause infection. Given how sweet tempered, intelligent, and personable female bettas are, it is hard to see them die one way or the other. 

Nutritional Needs

In a wild setting, bettas are carnivores that eat insect larvae and other small bits of meat. They are not scavengers, per se, but will eat just about any fresh meat they can find.

Best Sustenance Food TypeSee our best betta food recommendations here
Additional Foods for Optimal HealthFrozen daphnia, tubifex worms, brine shrimp
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and GrowthSpirulina, bloodworms, and insect larvae
When and How often to feed fish based on life cycleFeed fry 3 – 4 times a day, but be careful of overfeeding. Adult fish do best with 2 small meals per day.

Finicky Fish Management

As with other fish, there are several reasons why a betta may stop eating or eat poorly. Here are the basic problems and how to solve them:

  • Check the Water Chemistry – Bettas will stop eating very quickly with even slight ammonia or nitrate rises
  • Look for signs of illness or injury – If the water chemistry is good, but the fish is listless, start feeding medicated food as quickly as possible. 
  • If the betta is in a tank with other fish, move it to a solitary tank – Females may get tired of being chased by other fish, while males may wind up in too many fights.
  • Try live foods – Bettas are very intelligent creatures and can get bored with the same foods day in and day out. Live insect larvae or brine shrimp will give them something to chase. 

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

Even though there are no specific diseases for bettas, there are some they get more often than others. Here are the most common diseases and how to manage them.

Fin rot and tail rot

Sometimes it is difficult to tell if bettas have fin or tail rot. In most other species of fish, fin or tail clamping is often an early sign. Because bettas have such huge tails, they may keep them a bit clamped so they can float more easily.

You will have to watch for several minutes each day so that you can figure out where in the tank the fish is most likely to open its tail completely when swimming. 

If you see signs of pain or clamping in a location where the betta would normally splay its fins or tail, it will be best to add an antibiotic to treat fin and tail rot. You can also use a mild dose of aquarium salt at this stage. 

Even if no signs emerge, these diseases can hit quickly and take several weeks to kill the fish. Unfortunately, once they take hold,they are hard to get rid of. 

Dropsy

dropsy and swim bladder problems often look the same. Both may cause the fish’s scales to stand out from the body, or even fall off if the disease is in the later stages.

 Bacterial dropsy is impossible to treat. Just keep the betta comfortable and keep the water depth low to prevent struggle with reaching the surface.

Bettas usually don’t have problems with taking in excess air while they eat. Nevertheless, if bettas have problems swimming up from the bottom of the tank, you can try releasing food under water to see if it helps. 

Tumors

When I first started taking care of tropical fish decades ago, I never saw a betta with tumors. Today, it is a much more common occurrence. 

There really isn’t a lot you can do for a betta with tumors. I’ve seen fairly minor near a tail or fin base that don’t cause many problems. Other tumors inside the body or near the gills, however, can cause death or serious impariment sooner than later. 

I do advise moving or keeping bettas with tumors in a solitary tank where they can rest and move about as they please without interference from other fish. 

How to Avoid species specific diseases 

red betta along the bottom of tank with black substrate

Most fish illness occurs when something triggers an infection that is already present in the fish’s body. Opportunistic infections are most likely to crop up when the tank water chemistry is outside of ideal parameters, the fish is stressed out or distressed, or the fish sustains injury. All of these situations can trigger a rapid immune system collapse and lead to illness and death.

Best Antibiotics: API brand antibiotics, especially Erythromycin and Furan.

Treatments to Avoid: I’ve noticed some sensitivity to methylene blue and formulas that contain it. Victoria Green isn’t as strong, but I had better results with it for bettas. 

Food Recommendations When Sick: Medicated flake food to manage any hidden internal parasites or infections.

Hospital Tank or Isolation Within the Community Tank Specifics: Not needed as long as the fish is already solitary. If in a community tank, a partition might help. You may also need to treat other species, especially if the betta has ich, velvet, or another highly contageous disease. 

7 Interesting Facts About Bettas

  1. Bettas love music! I’ve seen my males dance either rapidly or slowly depending on the speed of the music playing.
  2. Bettas know the difference between the person that feeds them (ie. the betta owner) and strangers. Bettas will ruffle their gills at strangers, but dance to greet their owners (it takes 2 weeks to a few months after you bring them home for them to stop gill ruffling when you appear).
  3. Bettas can be trained to move through hoops and engage in other acrobatics using food and other encouragements.
  4. Male bettas are more than capable of changing their environment to suit themselves. If you have a small moss ball (¼ to just under ½ inch), bettas will push them around the tank. Once they get to know you, they may even show you their more playful side in this capacity.
  5. Male bettas can also lift gravel and move it around the tank. I don’t recommend overflow filters for this reason. Bettas are very smart creatures, and will move gravel into the filter in order to stop up the inlet! 
  6. Both male and female bettas like to lounge around. In their wild habitat, they will perch on leaves or any other structure that is sturdy enough to hold their weight. Veil tails, in particular, will sprawl out on a ledge and leave part of their tail splayed while sleeping or resting in the betta tank
  7. Bettas will become much more tame and attuned to you than other aquarium fish. If you hold food under water, they will take it out of your fingers. 

When you see a new betta for the first time in a local pet store, it is likely to be laying around in a dingy tub with colored water in it. Once you put these fascinating creatures in their new home, however, you will soon find out just how curious and amazing they really are.

No matter how aggressive male bettas can be in their aquatic environment, they will show you an entirely different side of their personality as you delve deeper into betta fish care.

Where to Buy Bettas

While you can find Bettas at most pet stores that sell aquatic pets, our preference is Amazon for convenience.

Here’s our top recommendations:

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