Three Tips for First-Time Betta Fish Owners

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The Siamese fighting fish--the little creature that you probably know as the betta fish--is native to the fresh waters of southeastern Asia. Male betta fish, both in captivity and in the wild, are well-known for their territorial nature, and will fight other males to the death. 

Even though Siamese fighting fish have been kept in captivity for centuries, your pet betta fish still possesses the same basic needs as its wild brethren. Many first-time fish owners fail to take this into consideration when selecting and maintaining a betta aquarium. 

Bettas Need Space

Many first-time fish owners keep their first betta in a small glass bowl. In their natural habitat, betta fish tend to live in shallow waters; however, they have plenty of horizontal space to explore and swim. In captivity, a small glass bowl provides this shallow environment, but fails to offer the horizontal space. Furthermore, betta fish are fastidious about the cleanliness of their environments. Small glass bowls contaminate rapidly, and unless you plan to diligently change the water, your betta will become agitated.

Tip: Instead of a glass bowl, opt for a tank that holds at least two gallons of water. If you have more than one female betta, consider an even larger aquarium. 

Location is Everything

The size of your betta fish's aquarium is not the only environmental factor that you should consider. You must also take into account where in your home or office you will set up your betta fish tank.

Betta fish are from the tropical waters of southeastern Asia, and do best in waters ranging from 74 to 78 degrees. Colder waters will weaken your pet's immune system, and warmer waters invite the growth of dangerous bacteria. 

Tip: Place your aquarium in a place that mimics the temperature of the betta's natural habitat as closely as possible. Keep it away from drafty air and, if the waters are too cold, invest in a quality aquarium heater. Avoid positioning your tank near windows, which can result in a greater vacillation of water temperature from season to season, and even from morning to afternoon to night. 

The Fighting Instinct

In nature, betta fish only display their vibrant colors when upset; however, breeders have selectively bred betta fish so that they always display vivid colors. This makes betta fish more attractive to the potential fish owner.

Unfortunately, this trait unwittingly tells other betta fish that the animal is on high alert, even when it is not bothered. This is relevant if you have multiple female bettas, multiple males in individual tanks, or even just one betta in front of the mirror. Constant exposure to other vibrant bettas can cause stress in an individual fish--even if the "other vibrant betta" is merely its own reflection in the mirror! 

Tip: If you have multiple males, do not place their tanks together; though they cannot reach each other, these male bettas will still feel constantly threatened. Females can live in the same tank, but just ensure that it is large enough so that they can avoid each other when they feel stressed. Keep your betta tank away from the mirror or provide a buffer; your fish cannot differentiate between other potential threats and its own reflection. Many aquarium supply stores offer "exercise mirrors" for betta fish; when used responsibly and in short durations, these can relieve fish boredom, but do not make these mirrors constant fixtures in your betta's tank.

For more assistance, talk to a professional like Congressional Aquarium.

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