Keep my betafish alive
December 6, 2009 3:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep my beta fish's water warm enough?

Our heat is broken and it's 36 degrees out. My roommate and I are surviving with a fireplace and an electric radiator until our management can fix our heater next week, but my third roommate is out of town and left us in care of his two beta fish, and they're not looking too good. Their water is very cold - we've moved them next to the fire with us, and we had a desk lamp over them for most of the day and wrapped their bowls in blankets to try to insulate them, but their water is still really cold. What can we do to keep them alive? Especially when we're at work all day and not lighting fires / running space heaters?
posted by katopotato to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
Take them to some place with heat, like your workplace if you can, or some else's place. Putting a heater like a lamp over a, I assume little, beta tank is a recipe for disaster if the temperature is not monitored closely.
posted by 517 at 3:49 PM on December 6, 2009

Go to the aquarium store and buy a small underwater for a fish tank. They can recommend one appropriate for your size tank and tell you what temperature to set it at. They are fairly cheap and I'm sure your roommate wouldn't mind the expense if it means keeping his fish alive.

Also, not having heat is a serious problem in an apartment and generally illegal in most jurisdictions. Obviously, in the real world, it takes some time to get heaters fixed, but do not allow them to jerk you around on this. At a minimum, it is likely not unreasonable to demand that the landlord pay for the space heater electricity if you normally don't pay for heat but do pay for electricity.
posted by zachlipton at 3:52 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

That would of course be a "small underwater heater for a fish tank."
posted by zachlipton at 3:53 PM on December 6, 2009

Pike up a tank heater at an aquarium store. It'll be maybe $10 and can likely keep the water at 80 deg. F (tropical fish temp) without any extra measures. Make sure you tell the store how many gallons the tank holds (or mime the dimensions) so that you don't get one that's underpowered. Make sure you pick up a tank thermometer, too ($2). Then just keep a close observation of the temp in the tank until you have a habitable equilibrium.
posted by cowbellemoo at 3:55 PM on December 6, 2009

Find them a temporary warm home if possible, if the underwater heaters aren't an option due to cost or bowl size or whatever. I lost some bettas once during a broken-heater fiasco (I was out of town and the roommate who was taking care of them apparently figured they would be fine in the freezing cold), and I still feel badly about letting them turn into fishsicles.
posted by Stacey at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2009

if you do go the heater route, be sure to gradually introduce the fishes to the warmer climate. they can die from the shock of the temp. change.
posted by Syllables at 4:10 PM on December 6, 2009

Be careful acclimating them to the new warmer water (if you go for a tank heater). Try to put them in a bag with their current water and float it for a while in the tank with the warmer water. If you just put them in the warmer water without acclimation, they'll die of shock.

The optimal range of water temperature for your Betta fish is 74 -78 degrees Fahrenheit. It could go down to 72 degrees or up to 80 degrees and still be o.k.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:13 PM on December 6, 2009

I would put them on top of the fridge. It's usually warm there, but not too warm. Although if it is that cold in your apartment, you fridge might not be running, I guess. Other options are to put their bowls under an incandescent light. You have to be careful not to overheat them, though.

I'm assuming they're in little betafish bowls, which are far too small for even the smallest aquarium heater.

Be careful acclimating them to the new warmer water (if you go for a tank heater). Try to put them in a bag with their current water and float it for a while in the tank with the warmer water.

If they are in a tank big enough for an aquarium heater, you don't have to do this. You put the heater in for half an hour before plugging it in, to get the thermostat acclimated to the water temperature. You then plug the heater in and it slowly heats the water. There's no shock to the fish, as they heat up along with the water. As long as the heater is the proper size for the tank, everything is fine (you must check up on it every hour to make sure it stops heating at the proper temperature, and you must have an aquarium thermometer to know this).
posted by oneirodynia at 4:52 PM on December 6, 2009

My roommate and I are surviving with a fireplace and an electric radiator until our management can fix our heater next week

Next week? 36-degree weather? You are very forbearing. The management can get someone out sooner, they just have to pay more if it's after-hours, or if they have to hire someone other than their usual HVAC guys. They should really do that.
posted by palliser at 5:29 PM on December 6, 2009

i think the lamp idea that you already have is the best. make sure you're using an incadescent bulb, and maybe change it to one a bit higher wattage. a little insulation might help, but don't block it too much. switching to floodlight would be even better.

if it's one of those small desk lamps with a small bulb, you need to upgrade to a regular sied lamp and bulb.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:56 PM on December 6, 2009

Does your landlord control the heat? If so, DC housing regulations say it must be kept at a minimum of 65 (at night) or 68 (daytime).
posted by barnone at 6:05 PM on December 6, 2009

And if you follow that link, there's a PDF that outlines heat regulations. If you control the heat, your heating equipment must be kept in good repair and capable of at least 70 degrees. There's a number on the flier you can call to register a complaint if your landlord keeps dragging his heels.
posted by barnone at 6:09 PM on December 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your suggestions. We replaced about a quarter of their water, put them somewhere warmer, and we found friends willing to come pick them up, so hopefully they'll be okay. They've perked up a little. I don't really know anything about fish (like I said, they're our third roommate's, who's currently out of town), so I appreciate the advice. The heating systems sound like a great idea, but these guys right now are in tiny little betta bowls, so that's out for the moment, but I'll encourage my roommate to upgrade their living situation.

As for us, we already have some angry calls into our management company, and I'll be talking to them first thing tomorrow morning when they open (I'm very annoyed that they didn't return the call after I left a message at their after-hours number today). They came to check out our heat last week, and I guess the parts needed to fix our heating system are on back order. But we need either a few more radiators or hotel rooms.
posted by katopotato at 6:13 PM on December 6, 2009

This might sound weird, but do you have an old stove? I put my 1-gallon betta tank in the center of my O'Keefe & Merritt and my fish has never been happier. My apartment is freezing during the winter and the warmer was the only real source of heat.

Just make sure to move the tank before you bake anything ;)
posted by pea_shoot at 11:53 AM on December 7, 2009

I'll be talking to them first thing tomorrow morning when they open

A health/housing inspector can get them to move quickly. No heat when it's near freezing will get them in big trouble if they don't fix it stat, and this is a great motivator.
posted by zippy at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2009

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