That's a Long Swim for a Beta Fish
January 30, 2012 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Beta Fish Question. My daughter just got a new Beta fish. The first in over a year since Swaba #3 died. My wife took the latest fish and put it a glass vase that is about 8 inches square and 2 feet high. He mostly sits on the bottom as beta fish seem to do. I told my wife that 2 feet is a long way to swim to eat and that he might require a gulp of air every once in a while. Does anyone here think that 2 feet is too far to swim for a beta and that his days are numbered, more so than usual, in his tower of glass.
posted by otto42 to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Betta fish do, in fact, breathe air from time to time. And 2 feet IS very far for a betta fish. Not to mention the pressure of that much water on him; they normally like it a lot more shallow than that. Plus the water is going to be pretty stagnant and nasty with so little surface area. He would probably be much happier in a bowl or an actual small tank of some kind. (ex pet-store employee, have had several happy bettas)
posted by The otter lady at 5:02 PM on January 30, 2012 [20 favorites]

This is the go-to spot for all your Betta fish questions. Note that they are most interested in allowing Bettas to thrive in their man-made environments.
posted by batmonkey at 5:04 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get him a hammock and place it nearer to the surface, so that he'll have a choice of where to rest.
posted by scrambles at 5:08 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, Betta fish breath air sometimes, if you keep them you can see them come to the surface and gulp in air. Their natural habitat are rice paddies which are very shallow.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:11 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm more concerned about the 8" diameter than the 2' high. Bettas would like more to do than swim eight inches THIS way, then eight inches THAT way. It's true that bettas can do okay in a 2.5-5 gallon tank and that vase is 6 gallons, but I wouldn't say it really counts as 6 gallons because there's so little room for him to move around and so little surface area to oxygenate the water.
posted by mendel at 5:17 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Betta do breathe air from time to time. I think your vase is a too big in the wrong direction - many betta do appreciate space but my experience has been that betta prefer horizontal space to vertical.
posted by sm1tten at 5:18 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

My father used to own an aquarium shop (many moons ago) and has always kept fish in our house. We did not have bettas, but I know that he felt strongly that fish will do better in proper tanks rather than bowls. When it came to goldfish, he recommended the tanks be fairly large (I guess maybe at least 5 gallons, as suggested above), even if you only have 1 or 2 fish. The water chemistry is easier to regulate and you don't have to clean it quite as often to keep the environment healthy (or nice to look at).

Do you think your daughter is old enough to learn how to take care of a tank with you? Tanks were my nightlights for as long as I can remember, and learning how to take care of them is one of my fondest memories from childhood.
posted by juliplease at 5:29 PM on January 30, 2012

Betta fish do take gulps of air from the surface, and their natural habitats are very shallow pools of water in rice paddies. While your daughter's fish may be able to survive in a vase like that, he probably won't be long-lived or happy. I prefer to keep bettas an aquarium, with a real filter. You can have them with other peaceful community fish (no fin-nippers, as some tetras tend to be). Maybe just pick up a desktop aquarium for the little guy?
posted by Ostara at 5:30 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

What everyone else is saying. Bettas do like air and they like a lot of surface air over their nice shallow warm water. Ideally, you want a bowl like the one on this page - bettas also like places to hide; plants, real or plastic, are perfect. You don't totally need a filter or anything to keep a betta happy but do change the water regularly, using either the anti chlorine drops or letting tap water sit for 24 hours first and if you invest in a heater, your betta will thank you.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:34 PM on January 30, 2012

nthing the others. more surface area = more oxygenated water for your little guy. the shape is probably pretty disorienting for him as well.
also I like your unintentional betta haiku:

his days are numbered
more so than usual, in
his tower of glass.
posted by changeling at 5:52 PM on January 30, 2012 [16 favorites]

Nthing everyone else; betta ideally need air to be healthy so your instincts are correct. Grab a shallower container. :)
posted by smoke at 6:37 PM on January 30, 2012

One thing that I was told when I had a betta, and which seemed to work out, was that at the very least they like a plant or something (like the hammock linked above) very close to the surface, that way they can sleep on that and still duck up to grab air at the surface. Rather than sleeping on the bottom, and having to swim two feet to the surface to grab air, then back to sleeping on the bottom.
posted by markr at 7:13 PM on January 30, 2012

I don't know fish but this sounds bummed out:

He mostly sits on the bottom as beta fish seem to do.

posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:25 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've kept Bettas and off for years, my last betta lived in a 30 gallon tropical community tank, he had no problems at all moving from the bottom to the top, if you want him to hang out in the top of your tank you'll need to have something their for him to feel secure and to rest on like a plant. He lived 2 years and a bit years in the tank happily pootling around.

It is easier to stablise the tank temps and oxygen levels and minimize pollution in a larger tank. If you keep him in a smaller tank, to stop him having to rise to the surface too often do regular part water changes with aged dechlorinated water, the same temp as the tank, so he can use the oxygen in the water instead of having to breath surface air as often. It will be the lack of water changes leading to a polluted tank as well as fluctuating temps that will kill him before having to swim a whole 2 feet will.
posted by wwax at 7:29 PM on January 30, 2012

their = there I'm blaming spell check for not know what I meant.
posted by wwax at 7:31 PM on January 30, 2012

I had a betta for a while, his name was Napoleon. He lived in a 7-gallon tank with two african dwarf frogs, Jack and Peggy. He never, and I mean never, just sat at the bottom of the tank. He swam around. And ate bubbles. And did agility runs through the fake kelp. And sometimes laid down to rest on a leaf, but never just sat at the bottom of the tank.
There's definitely something wrong with the little guy.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:11 PM on January 30, 2012

Your enclosure is too short and probably too deep. They are paddy-fish with a fairly large (for a 1" fish) horizontal range at a very shallow depth. You can get a hammock or suction-cup lurking-spot closer to the surface, but what you're giving him really isn't enough run-room.

A gently-filtered, warm-ish environment with a lot of range and not much depth is best for bettas.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:31 PM on January 30, 2012

I agree with posters above saying that he would probably be better off in a wider tank with more overall volume.

However, fish have personalities, just like other animals, and it's possible that he's just a bit more chill and prefers to hang out at the bottom rather than charge around everywhere.
posted by sid at 9:40 PM on January 30, 2012

Yes, he wants a wider tank. I remember reading that the problem with fish bowls is the volume of the water is too large to be oxygenated properly by the available surface area when the bowl is full, which sounds like it would applies to your vase too.

I used to have a beta fish in a large fish tank. He used to follow my finger around the tank and lunge at it. Fish in tiny tanks or bowls make me sad.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:26 AM on January 31, 2012 looks like a great site. What I read as a high-schooler was that the main failure of bettas to thrive is lack of live food. They need a heater and gentle filtering (if you use one) that doesn't interfere with their fins.
posted by jgirl at 5:27 AM on January 31, 2012

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