What kind of conditions would be good for a betta?
December 28, 2006 7:54 PM   Subscribe

I got, as a Christmas surprise, a betta (Siamese fighting fish) and the accompanying pet-store setup. I'd really like to keep it in conditions that are not just horrible-but-minimally-survivable -- but Wikipedia's standards seem amazingly high. What should I do?

I checked the "betta," "beta," "aquarium," and "fish" tags. I've read Is it cruel to keep fish in an aquarium? and What are your personal suggestions for starting a beginner aquarium?, but I'm looking for something much more specific. I also checked out a thread on basic goldfish care, but I know different kinds of fish have very different needs. I did find some stuff on what bettas want to eat.

The betta is reddish-brown and not very big. Its fins have no visible tatters, holes, or grunge. It's been making some bubbles that stay on the surface, which (according to the internet) might hint that it's male. It doesn't have a name.

Right now it's in a five-quart (1.25-gallon) bowl with some glass "pebbles" and a plastic plant. We have well water, which was treated with the appropriate dose of the pet store's water-treater for bettas. I plan to change 100% of the tank weekly. In mid-January, the betta will be moving to Manhattan, and I'm hoping to use tap water there, too. There's no aerator. It has no heater, and is kept at room temperature, which is in the low 60s (at college, probably somewhere in the 70s). Every day, it gets a total of eight betta pellets, separated into two feedings.

Wikipedia says that the above, the pet-store setup, is the equivalent of a POW camp where they aren't all that picky about the Geneva Conventions. But I just can't believe those recommendations are right -- I mean, a ten-gallon tank as the minimum acceptable amount for one small fish? The fish was a gift, a surprise, and not really something I wanted. Should I really buy an aerator, a heater, a twenty-gallon tank...? Go through all kinds of processes to prepare water to be changed so frequently?

I'm a college student -- I don't have too much time in the average week, and my budget doesn't allow for much spending money. But I don't want to keep the fish if its conditions are miserable, torturous, or barely enough to sustain life. What do I need to do to keep the fish reasonably "happy" -- not just alive, but in conditions it would consider pleasant? And if I can't do that, how do I get the fish to someone who can and will?

Please don't tell me I'm anthropomorphizing too much. I don't think it's self-aware or will love me or anything. I just feel obligated to treat it humanely.
posted by booksandlibretti to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bettatalk is one of the most absolute best sites I've ever read on raising betta fish. According to them, you definitely don't need all that you've mentioned for a betta fish. They are fairly resilient but you still need to treat them well. Here is what BT says about housing:
http://www.bettatalk.com/housing.htm

posted by pinksoftsoap at 8:07 PM on December 28, 2006


I have two betas, each in it's own bowl a wee bit smaller than a bowling ball and only pebbles at the bottom. I use tap water and condition the water whenever I clean the bowls out, which is like once a week. I use tap water. A beta food from Wal-Mart. I've had them for 2 months now.
posted by stlboi at 8:12 PM on December 28, 2006


A betta's natural habitat is water so cloudy and nasty that they've evolved to get oxygen from the air, by sipping from the surface of the water. Sounds like what you've got is luxury.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:31 PM on December 28, 2006


those swashbuckling red, blue, or purple betas with the long silky fins are all male. the females are small and light brown, with short, neat little fins, and no-one really sells them.

betas don't mind low-oxygen, so it's ok not to aerate the tank.

try not to overfeed it- if there are pellets lying around in the tank, they'll rot, which pollutes the water and wastes the oxygen. scoop out the uneaten pellets an hour or so after you feed. better yet, if you can, just feed him the pellets one by one and stop feeding when he stops eating. our betta ate a total of 3-6 pellets a day, usually split over two feedings, but if we skipped a feeding we didn't freak out.

the bubbles floating on the water are a nest. males do this habitually.

clean the tank when it gets icky- once weekly should be okay. don't clean it with soap, and when you re-fill, make sure you use room-temp water. (leave the conditioned water out in another conatiner overnight in the same room to equalize the temperatures). tap water will be fine as long as it's conditioned, and the same temp as what it's replacing.

we used to have two tanks (both about the size of a bowling ball) that were always filled- the fish lived in one and the other was uninhabited. at changing time, we'd put the fish directly into the clean, filled, conditioned tank, then immediately empty, clean, re-fill, and condition the dirty tank to switch him into next week.

i'm not sure about him being "happy", and i sort of think that anyone who purports to read a fish's mind is a bit wacky- but your setup sounds pretty decent to me. betas are kinda nice- they're about the lowest-stress pets you can have, and they're pretty. maybe this guy will grow on you.

by the way, don't get another male beta to give him a friend- two male betas will face off and puff out their gills and fins, making themselves look brightly- and impressively-plumed... and then they'll kill each other. they're also known as "siamese fighter fish" for this reason. you could try getting him a girlfriend, i suppose- we had a female beta once. but she was very hyperactive and eventually committed suicide by leaping out of their tank. i chalked it up to irreconcilable differences.
posted by twistofrhyme at 8:32 PM on December 28, 2006


Generally, 10 gallons is more than a small freshwater fish needs. 1.5 is kinda on the smallish side, though, so if you can stand the cost, weight, and upkeep (refilling), I'd urge you to go bigger (3-4 gal isn't that bad to take care of, 10 gallons is very hard to move around and would be overkill for your situation).

One thing that fish owners should be aware of is the nitrogen cycle... I don't want to scare you off with the chemistry, but it's basically the formation of good bacteria that keeps the fish's waste from eventually harming the fish over a long period of time. This will happen naturally, but requires two things:

- Never change more than 25% of the water per week
- Feed your fish sparingly

You sound very eager and want to keep on top of a clean tank and well-fed fish, but any agressiveness in these areas could be bad for the fish. Constant full-water changes disrupts the pH of the water among other things, and overfeeding can lead to bad accumulation of waste and health problems for the fish. Basically, you want to keep them small and not monkey around too much with their water. They eat food whether they need it or not, so it's up to you to use restraint. They can breathe air at the surface so don't worry about filters or bubble-makers.

Betas are very hardy, so they don't need alot of fussing over. Fuss is bad for you and the fish!

on preview: twistofrhyme gives good advice. (hi again twist!)

ps: turkey baster would be handy for cleaning tanks that small (buy a new one if you can).
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:48 PM on December 28, 2006


Twistofrhyme summarized my experience with bettas. I fed mine frozen bloodworms and cleaned his bowl once per month (which he hated; it meant the loss of his painstakingly created bubble-nest), and he survived well into his fifth year of life, which for bettas is a ripe old age.

I kept a stone in the bowl, which accumulated algae that the betta would occasionally nibble on; I never scrubbed this off, and I believe it probably maintained some of the proper bacteria to keep the nitrogen balance.

My betta was quite clever and would always start swimming around and looking at me when I neared the tank. When he did eventually pass away I was quite sad.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:01 PM on December 28, 2006


We had two betas (in separate "bowls" ~ the bowls were actually large apothecary jars with pebbles at the bottom and live water plants at the top)... We kept the water clean (regular old Kansas tap water) and fed them standard Beta Food from the grocery store pet section, and they both lived a very long life (almost two years each)...

Just use common sense (and don't be scared or intimidated by sites that try to give you a guilt-trip about a "perfect habitat") and your beta will be fine :)
posted by amyms at 9:22 PM on December 28, 2006


If I recall, bettas original habitat is murky, shallow, low oxygen water like what is found in rice paddies and such.

Mine had a peace lily - I think - over his bowl and he would hide in the roots and make bubbles (nesting behavior). He also liked to jump for the betta food I fed him (from wal mart) and lived a long time till I had to give him to a friend to keep while I was away for a few months. Keep the water lower than the edge by a bit if you have a jumper!

The next betta had no plant but I always changed 50% of the water with conditioned tap water every week or so. Pick up the food he doesnt eat so it won't rot. The bowls were about bowling ball capacity and that was fine for them.

The first would "display" if you came up to the bowl and was cool to see. I got the second two females and he'd herd them around all puffed out for weeks, until one day I saw the females had torn all his fins off and he died a few days later - not sure why they did it but thats my experience with bettas - you sound like you have a good setup and I think it's fine for your betta and is plenty humane for him :)
posted by clanger at 9:26 PM on December 28, 2006


Yes! A peace lily was what mine had floating above their apothecary jars... Thank you, clanger... lol
posted by amyms at 9:44 PM on December 28, 2006


I've got a betta, and he has always seemed happiest with the temperature between 70-75 degrees F. 60 is probably too cold for bettas. A tank heater is pretty cheap, and it'll make a big difference in how active your betta will be (at about 75 degrees, mine swims about vigorously, but at 60 or 65 he mostly sits on the bottom of the bowl.)

As for the rest of the setup, I've got a 5-gallon fishbowl, some plastic plants, and the heater. I've had two bettas over three or four years, and they have seemed pretty comfortable with this.
posted by vorfeed at 10:09 PM on December 28, 2006


I have a trio of male bettas (kept separate, of course). I've had the eldest for four years. My record for betta longevity is eight years. The kind of bettas one typically gets at the local pet shop were bred in bulk in very indiscriminate living conditions so anything is a step up from that. They do not need aeration, as they possess a labyrinth organ, and prefer still water vs. fighting a current with their sweeping fins. Mine enjoy hiding under a layer of duckweed, which reduces their tendency to jump when startled.

Building bubble nests is a good sign, it means your betta's living conditions meet his needs enough to make him want to reproduce. Hooyah. However, don't feel compelled to give him a girlfriend, betta sex is violent and often results in the female's death. I float bits of styrofoam coffee cups in their bowls to give them something to anchor their nests to and to keep them busy.

The important stuff: treat your tap water to remove chloramine (which does not readily evaporate out like chlorine does). Feed sparingly: 3x/week max. Hikari brand betta pellets are great and readily available (i've even found them at Walmart)—a small packet will last you months. Don't give him a friend: they don't like other bettas, male or female and will also attack fish they confuse for other bettas (gouramis, which are related, or unrelated species with flowing fins). Keep him warm: in winter, mine live in 1 gallon containers on my desk, where they bask under my desk lamp. They prefer warm water; the small volume of water is more than sufficiently warmed by a incandescent light bulb.

For the next step up in quality of life, the single thing you can do to make your betta wildly happy: give him live mosquito larva to eat, when available. Setting out a bucket of water outside in early spring will be sure to garner you an ongoing supply of free skeeter larvae, all of which will be devoured by your betta as fast as they can hatch. During the warmer seasons, my bettas live outside in potted water gardens where they busy themselves keeping the containers mosquito-free.
posted by jamaro at 11:13 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


my betta kicked it just a few weeks ago, but for 4 years prior to that he was active and bubbly in a 1 gallon bowl that i cleaned every 2-3 weeks. when i was researching proper fish-habitat conditions, i came across a number of claims that since bettas are territorial, giving them too much space (say, a 10-gallon tank) to patrol will stress them out.

i'm of the mind that any reasonable amount of diligence on your part will constitute a life luxury to an animal whose natural habitat is a mud puddle. this is a low-maintenance pet; if you're stressing about keeping it clean and fed, you're probably doing it wrong.
posted by sonofslim at 7:58 AM on December 29, 2006


Part of the reason for a larger tank (1 gallon+) with a Betta would be that they prefer warmer water (usually in the 70s) and that's it hard to get a decent heater for anything less than 1 gallon.
posted by drezdn at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2006


Thanks for the reassurance, everyone! I'm still not sure how often to change the water; recommendations ranged from once a week to once a month. I guess I'll go with doing about 50% every week or so -- does that sound reasonable?

I also want to be sure the food's decent and the water treatment removes chloramine, so tomorrow or the next day I'll post pics of some of the pet-store stuff. Hopefully someone knowledgeable can check out the ingredients or tell me about their experiences with the brand.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:05 PM on December 29, 2006


My husband has been keeping two betta in a single 5-gallon tank (they're separated by a screen, so they can't nip at each other) for 3 years. He says that the key to caring for them is "benevolent neglect". He feeds only a few pellets about 3 times a week. Because they eat all the food, none is getting spoiled. That, combined with the lack of real plants in the tank, keeps the water cleaner longer. Ultimately, he replaces the water as it evaporates (we're in the desert) and changes it completely about 4 times a year.

As to your decision to change 50% of the water every week: I wouldn't change too much of the water at once. Truth be told, when I was overly-dilligent about doing it, I lost more than a couple of betta. I guess it's a shock to the fish? Just be careful of the amount of food that you're feeding them to limit spoilage, and the tank will be okay without weekly cleanings. BTW, he uses distilled water, which he keeps near the tank so it's at the same temperature.
posted by parilous at 9:40 PM on January 1, 2007


If you keep him in a heated tank, he'll be FAR more active than just in a bowl. I had one in a 10 gallon with other fish (bettas are kind of aggressive though, so pick your fishy pals carefully), and people were amazed that these lackluster specimens you find in pet stores can be so vibrant and so active.
posted by agregoli at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2007


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