Fishbowl Adviser

Betta Fish Care: How to Care for a Betta Fish

Betta Fish Information

The Siamese fighting fish (betta splendens), better known as the betta fish, is one of the most recognizable aquarium fish. Bettas are characterized by their bright colors and picturesque fins, which vary greatly due to them having different layers of pigmentation in the skin.

Bettas’ natural colors include turquoise/green, red, orange, white, pastel, black, yellow, blue, and steel blue. The colors concocted by extensive breeding include various metallic shades (gold, copper, platinum), butterfly, and marble.

Bettas have different tail shapes: the most common is the “veil tail” while others include “half-moon”, “rose tail”, “crown tail”, “spade tail”, “feather tail”, and “double tail”.

Bettas are native to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand’s Mekong basin, the latter containing the greatest concentration of the genus. They are the national aquatic animals of Thailand, where they are known as plakad and are often referred to as The Jewel of the Orient.

Betta in a fish tank

The Betta Fact Sheet

Average adult size2 ½ inches long, tail excluded
Average lifespan2 to 3 years, on average
DietCarnivorous (high protein)
Recommended aquarium size¼ gallons and up
Water temperature76-82°F
Water hardness2-5
pH level6.4-7.0
Familyosphronemidae (gourami)

Bettas were first discovered in Southeast Asia, where they dwelled in rice paddies, warm flood plains, and drainage ditches. Because their original habitat is prone to extreme weather conditions resulting in droughts and flooding, bettas have adapted to become labyrinth fish (meaning they can breathe oxygen both with the help of their grills and directly from the air).

Betta Fish Behavior

Both male and female bettas puff out their opercula either to intimidate the rival or for courtship or when they are afraid. In the case of the latter, bettas display pale horizontal stripes. Female bettas display vertical stripes in the breeding season. In both cases, the color of the stripes may change.

Bettas are aggressive by nature, which earned their name the “fighting” attribute. Male bettas are protective of their habitat and should be isolated from other males. In some cases, if the tank is big enough, they may not act aggressively towards other male bettas, but will still be hostile towards slower and smaller fish.

Female bettas may and may not be hostile towards other fish in the tank. However, they are known for forming a dominant order, particularly when in small groups.

During the courtship, male specimens are known to act aggressively towards other males but not towards females. Females often choose the winner of a fight for their mate.

Betta fish

Betta Fish Habitat

Bettas should be housed in an appropriately large aquarium without additional tank aeration. The minimum tank size stands at ¼ gallons, but a larger housing is recommended. Bettas prefer water without- or with little current. The ideal water temperature is between 76 and 82°F, the ideal pH level –between 6.4 and 7.0, and the water hardness – between 2 and 5.

Since their original habitat in Southeast Asia, bettas are used to vegetation that filters the water naturally. They love floating plants. Indian almond leaves are a great addition to the tank as they contain lots of beneficial natural acids.

Since bettas come from sandy environments, fine sand is a good choice of substrate. However, aquarium gravel or even a bare bottom tank is also fine.

Male bettas should be kept individually but can live peacefully when housed with non-aggressive fish genera. E.g., it has been extensively documented that they act aggressively towards guppies but not towards tiger barbs.

Female bettas can co-habit with other female bettas as well as with other community fish genera.

Betta Fish Diet

Bettas are carnivorous, which means their diet should be high in protein. In nature, they feed on water-bound insects, zooplankton, and crustaceans. In captivity, bettas can be fed with a variety of foods, notably flakes, pellets, freeze-dried foods, live-, frozen- and fresh foods.

  • Flakes

Flakes are by far the most popular as they contain a sufficient amount of nutrients and are easy to come by (nearly all pet stores sell them).

However, albeit flakes comprise the main nutrients the betta needs they are less nutritious than live- and fresh foods. Because of that, they shouldn’t be the primary food source. Rather, they should be included in the betta diet periodically.

  • Pellets

Unlike flakes, pellets can be used on a regular basis. They are higher in quality than the former, sold in small cans, and are found in the majority of pet stores. They can be of different colors and sizes.

  • Freeze-Dried Foods

Simply put, freeze-dried foods are live foods without moisture. They are nowhere near as nutritious as live- and fresh foods, but are certainly more nutritious than flakes and pellets.

  • Live Foods

It goes without saying that live foods are the best choice as this is what bettas normally eat in their natural habitat. Normally, this type of food contains worms and shrimps but can feature a much wider range of ingredients.

Live foods are not as freely available as the above-mentioned three food types and are also more expensive (prices vary greatly depending on the contents). What seems especially problematic to many betta keepers is that live foods require highly specific storage conditions.

  • Frozen Foods

Because live foods come with a number of drawbacks, frozen foods are the usual alternative. The ingredients are the same as in live foods with the only difference being that they are frozen. Frozen foods are easy to store and they last longer than live foods. They are only slightly less nutritious than live foods and are also cheaper and more widely available.

  • Fresh Foods

Some people prefer to prepare fresh foods for their bettas. This is not the common choice, but each to their own. Obviously, the greatest benefit of this choice is that you know exactly what the food contains without having to worry about the additional artificial enhancements.

Speaking of which, when buying foods for your bettas, pay attention to the label. Dried foods, flakes, and pellets contain a variety of enhancements. Avoid foods that feature excess amounts of chemicals, preservatives, and filler ingredients (usually rice and wheat flour).

Betta Fish Common Health Problems

Bettas can develop any disease freshwater aquarium fish are prone to, but some are more common than others. The great majority of diseases are bacterial and they commonly occur when the tank is poorly maintained.

Even though the betta can suffer from a range of different diseases, there are some signs that can point to an issue. Generally, you should be on the lookout for the common signs that something is amiss with your fish, as follows:

  • Excess hovering around the surface
  • Poor appetite or food spitting
  • Lying in a corner or at the bottom of the tank
  • Rubbing against items in the tank
  • Changes in coloration
  • Abnormal gills (swollen, red, or not moving in the usual way)
  • Abnormalities in fins and tail
  • Swelling of the eyes and/or body
  • Raised body scales

Common Betta Fish Diseases

DiseaseSymptomsSuggested Treatment
Tail rotTypically caused by fungi and bacteria that eat away at the betta’s tail.Antibiotics (usually erythromycin or sulfadimidine).
Fin rotTypically caused by fungi and bacteria that eat away at the betta’s fin.Antibiotics (usually erythromycin or sulfadimidine).
Fungus (mouth or body)White cottony growth in the mouth or on the body sometimes accompanied by eye discoloration.Amoxicillin or other antifungal remedies. The fish should be quarantined.
ItchSmall white spots on the fins and body. Fish rubs against hard objects.Salt bath, malachite green, or similar medications. The fish should be quarantined.
VelvetRust-colored mist over the betta’s body. Sometimes the fish can clamp the fins against the body.Salt bath or alternative medications (e.g. BettaZing).
PopeyeSwelling in one or both of the eyes.If a viral infection is a cause, use tetracycline or a similar antibiotic. If the tumor is the cause, consult the expert.

Red betta fish

Betta Interesting Facts

  • The betta came to prominence in the mid-1800s when fish fighting in Thailand became popular, so popular, in fact, that the King of Siam had it taxed
  • Due to the extensive Betta trade, IUCN has listed the genus as vulnerable
  • The betta has got its name from the Bettah, an ancient warrior clan


  1. Bettas: How to Care for Betta Fish – Aquarium Info
  2. How Should I Keep and Care for Siamese Fighting Fish? – RSPCA
  3. How to Take Care of a Betta Fish: History, Life Span, Feeding, and Tank Setup – PetMD


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