Basic Betta Care

I have been to many local fish shops selling bettas and almost all keep their bettas in deplorable conditions.  Most shops will  house the male bettas individually and in small bottles/jars, some even in small disposable party cups.  Some shop owners even told me that bettas do well in these confined spaces.  While I have no doubt that bettas are very hardy fishes and can tolerate a lot of punishment, I am also very sure that the bettas will do much better in more luxurious environments.  In April 2000, I receive several emails from US describing how a betta is packaged in an enclosed vase with a water plant and then marketed as a fish that will never require feeding nor water changes!  I am very disgusted with such cruel marketing exploitations and urge all readers to convey the message to their friends that the bettas will suffer a long hungry death, that is if hunger gets it first.  The SPCA should be informed, alas, I am too far away to do any good.  It is in the interests of bettas' rights that I forced myself to find time and write this article.  Hope it helps.

In my opinion, there are two very important considerations when it comes to keeping bettas, temperature and good water quality.  These two factors will probably apply to all fishes.

Bettas originate from the tropics in South East Asia.  Betta Splendens in particular originate from Thailand, Cambodia and certain parts of Vietnam.  In these areas, the water temperatures are fairly stable, between 22 to 28 oC year round.  At lower temperatures (20 - 22 oC), the metabolic rates of bettas dip and the fish exhibits slower growth and becomes very prone to deseases.  A betta exposed to even lower temperatures for a prolonged period may die from chronic stress.  Fluctuating temperatures will also stress out the fish.  It is therefore important to house your betta pets in stable, warm waters.

As I mentioned in Understanding Filtration, all fishes excrete waste materials in the form of ammonia from their gills and other by-products from their digestive tracts.  If we house the bettas in small volumes of water, these wastes quickly foul up the water.  There is a direct correlation between a small container and need for frequent water changes.  As we know,frequent water changes stresses the fish, mostly by netting or fluctuating water parameters.  The solution is therefore to keep your betta in big tanks and do partial water change frequently.  I personally use 1 gallon containers, and only have to do 50% water changes every week.

In the quest for optimal water conditions with minimal mantainence, some hobbyists use complex and no doubt expensive filters.  I believe that the long fins and tails of fancy bettas will impede them and be prone to shredding in the presence of a water current.  Since most filter systems are centered on water movements, the addition of such filters may not neccessary be a good thing.  The other important function that filters perform is aeration.  However, bettas are labyrinth fishes, meaning they have to go to the surface to supplement their air intake.  They actually need very little dissolved oxygen in the water and makes the filter redundant where aeration is concerned.  The hobbyist though must make sure that the tank has an opening for the betta to breathe.

Betta Splendens should be kept on a largely carnivourous diet.  I personally cycle my fishes through a diet of frozen bloodworms/brine shrimps, baby brine shrimps, decapsulated brine shrimp eggs, frozen crayfish eggs, beef heart (blended with boiled lettuce and spinach for the fibre), chicken liver, live tubifex worms and moina (daphnia).  As with other ornamental fish, overfeeding is a big no-no.

One very distinct difference between the asian and american betta breeders is their deposition towards the use of "black water".  Black water contains many essential trace elements, vitamins (especially B2, B6 and B12) as well as extracts of peat and tropical wood.  When "black water" is present, the aquarium water appears a light yellow shade.  "Black water" promotes the colour and activity of Betta Splendens and in my experience actually makes them more resistant to diseases.  For many asian breeders, "black water" is an integral part of the betta life cycle.  This is partly because in the tropics, there is an abundant free supply of Indian Almond leaves that is used to create the water conditions.  So far, I have yet to find this trend among breeders based in the States.

The last point I will like to mention is that bettas are jumpers, so the top of their tanks should be kept well covered.  Other than the above, the normal rules of aquarium and common sense normally applies.  We wish you the best of luck in this hobby.

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