Betta Fish Facts

Kelly Roper
Red dragon halfmoon betta

The betta fish is known for its incredible beauty and its warrior-like personality, but there certain facts about this fish that make it a fascinating pet. Delve a little deeper into this fish's world and learn a few of its secrets.

List of Facts About Bettas

Fact One: Bettas Breathe Above and Below the Water

Unlike most fish that only breathe by collecting oxygen from the water through their gills, the betta can breathe below the water's surface as well as from above it. Bettas have an organ called a labyrinth located just behind their heads that allows them to breathe air. They can rise to the water's surface and take a gulp of air, and then swim back down as they please.

In the wild, bettas live in very slow-moving waters with less-than-ideal amounts of oxygen. The labyrinth evolved to help these fish collect enough oxygen to survive. Of course, bettas still need to live in the water even if they can breathe regular air.

Fact Two : Bettas Need Protein

Bettas will pick at almost anything you feed them, but they primarily need protein. You can keep a pet healthy on a main diet of betta pellets, but your fish will also appreciate the occasional meal of live or frozen brine shrimp and freeze-fried bloodworms. Feed your pet daily, but no more than three pellets at a time, and any other remaining food in tank must be removed after five minutes. Bettas are prone to constipation, so some hobbyists recommend that you let your betta fast one day a week.

Fact Three: Male Bettas Are Highly Territorial

When you visit an aquarium shop, you'll notice that bettas are mainly displayed in small, individual containers. If you see one in a community tank, it's most likely the only one of its species. That's because bettas are highly territorial toward one another, and they will fight all the way to the death to defend their territory, if necessary. They don't appear to be quite as territorial toward other species, but they will still nip their tank mates occasionally.

Fact Four: Females Offer More Bluster than Bite

Females are territorial, but not quite so fiercely territorial as males. For this reason, you can keep them in what is referred to by hobbyists as a sorority tank. It's recommended that the group is no smaller than five females, and the tank must provide at least a minimum of one gallon of water per fish. It's best to introduce the females all at the same time. They will have a number of spats over the first 24 to 48 hours until they determine their individual territory, and then they tend to settle down. Any fins damaged during these skirmishes typically heal in a few weeks. Make sure the tank has plenty of plants to provide the girls with places to have a quiet retreat.

Fact Five: Bettas Have an Unusual Courtship

Bettas are egg-layers as opposed to being live bearers, and it's amazing to watch the courtship that goes on between a male and a female prior to fertilization. Love actually looks more like a battle, at least in the beginning, since males and females will fight with each other when forced to share the same territory.

When the male is allowed to see a female that sparks his fancy, he'll build a nest at the water's surface that is made out of mucus-coated air bubbles. When the female is introduced into his tank, he'll flare up at her and chase her around a bit. She will also flare her gills and fins as she attempts to hold him off. He'll show her his best side view to try to impress her as he shimmies and flares his fins. When the female is ready to accept him, she'll hold quite still as he approaches and rolls her over. His body drapes over hers like a horseshoe so their vents are close together, and he'll fertilize her eggs as she releases them.

Fact Six: Meet Mr. Mom

In one of those rare role reversals sometimes found in nature, it's the male betta that acts as guardian of the nursery. He'll drive the female away after breeding, so she must be removed to a separate tank. He then collects each egg and secures it in his nest. When the fry hatch, he'll guard them and carry them back to the nest in his mouth when they fall out and can't make their way back on their own. Once the fry are free swimming, it's time to transfer the male to a separate tank, or he'll begin eating his own offspring.

Fact Seven: Bettas Jump!

Whichever type of tank you decide to use, be sure it has a secure lid. Bettas can and sometimes do jump right out of the water, and there's not always a happy ending when their owners find them. If your betta escapes his tank, put him back in as soon as you find him, give him time to rehydrate and see if he's able to survive.

Fact Eight: Bettas Are as Varied as Snowflakes

Hobby breeders have selectively bred various mutations of betta splendens to create an incredible array of bettas in different colors, patterns and fin types. Some bettas have spots like a Dalmatian while others have a marble pattern on their body and fins. Some even have dragon scales that are overlaid with white, copper or even platinum. There are bettas with crowntails, half-moon tails and even double tails. There's just no telling what kind of fascinating creature might turn up in the next batch of fry.

The Ultimate Fact: Life Is Just Too Short

If you take good care of your betta and make sure he has high-quality food, clean water and a little medication if he ever looks sick, he'll live about two to three years on average. Under optimum conditions, he could live as long as five years. Sadly, that time goes all too quickly so appreciate your betta and enjoy him while you can.

Betta Fish Facts