The betta spledens is known for its utterly marvellous array of fin colours, shapes and sizes, which have been specially bred into the species over the years; curiously, these features are purely domestic, with the wild betta spledens having a dull green, brown and grey colouration and short fins.
Countless care guides exist on the internet pertaining to this species that can cause a lot of confusion, contradiction and suffering fish and keepers. It really is very simple to keep a betta spledens if you know how to set up and maintain the aquarium properly; indeed, maintenance appears to be unusually understated for this species, despite water changes being essential for the long-term health of any closed, non-planted aquarium system, this is likely due to a myth that states these animals come from "muddy puddles". On the contrary, this species originates from large, standing water reserves such as canals, rice paddies and flood plains in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
There is so much to talk about when it comes to keeping a betta spledens that it can be difficult to know where to start; this page covers the care needs for the fish itself and will teach you how to keep its environment healthy, as well as how to do water changes, but if you need any further information I highly recommend checking out TropicalFishKeeping.com.
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In their natural environment, the betta spledens would feed on zooplankton, crustaceans and water-bound insect larvae; in captivity, you can emulate this by feeding your fish a high quality, high protein pellet or flake food. If you read the back of a fish food container you can read what its nutritional value is, I would advise giving your betta food that has at least 39% crude protein for optimum nutrition; you can supplement this with freeze-dried or frozen bloodworms, daphnia or brine shrimp.
Fighters are opportunistic and will eat anything you give them at any time, so while they may appear hungry all the time, chances are they actually aren't. A betta's stomach is about the size of its eye, so it's incredibly easy to overfeed them - in fact it has been reported that more fish in captivity die due to overfeeding than underfeeding - so please only feed your fish twice a day, with a maximum of two large pellets (or 3-4 small ones) or a small number of flakes, depending on what you are feeding. Overfeeding can lead to bloat, ill health and very poor water quality. It will not harm your fish to miss a meal once in a while and may actually prove beneficial for its long-term health.
The typical lifespan of a betta spledens in captivity is 1-3 years, although some have been recorded to live as long as 7! It's quite amazing to think that such a tiny fish can hold on for such a long length of time.
Breeding bettas is not something to be taken lightly and is only for the most experienced betta keepers; I have no experience with this myself but can recommend TropicalFishKeeping.com and its sister site BettaFish.com for amazing and comprehensive guides on each element of the breeding and raising process.
There are two "kinds" of domestic betta spledens: regular sized and king sized; king sized bettas are noticeably larger than the others, and with their supersize comes a super appetite and super poo output. Their basic care needs are the same, although it is recommended that you give a king sized betta spledens a larger aquarium to cater both for their swimming needs and poo output.
One thing I feel I should emphasize is that betta spledens are tropical fish, therefore they need an aquarium heater to stay healthy; a stable temperature between 25-27°C (78-82°F) is ideal. Aquarium heaters come in different sizes depending on how large your aquarium is; for a standard 20 litre (5 U.S gallon) aquarium, a 25 watt heater will be sufficient; the amount of water a single heater will heat should be written plainly on the back of its box, so you know exactly what size to get.
Your aquarium should also be filtered to help maintain good water quality; I recommend a hang on back (HOB) or sponge filter for betta spledens due to their typically long fins, I'd also advise researching your preferred filter before making any purchases to help save money. Your filter will need to be cycled, which means giving it time to establish a colony of beneficial bacteria that will eat toxic chemicals in the water and convert them into something less toxic (which is then removed through water changes). It may sound a little confusing but I assure you it is in actuality very simple, you can read absolutely everything you need to know about cycling your filter at TropicalFishKeeping.com.
A stimulated betta is a happy and healthy betta; decorations and plants (whether real or artificial) will add to the overall health and quality of life of your fish. Not only do they provide hiding places (useful for a spooked animal), but they stimulate the betta and encourage curiosity and exploring, which is fantastic both for the fish and for you. Artificial decorations made of sharp plastic or with pointy edges should be avoided to prevent damage to your fish's fins, and please don't use anything with exposed metal as this may rust and foul the water.
You will likely want to add some kind of substrate to your aquarium; this is an optional extra but it can help with cycling and generally looks lovely. Sand, gravel or colourful stones (that are water safe) can all be used. Each have their positives and negatives.
Sand is useful for live plants and is easy to keep clean as organic matter just sits on the surface, but it needs to be poked with a stick (or have aquatic snails burrowing through it) to stop pockets of gas building up, which can be dangerous if released into the aquarium. It also needs to be rinsed thoroughly as it gathers a great deal of dust.
Gravel is, again, useful for live plants and doesn't run the risk of developing pockets of gas. Because there will be gaps in the gravel, however, it'll gather organic matter (fish poo, uneaten food etc.) that may need vacuuming out every now and then; this isn't difficult and can be done during a water change by running an aquarium siphon over the surface of it.
Once your aquarium is set up it will require maintenance, this comes in the form of water changes; your set up needs some of its water replaced each week to stop toxic chemicals building up to the point of harm, it's a simple process that will usually take about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your aquarium and what you use to perform the change.
To do the change, simply scoop out a portion of the water using a cup, jug or aquarium siphon, dump it down the drain or another appropriate place (it can be used to water house plants if you like recycling) and refill the aquarium using dechlorinated water that is within 2 degrees of the aquarium's present temperature. For a 20 litre (5 U.S gallon) aquarium that has been cycled, with only a single betta spledens, you should only need to do a 30 - 40% water change once a week; I do two smaller changes each week to make it easier on myself, although my aquarium is also planted with live plants which help keep water quality stable. With water changes of this size, you don't need to move the fish out of the tank.
If you must do a water change of more than 50%, please remove the fish from the aquarium first, otherwise it may experience osmotic shock which can lead to death. You can keep the fish in some of its old aquarium water and then gradually re-acclimatise it to the main aquarium once it has been refilled with dechlorinated water.
What is dechlorinated water? Dechlorinated water is simply tap water that has been treated with a dechlorinator, which can be purchased from most pet shops that have a fish department; chlorine is deadly to fish, so a good dechlorinator is absolutely essential and must be used with each and every water change, including the initial set up of your aquarium.
For a single betta spledens, the standard recommendation is 20 litres (5 U.S gallons); anything less than this will be difficult to heat. There is a lot of debate as to what size aquarium should be used for a single fish, but I've found 20 litre aquariums widely available, not overly expensive and certainly a great deal easier to maintain than anything smaller. Please keep in mind that anything less than 20 litres may not cycle properly (more information available at TropicalFishKeeping.com).
Something I must emphasize is that male betta spledens must be kept alone or they will fight and kill each other; the domestic varieties of this species (the ones sold in pet shops) were bred for colour and fins, but also for aggression. Please do not keep more than one male in an aquarium unless a solid, stable divider has been installed.
While male betta spledens cannot be kept together, a lot of people have had success keeping females in groups known affectionately as "sororities". The standard minimum size aquarium for this endeavour is usually recommended to be 40 litres (10 U.S gallons); there is a lot of discussion as to how to properly set a sorority up, as females of this species have also been bred to be highly aggressive, so I would advise doing a great deal of research before attempting this. I have never done it myself so cannot really offer any solid advice.
If you wish to divide an aquarium into multiple compartments so you can keep a number of betta spledens in one aquarium (although technically separated), you can do so as long as the dividers are stable; it is better to avoid clear ones as this can cause stress which will affect the fish's overall health. The smallest aquarium you can divide safely is said to be a 20 litre (5 U.S gallons), but I'd honestly recommend at least 40 litres (10 U.S gallons) to offer ample swimming space, it'll also make it easier to maintain.
There are two kinds of aquariums available: plastic (or acrylic) and glass. Both have their merits.
Plastic aquariums are usually much cheaper than glass, they are lighter and frequently come with a detachable, ventilated lid; they can scratch fairly easily, which can distort the view of your fish, and the plastic may warp or crack as it ages, but they perform adequately and, if treated right, will last the lifetime of your fish. You can buy high quality acrylic aquariums which are a little heavier and more expensive, but more robust and resistant to aging.
Glass aquariums, on the other hand, are much heavier, much more expensive but usually available in larger sizes; you can often find 20 litre (5 U.S gallon) glass aquariums as part of a start up kit which includes a lid for a very good price, which is beneficial. Oftentimes, glass aquariums will not come with a lid so this will be an extra expense. Despite their cost, glass aquariums are a great investment because they will last for years if treated with respect.
Please keep in mind that the betta spledens is a fish that can and will jump if given the opportunity, they can jump surprisingly well for a fish of their size, so your aquarium must have a secure lid on it! Please also consider that bettas, while fish, breathe atmospheric oxygen and need space between the surface of the water and the lid of their aquarium.
One major factor that can put a person off taking care of fish is the start up cost; the initial set up is fairly expensive, but something to consider is that good quality products, while expensive, should last you for years and years if treated properly. Things like a filter and heater will only need to be replaced if they break down, which is usually uncommon.
I've put together a list of items you will need to set up your aquarium as well as their estimated costs and personal recommendations; I've divided the list into two sections, one is for the initial set up (the "one time purchase" items) and the second for items that you will use over time and therefore will eventually need to replace (such as fish food). Please note that the price of heaters and filters (as well as air pumps) vary depending on their size; check the packaging carefully to make sure that the one you select is suitable for the size aquarium you use.
* Aquarium (£10 - £30+) (recommended: 20 litre glass aquarium; ensure it has a lid)
* Filter (£5 - £25) (recommended: hang on back or sponge filter; sponge filter requires air pump (£10 - £25))
* Heater (£8 - £15) (recommended: 50 watt for 20 litres)
* Thermometer (£2 - £5) (recommended: one that sits in the tank, not a stick on, strip thermometer)
* Substrate (£5 - £15) (recommended: basic sand or gravel)
* Hiding places (£1 - £30+) (recommended: clean, soap free mugs if on a budget)
* Plants, live or artificial (£1 - £15) (optional but recommended)
* Aquarium siphon (£3 - £5) (optional but recommended)
* Lighting system (£15 - £30+) (optional; often comes with named brand aquarium set ups)
* Dechlorinator (£3 - £20) (recommended: StressCoat, StressCoat+ or StressZhyme)
* Fish food (£5 - £10) (recommended: Tetra betta flakes) (one tub will last a single betta a lifetime)
* Water testing kit (£25 - £30+) (definitely optional!)
Dechlorinator comes in different sized bottles; I always recommend getting a larger bottle, as these are usually better value for money than buying multiple small bottles over a period of a couple of years. You'll likely find that a large bottle lasts you a number of months, so while it may seem quite expensive up front, it's definitely worth it in the long run.
An aquarium siphon makes water changes an absolute breeze, pair that up with a bucket or jug just for your water changes and they'll take very little time at all. These are optional extras but worth investing in.
A water testing kit allows you to monitor the cycling process of your filter, as well as keep a general eye on the quality of your water; these are absolutely optional and many fish shops will offer to test your water for you for free anyway. For more information on the cycling process please visit TropicalFishKeeping.com.
As you can see, the cost of setting up an aquarium for a betta spledens varies wildly depending on a wide variety of factors and the general choices you make. It's possible to find 20 litre (5 U.S gallon) aquarium deals that include tank, lid, filter, food and dehclorinator (some even include brightly coloured substrate), but the food and filter usually aren't suitable for this species - it's still not a bad deal. If you shop around you should be able to get good value for money.
Note about live plants: if you ever choose to get into live plants you may notice that the initial cost for a bunch is more than a single artificial plant; something to keep in mind is that, when cared for properly, live plants will grow and spread of their own accord, many can be trimmed and replanted, giving you a seemingly endless supply of live plants for your aquarium.
As mentioned elsewhere in the guide, the domesticated betta spledens has been bred for aggression, because of this it can be difficult to know exactly what other livestock you can keep with your fish. Each fish will have a slightly differing temperament, with some getting along with other fish beautifully and others attacking anything that moves. Regardless of what you choose to house with your betta, please do thorough research into the species first to ensure that its basic care requirements (aquarium size, temperature etc.) are catered for.
Large aquatic snails (such as zebra nerites and assassin snails) are usually good companions for a betta spledens as they have a hard shell to protect them; snails do poo a lot, though, so please keep this in mind and make sure your aquarium's water quality is stable.
Large shrimp such as Amano and ghost (aka "glass" or "grass" shrimp) have also been kept successfully with betta spledens; I've kept Amanos with a betta and while the betta was not aggressive towards the shrimp, one heavily pregnant female shrimp started grabbing onto the fish's fins and refusing to let go, so I separated them for the fish's sake; I think this is rather rare, as my fish was rather deformed (he was this way when I bought him) and not a very strong swimmer.
Corydoras and Otocinclus catfish are both possible candidates to keep with a betta spledens due to their typically dull colouration and docile nature; you'll need to do careful research into each of these species due to their diets and, in the case of Corydoras, their substrate needs.
It is advised that you introduce any other livestock to the aquarium first before adding your betta spledens, this gives the other animals an opportunity to explore and find possible hiding spots if they are harassed. If keeping multiple fish species together, it is advised that the aquarium be heavily planted (live or artificial) as these offer fantastic barriers between each species as well as plenty of hiding spaces.