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The Siamese fighting fish or “Betta” is one of the most popular of all aquarium fish. There are several reasons for this popularity. First is their beautiful colors, often referred to as “splendid”; thus one of the more popular species Betta Splendens. They are in the family of fish called Anabantoids.

As such, they have a special labyrinth organ that other fish do not. This enables them to get oxygen from the water surface as opposed to using their gills to extract oxygen from the water.

Because of this special feature they are able to be kept in a small container or bowl, whereas other tropical fish need a larger aquarium with added filtration. The sales of Bettas have surged in recent years as they’ve become displays in beautiful, ornate vases, bowls and glasses and are easily kept on a table top, desk or counter.

Starting Right

red fishKeeping the Betta is relatively easy. Contrary to popular belief it is not totally care free. There is advice circulating around that they can be set up in a vase with a peace lily put into the vase. The goals being the roots of the plant are down in the water, supposedly allowing the Betta to feed on the roots and thus having a self-sustaining eco system. This is not true. In the wild, Bettas feed on insects (i.e. mosquito larvae) not plant roots and will need to be fed regularly. Even though they can be kept in a small bowl without a filter (because of their ability to breathe oxygen from the surface) they still need to have their water quality maintained through regular water exchanges.


In nature Bettas feed on insects at the surface, so small floating pellet food or worms (such as tubifex or blood worms) will be the   best choice for them. Be careful with your feedings. Overfeeding will cause the water to become cloudy and smelly from the accumulation of decayed food. This water will, in time, become harmful to the fish. When feeding, remember that less is best. A safe recommendation is to feed 2 to 4 pieces of food every other day.

Caring for your Betta

pelletesFor best results you should start by filling your Betta container with “aged” or “conditioned” water found in an existing aquarium. Typically, Bettas come from slow moving waters, even the edges of rice paddies in Southeast Asia. Tap water is suitable for them; however it should be treated to rid it of chlorine or chloramines, which are harmful to fish, prior to pouring it into the container. There are many varieties of Bettas available (Split Tails, Half Moon, Round Tail, Crown Tail, Dumbo Ear and Dragon Scale to name a few) and almost every color of the rainbow. An Aquarium Adventure fish specialist can help you select a good specimen.

A bacterial bloom (cloudy water) will occur 2 to 4 days after fish are added to the container. The cloudiness, caused by initial bacteria growth, is not harmful and will clear on its own. Have patience. If your water does not clear up after 5 to 7 days, consult your Aquarium Adventure fish specialist.

Since a Betta container or bowl generally does not have a filtration system, you must be very careful when cleaning. Every 5 to 7 days, you should change part of the water. Pour the top 2/3 of the water from the Betta display container into a temporary holding container (plastic or glass). Then carefully transfer the Betta, using a net into this holding container while the rest of the bowl is cleaned.

The remaining water should be discarded. Once the display container is empty, it can be rinsed out with fresh tap water. Never use a cleaner or chemicals of any type to clean with as these, even in trace amounts are toxic to fish.

Once the display container has been rinsed, 1/3 of the container can be filled with new, fresh tap water. Remember, the water must be conditioned to remove chlorine and/or chloramines. The water should be at room temperature. Carefully pour the Betta and the old remaining 2/3 of the water back into the display container.