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Betta Fish - Lovers, Not Fighters
By Frank Greco, Senior Aquarist, New York Aquarium

betta fish

Betta splendens comes from the Mekong basin of Asia, where it inhabits standing waters of floodplains, canals and rice paddies, as well as medium to large rivers. It is an air-breathing fish, obtaining oxygen via a special respiratory organ called the labyrinth organ when it swims up to the surface. The fish will suffocate if this organ is removed-even if there is plenty of oxygen in the water!

Living In A Betta-Fish Bowl

The water for your Betta should be warm (76°F to 86°F) as they are tropical animals. One reason bettas die in the small bowls that they are typically seen in is that they get too cold. (Small bowls are impossible to heat!) They prefer soft, neutral pH water, although they will live in water that is slightly acid or alkaline just as well. There should also be minimal water flow; the Siamese fighting fish is not a strong swimmer. Good filtration is essential; change the water once a month by removing 25% of the water and replacing it with new, conditioned water.

Bettas should never be kept in small bowls or those setups with a "Peace Lily" growing out the top. Neither is a suitable home for this fish. First, it is impossible to control temperature; secondly, such enclosures are impossible to filter. The idea of the betta-in-a-bowl with hanging plant roots is that you don't need to feed the fish or change the water, but I have yet to see this work long-term. Instead, the fish often dies due to degrading environmental conditions.

Contrary to popular belief, these 'fighting fish' can be housed in a community tank providing that: 1) there are no fish in there that will nip the fins of the betta; 2) there are no fish whose fins the betta can nip; and 3) there is only one male in the tank (yes, two males will fight, hence the name). Bettas can also be kept in small EclipseTM tanks, which have a built-in filter and are large enough to allow for a heater. It's ideal for your Betta.

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A Fighter's Diet

The Betta can be a voracious feeder. In the wild it eats small insects that fall into the water. In the aquarium, you can feed them any number of foods, including live fruit flies, live blackworms, flake food, frozen foods and even micro-pellet food. Vary the diet as much as possible.

If given a proper environment and care-and especially a proper tank-Betta splendens can live a long, healthy life and provide hours of viewing enjoyment.

Frank M. Greco is a long-time hobbyist and Senior Aquarist at the New York Aquarium. Visit him on the Web at Got a fishy situation at home? Write to Frank at He may answer your question in his next column!

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Most recent update: 6/29/06
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