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Congratulations on your new pet Betta fish (Betta Splendens)! Once bred for the fish fighting industry in Thailand, these 2-3 inch long gems are now commercially available from most major pet retailers in the United States.
Despite many sources saying that Bettas can thrive in small bowls, an ideal tank size for one would be at least two gallons, but preferably closer to five. Bettas can live in small enclosures, but it is actually easier to maintain a safe environment for one in a larger tank. This is because toxic chemicals such as ammonia can accumulate rather quickly. Larger tanks are more forgiving as the toxins are more diluted.
Possibly because of their inbred fighting instincts, Bettas have acquired notoriety for being vicious creatures amongst some aquarists. In reality, they are undeserving of this label as they are actually quite docile creatures when kept under proper conditions. However, make sure to keep only one Betta per tank* because they can get aggressive with their own kind. For beginners, keeping a Betta with any other fish is highly discouraged.
Water has different levels of pH, hardness, and multiple other parameters. For fish, changing between different waters is quite stressful because of the physical move as well as the change in parameters. For Bettas, a 30 minute acclimation procedure (the process of adjusting an organism to a new tank) should usually suffice. To acclimate a Betta, place it in a paper cup floating in the tank, filled with old water. At regular intervals, remove and dispose of a portion of the cup’s water, replacing it with water from the tank. After 30 minutes, gently scoop the Betta out of the cup and place it in the tank.
One common mistake of a novice aquarist is having the tendency to overfeed. Overfeeding can cause disease and harm water quality. Some people will recommend that you feed only as much as your fish can consume in a few minutes. This measure is a good rule of thumb, but not a definitive solution for all fish. Feed your fish once a day (it’s okay if you occasionally miss a day) with just a small pinch of food.
Once you first establish your tank, all decaying organic matter including uneaten food, excrements, and just general detritus will produce ammonia. After a while, special bacteria will accumulate and consume the ammonia, leaving behind nitrite, another poisonous compound. After that, different bacteria will convert the nitrite into nitrate, which is slightly less toxic. This process is called the nitrogen cycle and it will become stable once a fair amount of nitrifying bacteria establishes itself in your tank, a process called “cycling” that often takes months.
When preparing a tank for its inhabitant(s), remember to dechlorinate the new water. All water should be dechlorinated before coming into contact with fish. To perform a water change, remove approximately half of your aquarium’s water (not all of it) with a siphon or paper cup. Carefully replace this water with dechlorinated water within 2°F of your tank water. Water changes should be done at least semi-weekly during the cycling process and either weekly or biweekly otherwise.
While some people test for the levels of alkalinity, hardness, and a plethora of other parameters, the most important ones to test for are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH (a measure of the acidity of water), and temperature. Ammonia and nitrite should always be kept under 0.5 ppm (parts per million), but preferably registering as close to zero as possible and nitrate should be under 20 ppm. While wild Bettas prefer slightly lower pH levels around 6, most captive-bred Bettas are more tolerant and can withstand pH levels in the range of 5 to 8. Bettas, being tropical fish, also prefer warmer water (between 76°F and 82°F), but can generally withstand anything between 65°F and 85°F. It is most important to keep both pH and temperature stable, as large fluctuations are more dangerous than parameters slightly outside of the Betta’s preferred range. When choosing a spot for your Betta’s tank, remember to keep it out of direct sunlight to prevent temperature swings. Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH can all be measured using test strips/kits and temperature can be monitored via a simple kitchen thermometer.
With a simple tank, food, and regular water changes, your Betta should live a long and healthy life. However, you can greatly improve upon its state of living by providing it with mental stimuli and keeping its tank extra clean. Bettas will do well with most commercially-available substrates, decorations, and plants. However, do be wary of anything with sharp edges as they can cause damage to some Betta’s fins. As for electrical equipment, a filter would be most important, then a heater depending on your ambient temperature, followed up by an aerator and lighting. Make sure to research prior to making purchases in order to get safe, budget-friendly, and aesthetically-pleasing products.
Thanks for reading this short care sheet on bettas (published 9/24/15)! For more information, please browse around AquariumKids.com! Feel free to contact me at evanb [at] aquariumkids [dot] com with any questions.