Betta fish are one of the most popular freshwater fish commonly kept as pets in the aquarium hobby. With the betta being so popular, there have been many different myths and misconceptions surrounding this fascinating fish. Betta fish are usually placed in a small bowl and left to survive, but with updated information and plenty of research from experts, we now know that many misconceptions about bettas are not allowing this fish to thrive.
Before getting a betta fish, it is always recommended to do as much research as possible, but you will come across misinformation that may be troubling to decipher whether it is true or not. That is why we have created this article—to debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions about betta fish that are still believed today.
The 8 Common Betta Fish Myths and Misconceptions
1. Betta Fish Don’t Need Heaters or Filters
Like all fish, bettas require a filter and since they are tropical fish, they require a heater. The first essential items that you should add to your betta’s new aquarium are a heater and filtration system. In some cases, you will need to add an aeration system to create enough surface agitation on the surface of the water for proper gaseous exchange, so your betta’s water is oxygenated.
The ongoing misconception that bettas do not need a heater or filter stemmed from when people kept them in small bowls which could not fit these items. Since bettas are tropical fish, you will need to place an adjustable heater inside to keep the temperature stable between 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The heater helps to keep their water at a desirable temperature and prevents your betta from becoming chilled when the room temperature starts to drop.
Bettas require filtration systems to create space for beneficial bacteria to grow, along with surface movement to prevent the water from becoming stagnant and dirty. You will want to make sure that the filter output is not so strong that it makes it difficult for your betta fish to swim.
2. Betta Fish Can Be Housed Together
Male betta fishes are strictly solitary and territorial fish that will fight till serious injury or death if they are kept together. The fighting usually begins when they are sexually mature, and there is little to no lifelong success rate in housing two male betta fish together. These fish are naturally aggressive and get quite territorial, so placing bettas together in the same tank is not a good idea for the health of your fish.
Even if your bettas aren’t fighting, they have been known to show signs of stress when housed together, and stress is often fatal to such a small fish. Female betta fish have been known to get along in large groups with a heavily planted tank that is over 10 gallons in size, but even female betta fish can be aggressive and start to fight with other females at any moment, so female betta sororities are either best left to expert betta keepers or recommended to be avoided completely.
3. Betta Fish Do Not Need Much Oxygen
Many people assume that because a betta fish has a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe air from the surface, they do not need any form of aeration in their aquarium for oxygen. Betta fish require dissolved oxygen in the aquarium from surface movement, and since warm water holds less dissolved oxygen than cold water, the betta fish must have some form of aeration system added to their aquarium.
This can be from a filter, air bubbler, stone, or even from certain live aquarium plants that give off oxygen. This allows your betta fish to have an environment that they would inhabit in the wild so that they can breathe both underwater and from the surface when required.
Betta fish will start to gulp more air from the surface when the dissolved oxygen starts to run out. This behavior happens to bettas in the wild when their environment becomes undesirable to live in, usually due to dry seasons where their rice paddies dry up and they are left with stagnant water with poor aeration.
4. Betta Fish Only Evolved from Small Puddles
This myth is extremely common; however, it is not entirely true, and it is mainly used to justify poor living conditions for bettas. Betta fish inhabit warm tropical rice paddies, ponds, marshes, drain ditches, and other vegetation-rich bodies of water in the wild.
The misconception that bettas evolved from small puddles is partially true, however, it is not their ideal habitat. During certain times of the year, the betta fish’s habitat would dry up due to low rain and drought, which would leave the bettas in a small puddle that could only get filled during rain or flooding.
These small “puddles” caused bettas to evolve to survive this short dry season where they resulted in living in poor conditions. These puddles would not be large enough to support many bettas who had very limited territory per fish, leaving them to fight for space, succumb to injuries or stress, or even jump into nearby puddles where they could try to live instead.
Many bettas would likely die during this time, and the low oxygen in the water meant that the betta had to rely on its labyrinth organ to breathe properly. These small puddles were uncomfortable for the betta to live in, but some bettas had to endure these conditions unless they died first from starvation or toxin build-up from their waste.
These puddles would soon be filled when it would flood or during heavy rains, but not without hundreds of bettas dying due to the inadequate conditions.
5. Bettas Cannot Live with Other Fish
With bettas being so aggressive and territorial, it is understandable that most bettas cannot tolerate any other species of fish very well. However, bettas can live with other compatible tropical fish. Some bettas can live with schooling fish like neon tetras or other friendly tetra species that do not have flowing fins.
This usually depends on the betta’s temperament, tank size, and how planted the tank is. Keeping bettas together with other compatible tankmates is usually successful if the tank is large enough and has enough shelter from plants where the fish can hide if one of the fish is acting up.
Bettas will rarely show aggression to other fish unless the tank is too small or the tankmates are picking on the betta. In some cases, bettas can be too territorial to tolerate any other living thing in their tanks, including snails.
6. Betta Fish Do Better in Bowls and Small Tanks
Keeping betta fish in bowls, vases, or other small aquaria is still quite common, but it is not the ideal living environment for a betta fish. This is because most bowls and vases are way too small to house a betta fish comfortably, and they can rarely fit a filter and heater inside. Most bowls and vases are under the recommended 5 gallons for bettas, which means that it is not going to make a comfortable living environment for your betta fish. According to Dr. Krista Keller a board-certified specialist in zoological medicine, betta fish need more than just a bowl.
By providing your betta fish with a larger tank, they have more room to explore, exhibit their natural behaviors, and it also helps dilute the build-up of toxins from their waste. If your betta fish seems to do betta in a smaller body of water, it could be due to a few factors. Betta fish can be quite shy, so if they are in a larger tank, they will need plants to create shelter for themselves.
Heavy-finned bettas also need a low-flow filter that will not make it difficult for them to swim, along with leaves from plants to lie on when they get tired. Poor water quality from an uncycled tank can also cause your betta to act abnormally when moved to a different or larger aquarium.
7. Betta Fish Do Not Have Feelings
Betta fish are sentient beings with feelings, which we know because they have a central nervous system. This means that bettas can feel certain emotions like fear, stress, pleasure, and contentment, even though it is not shown to the same extent as humans or other animals. Betta fish can also feel pain and even unhappiness if they are kept in an undesirable environment.
The misconception that bettas don’t have feelings and can be kept in small bowls without any proper enrichment or essential items has caused betta fish to be mistreated in the aquarium hobby, but thanks to current research and experts studying the cognitive abilities of fish, we now know that this isn’t true.
8. Betta Fish Don’t Live Long
There’s a myth that betta fish only live for a couple of weeks or a month if they are lucky, but the true lifespan of a betta fish ranges from 3 to 5 years, with some living even longer. The lifespan of a betta fish depends on their genetics, care, and living conditions. Placing a betta fish in an uncycled tank or bowl with no proper enrichment and poor water quality will not allow your betta fish to live very long.
Most bettas kept in poor living conditions will die from water quality issues or diseases before they are even mature. With the right care, betta fish can live for several years.
Betta fish can make wonderful pets and by understanding your betta’s needs, you can have your betta fish living a long and healthy life by your side. With so many fin types, colors, and shapes, there are endless options of betta fish that you can add to your tank.
We hope that this article has helped debunk some common myths and misconceptions you might hear about betta fish, and that betta fish are more intelligent and conscious than we previously believed.
Featured Image Credit: Ron Kuenitz, Shutterstock