Caring for your little fighter
By Heidi Hart
Betta Splendens, the Siamese fighting fish, more commonly known simply as a "Betta," originated in Thailand. They were first domesticated in 1893 for combat where wagers were made on the outcome of the fight. It wasn't until the 1920s before aquarists began keeping them in home aquariums.
[Casper, Courtesy of Chel] Today bettas come in a multitude of colors with long flowing fins, the more common colors being red, blue, and turquoise. Their wild relatives tend to be more greenish brown in color with red fins, which are shorter to allow for quicker escapes from their rivals. Females on the other hand are a bit drab in color with much shorter fins than their male counterparts. Besides their coloring and finage, males are slightly larger than females, and can grow up to 3 inches. Even for the untrained eye, when viewing the two it is quite simple to tell them apart. When face-to-face, two male bettas will extend their fins and open their gills (this is called flaring) to try and intimidate the other. If neither backs down then a fight will occur until one retreats or is dead. They often do this over territory or to protect their fry. Males will also flare when courting females.
An organ called a labyrinth allows bettas to breathe air from the water surface, thus permitting them to live in water with low oxygen levels. Because of this ability aquarists often keep bettas in small containers, but ideally a 2-gallon filtered tank or more is better and allows the bettas to stretch their fins. Tank temperatures for the betta should range between 76 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't allow temperatures to quickly fluctuate more than a degree or two, as this will cause undue stress to the betta.
[Fabio, Courtesy of flarekefka] Often the question arises whether or not bettas will get along with other fish, and the fact is they can make good community fish in some circumstances. Bear in mind that they don't get along very well with angelfish, gouramis, fancy guppies (especially the males), and other male bettas. When deciding what fish to keep bettas with it is also a good idea to try and avoid fin nippers such as tetras and barbs. There is an exception to this when it comes to females, though. Several females will get along well in the same tank as long as there is plenty of room for escape in case the dominant female decides she needs more territory. Also, since females don't have the tempting fins that the males have, keeping them with fish such as tetras and barbs shouldn't be as big a problem.
If one were to observe the feeding habits of the betta in his natural habitat, they would notice that he eats a large variety of small insects that land on the water surface. This makes the betta splendens a carnivore, so when feeding your betta it is wise to give them a variety of different foods. A staple food such as betta bites, betta bio-gold, or betta min should be fed on a daily basis once or twice a day and only 5 or 6 pellets at a time. However, some bettas love variety, and can be fed freeze dried or frozen bloodworms, baby brine shrimp, or live foods such as mosquito larvae 2 or 3 times a week.
Remember that bettas are not big eaters and it is very easy to overfeed. Since fish have to eat and produce waste as a result of eating, water changes are a must, and there is no exception when it comes to bettas. In fact, since a lot of bettas are kept in small containers that don't have some sort of filtration, water changes are even more important and need to be done every 2 or 3 days to prevent toxic build up.
When doing water changes it is very important to remove any uneaten food or waste that may have settled to the bottom, and to replace about 80 percent of the water. While adding fresh water one can't forget to add a good tap water conditioner that removes chlorine, breaks the chloramine bond, and one that detoxifies heavy metals. Not adding a tap water conditioner could result in disaster.
[Aurora, Courtesy of Mia] Disease is a natural occurrence in fish, and bettas will contract their share of it. Some of the more common diseases found in bettas are fin rot, fungus, and ick, however, they are susceptible to other diseases as well. There are measures that you can take to prevent disease, such as doing regular water changes, feeding the proper foods, and keeping the stress levels at a minimum. This does not mean that disease won't strike, and even some of the more seasoned aquarists will encounter disease.
One of the first things a new betta owner notices is the betta's large personality, making it very easy to fall in love with this beautiful fish. After a short while they will associate you with food, and will eagerly greet you at feeding times and at other times will beg for a morsel or tidbit. Don't let this show of behavior sucker you to giving into them; they're not as hungry as they make out to be. Although bettas are not one of the longest-lived fish, they can live between 3 and 5 years with proper care and maintenance, and will become a wonderful friend that leaves a lasting impression.