If you bought your betta in a bowl, you’d be wise to move him to larger accommodation as soon as you can. Bettas have a well-deserved reputation for being hardy, but they are not superfish. A betta can live for up to three years, but inadequate care cuts longevity severely, sometimes to just a few weeks. For a betta, as for other fish species including even goldfish, a fishbowl habitat constitutes inadequate care.
The Problems With Bowls
Although popular, a bowl does not make the best habitat for a betta. It is cramped, and its water quality is difficult to control. This means you run the risk of the water overheating or pollutants from organic waste rapidly building up to toxic levels, even if you conduct regular partial water changes. Your betta will be more secure and less likely to experience potentially deadly experiences. A tank provides the space to provide places to hide that, combined with the reduced likelihood of dangerous water chemistry and temperature changes, should make your pet less stressed. With all things equal otherwise, a betta will in virtually all instances live much longer in a tank.
What You Need
You need a fair amount of stuff, even for a fish as tough as the betta. Buy the equipment before you buy the betta, so you don’t have to keep him in a bowl too long while you set up the tank. For a betta, get a tank of 5 gallons or larger. A betta can live in a smaller tank, but that just means more work for you. You can't keep two male bettas together; if you want to keep two females, you'll need a much larger tank -- about 25 gallons -- with a great deal of vegetation. The same goes if you wish to keep other species of tropical fish with your betta in a community tank. Counterintuitively, smaller accommodation is harder to maintain. You also need a filter with air pump, lighting, a heater, a thermometer, gravel, nitrifying bacteria, plants and appropriate food. A gravel cleaner and bucket are necessary for maintenance, as are nitrite, nitrate and ammonia test kits.
Cycling the Tank
Preparing the new tank and moving your fish takes a while; you can’t just fill the tank with tap water and stick your fish straight in. Freshwater tanks require cycling to rid the water of toxic ammonia and nitrites, and undesirable nitrates. First, set up all the equipment and fill the tank with water. At this point, you don’t need to dechlorintate the water -- the chlorine will evaporate -- but you will do so for water changes later. Turn on the light and add nitrifying bacteria or part of the filter media from an established aquarium. Provide something for the bacteria to feed on, such as a few flakes of fish food. Next, add plants. A couple of weeks later, add one or two aquatic snails. Conduct weekly partial water changes from this point on. Once nitrite, nitrate and ammonia levels are registering as undetectable on your test kits, the tank is ready for your betta.
Moving the Fish
Fish become stressed easily by changes in water chemistry. Moving your fish from a bowl to a tank is not, therefore, a task you can rush. It’s advisable to turn off the light and leave it off during the process. Pour the betta and most of the bowl water into a plastic bag. Knot the top of the bag and float it in your tank. Wait a half-hour to allow temperatures to stabilize. At 10-minute intervals afterward, scoop a little water from the bag with a cup and replace with tank water before re-knotting the bag. Once the bag contains almost 100 percent tank water, release your fish by gently tipping him out.
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.