Contrary to popular belief, bettas do not live in mud puddles or thrive in tiny spaces. The truth is, bettas are remarkable fish who are sorely misunderstood, giving pet retailers license to justify substandard fish-keeping practices. To set up a tank correctly, learn all you can about these remarkable fish.
Somewhere along the line, betta fish became the subject of a lot of misconceptions, which is unfortunate for them because these untruths have caused retailers to justify a substandard manner of keeping them. One of the biggest pieces of misinformation about betta fish is that they can live in tiny cups or in a water vase with a plant on top and nothing more than the roots of the plant to feed on. The truth is, bettas come from the rice paddies, streams and rivers of several tropical countries, and they are quite different from other fish. When you know the facts about these little living jewels, it's difficult to see them stowed in tiny plastic cups filled halfway with water.
The first thing you should do before setting up your betta's tank is learn his basic requirements and understand a little about his personality. That way, you can be sure to meet all his needs. Individual bettas need to be housed in a tank that can hold at least 2.5 gallons of water, with 3 to 5 gallons being optimum. The water should be treated to be sure all the harmful chemicals are removed. Male betta fish are like roosters -- they're territorial and will engage in bloody battles if put in proximity with other male bettas. So, if you want more than one, you'll need a separate tank for each one, or a tank divider to split up a 10-gallon tank. Your shopping list should include a special filter, tank heater, soft, silk leafy decor or real plants, betta water additives containing aloe and electrolytes (such as Betta Zing) and betta food.
Setting Up the Tank
Set up your tank a day or two prior to purchasing your betta fish so the water can go through several cycles and any harmful elements can evaporate. The filter should have a very low output as bettas do not like a strong current. Underground filters are great for bettas, as are kits made by Fluval, a company that makes tanks with lightly dripping top filters. Do not use hard plastic leaf ornaments as bettas have delicate fins. Place a decorative cave and some silk and/or real plants to give your betta a place to hide. Your tank should include a heater; the type with a thermostat that can maintain a water temperature between 75 and 80 degrees.
Enjoying Your Betta
Do not place the tank in direct sunlight or under an air-conditioning vent. Place it somewhere near the action in your home because you'll want to interact with him. Bettas are really cool fish that belong to a species of fish that not only breathe air, but have "ears." Furthermore, they are intelligent fish and will recognize their owners. They can learn to perform tricks such as taking food from you and "flaring" on request. Bettas should be given toys, and there are special hammocks, mirrors and floating logs available to keep your betta engaged and busy. Your betta will delight you by making bubble nests and rising to meet you when you visit him. Routine water changes are a requirement, but if you have a good filtration system they won't be needed as often as a tank without one. Beware of overfeeding, as that can lead to serious health problems.
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Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.