Beginners to Bettas: Frequently Asked Questions
A Beginner’s Questions Answered
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Q: Do I really need water conditioner?
A: Yes. Preferably, get Seachem’s Prime. It’s the best deal and is widely considered to be the most effective. But really, any water conditioner that detoxifies ammonia, chlorine, chloramine, and heavy metals should work just fine. That sounds like a lot, but most water conditioners cover the list.
If you don’t have water conditioner, run out ASAP and grab some. You can expect to get a small bottle for around $5.
Q: What should I feed my betta?
A: The first food you should get is a basic, good quality pellet food. Not all foods are the same. Look for Omega One Betta Buffet pellets or New Life Spectrum pellets. Frozen bloodworms or daphnia, or (if they’re sold at your pet store) flightless fruit flies can be occasionally given as a treat. Feeding a variety of foods improves betta health, but isn’t strictly necessary.
Q: I just got flakes. Are those okay?
A: They’re all right for a while, but you’ll want to spend a few dollars on a good pellet food. Flakes can cause bloating in bettas.
Q: My betta ate an insect!
A: It’s fine. They eat insects in the wild. Just don’t feed him/her for a while.
Q: How much should I feed my adult betta?
A: There are different sizes of betta pellets. Most are 1mm wide–you can check yours with a ruler. To start out, feed four pellets a day, preferably split up into a day and night feeding of two pellets each. Your betta should look a little fuller after you feed him, but not bloated.
Q: How much/what should I feed my baby betta?
A: That depends. Start a thread.
Q: I’m going on vacation. What’s the best vacation feeder?
A: None at all. Your fish can go for a week without food and be just fine. If you’re gone longer than two weeks, find a reliable pet sitter. Don’t give an extra-big feeding before you leave; this can cause problems like bloating or extra ammonia production that you won’t want in your tank while you’re gone.
Q: What’s the minimum size tank for a healthy betta?
A: This is a debated topic, and you won’t get the same answer twice. If you’re a beginner, I would suggest 2.5 gallons as a minimum. Some experienced people can keep a fish healthy in a 1.5 gallon tank, and you’ll occasionally hear about breeders using 1 gallon tanks. Don’t assume this is normal. 99% of bettas will be happier in a bigger tank than a smaller one. Bettas’ natural habitat, rice paddies, is NOT the same as a mud puddle. Rice paddies are huge! They’re just shallow.
Q: Only 99%?
A: Yeah. Some bettas are kind of agoraphobic, actually, and will prefer (for example) a 2.5 gallon over a 5 gallon tank. That doesn’t mean you can cram them in a half-gallon vase.
Q: What else do I need in my tank?
A: You need a heater and some safe cover for your fish (a place to hide). Don’t waste money on heaters that aren’t adjustable. Get a 25 watt adjustable heater for a small (such as 3 gallon) tank, or a 50 watt for 5-10 gallon tanks.
You also need a lid. Get a lid. Bettas jump.
A: A gallon is about four liters. If you aren’t used to one system or the other, remembering this comes in handy.
Q: What else might I want in my tank?
A: Substrate is a good place to start. Gravel is a popular option, but sand can be easier to clean with a siphon and you might consider it more attractive. If you really want to put time and effort into your fish tanks and you like a natural aesthetic, look into dirt based tanks. They aren’t difficult to set up, and they support lots of different plants, which bettas love (and they keep your water clean!). More on plants in the water quality section.
Decorations and cover for your fish help keep them from being stressed, which helps keep them from getting sick. Soak everything for a few days before you put it in your tank–just keep it in a bucket of water treated with water conditioner. Always check to make sure your decorations have no sharp edges! Plastic plants can be a big culprit. If it snags a piece of pantyhose, it isn’t safe. Sometimes you can sand down sharp edges, though.
You also might want a filter. In tanks over 3 gallons, you’ll want to cycle your tank (it’s difficult, but not impossible, in smaller tanks) and that generally means you’ll need a filter. More on cycling in the water quality section. Note that bettas generally don’t like stronger currents, especially those with longer or heavier fins.
Finally, there are rocks and driftwood. If you add rocks, be sure to make sure there aren’t metal flecks on them which will leach into your water and be harmful to your fish. Testing your rocks by pouring white vinegar over them is a good idea; if they bubble or froth, they’re unsafe. Make sure you rinse them very well after this test. Driftwood will often release tannins into your water, turning it tea colored; bettas like this, but if you don’t, the driftwood can be boiled to prevent this.
Never boil river rocks or other smooth rocks–they can explode from the expanding steam inside of them. Not good. It’s safer to pour a hot (but not boiling) water/vinegar mixture over them, out in the yard, or to soak them in room temperature water for a while. Any decorations put into your tank should be soaked first. Just because it says it’s aquarium safe doesn’t mean it is! Test everything if you want to be safe.
Q: What can I keep with my betta? He lives in a 5 gallon tank.
A: A nerite snail. They’re pretty and they’ll keep the tank clean, and nerite eggs don’t hatch in freshwater. If your tank’s parameters are stable and your betta isn’t too aggressive, you may be able to keep a few ghost shrimp or an African dwarf frog.
Q: Really? I was thinking about a dwarf cory cat.
A: That won’t work. Cories of any sort need a shoal of six to feel safe, which means that if you want to keep cories with a betta, you need a ten gallon tank and six cories, plus hiding spots for them. Same thing with neon tetras… zebra danios… basically a ton of fish…
Besides, the betta and the dwarf cory combined will produce too much waste to live together in a 5g tank anyway. Get a snail.
Q: Are mystery snails the same as nerites? That’s all my pet store has.
A: No, they aren’t. Mystery snails get huge and produce a ton of waste, and your pet store won’t take them back at that point. Check to see if your pet store is calling nerites “zebra snails.” Sometimes they use that name, but it’s the same kind of snail.
Q: What about plecos?
A: They produce plenty of waste, and most species get basically really huge. If you’ve got big tank, like above 10 gallons, then you can probably afford to keep one or two of a smaller species. RESEARCH BEFORE YOU BUY or you may end up with one that grows to eighteen inches long.
If you need an algae cleaner, get a snail or a few shrimp, and make sure you aren’t overfeeding. Can I plug nerites some more? Plug, plug. Some of them come in patterns and colors!
Q: Can I keep two bettas together?
A: NO. The only way a fish keeper of any experience level can safely keep bettas together is in a sorority, which involves a huge tank and 5+ female bettas. This is only to be attempted by experienced keepers–who, for one thing, know the difference between a male betta with short fins and a female.
…Well, okay, I will admit one other loophole. If you have a 250g tank or larger and tons of cover, you may be able to keep two bettas in that tank. They’ll divide up the territory safely. (Well, safely-ish.) So if you’re a millionaire and you want bragging rights, get a behemoth tank with lots of surface space and cover, and you might be able to pull it off without your fish fighting to the death.
Q: Do I reeeeeeeeaaaallly need water conditioner? My tank is cycled and I let the water sit out for a few days.
A: Yes, you do need water conditioner. Leaving the water to sit out will remove some of the chlorine, but not chloramine, ammonia, or heavy metals. A cycled tank will remove ammonia and nitrites, but nothing else. You’re still leaving toxic substances in with your fish!
Q: I tested my water and the ammonia was (a number unsafe for fish)! I’m really concerned. How do I keep the water safe for my fish?
A: There are three methods for keeping ammonia levels safe for your fish: cycling, using plants, or doing very frequent water changes in order to keep up with it.
Q: What’s cycling?
A: Cycling is where you grow a certain kind of bacteria which will eat ammonia and convert it to nitrites (which are slightly less toxic than ammonia to fish), and another kind of bacteria that will eat nitrites and convert them to nitrates (not very toxic to fish–although shrimp may be picky). The process of growing this bacteria is fairly simple, but it can take patience.
There are two ways to cycle a tank: fish-in or fishless. To grow beneficial bacteria, you need a source of ammonia. That has to come from either fish, or from another source (like fish food or straight chemical ammonia).
Q: I heard you shouldn’t do a fish-in cycle. But I researched after I got my fish! Now I have a fish and an uncycled tank! Should I just leave my fish in his cup until the tank cycles?
A: No. If you have a fish and don’t have a cycled tank to put him in, do a fish-in cycle. Remember, his cup isn’t cycled, either. Is it better to put your fish in an uncycled 5g tank, or an uncycled cup (or .5 gallon vase)? Pretty easy question when you think about it.
Q: How do you use plants to make the ammonia safe?
A: Plants will do the same job as beneficial bacteria, and they’ll start doing it immediately. They also provide cover for your fish. But if they aren’t cared for properly, they will die and only add more ammonia to your tank.
Floating plants take all their food from the water column–and what they feed on happens to be the same things that are toxic to your fish. Since they’re so effective at cleaning your water, make sure you invest in some floating plants. Frogbit, duckweed, water sprite and dwarf water lettuce are pretty easy to come by. It doesn’t matter too much which you pick. Just go with what you like. Floating plants can also be some of the easiest to keep.
Q: How do I care for plants?
Java ferns, anubias, and java moss are the three basic plants that require virtually no care. Java ferns and anubias will also reproduce with little help from you, adding to the cleanliness of your tank.
Those species on their own won’t be enough to keep the water safe, however. If you intend to rely on plants to keep your tank clean, you will either need to a) look into dirt-bottomed tanks (i.e., Natural Planted Tanks or NPTs) and buy liquid fertilizer, or b) buy liquid fertilizer and buy or make some root tabs. Some plants feed from the water column, and some feed from their roots (that is, the substrate, or your root tabs.)
Always research your plants before you buy them. Some of those plants sold in tubes aren’t fully aquatic, and need their leaves in the air. Some plants require CO2 injection (a system which can be either bought or made at home) or have greater or lesser light requirements.
Q: How many plants do I need?
Depends on your tank size (well, really, on your water change schedule, which is determined by size) and what you have in it. The bigger the tank and the more inhabitants it has, the more plants you need. If you’re using this method, you should plant heavily. That means that when you look at the tank from above, half of the substrate is covered by plants.
Q: Where’s the best place to buy plants?
A: Usually? Online. They’re cheaper and there’s a much wider selection. Bettafish.com forum members often have the best prices and sometimes have rarer plants. There are also reliable online stores such as Planted Aquariums Central.
Q: Do I need a filter with plants?
A: No. Especially not one that disturbs the surface too much. You need those floating plants.
Q: How do you keep the tank safe by doing water changes?
A: Oldfishlady has already done a very detailed post on this.
Q: I have a 2.5 gallon tank. What method should I use?
A: It’s entirely doable to simply rely on a water change schedule. However, in that size of a tank I would rather use plants. It’s fairly inexpensive to plant such a small tank heavily, and by doing so, you don’t need to worry so much about the water parameters if you have to leave the tank for a week.
Q: I have a 10+ gallon tank. What method should I use?
A: Cycle it. You could plant it if you had the money and patience, but it’s most convenient to cycle that big of a tank.
Q: I have a 1 gallon tank/fish bowl. What method should I use?
A: Water changes–but please! As soon as possible, buy a tank, or at least a bigger fish bowl. 2 gallon fish bowls are out there. Or just get a big Kritter Keeper if you’re short on cash.
Q: My ammonia level is always 0 ppm now! Do I still need water conditioner?
A: Yes. Yes, you do. 😉
A word of forewarning: If you think your betta is sick, seek help in the Diseases and Emergencies section. Until you gain experience, don’t diagnose your fish on your own. Even experienced keepers will ask for a second opinion.
Q: My betta is missing chunks from his tail (or fins)! What’s wrong?
A: It could be one of three things. Either he’s ripped his tail on something sharp, he’s bitten it out of stress or boredom, or he has fin rot (most likely from poor water quality).
Q: How do I tell?
A: Rips tend to make a V shape into the tail. If he’s biting, it’ll look like a U cut into his tail. If he has fin rot, it may be steadily receding all at once… it may have a dark edge… it may look like his tail was made of newspaper and someone took a lighter to it.
Q: Oh no! My fish has a black edging on his tail that wasn’t there when I got him! Does that mean he has finrot?
A: Maybe, but probably not if it wasn’t already there. If you’ve been doing things right, then if there was a time for him to get finrot, it was in that ammonia sludge in his cup. More likely, it’s just a black “trim” to his fins–a natural coloring. Most fish become more colorful when put into proper conditions. A cup is definitely NOT proper conditions. Still, watch him over the next few days to check for any damage to his fins. Just in case.
Q: What should I do for finrot?
A: Add 1 tsp/gallon of aquarium salt (sodium chloride). 100% sea salt is roughly the same thing if you don’t have aquarium salt. Never use salt that contains iodine. Salt doesn’t evaporate, so only add more if you do a water change, and only replace as much as you need for the new water. Always dissolve the salt before adding–it can burn your fish otherwise. Only treat with aquarium salt for 10 days maximum.
Q: My betta’s fins look like melted plastic, and they’re stiff!
A: That sounds like finmelt. It’s very aggressive, and needs to be hit ASAP with proper medication. Ask around for the best current medication available. Aquarium salt will help until you can get medicine.
Q: My betta is having trouble swimming. He stays mostly at the top (or at the bottom).
A: Probably Swim Bladder Disease (SBD). But ask for a second opinion. SBD can be caused by bloating (i.e., you’re feeding too much) or mishandling… Epsom salts will help. Ask on the forum about the dosage for your particular case.
Q: Where do I find Epsom salts?
A: Most grocery stores carry them in the drug section. Humans add Epsom salts to baths to relieve sore muscles. Make sure the stuff you get doesn’t have perfumes or anything extra in it.
Q: I just have aquarium salt. Can I use that to help my fish with his SBD?
A: No, they aren’t the same thing. AQ salt is sodium chloride; Epsoms are magnesium sulfate. They are used for different purposes.
Q: I bought a new fish and his gills look kind of red and sickly. He doesn’t look so good.
A: He probably has ammonia poisoning. Keep as much of his cup water out of your tank as possible to avoid polluting his new environment, and just let him sit for a few days in warm, clean water. Offer food, but remove it if he doesn’t bite. In a few days, he’ll be good as new.
Q: I bought this really unhappy looking betta. He is gray and has stripes and was at the back of the shelf… is something wrong with him?
A: He is stressed. In warm, clean water, and with good food, he will turn as bright as his brothers and lose those “stress stripes.” However, since he’s been badly stressed before, he may be easily stressed in the future. Good job for taking him in!
Q: My betta has fluffy white stuff on him! What’s that?
Q: My betta is darting against all the stuff in his aquarium! Why?
Q: My betta looks like a 3 year old girl attacked him with gold glitter!
Q: This betta’s scales are all raised up and he looks like a pinecone! What’s wrong with him?
Q: He’s got this weird thing on his fins!
Q: The poor fish has this odd sore!
Q: What’s this lump?
A: Hold on! There are actually quite a few problems that you might run into once or twice (or more often if you get your fish from Walmart or Meijer’s). Covering them all here would make this a very long guide! Direct your questions to the Diseases and Emergencies section, where some knowledgeable members should be along soon to help you find out what’s wrong.
KINDS OF BETTAS
See this post for tail types and colors.
Not all abbreviations are here. A big thanks to the people in this thread (http://www.bettafish.com/showthread.php?t=418834).
DeT: delta tail
EE: elephant ear/”dumbo” (opaque pectoral fins)
MG: mustard gas (a type of coloration)
I’m sure I’m missing some fish descriptions, but they’re probably listed in the Tail Types And Colors thread.
Sometimes you see combinations to describe fish, written like a code. Sometimes they get so long that you could play Boggle with them.
OHMEEMGDSPK: Over-halfmoon elephant ear mustard gas dragonscale plakat (this is a thing that honestly could exist. I think we have too much free time.)
MTS: Malaysian trumpet snail. Also refers to Multiple Tank Syndrome, a compulsion affecting many forum members. (It is incurable and highly contagious.)
NPT: Natural planted tank. The closest you can get to an ecosystem in a glass box. Not quite there, though.
LFS: Local fish store. Generally refers to independent stores or smaller chains, rather than big-box names like Petsmart or Petco. Often these take better-than-average care of their fish.
LPS: Local pet store. Similar to LFS.
SBD: Swim Bladder Disease
BB: Beneficial bacteria (see: cycling)
PPM: parts per million
IAL: Indian Almond Leaves (a beneficial additive to tanks, these are bought online)
CO2: Carbon dioxide
HOB: Hang On Back (a variety of filter)
OO: Omega One (the pellets)
NLS: New Life Spectrum (also pellets)
BBS: Baby brine shrimp (used as food)
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