Most people, at one time or another, have walked into a pet store to be greeted by a shelf full of colorful fish in tiny plastic cups. Betta splendens, more commonly known as Bettas or Siamese Fighting Fish, are a common sight in pet stores across the country. Unsuspecting buyers are often attracted by the fish's bright colors, and affordable prices. But just like any other pet, it's important to do your research and learn the care needs of these beautiful fish before you bring one home. Bettas are probably the most recognized fish in the pet hobby, but are also the most commonly misunderstood.
It's a common misconception that Bettas are happy to live out their lives in tiny flower vases or plastic cups. The shallow rice paddies where wild Bettas reside can contain hundreds of gallons of water. Hardly the muddy puddles that come to mind when most people think of the fish's natural habitat. Betta fish have a labyrinth organ that acts like a lung and allows them to breathe atmospheric oxygen, allowing them to survive in low oxygenated water. Because of this, they can survive in small tanks in captivity, but that doesn't mean that a small bowl or vase is optimal housing for them. Most fish keepers recommend that a single Betta be kept in at least 2.5 gallons of water, with 5 or even 10 gallons per fish being even better.
Another thing often over looked by new owners, is that Siamese Fighting Fish are a tropical species. Their ideal water temperature is between 75*F - 80*F. To reach these higher temperatures, especially in the cool winter months, many tanks will require a heater. Other than water temperature, other water parameters such as pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels should also be taken into consideration. Before bringing a new fish home, make sure you understand how to cycle an aquarium, and be prepared to do frequent water tests and changes.
There are a number of different brands of foods sold exclusively for Siamese Fighting Fish, but these foods should not be fed exclusively. Like many other animals, Betta fish benefit from a varied diet. Bettas are carnivores and in the wild they eat things like small insects, zoo-plankton, and insect larvae. In captivity, they will thrive on a varied diet supplemented with frozen foods or even live foods such as brine shrimp. Always remember not to over feed your fish. They should only be fed what they can eat in 2 minutes. Obesity in fish is just as much of a health concern as it is in other animals!
Fish may be smaller, less interactive pets, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve the same kind of care and consideration that would be invested into any other type of pet. Siamese fighting fish, if cared for properly, can live for up to 5 years, and can even sometimes learn to recognize their owners. If you choose to bring any new animal into your home, you owe it to them to provide them with the best life possible. Do this for your Betta fish, and you will be rewarded with a beautiful, healthy, happy pet.