Ask the WWM Crew
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Would you like to live your life in a closet? Mmm, would be easy to keep organized... but a bit cramped. And what about "going to the bathroom?" Yikes... not a pleasant scenario. Well, though the ever-popular Betta can live in such small quarters, being permanently encamped in tiny volumes of water, with vacillating temperature, water quality, accumulating wastes is no picnic for them either. Here's my input on offering your Betta splendens a long, quality life through provision of a decent habitat.
Bigger is better... large/r volumes of water change much more slowly than small/er... Little bowls vary way too much diurnally in terms of temperature... a shift of 3 degrees F. in a day is not a big deal... more than 5 is too stressful. If you're going to keep your Betta/s in small bowls, tanks without purposeful heaters, do consider where these are placed... NOT near doorways, windows outside walls. If you have no heater, but do have a warming light source, it is likely better to have this light on during the cool night period rather than day.
Dilution is the solution to pollution... or some such saying. Having a bigger volume of water allows for more even gaseous diffusion... oxygen availability, dispersion of carbon dioxide, as well as a diluting effect on the accumulation of wastes. Remember, all the food you place in the system has to "go" somewhere... if you have no filtration, circulation... it pretty much will stay there... in the container, till you change the water.
As regards thermal variance, of course a thermometer is all-important in gaining insight. Betta's are tropical fish... they live in warm water... the mid 70's to mid 80's are ideal... anything below 70 F. is trouble... and chilling, being in cold water will result in loss of appetite, vigor, stress... and possible death directly.
Of course, the ideal set-up includes a thermostatic heater adjusted to keep your fish's water in the tropical temperature zone. Small units exist, keep in mind you want five or so watts per gallon of system is about tops. Larger wattages can easily over-boost your temperature in a short time span.
About Water Quality:
Actual water chemistry is a minor matter with Bettas that are otherwise healthy. They easily tolerate a wide range of pH (6-8), hardness... alkalinity. Most all "conditioned" tap/source waters are fine for them. The conditioning refers to either letting new water set out for a week ahead of use, or the use of "dechloraminators" for removing sanitizer. Some of these "treatment chemicals" have other compounds added for other benefit, but you can use "just tapwater" if you can devote a container to set out and save new water for several days. Bottled water, whether "Spring", "Drinking", or even distilled are not necessary, are actually worse than tapwater that has had its sanitizer purposely removed/neutralized or allowed to dissipate by waiting.
A common problem with Bettas, as with all captive aquatic life is a sort of "bottlenecking" of chemical reactions that require the presence of aerobic microbes to cycle their waste... basically, an accumulation of ammonia that unless it is converted readily to nitrite and thence to nitrate can damage, actually kill your livestock. These invisible nitrifiers can be purchased "in a bottle" or brought into your system via live plants, "used" gravel or filter media... or nitrogenous wastes can be diluted by often changing out large portions of the water. However it is done, it is necessary to not exceed a practical limit (about 1.0 ppm) of ammonia or nitrite with most fishes and invertebrates. In practice, most folks do fine with just not being "too clean" in rinsing out existing equipment and filters... preserving a good part of their biological filtration.
Some petfish writers advocate the continual use of "aquarium salt" with Betta keeping. I prefer to only add more (there is some salt in all source water) if your fish appear lethargic, on the verge of some sort of disease.
Practically speaking, doing water changes, filter cleaning on a regular (weekly) basis, with water of about the same temperature, ensures that these beneficial microbes will be sustained, along with the health of your aquatic livestock.
Filtering water is all about removing undesirable parts, and possibly adding others you want. Solid and liquid wastes, excess food are amongst the first category. These can be removed and processed through an air or water-pump driven filter, allowed to settle, mix in the water or a combination thereof. This last involves the use of a substrate, like a gravel or sponge material for harboring the beneficial microbes we've been talking about. Smooth, shiny materials like marbles or glass are not nearly as useful as natural gravel for providing surface area and possibly chemical buffering capacity here.
For ease of maintenance, quietness, there are no matches for small internal/submersible or hang-on filters. A good practice with using these is to have two sets of filter "pads" or sponges, switching out the older for new, and rinsing the just-removed one for drying, use next week.
As mentioned, the establishment of biological filtration is extremely important... along with chilling, nitrogenous waste poisoning is likely the two top causes of premature Betta death. If you can't or didn't start with "conditioned" gravel or filter media, don't have a bacterial prep. like Bio Spira, do monitor your water quality for ammonia and nitrite and be ready to do daily changes till both ammonia AND nitrites are below 1.0 ppm, and then every other day ones till the system cycles.
About Live Plants:
Having just some live true aquatic plant material present does a myriad of good in Betta systems... adding oxygen, habitat, giving space for beneficial micro-life. I suggest adding a bit of living "grass"... Anacharis/Elodea/Egeria, Myriophyllum/Parrotfeather, Ceratophyllum/Coontail... among many other possibilities. A sprig or two will really help to use up algae-feeding nutrient, light... and make the system overall better. Be aware and leery of "terrestrial/house plants" that are sold as aquatics... they will not live for long submersed... the simple "grasses" listed will do fine.
About Faux Plants, Decor:
Plastic and "silk" plants are better than none at all... they help foster useful microbe populations as well as "break up" the environment. Do steer clear of fake plants made for non-aquarium use (with metal supports) and any sharp or chalky items like shells or coral skeletons.
Male Bettas are fine to keep with other tropical aquatic livestock... as long as these are not other Bettas, too mean, too fast, or possibly too slow for company. Platies, guppies (though some long finned males may be subject to chasing, nipping), small barbs (cherries, golds, checkerboards), small Danios, rasboras, Whiteclouds, delightful Corydoras catfishes... even large snails like Ramshorns and Mysteries, peaceful shrimp like Glass, Ghost, Grass... are excellent examples of suitable tankmates for small systems. For bigger tanks, let's say ten gallons or more, the universe of possibilities expands exponentially.
Do They Need A Light? Who?:
Betta's themselves don't require lighting, though you may want to have one for your viewing or if you have live plants. If you do have a light, it's best to not leave it on randomly, but to utilize a plug-in timer, keeping a regular light-dark cycle of no more than twelve hours "on" per day.
About Covers and Jumping:
Though they look like they couldn't possibly launch themselves out of the water Bettas indeed do end up out of their systems if the water level is not left down a few inches or the tank/bowl covered. Something over most of the top of their system is also a good idea for discounting drafts... they're aerial respirators and cold air gulping is not good for them... as well as reducing the amount of dust et al. that collects on the waters surface, heat and water loss through evaporation, keeping little hands and paws out...
Whatever size system, gallon bowl to aquarium, regular (weekly is best...) upkeep is mandatory... with water changes (about all if a tiny volume) or gravel vacuuming and replacement of water... Again, best to do this all on a regular basis to prevent too much swing in water conditions. If the water does not have added salt, you may want to incorporate using it to water your houseplants or garden as part of your routine.
Yes, Bettas can live in pitiful, small, polluted bits of water... but, will they be healthy, happy? No... Betta splendens is a tropical fish, and a gorgeous one that deserves an appropriate home, not a vase or a tiny bowl. Either commit to changing out the water in its gallon plus container weekly, keeping it in a steady warm setting, or better, place yours in a real "tropical aquarium" set-up... with a heater, filter, decor... and possibly tankmates for you and its enjoyment and interaction.
Do gain internet access and place the common and scientific name for the Betta in the search engine. There are many sites, clubs, national and international, dedicated to this species:
The International Betta Congress: http://ibcbettas.org/
Tim Hovanec's input: http://www.marineland.com/drtims_articles.asp
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Bender, Nat. 1992. Healthy fish mean Betta sales in your store. Pet Dealer 12/92.
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Falcione, Peter. 1990. Setting up a Betta corner. 1/90.
Maurus, Walt. 1978. Bettas, a truly splendid fish. FAMA 1/78.
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Saunders, Steve. 1988. The Betta revealed. Bettas come in a rainbow of colors, are easy to care for and require very little space. AFM 12/88.