Keeping Several Fighting Fish Together | A Female Fighting Fish Sorority

My gorgeous girls...
My gorgeous girls...

Most owners of Siamese Fighting Fish, aka Betta Splendens, keep male fish. Males are brighter, have more impressive finnage and can be picked up in a shamefully small death trap in almost any pet store in America. (If PETA would stop dressing women up in vegetable leaves for five seconds and do something about this, then they might not be an utter waste of time.)

The females are usually overlooked, except in the case of people who want to breed their fish. Female fighting fish are often said to be dull and boring, only worth having around so you can occasionally breed from a prized male.

My experience with female fighting fish is quite different. From what I have observed, whilst the male is busy patrolling his territory, flaring at the occasional speck of dust that looks at him funny and blowing bubble nests for imaginary fry, the females busy themselves in exploring the outer world. In fact, whilst the male couldn't be less interested in what's going on outside his tank, aside from when food is dropped in the top, the females will follow people and animals about the room, swimming about the tank in order to get as close as possible and see what is going on. They are also far from dull and boring. Females come in all the colors that males do, they simply lack the finnage. My own females range from purple, to red to turquoise and bright blue, oftentimes several of these colors at once.

In the sorority tank there are several sisters all from the same spawn. This has kept aggression down considerably. When it comes to the Betta sorority tank, one needs to watch out for aggression as it is not uncommon for females to fight, and it is also not at all uncommon for pet stores to mis-identify plakat (short finned) males for females. Bumping and a bit of chasing is normal, even to be expected, biting fins off is not, and any fish that aggressive should be quarantined.

In order to keep aggression to a minimum, it is pretty much essential to have no fewer than four females together. Having several fish ensures that no one fish is singled out for bullying. Ideally, five or six females in a ten gallon tank, or ten to twelve females in a twenty gallon represents a slight amount of overstocking which will reduce aggression.

Keep in mind, if you do overstock this way then you need to make use of filtration. It's nonsense that bettas don't like filtration, though some males with large fins will find currents hard to deal with, females will generally tolerate some current, as long as there are quiet spots in the tank.

It is also essential that your tank contains plenty of places for fish to hide. Females can be territorial, and having little nooks and crannies gives them something to be territorial about without terrorizing the entire tank. These places will also allow fish to escape when the rough and tumble gets too much.

A fighting fish sorority can be quite charming as long as it is properly managed in terms of filtration and in terms of monitoring aggression. Keep an eye on your girls and if anyone starts serious fights, separate them out. Be aware that this will cause a power vacuum in the tank and that fish will start fighting all over again to establish a new top fish. For this reason, if you have a bossy fish that keeps the others in line but does not seriously harm them or stress them out through constant chasing, it is probably better to simply keep her in the tank.

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dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

My brother and his friends use to hold fish fighting competitions all of the time. These guys really are vicious to one another. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by them while watching these competitions in the comfort of my brother's bedroom until my father put an end to it. I really enjoyed learning about their behavior from you, Hope. Thanks.

Hope Alexander profile image

Hope Alexander 7 years ago Author

Yeah, actually fighting male fighting fish is an incredibly douchey sort of thing to do, much like pulling the wings off flies. Then again, little kids generally are jerks. I'm glad your father had a conscience :)

Tomgeekery profile image

Tomgeekery 7 years ago

Just a comment that from my understanding it's not the size of the tanks that is shameful. Siamese fighting fish naturally live in very small amounts of water. The issue is more that they need very warm water and that isn't normally provided in the kind of tanks provided at the pet shop.

Hope Alexander profile image

Hope Alexander 7 years ago Author

No, they naturally live in rice paddies, where they can swim for quite a distance. The only thing that is true about that myth is that the rice paddies are somewhat shallow.

Pet stores spin that line to make it seem as if it is okay to keep a living animal in a container that small. No-one with any experience or expertise recommends such practices.

The girls have a 20 gallon to themselves, my male has a 5 gallon. 2 gallons is the absolute smallest you should ever keep a betta in, and even then, honestly, you're kind of pushing it.

Here's just one source to support that, there are many more:

Tomgeekery profile image

Tomgeekery 7 years ago

Well, I'm happy to be corrected. Apparently I had fallen for the spin at the expense of my own logic. Part of that is the image I have of rice paddies frequently being a series of small puddles. So for the fish to survive there they at least need to be able to survive for periods of time in very small amounts of water too. I'm sure the periods of flooding are also critical for them.

Hope Alexander profile image

Hope Alexander 7 years ago Author

Well, they no doubt can survive in small amounts of water, but even rice paddy puddles tend to have more water than those silly little jars pet stores put fighting fish in.

The reason why fighting fish survive those conditions is because they are anabantoids, meaning they breathe from the surface of the water. They're also great jumpers, and can jump from one puddle to another to seek more water.

So yes, they can survive, but they can survive in the same way we could survive in a 4 by 4 cell with food delivered daily and someone coming to clean your wastes once or twice a week. It's doable, but it is intensely miserable and all sorts of health problems ensue.

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