Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta Splendens) Care
Every year in the United States, thousands of Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta Splendens or more commonly just called "fighting fish") are sold in pet stores, by breeders, and even sometimes in chain stores like Wal*Mart. Thousands of these fish are produced each year by mass production breeding facilities. Sadly, many of them don't survive to reach adulthood. The ones that do, if they survive being transported, are often sold in stores across the country in small cups of water where they barely have room to swim around. They are truly beautiful fish that are usually relatively inexpensive, and because of this are often subject to being bought by impulse buyers who often times do not know how to properly care for their colorful new pet.
If you are attracted to the possibility of owning one of these colorful fish, it's important that you first research how to properly care for them. Betta's are just about the most easily recognized fish in the pet hobby, but even so they are commonly misunderstood. There are a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding these fish that can lead inexperienced first time buyers to overlook how Betta's should be cared for.
Probably the most common misconception is that Betta fish are happy to live out their entire lives in tiny containers such as flower vases or plastic cups. Fighting fish in the wild live in rice paddies that can contain hundreds of gallons of water. A far cry from the muddy puddles that most people describe when asked about the fish's natural habitat. These fish have a special organ called the labyrinth organ, which allows them to be able to breathe atmospheric oxygen. Because of this, they are able to survive in low oxygenated waters that other types of fish wouldn't be able to survive in. However, just because they can survive in small amounts of water doesn't mean that they will thrive in it. Most experienced fish keeps recommend that a single fighting fish be kept in a tank that contains at least 2.5 gallons of water, with 5 or even 10 gallons per fish being even better. Think about it this way - if provided with food and water, a human could survive in a small closet. That doesn't mean they'd be happy or comfortable doing so.
Another thing commonly over looked about these fish is that they are a tropical species. They are most comfortable in water temperatures between 75*F - 80*F. For most people, maintaining this water temperature in a tank will require a tank heater. Other water parameters such as ammonia, pH, nitrate, and nitrite levels should also be monitored. As with any other aquatic pet, it's important to understand how to properly cycle and maintain an aquarium.
Most people when feeding Bettas will throw in a couple of pellets a day and that's that. However, commercial brands of food should not be fed exclusively. Bettas greatly benefit from a varied diet. They are carnivores in the wild, and are known to eat things such as insect larvae, small insects, and zoo plankton. In captivity, you can supplement a commercial pelleted diet with frozen or live foods such as readily available brine shrimp. Be careful not to overfed your fish. Bettas should be fed the amount of food that they can consume in about 2 minutes. Over feeding your fish can lead to obesity and health problems.
If at all possibly, try to resist purchasing your new fish from a pet or chain store. Try to find a small scale hobby breeder in your area. After all, you wouldn't want to buy a puppy from a puppy mill, so why would you want to buy a fish from a mass production breeding mill? Fish from smaller scale breeders will often times be healthier than pet store fish. Their breeders should be able to tell you their genetic history and assure their health. Fish from breeders will often times live longer as well, if for no other reason than because they are usually younger when you purchase them. Pet store Bettas are normally already between 6 months and a year old when they are sold. Normally fish purchased from breeders are much healthier than pet store fish because their care has been more ideal.
Betta fish may be inexpensive, small, less interactive pets, but they still deserve the same kind of care and consideration that would be put into any other type of pet. Betta fish, if cared for properly, can live up to 5 years. Some of them even learn to recognize their owners. If you choose to bring a Betta fish into your home, you owe it to them to provide them with the best life possible. Properly care for your Betta fish, and you will be rewarded with a healthy, happy, beautiful pet.