Misconceptions and Myths about Fighting Fish
Although many people think fish are a suitable pet for a child due to how little space they take up, which might seem perfect if they can’t have a dog or other fluffy animal, they can get quite a shock if they actually research the needs of a fish. And, if they don’t do any research at all they can end up with a lot of dead fish in a short time without knowing why, or worse, think that the fish just aren't supposed to live that long. In actual fact keeping fish requires a lot of knowledge and forethought - at least more than dogs, as you don’t need to carefully monitor and adjust the air that dog’s breathe. Despite this, it can be a very rewarding hobby.
A particular interest of mine is Betta Splendens, commonly known as “Fighting Fish”. These beautiful fish come in a multitude of colours, sizes, patterns, and fin shapes. People breed them for shows and to create new lines of fish. For a first-time fish buyer, though, it can be hard to know what these lovely little fish need, as there are many common misconceptions when it comes to keeping a Betta.
“Bettas can live in jars, cups and tiny tanks”
At the local pet shops you will often see dull looking Bettas in tiny cups or tanks, and even professional breeders will put them in jars. But this is because they are looking to maximise the number of Bettas they can hold in the space they have, and they can account for the losses they will probably suffer. Giving the fish the space they really need would not make be financially feasible, and in theory, Bettas have a high turnover rate so they shouldn't be in such small containers for too long.
The real issue arises when the local fish shop tells you that it’s okay to keep them in that container, or a similarly small one. They are looking to sell product, after all, and a lot of first time fish owners, given the option, would avoid spending money on an expensive tank that takes up a lot of space.
“But wait, of course they can live in a cup, they live in shallow rice paddies and tiny puddles!”
Yes, just like a dog can technically live in a pet carry cage. Of course, it’s going to cause some serious long-term health problems. Wild Bettas don’t choose to end up in a tiny puddle, and if they do they often jump to find another, or die if it dries up.
Shallow rice paddies, on the other hand, are often vast interconnected systems. Shallow water actually allows easier oxygen absorption, due to higher surface area contact with air. Such shallows are also actual functioning ecosystems with replenishing resources and water renewal, rather than a tiny jar that will build up ammonia and other pollutants until you change the water.
Bettas are simply much happier and healthier the more space they have. You can see this in their appearance and their behaviour!
“Bettas are aggressive and can’t be kept with anything else”
Male Bettas are very territorial, it’s true. Some people have kept male Bettas together in the same tank, with a large enough set-up for the fish to have their own space, and well planted with lots of places for them to hide if they need to. However there is always a chance of them fighting and hurting each other severely, so personally I wouldn’t recommend it.
However, female Bettas are less aggressive, and with the right set up (again large, heavily planted, and with lots of places to hide) they can get along just fine. It’s called a sorority: there is fighting initially, but the fish work out a hierarchy.
Males can also be kept with snails, shrimp, and non-colourful fish such as Corydoras or Bristlenose catfish. Just don’t keep them with brightly coloured fish like guppies! In saying this, no matter the circumstances you do need to monitor your fish closely as Bettas have individual personalities - some will kill shrimp for fun, and generally just be angry, while others are very peaceful and more comfortable sharing space.
“Bettas don’t need heaters”
This one depends on how likely the temperature is to fluctuate in your tank. Breeders and hobbyists who have entire rooms dedicated to keeping fish may not need heaters in individual tanks as the room might generally remain at the same temperature, or be regulated. But for the general enthusiast, it’s better to have a heater. The smaller the tank is the easier it is for the temperature to fluctuate, and that can stress the fish out or even kill it. So, for me, a heater is a must. Where I live it can snow, getting down below zero on one day, and within a month suddenly be incredibly hot and humid. It makes sense to insulate the tank against that sort of weather.
“You should feed Bettas as much as they eat in 3 minutes”
I found that my Bettas are absolute pigs, and over feeding is a great way to make them sick. But they don’t seem to care - they would eat till they pop. You should keep in mind that their stomach is about the size of a pea, so if you are feeding them pellets, about three medium sized ones should be enough. If you’re feeding them live foods such as blood worms, two or three will suffice. Two small feeds, one in the morning and one at night, is suggested.
Bettas are beautiful fish to look at, with unique personalities and quirks. No one should buy one with the idea that they don't need to be looked after, or that they’re suitable for a child with no experience looking after pets. However, with only a little forethought and the right level of attention, Bettas can live long lives and be loved pets for the whole family.