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Siamese Fighting Fish

(Betta Splendens)

By Molly Kalafut

History & Biology

Bettas are from South East Asia, primarily Thailand, Malay Peninsula and Cambodia. They live in the shallow rice paddies. There are at least 46 known species, and they have been bred in the United States for at least 140 years.

They have an organ in their forehead called the "labyrinth" that is used to breathe oxygen from the air. It is located halfway between gills and lungs. They are small tropical freshwater fish (known as anabantoid) that range in length between 2.5" to 3". Female has a small white dot (ovipositor) just past the gills on the underside. Males have larger, flashier fins.

Their lifespan is typically 2-3 years in captivity, but they may grow as old as seven. At least one betta reportedly lived to the age of 9.

Tank Environment

These fish should not be placed in direct sunlight or heat-generating appliances. They need a tank size of at least one quart (one liter) of water. Bettas are territorial - the more water they have, the more stressed they are about protecting it. They need a temperature of between 70-84 degrees without major fluctuations (+/- 2 degrees per 24 hours). For water, use common sense and change the water when it looks dirty. The new water should sit for at least 24 hours to be the same temperature as the old water. The most desirable pH level is between 6.8 and 7.4.


The best food to feed includes brine shrimp (frozen or fresh), blood worms (freeze-dried), krill, tropical fish flake food and turbifex worms. Bloodworms are 50% protein and primarily fed to young fish or occasionally as treats. Feed as much as they can eat in three minutes, once or twice per day. Bettas occasionally spit out food they don't like or aren't used to yet. They often need a few days to get used to new foods.


Males produce bubble nests, usually under floating plants and often the corners of tanks. After a female drops eggs, the male picks them up and puts them in the nest. They typically only make bubble nests when they feel safe and protected, so seeing a bubble nest is usually a good sign that their conditions are working for them.

For compatibility with other types of fish, bettas are picky about companions and generally irritated by other fish. It is recommended that other fish in the tank be tropical, not aggressive, and around the same size as the betta. They're typically not compatible with gouramis (the two are related), or fish with large fins like angelfish or guppies.

Fighting is often a concern, particularly considering their name is "fighting fish". Males are most prone to fighting each other. Male and female bettas can be kept together as long as there is more than one female. Many online accounts of bettas claim the males fight to the death, but from my personal experience and many book accounts more fights end when one swims away or backs off. Perhaps they do fight to the death - but I've never seen it. An interesting note about fights is that they take 'air breaks'. A betta will not attack another while they are breathing.


Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and beyond! By Molly Kalafut