Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Northern Virginia
How did I miss this thread for so long? I have waited for this.
All I can say is: Finally. I think it's time to understand that while some things are debatable based on anecdotal evidence, there are certain things that must be acknowledged by the entire community as bare minimum standards. "Everyone has their own way of doing things" is not an acceptable argument for keeping a fish in subpar conditions. There are some acceptable ways of keeping bettas that are simply impractical for the average owner, for instance. General guidelines will make it less confusing for new people and improve the lives of many bettas. Some of this confusion has lead to the many illnesses I see being reported every day on this forum--some that could have been avoided with proper care. I don't understand why people would be reluctant to set care standards when there are obviously acceptable ways of keeping bettas and unacceptable ways.
Honestly, I could go on for pages and pages--but below I will discuss the most immediate concerns I have, assuming the reader is new to fish keeping and betta keeping.
First we must acknowledge betta behavior and provide people with an obvious, but crucial disclaimer:
Male bettas should under no circumstances be allowed to share the same space as other male bettas. The size of the container, the personality of the male, the density of the decorations do not matter. There is nothing that makes the cohabitation of males acceptable permanently or temporarily.
Male bettas and female bettas should never be allowed to share the same space with each other unless they have been properly conditioned for the purpose of breeding. After breeding has occurred, the female must be removed immediately. Even if all the precautions are followed during the breeding process, both males and females often end up seriously injured or killed during breeding. Breeding is only for the most experienced and expert of betta keepers.
In some situations, females can cohabitate with one another, but only under very strict and specific conditions that should be researched thoroughly. Keeping females together in a "sorority" is only recommended for experienced betta keepers with tanks at least 10 gallons or larger.
Bettas present a unique behavioral challenge due to their violent past. For the last 700 years or more, bettas have been selectively bred to kill each other with the highest efficiency. This fighting instinct is still very present in the showy colorful and fancy-finned bettas of today. Domesticated bettas are extremely species aggressive due to human influence, and can be aggressive to any other tank mates placed with them. Because of this, being in sight of other bettas, and even the association with more peaceful tankmates can be very stressful to a betta--the keeper must use caution and common sense while acknowledging the peculiarities of betta behavior. Moreso than most varieties of fish, each betta is an individual, and one must have a backup plan when considering keeping a betta with other tank mates. In many cases--the betta will be happiest by his or herself.
This may seem obvious to many members, but lately there have been multiple threads in which people have unsafely experimented with keeping bettas together in very dangerous and improper ways.
Bettas are very easy to care for, their list of needs is short and simple: good water quality, adequate heat, proper feeding and a diverse diet, space to exercise and express natural behavior, and environmental enrichment.
How these needs are fulfilled in many ways depend on how you choose to house your betta. Many people feel tempted by the tiny (under 2 gallons) tanks and bowls they see near the betta section--their size, funky designs, and low price tags make these tanks very alluring. They think "This is what I can afford now, and it has a picture of a happy fish on it, it'll be ok." however, these tanks are unsuitable for a variety of reasons.
1. Water Quality
In tiny tanks, water quality quickly becomes an issue. The new fishkeeper should understand that unlike people and other animals, fish excrete waste differently. They poop, but they also constantly excrete ammonia through their gills constantly. In nature, beneficial bacteria break down this ammonia into much less toxic compounds and the rest is consumed by plants or diluted by run-off and rain. In a closed system where none of these elements are present, the ammonia simply builds up and causes the fish to die a slow, painful death.
The only way to get rid of ammonia in these tanks is by regular 100% water changes. A 2 Gallon tank must be changed every 3-4 days, a 1 gallon tank must be changed every 2-3 days, and tanks under a gallon must be changed every day. For the average person, changing and cleaning a tank every day, or even every other day is a lot of work--it can be unpractical for many lifestyles. Also, consider that we are all human, and we are all imperfect, and are much more likely to make a mistake or forget with such a small margin of error; at the fish's expense.
Bettas are tropical fish and their entire metabolism is dependent upon warm, stable temperatures for them to be comfortable, healthy, and active. Because of this, heaters are not optional. Even if your house is warm all year round, you always run the risk of a cold spell or very cool night temperatures seriously compromising your betta's health. Quality heaters with adjustable thermostats are typically designed for tanks with a minimum size of 2 gallons. For this reason, 2 gallons is the minimum size for permanently housing bettas.
3. Space to Exercise and Express Natural Behaviors
Obesity is one of the leading causes and contributors to death in bettas. Tanks that don't provide horizontal swimming space because of their size are not suitable homes for bettas since they don't contribute to their physical health. The small size also leaves little room for the fish to patrol and guard his or her territory, and little room for decorations to hide in when the fish is feeling insecure.
4. Environmental Enrichment
Just like other animals, bettas need environmental enrichment to keep from becoming bored and neurotic. Larger tanks allow them to explore and interact with different items and allow more space for decorations and other elements that can help entertain your betta.
Breeders often keep many fish of stunning health and quality in tanks less than two gallons. Breeders and the average person getting started in this hobby are in totally different situations and have very different lifestyles. What works for a breeder is impractical for the average person. Breeders conquer the above challenges because they are very involved in the hobby, they have devoted fishrooms that are heated on a thermostat, eliminating the need for individual heaters. They use drip systems and betta barracks that don't need to be subjected to constant changes, and if they do not, keep in mind that these people devote a lot of time to water changes and proper sanitation of their bowls.
Larger tanks are not much more expensive--generally, the larger the tank, the more gallonage you get for your money. Although keeping bettas without cycling the tank, provided that the tank is kept clean with frequent 100% water changes, is a fully acceptable method of keeping them, larger tanks can be cycled, and after which, require much less maintenance. The average person is much less likely to forget or make a mistake that ends up having serious consequences when the tank is of a reasonable size.
Honestly, I don't think there is any excuse for keeping a betta in a tiny, unheated container. The fact that it was "all you could afford at the time" is lazy, lame, and selfish. If you cannot afford to house a fish in a way that contributes to its health and well-being, you should leave it at the store, and save up your money until you can afford to keep one properly. Doing it on the cheap to begin with is doing yourself and the betta a disservice--you will have spent far less money and gone through far less grief if you simply saved up your money and did it right the first time.
If you made the mistake of going into the store and getting tricked by a misinformed employee or the unethical marketing strategies of many of the pet product companies out there, you should return the overpriced and unsuitable products and buy a sterilite/rubbermaid plastic storage bin. These are not as pretty as many of the tiny torture chamber tanks, but they are extremely suitable for taking care of fish. For the refund money you obtain from returning your bowl, you can have a 4 gallon bin for $3, and likely be able to afford a nice adjustable heater to go with it.
Last edited by Adastra; 08-09-2010 at 06:16 PM.