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Old 04-08-2012, 03:31 AM   #1 
Bombalurina
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10 things I hear about bettas

You hear a lot of crazy things about bettas (and fish in general) that can leave you gaping at the person talking, desperately trying to think of a response to this nonsense. Here are the ten things I hear most often and the responses I give.

1) "They can live in/like tiny spaces with dirty water and no heater!"
This is the most obvious one. Everyone will hear this at some point from someone, usually as a justification from petshops on why they sell those tiny tanks. All you can do with this is respond with a couple of basic facts:
- tank size: Although some crazy bettas, due to having a strange personality or a genetic defect, do indeed prefer tiny spaces, most are perfectly happy in large tanks. In the wild, their habitats range from little puddles to huge rice paddies. Sure, they only live in a small area of that huge space, but they won't go, "OMG, I'm in a rice paddy!" and freak out. Dense vegetation is the key.
- water quality: although they are hardy little fish and capable of surviving in sub-optimum conditions, it doesn't mean they like it. No fish likes dirty water - ammonia burns gills, stunts growth and rots fins. You aren't going to convince me that a fish enjoys that.
- heaters: they come from Thailand and the surrounding countries. On the equator. Equatorial countries are hot. What baffles me here is that people selling fish from the same area (gouramis, loaches, rasboras) advocate a heater for those species but not for bettas.

This is usually followed by:

2. "But the petshop said!"
You hear this a lot when you first tell someone that their quart container is not a sufficient home. Here is the sad truth: petshops lie. Here's the logic I follow in answering.
What is the petshop's motivation for telling you about your fish? To make a sale and get money. If they convince you that your fish only needs a tiny amount of money and time, you'll be more likely to buy it, so they get your money.
What's my motivation for telling you about your fish? At worst, it's because I'm a bossy know-it-all who loves to be right. At best, it's because I know about the species and genuinely care about the welfare of your animal.
The same sort of response goes to "but it's marketed for a betta" or "but it has seventeen goldfish on the front of the package" or "the instructions say this."

Chances are, the next thing they'll say is:

3. "But so-and-so did this and their fish lived for x years!"
How many years they say varies. Some of the time, it will be a massively unimpressive number ("My comet goldfish (lifespan 20 years) lived for 3 years!" "My betta (lifespan 3+ years) lived a whole year!") Occasionally, however, they will actually have a betta (or other fish) that lived in horrible conditions and lived 7 years. This one can sometimes be difficult to answer, especially when your own perfectly-cared-for fish dies after 3. However:
Firstly, that's really cool. That is an exceptionally hardy fish. However, under those conditions, the vast majority of bettas would have died much, much sooner.
Secondly, lifespan does not equal quality of life. A healthy betta will be colourful, active, responsive, curious and will eat like a pig, as well as having no physical signs of sickness (rotted fins, inflamed gills, missing scales etc). In poor conditions, it isn't likely that all those signs will be present.
Thirdly, even if all those signs are present, it's still not a justification. After all, a human may live to the ripe old age of 80 in poverty in a slum in Nairobi (not likely, but then, neither is a 7-year-old betta in a filthy, unheated, tiny bowl), and another man may die in his plush New York apartment at the age of 40. You still wouldn't advocate the slum in Nairobi as a suitable home.
Also, please don't say, "I/they/somebody has been doing it this way for years". Doing it the wrong way for years doesn't make it right. If anything, it makes it worse.
Of course, by this time I'm generally getting pretty passionate about my subject and people are staring at me like I'm crazy. The next thing I'll usually hear is:
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Old 04-08-2012, 03:32 AM   #2 
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4. "It's just a fish!"
This one drives me insane. If you love your betta, it will probably drive you insane too. The trouble is, there isn't an objective answer for this. There is no universal law saying, "value your fish". However, there are a couple of responses that may work on the more compassionate of your friends:
Firstly, 'it's just a...' has been used to justify all kinds of cruelty throughout the centuries all around the world. To Hitler, they were just Jews. To white Americans, for a long time they were just blacks. To the British, they were just savages. And to most of the world, at some point or another, they were just women. To other people, it's just a dog, or just a cow. But how many of you can watch a video of a cow being brutally slaughtered and not be effected? To me, seeing a fish suffering gives me a similar feeling: helpless rage and sadness. To me, "it's just a..." never justifies killing or neglecting anything.
Secondly, and this relates to the first point, how do you classify what is "just a..."? People will probably think I'm a bit mad for comparing a fish to a Jew, and I admit, I don't see fish on the same level as humans. I'd always save the human from the burning house before the fish, and I suspect I'd probably save a dog or a cat before the fish, too. But that doesn't mean the fish has no intrinsic value, just because it doesn't rank as high on the scale as another creature. After all, I'd save the fish before the cockroach. So it's worth more than something.
A lot of people use a fish's price to justify this mindset, which frustrates me enormously (you also see it a lot when people don't want to pay for their $10 rat to have a $200 life-saving operation, or even $50 worth of medication). If you got were given or adopted a dog for free, would you value it less than the dog that you had to pay $200 to adopt? Why? How much you pay to adopt an animal shouldn't dictate how much you pay on its upkeep.
Thirdly, if it is just a fish, why did you buy it? You just bought an animal (yes, it's an animal). That's making a commitment to care for it. It's whole world is in your hands, even more than a cat or dog - you are responsible for what is breathes. You have complete power over its tiny life (and by the way, size is not a justification for mistreating something either - children are very small when they are born!), and if you've watched Spiderman you'll know that with great power comes great responsibility.
Fourthly, clearly fish matter to some people. If someone loved their dog, would you really say, "Pssh, it's just a dog" to their face? If I love my fish, why is it ok to say that about my animal?
Finally, as a Christian, I truly believe each animal life should be treated with respect and compassion. I'm sure many people of other faiths or no faiths believe this too. My heart cries when I see animals in pain.
Some people may respond and call me a hypocrite because I hate squid, kill insects or tread on grass. Firstly, I am utterly convinced that squid will initiate an apocalypse one day, and then you'll wish you'd listened. And I don't mistreat them, I just hate them. Secondly, I don't kill most insects. I kill the ones that pose a danger to me, my family or my animals (poisonous, aggressive spiders, for instance), and I do it quickly and painlessly as much as I can. Thirdly, the day you can prove that grass hurts when I walk on it, I'll stop. This part of my answer may be slightly irrelevant, but I like to defend myself pre-emptively against cries of hypocrisy.

By this stage, most people have given me up as completely bonkers and stopped talking to me about their just-a-fish. However, some people will still say:

5. "But he looks happy!"
This is a good sign for me. The person saying this generally does care about the welfare of the fish. They want it to be happy. But:
Fish aren't happy. They aren't sad, either. There is no proof that they feel emotion in this way. They can't pull facial expressions or cry. I'm not saying they don't suffer, but please don't say he looks happy unless you are Doctor Doolittle.
What makes you think he is happy? Is he swimming and eating? That's because he wants to stay alive - fish swim and eat because that's what fish do. Is he not sick? That's great, but not sick now doesn't equal not sick later when poor conditions start to take their toll. Is he flaring? That's because he is seeing something that makes him think he needs to defend his home. Is he building a bubblenest? That doesn't make him healthy or happy. That's him marking his territory and getting ready in case an eligible female happens along. I've seen really sick bettas building bubblenests, right up until they became too weak to do so. I've also seen perfectly healthy ones not do it at all.

By this point, this conversation tends to die off because the person is either convinced, or calling an asylum. The following is a gem spouted by many novice goldie owners and petshops looking for a quick sell:
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Old 04-08-2012, 03:33 AM   #3 
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6. "It will only grow to the size of its tank!"
Ok, so this applies more to goldfish, but I have heard it about other fish too, bettas included. It frustrates me particularly because people use it as a reason to keep cramming comets (stunning fish which should grow to more than a foot long) into gallon bowls.
No, fish do not grow to the size of their tank. It can be an influencing factor (you may notice fish grow slightly bigger in larger quarters) but it isn't what keeps a fish with the genetic potential to be 14 inches at a measly three inches.
The reason most fish stay tiny in tiny tanks is because there is more ammonia in a tiny tank. Poor water quality, just like poor nutrition and environment for humans, will stunt a fish's growth. Poor water quality is generally more prevalent in small tanks because they are harder to keep clean and there is a smaller volume of water diluting the waste. If you kept a comet in a tiny tank but did massive water changes all the time, it would still grow. My own goldfish is a case in point - we had him in a small tank, but he kept growing because we kept the water clean. The reverse is also true - keep a fish in a huge tank but let the water get awful and the fish will not grow.

This lack of information generally leads to comments like this:

7. "You shouldn't buy one of those, they die really easily".
Now, I could understand if people said this about orange-eyed blue tiger shrimp, discus or French Angelfish (the saltwater ones) but what you actually hear it about are goldfish and bettas (seriously, has any other fish been so abused?).
They are two of the hardiest fish in existence. They are extremely easy to care for - as long as you are doing it right. Any animal will get sick or die if you don't care for it properly. Don't blame the animal for your lack of care, whether through ignorance or deliberate neglect.

Of course, one of the most common causes of fish dying really quickly is New Tank Syndrome, from people putting a fish in the tank and causing it to cycle. This generally rises out of the following myth:

8. "Run your tank for 24/48 hours, then it will be ready for fish."
I'm not actually sure how this came about, but I suppose it must just be a perversion of the actual cycling process.
What happens if you run your tank for 24 hours? Well, it gives you a chance to make sure your filter is working and that your heater is at the right temperature, but it does diddly-squat to prevent NTS. Without a source of ammonia in the tank, nitrifying bacteria will not start to build up in the filter. Without them, the filter really isn't doing much in terms of biological filtration, although it will still be useful for mechanical filtration. Even with ammonia in the tank, 24 hours won't do anything. *Insert explanation of the nitrogen cycle here*.

Another petshop gem that makes me wince is this:

9. "You can have one inch/cm of fish per gallon/litre".
I agree. This rule is wonderful. If you are stocking neon tetras in a 20+ gallon tank, anyway.
For any fish other than that, this rule is not good.
First, you have your dramatic examples, like a 10-inch oscar in a ten gallon tank. Most people are thankfully not so short-sighted as to make this kind of mistake, however (except with goldfish).
Then you have the less extreme examples. For instance, 2-3 glofish is a total of 4-6 inches, right? So you could probably fit those in a 5 gallon, right? Well, yes, they would fit and they wouldn't ever grow out of it, but it doesn't take into account several things:
- schooling needs. Most small fish are schoolers and need groups of 6 or more to avoid stress (stress = compromised immune system = sickness).
- territorial needs. Kissing gouramis get about 4 inches long, but you wouldn't stick two in an 8 gallon tank - they would tear each other apart. Dwarf puffers are what, an inch? Stick two of them in a two gallon tank and they will murder each other.
- activity levels. Fish like danios are incredibly active. They love to zoom. They need to zoom. Smaller spaces = increased stress. 5 gallons doesn't give them zoom-room.
- bio-load. Guppies are smaller than bettas, but they poop more. I would stock a ten gallon with 6 female bettas, but I'd only have 4 guppies.
At the other end of the scale, you have things like kuhli loaches. These get 4 inches long, so you could only keep 5 in a ten gallon by this rule. But they have small bioloads, so you could easily keep ten in a 20 gallon no problem.

That particular myth has a lot to answer for - many people use it to 'prove' that their tank isn't overstocked. The final one (also a question of stocking) that drives me batty is this:

10. "I need an algae eater/snail/catfish/bottom feeder to keep my tank clean!"
Poor little algae eaters. Touted by petshops as a kind of miracle for tank maintenance, they are in fact anything but.
Firstly, most algae eaters only eat some types of algae. Many will prefer to snack on actual fish food instead, and some will even prefer your fish (yes, I'm talking about you, Chinese Algae Eaters). Those that will eat almost anything (Siamese Algae Eaters - don't get them confused) get a good six inches long and won't fit in the average tank. So no, an algae eater isn't a solution to algae.
Secondly, they don't eat poo. Many fish will put poo in their mouths by mistake; many fish will also spit it right back out again.
Thirdly, "tank cleaners" create as much waste as they eat, if not more. So, whilst they may clean up visible stuff like uneaten food, they aren't going to help with the invisible stuff, and as any fish keeper can tell you, that's the deadly stuff.
Fourthly, just because it is an algae eater/bottom feeder, doesn't mean it isn't a fish. Many people seem to view them as less than a fish, which baffles me. As a consequence, they don't take into account the fish's needs (such as common plecos needing huge tanks, and cories needing schools).

So there you have it. Ten myths that make me cringe, myths that force me to bite my tongue to avoid screaming (and possibly biting the speaker instead). And the answers that I wish I'd had the foresight or the calmness to say at the time, or have since rehearsed so I can spring them on the unwary novice. I hope they can help you, or that you can at least find comfort in knowing that other people, too, have felt this pain. :)
Feel free to disagree with me.
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Old 04-08-2012, 04:58 AM   #4 
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Bombalurina, that is the most stylish and eloquent pieces of prose I have read on this or any forum. You have my congratulations and utmost thanks.

Now I have to go back, take notes and memorize responses, so I won't lose control, like I did the other day when I encountered my first live (for a while) Betta/plant horror bowl.

The ladies at my doctor's office each got new Betta. I'll give them this along with the URL to TFK/Betta. Thanks again.
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Old 04-08-2012, 06:15 AM   #5 
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This is great. ;) It should be stickied. I fell for the 28/48 hour thing in my tanks. I think it's the reason my first betta died. :(
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Old 04-08-2012, 06:56 AM   #6 
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Thanks, guys, you actually did make me blush. :) I hope it does help, Hallyx! :)

I've just realised where I wrote about kuhli loaches, I've said 5 in a ten gallon. It should read 2 in a ten gallon instead.
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Old 04-08-2012, 07:06 AM   #7 
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Number 10 omg.... >__>
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Old 04-08-2012, 07:08 AM   #8 
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Nice work Bombalurina! Good job!
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Old 04-08-2012, 11:03 AM   #9 
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Good job. I especially agree with you on #4. If it's just a fish then, why'd you invest your money in it. It kills me to think that people do not realize that they are buying an animal, a living creature that becomes our responsibility to care for. You take care of your dog or cat when it's sick, right? I'll never understand the thinking behind it and I really don't want to, either.
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Old 04-08-2012, 11:33 AM   #10 
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11. "He/She seemed lonely, so I bought him/her a friend!"

Bettas are solitary fish, very territorial. they don't get lonely. at all. They prefer to live alone, and are happiest when their territory is filled with JUST them. often, a well-meaning owner buys their betta girlfriend/boyfriend, and ends up with two horribly stressed, very beaten-up bettas, or, worse, a dead betta.

:I don't forget that one.
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