So most of us have come across the Baby Betta's at PetCo or perhaps you've just stumbled across one on your travels! You pick it up and don't see anything in those cups until you turn it and there's a tiny Betta! You marvel at the size and perhaps it breaks your heart because the poor baby is laying on its side, looking so hungry. So you decide to pay the 1.99 and bring this cute little fish home.
So you get home and suddenly wonder, do I treat this baby like a normal Betta? Do I just give him pellets and do a weekly water change? The store worker gave me what seems like good advice; maybe I should double check it! If you are wondering how to care for them, then step no further! You've found the right place!
Let me start off by saying that these are baby fish, think of them as you would a baby human or a baby kitten or puppy. When you think baby human you think a lot of work right? Lots of screaming and kicking and changing diaper's three times a day. Well don't worry; it will be easier than raising a baby human I can promise! But all the same, these are baby creatures that require special care as opposed to their adult counterparts.
So let's start with:
Growth Stunting Hormone: Baby Betta's excrete something called a Growth Stunting Hormone (GSH). This generally is more of an issue when other babies are divided in the same tank or growing up together in a spawn. The hormone is a signal sent out as an appetite-suppressant for younger, weaker fry which in the end stunts their growth and they don't grow as quickly or stay as healthy as the older, stronger fry. Here's one of my favorite quotes about the GSH:
"Well, we have a scary message...they grab a bite to eat but are totally stress that Bubba is going to whack them ALL THE TIME. In the wild, urine messages left by big cats are designed to stress other big cats into leaving an area. Could we have the same thing with no place to go? Although they eat some, our babies may not be able to utilize all the food they consume because they are so stressed. It would be like trying to work with someone yelling at you all the time!"
There are a few ways to combat the GSH when keeping multiple babies or even just one (sometimes they can see their reflection, think it is another fish and excrete the hormone which backfires in the closed eco-system [your tank] and can stunt the baby itself). One of the more popular ways and easiest ways to get rid of the hormone is to do daily water changes. You see breeders do this all the time, not only does it help water quality but it helps decrease the amount of hormone that is in the water.
How much is enough?
The smaller the tank the more you should change, especially if it is a 1 gallon. It is not recommend keeping babies in anything smaller than 3 gallons because of the sheer simplicity of not having to do water changes as much; that helps your back doesn't it? Regardless of tank size I generally recommend doing around a 50% water change daily for multiple babies, every other day for single babies with nothing else in the tank.
There are two other ways to help reduce the hormones effect which are as follows; have a heavily and active growing planted tank and allow the Betta to grow up with other fish such as livebearers (guppies, platies, endler's). Both of these will reduce the effects generally and help aid the fish in their growth. Of course the best way is to combine all three of these methods but for the average Betta fish keeper, it's easy enough just to do the water changes! This all being said, don't go running out to buy a baby platy unless you know you can care for it the same as it gets older.
How Often Do I Feed?
Thinking about a baby human, kitten or puppy; they drink pretty often from their mother's milk, correct? The same goes for baby fish, generally they will eat every 3 to 4 hours on a high protein diet. 3 times a day is fantastic but twice a day is the normal for the babies. You want to feed them small but frequent meals through the day. Once in the morning and once at afternoon/evening time is a great schedule to get on!
Feed until the baby has a nice rounded tummy, yes their stomachs are the size of their eye but same as in humans; their stomach are meant to expand which is what you want to see.
This is a healthy expanded stomach for a baby, even a little bit more but around this is what you want to see for a single feeding and then the stomach should reduce before the next feeding:
What Do I Feed?
Let's talk a little bit about food quality and how we know what is a good food and what is a bad food. For those who keep dogs and cats, the same applies for fish food and fillers. Fillers are ingredients that do just that; they fill the food cheaply which allows the company to sell the food for cheaper but that means the quality has gone down too. Fillers are generally very indigestible for most fish which means it's easier for our fish to become constipated or backed up. Fillers consist of Corn, Soybean and most Wheat content.
Ingredients are generally listed by weight, so the closer to the top of the list; the more the food is used. However, animal foods are not required to be listed by weight however I do know the New Life International (New Life Spectrum) IS listed by weight of the food. So in most cases the top three ingredients are the more important ones to look at, you don't want to see those nasty fillers in the first two ingredients for sure, in the third ingredient is okay but not fantastic. If you see Whole Wheat in the third slot that is okay! Wheat is often used as a binder to hold the food together. So in the first ingredients you want to see things such as Whole Fish (whatever it may be, be it Halibut, Salmon, Krill).
New Life Spectrum is highly praised around here with Omega One coming in very close second. One of the main differences in the two is that NLS also contains garlic in their formulas, garlic is not only palatable (fish love the taste!) but it also helps ward of parasites as it is a natural anti-parasitic food! Omega is also great, it doesn't have garlic but its ingredient list is still pretty darn good! My only qualm is that they split up their wheat content to make it look better when their wheat content should really be around 2nd or 3rd on the list, otherwise it's a great food.
For your fry you want a high protein based food, NLS does have Grow Formula which is formulated specifically for your fry but it can be expensive, especially if you are not raising fry all the time, so instead you can get the Small Fish Formula or the Betta Formula. Main differences between those are; protein and fat content in Small Fish are higher than in Betta Formula, Small Fish is also a .5 millimeter pellet where the Betta is a 1 millimeter pellet. You would have to crush the Betta pellet but that's not so bad, you would have to do it for the Omega One as well.
If you cannot find these foods, next best in the pellet world is the Aqueon pellet; again you would have to crush it for your baby. Flake foods are generally not so great, especially in lower quality foods because they can cause issues such as constipation and swim bladder issues later in life. NLS and Omega are the only flakes I would ever use on a baby.
are a fantastic choice for your baby. You can get anything from bloodworms (the more blood in them the healthier they are so steer clear from freeze-dried BW's), daphnia, brine shrimp, and more! Daphnia are great natural laxative for our Betta's, they are great to use for constipated Bettas and for Double Tails who tend to be more prone to constipation and bloat. Brine Shrimp and Bloodworms are also a fantastic source of nutrition, for most adults once or twice a week is fine to feed but for babies you can feed daily/every other day if you see fit but do not over feed! Remember, small but frequent meals! Frozen thawed foods can be stored in the fridge for a few days but no more than 3-5 days otherwise they spoil! You can also chop up your frozen blocks into tiny pieces and wrap up the blocks you don't use so they don't get freezer burn, wrap them in aluminum foil and store in freezer. Never thaw and re-freeze!
Live foods can also be feed daily if you happen to have them; Grindal Worms, Micro Worms, Vinegar Eels are all pretty easy to culture if you know how. If you don't, no worries, just stick to pellets and the frozen food.
How Can I Tell the Gender of My Baby?
This one takes a good eye to really see the differences. Many believe that the Egg Spot or Ovipositer is a sure sign of a female, this is not the case. Betta's seem to only exist to throw us off our game! Many young males will frequently have fake egg spots which can be very confusing! Many will even keep them after they hit maturity! So the only real way to tell if it is a male or female is to find the ovaries! The ovaries are located behind the bundle of intestines and stomach area. If you see the egg spot, right above it is the tangle of intestines and stomach area, it should be nice and round. Behind the stomach should be a cone shaped organ on the females which is the ovaries. Each female may have different sized and shaped ovaries, some are larger than others and some will carry them high while others will carry them very low. When I say "high" I mean close to the swim bladder and then "low" is closer to the anal fin. Males will obviously not have ovaries.
Now that you know about the ovaries, there are some other small differences that can help you determine sex. Not all of these ring true all the time but I always look for the ovaries first and then confirm it with the traits that I see.
- Small eyes
- Smaller ventral's
- More pointed shape of the body <--this one is more often not useful in sexing.
- Shorter Fins, more distance between the dorsal and caudal
A photo example of a female, do you see the yellow cone shaped ovaries behind the stomach?
- Larger eyes
- Longer fins all around with shorter distance between the dorsal and caudal.
- A smoother topline <--again, not useful for first line of sexing as often these babies are not Show worthy specimens so therefore the breeder doesn't follow guidelines about form or sometimes these fish are culls from a spawn and so they can have deformities.
A photo example of a male, do you see there is a space behind the stomach, no ovaries.
Another note: All males and females can flare and be aggressive. Half the time my females are way more aggressive than my males so that is also NOT an indicator of sex. Both sexes have beards however males beards are larger and stick out more where female beards tend to not stick out so much.