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Understanding Betta fins and tank size

6993 Views 42 Replies 24 Participants Last post by  Flaretacious
Lots of different ways to keep this species true, lots of information out there...some true, some myths and some based on viewing this awesome creature as a human with feelings and much as we would like it.....a fish just doesn't have the ability to thinks and feel the way we do.....their brain is not wired that way.......that said.....

By understanding the anatomy, physiology and behavior of the fish we keep can help us understand proper care to meet needs

The Betta splendens is a special fish-by that I mean-its man-made-with years of selective breeding to create long flowing colorful fins......the fins are abnormally long and heavy-nothing like what it came from and so care is going to be much different than it will be with its short fin cousin....many people forget this and with the good intention they have...end up with a sick betta with neurotic behaviors and tattered ugly fins in a short time......

Because of these abnormally long fins that can be really heavy and delicate they are kept in small containers with no water cruel as some may think this is......this is needed to maintain the long flowing fins......

Most males are placed in a small container by the time they are 2 months of age-this is to encourage fin growth and often the reason we want a Betta...the long fins......along with good nutrition and quality water in these small containers-usually by the time they are 6-8 months old-fins are nearly 80% grown and they are ready to be sold.....

Understand-this long fin male has been in a small container for nearly 8 months-it has long heavy fins-due to space it also has limited muscle mass.....Now the Betta is brought home and feeling sorry for the Betta being in such a small container we toss it in a large volume of water with a filter.......soon we start to see either tattered fins, neurotic behaviors like tail biting, glass surfing, depression...etc.......

Its not that a long heavy fin male can't be placed in a large container of water....they can......and some male can go from the temporary cup to a large tank without any issue.....but some can't...or at least right away....sometimes-some need to be moved in steps.......temporary cup to 1gal-then 2gal-5gal...etc......get the picture.......and some may never be able to keep their long fins in anything larger than a 1gal container or be able to tolerate a filter/water movement without being stressed....when stressed-this can compromise the immune response and this is when you see-Ich, fin rot, lethargy, clamp fins, hiding, poor appetite...etc......sometimes it will resolve on it own and other times it doesn't......

Think of it like......swimming with a 50 pound weight strapped on your back....once you build strength and muscle you can do it much easier....

The flag flapping in the wind......this is what happens to the long delicate fins that are used in a lot of space and water movement......until they toughen up...some do and some don't......this can be related to genetic, age, health, nutrition...etc......

This is just a few reasons why you see/hear about so many different tank size requirement for this species......

Irregardless of tank size.....a Betta can be neglected in a 10gal tank just as they can be neglected in a small tank.......this falls on the hobbyist......

To be a good keeper of fish you must first be a good keeper of water and understand how they interact.....

Bettas don't need large spaces or filters...they do need quality water of tropical temps...

Bettas don't create as much waste and ammonia as some may think...

Starting your Betta in a 1gal container without a filter making twice weekly water changes of 1-50% and 1-100% will maintain water quality, fin health, help build antibodies and a strong immune response, provided that the fish is not over feed and uneaten food is removed within a reasonable time.....

Once the Betta is doing well in the 1gal-then move it to a larger tank in steps to his tolerance or keep it in the 1gal-2gal unfiltered tank.....the longer the fins the less problems you will have by keeping them in smaller containers as long as you provide proper care and nutrition....

Yes, fish like to swim....but think back to that 50 pound weight strapped on your back and remember this is a man-made fish with special needs......if your Betta is stressed, depressed, tail biting, glass surfing, stops eating, can't hold its fins, chronic fin problems etc..... in that 5-10gal filtered tank....try a unfiltered smaller tank.......

Nutrition is often not taken into account and the cheapest food is fed......with a need to find the very best quality of several different kinds of foods...pellets, flakes, frozen, freeze dried and live.....they don't have to be Betta specific do want to find food with the first few ingredients that are fish/seafood either whole or meal....feed small frequent meals....what one food is missing the other food may have........

Nitrogen cycle-you can't establish the nitrogen cycle with out filtration and the Betta doesn't really need filtration.....yes, filtration and the nitrogen cycle will make water change needs easier for the hobbyist...but not so much for the Betta......and due to the limited surface area in small tanks the nitrogen cycle isn't that stable anyway and you still need to make twice weekly water changes to maintain water quality.......

Live plants can be the answer provided that you have the proper lights to support the plants.....thats another chapter........

By understanding the Betta and its long heavy fins.......tank size, filtration, water quality, can maintain those long fins many of us love and one of the reason we keep them for a very long time......

Enjoy....thats what its all about.......
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great read OFL
Thanks OFL love all your info :)
I totally agree with all that you said, as I have definitely noticed tattered fins in larger spaces with filters vs my 1 gal jars.

I know how easy it is to put human emotion on bettas - heck I do it without even really wanting to! I'm still depressed over Gumbo's passing (fish in AV) but it is good to remember all that you have written here.

Bettas really don't need as much as we think - I have gone from the newbie that didn't know better, housing bettas in cups, to reading and putting them in 5 gal tanks to themselves, lap of luxury. But when I started noticing no matter how clean the water is (even every other day water changes) that the fins were tattered and torn - I started to keep them in smaller spaces with less water movement and have seen wonderful results.

The fry I am raising now, they get water changes in 1 gallon containers every 3 days. You can not tell me these fry are not VERY strong and healthy. Ask those who have received them from me. Come look in my fish room. They are very robust.

Look at ANY seirous betta breeders stock - Thai breeders, Karen MacAuley, OFL - every single fish they produce are kept in smaller condtions but pristine water and the fish are AMAZING. Those Aquabid fish we covet so much, when they are old enough for fighting they are put in beer bottles or the like to grow out.

If this is not stickied it should be.
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my first betta ever, Zach, started his life with me in a half gallon bowl, with water changes only when it turned brown and stunk. then, he was upgraded to a one gallon with NO water changes, because i thought the bubbler cleaned the water for me. THEN, he spent his last two years in a 10 gallon, with a filter without a baffle.

all through his 4 years with me, he was active and healthy. no tattered fins, no ick, velvet, nothing.

even now, my niece's betta, King Steve, FLOURISHED in the 10 gallon. his fins grew HUGE for a crowntail, and he darkened in color. he was active and happy in it, happier than he is in the 1 gallon he lives in now.

the main reason people suggest larger tanks for bettas, is it's harder to heat a one gallon without the use of a light being on all the time. that, and they truly do love the room. Cup's fins didn't grow, until i put him in the 2 gallon he lived his life in. Ichi was happier in his 2 gallon, than the 1.5 i had him in. my CT female, Freya, LOVED her 2 gallon tank, a big upgrade from the half gallon bowl she was in at first.

on another betta forum, i learned that, with bettas, longer is better than wider. nothing taller than a foot is suggested, so the 20 long is better than the 20 tall. i've never had issues with bettas in larger tanks. as long as you baffle the filter, its' fine. i again point to King Steve. he loved the 10 gallon, and he grew his fins huge while living in it.

though, i must agree, that a gallon is okay, as long as you keep up with the water changes. Lulu loves her one gallon, and hates anything else.
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Great info!
Great post. thank you. This helps a lot. Especially when it comes to my Thai betta Joey and why he bit his fins after I moved him into a larger tank. I don't feel guilty for having my guys in 2.5 and 3 gal tanks :)
I posted this on FB, so forgive me if you're read it :)

it all depends on an individual fish when it comes down to it. for the most part, 75% of my bettas do better in one gallon jars. but of course, I know to do very frequent water changes. i have boys in a divided 10 gallon and the ends of their tails are tattered, every one of them. they do not get to each other and there is nothing in their sections to harm have to gain experience and decide for yourself. and for me, I pretty much agree with OFL

And also on heating - I think the issue also boils down to breeder vs hobbyist. A breeder usually has a dedicated room warm enough to heat the water. Which I do. All my betta jars are in the room I'm in now, which is very warm. 80+ and the water stays anywhere from 77-79, so it's perfect. In the winter I'll have to add a space heater though.

If you are an experienced hobbyist that knows what you're doing, then you can safely and effectively keep them in the smaller containers (at least a gal). For newbies that don't know better and will misinterpret what OFL wrote, it may be better to suggest 5 gallons, filtered and heated.
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I think this is a wonderful post. It should be merged with the "Your first day" thread since they go hand in hand. It is a general background of heaps of info about what you are getting into when you purchase your first fish. I've had my first betta only a number of weeks but from the resources and people on this site I've felt like I've had a fish for years the entire time and he has been doing great. Thanks again to the community for all your advice and sharing your knowledge and experience with us all.
I dont think they need to be merged, but thanks.

I express my opinions on size in the thread, and I dont completely agree with everything in this one. I think its okay unmerged.
I think it was all very well said with great information for all levels of experience. Thank you for taking the time to type that up for me to be able to read and gain more experience from.
I'm sorry, as sweet as this post may seem, I have to disagree on MANY points.

Judging from reading this entire post, it appears to me that you care nothing for the enrichment of a betta's life and only for their appearance. As per these selected quotes:

Because of these abnormally long fins that can be really heavy and delicate they are kept in small containers with no water cruel as some may think this is......this is needed to maintain the long flowing fins.
Most males are placed in a small container by the time they are 2 months of age-this is to encourage fin growth and often the reason we want a Betta...the long fins.
Plus many other instances of just "wanting pretty fins" throughout the article.

Also your "famous" quote of:
To be a good keeper of fish you must first be a good keeper of water and understand how they interact.
As a chemist, I have to wholeheartedly disagree about your stance on 1 gallon or 2 gallon amounts of water being "good enough". It is good enough and plenty for an experienced aquarist or an experienced breeder, but almost impossible for a beginner.

If I were to pour a bottle of poison into a koi pond versus the same bottle of poison into the Atlantic ocean, which do you think would die first? If anything, the Atlantic ocean would just laugh in my face.

Most experienced aquarists recommend LARGER tanks for beginners because of the ease of care. One slip up in a water change or too much food or overstocking will not be a major problem that will kill your fish instantly. Larger tanks, due to their volume in size, tend to dilute the problem so a beginner can easily remedy the problem once it arises. However if this is done in a smaller tank, casualties can be VERY quick and VERY high due to the small volume of water and frequent water changes.

HOW many people in the disease thread have less than 5 gallon tanks? Quite a few, because it is difficult to keep water safe/sanitary/whatever in smaller, quickly changing conditions.

In response to the betta keeping side of tank sizes, I'm not asking people to spend an exorbitant amount of money to buy some sort of 1000 gallon tank with all the latest whizbangs. A good starter size for a betta owner would be 5 gallons with or without a filter. Not only is it a more enriching environment for your betta, but it will give you a chance to learn additional things about fish keeping, such as cycling your tank (with a filter). Having your betta in some random 1 Gallon is like having some sort of high needs plant. Just change the water once a day and walk away.

As for the neurotic behaviour and other behavioural problems with betta in larger tanks, I personally think it comes down to two things:

1) If they were bred and held into jars since birth, that's what they're used to and comfortable with -- purely because they don't know any better. It's like randomly shoving a homeless person into a mansion, how do you think they will react? Some will go BERSERK and run around the house in joy, some will probably lose their minds and some will probably still live in their hobo-ish ways ad camp out in the kitchen or something.

2) Temperament of your betta: My female, Meilin does not give a darn where she is held, either 3 inches of water or 1000000 gallons. Mali on the other hand, I had to release him from quarantine early because he hated his one gallon, and looked like he was dying every few minutes. He's in a 2.5 sharing with Skittles (it's more 2 now, I moved the divider a bit) and he's full of UNBOUNDING JOY~

Skittles arrived to my home having wrecked his tail on the flight. He's in the other half of a 5 gallon and is currently building his first bubble nest, even to the point of digging up some of his baby plants to use as scaffolding. Seems pretty happy to me. He's a Halfmoon Doubletail and he moves like a dancer.

Final words:

Having torn fins doesn't mean your fish is going to be super unhappy, unless of course it is fin rot or some disease. Having "pretty fins" is not all I care about in a betta. I would rather keep the ugliest betta in the world with the most shredded fins possible HAPPY in a nice tank they can ENJOY; instead of keeping a gorgeous fish on a 1 gallon pedestal in hopes it will never rip it's pretty pretty fins.

The main message here should be that you build your OWN personal experience with your fish. Do you want to know WHY there are so many stories of people who have 6 year old bettas in tiny bowls? Or WHY our pampered fish die? and more importantly VICE VERSA?
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Agreed with bahamut on most points.

Now for my own 2cents, I must say...I have seen more differences in opinion on husbandry concerning bettas more than any other fish I've kept so far. And they all seem so different in personality that I'd have to say it makes them probably some of the more challenging fish to keep, which is certainly the opposite than how they are generally thought to be. ;)

Quantified for a second:

-some thrive in community settings, some won't tolerate even a tiny pest snail.

-some get constipated easily, some can eat like a pig and never grow a belly.

-some seem to prefer smaller tanks (while I admit I believe this is a minority, though just my opinion), some love larger ones

-some are rather lazy and "chill," and some zoom around all day begging for food

-some get stressed easily and love to nip off their own fins, while others seem to be able to handle major changes in environment with fascination, almost.

-some seem to enjoy being in a divided tank and having a neighbor to flare at; and others seem to only want to have anything to do with their human helpers.

And the list goes on, really. Which is why I think it's very hard for anyone to come up with any single list of circumstances that will apply to all bettas; because I don't think such a list exists. The challenge in betta keeping is getting to know your fish, and learning what he or she prefers, and what will make him or her happy. ;)

So this is why I say, "beginner fish? No way!" I've seen such a large spectrum of personality in the several bettas I've kept; they all had unique nuances to their personalities and dietary needs, that the only thing I can say with confidence that was the same? They all needed clean water.
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@Pew, Other than the water change params, it nothing disagrees with your post as well as the fact that this is more of a how to watch the behavioral signs which yours does not address as clearly. Your post is the most amazing thing for someone who has never kept fish to read. This is more of an advanced theory on temperment and adjusting to your own betta's behaviour.

@Bahamut, Magnification of chemical imbalances are always an issue but if bettas can make it in the cup at the store with the neglectful chain LPS employee. (well the half a dozen I've been to most are that way) I think anything larger would allow room for error made by someone who is willing to invest more effort. Any tank realistically that is going through a 100% change at any point no matter what the size will have the same problems since each change the ecosystem is hitting the reset button and you have to hope the living conditions are similar if not identical to what they were before the change. The caution that was given was that if you have a smaller tank then obviously there is less room for error but I believe the purpose of the original post was adjusting to temperment, not trapping your betta in a 1 gallon bowl becuase you think it dislikes too much space. its more giving an explanation that is very similar to your final words.

Final thoughts: Sometimes your betta doesn't like the set up you have for it so be flexible. I think that echoes what people are trying to say.
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@pwnisher- ....wait...what? O__o;
I didn't quite understand what you said there...
To be a good keeper of fish you must first be a good keeper of water and understand how they interact.....
IMO this is the key to good husbandry(?) It doesn't matter how big or small the tank is, As long as you know how to keep the water in good condition. I've seen them kept in itty bitty cups with no issues. And others kept in 20g filtered/cycled become lethargic. As fish who has lived in such condition all its life, it would still be happy in small cups (though I agree bigger is better).

OFL isn't saying a big tank is bad. She is just saying that bettas from small cups needs to gain more muscles before it can freely carry that 50 pound extra weight. Though they can gain muscles in the big tank, but it would be safer to slowly upgrade their tank size.

For some reason I do not believe in massive WC for smaller tanks (1g or less). Changing 50-100% daily is no guarantee that they will remain healthy. Then again I don't understand my water because I've seen others using the same water source (tap - in my area) keep their bettas healthy in cups with weekly 100% wc. But I will advise massive wc because it seems more logical.
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I agree with indjo, Ofl isn't saying keep your bettas in tiny containers, she's saying let them get used to bigger sizes slowly. Of course, each betta is different, some like huge spaces, some don't. But this was a good read, it answers the question why so many bettas that were totally normal, get weird, skittish or lethargic when brought home and put in big tanks.. I unconsciously end up doing this.. Get betta put him in 1/2 gallon for a week, move to 1 gallon for another week or two and then finally into a 2.5.. It's not very big but all my babies are comfortable, that's all I need. :)
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