You might think a fish with the nickname “Siamese fighting fish” wouldn’t survive very long. The Betta’s size is what actually puts them at a disadvantage, though. Smaller fish tend to live shorter lives than larger ones.
The average life of a Betta fish is 3-5 years. The oldest one lived to an impressive 10 years. Female Betta fish live about 2 months longer than males on average. They’re also usually sold younger, at 6 months, compared to males, sold at 1 year.
Not getting enough animal protein in their diet could lead to starvation. Lack of exercise can also shorten their lives. Fighting among Bettas, particularly males, often leads to injuries or death.
If the water isn’t warm enough or contains toxins, the Betta can become inactive and start to shut down. They also need to reach the surface for oxygen–due to their specialized breathing organs.
To find a healthy Betta fish, avoid buying online. Look for a local store that specializes in aquarium life. Check for signs of disease: Are they pale? Are their fins rotting? Are they unresponsive to you touching the glass?
To extend a Betta’s lifespan, only use dry fish food for 25% or less of their diet and opt for live food when you can. Don’t house two males in the same tank and keep a larger tank if housing multiple females. Maintain an 80? water temperature and a pH between 6.8 to 7.4. Change 25-40% of the water at least once, if not twice, every month.
Let’s dive into more detail on how you can keep these beauties alive and thriving.
Factors Affecting Betta Lifespan
Many of the factors that affect the lifespan of a Betta fish are similar to those that affect our own. But there are even more factors to consider for them.
Diet & Exercise
Diet and exercise are central to your fish’s health. Betta fish are particularly picky when it comes to food preferences. They need higher amounts of animal protein in their food than other fish or they’ll either stop eating or start to get sick. So whether you buy food for them or make your fish food at home, keep their preferences in mind. Exercise can help your fish’s immune system get stronger and keep them from lethargy.
Betta fish are sensitive to their environments, making them vulnerable to disease. Something as simple as being in a tank of tap water can introduce chemicals that will weaken their immune system.
Another source of disease for the Betta is overfeeding. As with any fish, overfeeding is much more dangerous to their health than underfeeding.
Fights & Injuries
Because of their territorial nature, Bettas will fight other Bettas. In most cases, one will die as a result. This is much more common with males than females, though.
Keeping two males in the same tank is almost a guarantee that one will either die or be injured, shortening their life. Keeping two females in a tank is much less dangerous, but they still need enough space from each other.
Males and females kept together pose a lower risk of aggression, but this can still lower their health because of the stress of dominance and breeding.
Lots of components in your aquarium could put Bettas at risk if they aren’t set correctly. If the water temperature is too low, even at room temperature, they can become inactive.
Water quality is another contributor. Beyond chemicals from the water itself, other toxins floating around, like rotting food, feces, and other forms of bio-waste, can cause Bettas fins to rot if they aren’t handled promptly enough.
Air is another factor most owners don’t think about. Most fish get oxygen to their blood by processing water through their gills. Bettas have labyrinth breathing organs, though. This means they get oxygen from the same place we do: air. No access to the surface means no oxygen to their blood.
Let’s look at how to take these factors into consideration when you’re purchasing a Betta.
Choosing a Healthy Betta Fish
Before the digital age, most people got their fish from fairs and didn’t think twice about it. Finding a healthy fish means more than just searching the web. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind during your search.
Avoid buying your fish online. While online research about your fish is great, the online portion should stop there. There’s no way to ensure that the fish you’re buying is healthy, for one. Online fish retailers are selling more fish to more people, making it easier for mistakes to happen. The stress of the fish being transported long distances is enough to shorten its lifespan.
Instead, browse a local specialty store. Generic pet stores tailor their products to what’s most popular. With 86% of household pets being dogs or cats, fishes are not their top priority.
Finding a local store that specializes in aquatic life makes trust and communication much easier. Most specialty stores will also have higher-quality items than online or generic pet stores, and the owners will have more experience.
Look for signs of disease or injuries. A diseased Betta will often be pale, lacking their usual color and vibrance. Their fins may show signs of fin rot. Fin rot shows at the tips of the fins.
Cases may be mild, moderate, or severe. The more severe the rot, the darker the discoloration and the further it will be down the fin. Decaying edges, mold-like patches, and inflammation are all signs.
Check for activity levels. Bettas like to move, although not as fast as others due to their large fins. Inactivity is a bad sign. You should see them respond when you put your hand on the glass. If they don’t, talk to the shop owner or look at some other options.
You may want to look for a specific gender. But how can you tell between them?
Male Bettas vs. Female Betta Fishes
Male Betta fish differ from female Betta fish in how they look and what they do. Most people’s idea of a beautiful, multi-colored Betta with long fins is only seen in males. They also get longer than females but stay thinner.
Males act much more aggressively. Keeping two male Bettas in the same tank is highly discouraged unless there is an opaque divider between them.
However, female Bettas usually outlast males by about two months, both in the wild and captivity.
The main reason for the females’ longevity is their lack of bright coloring. Males are more vulnerable to predators in the wild because they’re easier to spot.
While we know that Bettas live for about 2-4 years, this time span might have to be adjusted when purchasing your pet.
Male Bettas are usually sold when they hit one year old. Female Bettas are sold younger, around six months. The reason many males aren’t sold for a year is, once again, their appearance. The full maturity of their colors and fins will be on display between their first and second year.
If you’ve already purchased a Betta that’s under a year old, you may have trouble determining its sex. The easiest way is looking for an ovipositor–a white spot between the pelvic and anal fins. You can also look for a larger head-to-body ratio or longer, fuller pelvic fins. These both indicate a male.
Regardless of its gender, you can take steps to prolong your Betta’s life.
Steps to Help Your Betta Fish Live Longer
The most effective way to extend a Betta’s lifespan is by avoiding the pitfalls we’ve discussed. Here are some tips for how to do that.
Feed them enough protein. In their natural habitat, Bettas thrive on insects and larvae. In an aquarium, they don’t need the same food, but they do need protein. Pellets made specifically for Bettas are a good place to start. Frozen or freeze-dried bloodworms or brine shrimp are good treats. Variety is key, as making their diet more than 25% dry fish food could hurt them in the long run.
Give them room to swim, but keep the current low. The idea that Bettas can live in a small container like a vase is a widespread myth. They need at least a 2.5-gallon tank, but a 5-gallon tank is ideal. Make sure your filter is low-flow. Low-flow filters balance cleaning out toxins and being gentle enough to avoid sucking up part of the Betta’s fin.
Keep the males by themselves. To avoid an incident that could lead to injuries–or something fatal–keep male Bettas alone. Female Bettas, on the other hand, can live peacefully together… with a big enough tank, that is. You can keep a “sorority” of female Bettas (4-5) together in a 20-gallon tank or larger.
Get the water to a tropical temperature. A cold Betta is often a dead Betta. They’re tropical fish from Southeast Asia, so their ideal water temperature is 72-80?. Since the weather varies in even the warmest places, you’ll probably want a water heater. Consistency is key. A tank at 80? will keep your Betta more active.
Keep some space between the surface and the lid. Because of their labyrinth breathing organs, Bettas need to get to the water’s surface to get enough oxygen. Having a lid will keep Bettas from jumping out, but make sure they have room to get oxygen above the water’s surface.
Schedule regular water changes and testing. Bettas are sensitive to changes, so make sure the pH is consistent–between 6.8 to 7.4–and change your water. With the low-flow filter, a 40% water change twice a month is good. A 25% water change once a month is okay, but at the absolute minimum.
Betta fish are a brightly colored freshwater fish with elaborate fin displays. Betta fish are also known as Siamese fighting fish because of their aggressive nature.
These colorful aquarium favorites are native to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are found in floodplains, standing canals and rice paddies.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified betta fish in the vulnerable category. The life expectancy is shorter in the wild than in captivity because of the destruction and pollution of their native habitats.
They live for about two to four years in captivity.
Betta fish are an intelligent fish species and make a very entertaining pet. They have been shown to recognize their owner and can even be taught to perform tricks.
There are many different breeds of betta fish, all with different colors and fin displays. People typically choose to purchase male bettas because they typically have more elaborate colors and displays than females.
Before You Purchase Your Betta Fish
While betta fish are a hardy fish breed, they still need proper care. To ensure maximum life expectancy you will want to make their tank as healthy for them as possible. Don’t take any shortcuts.
Many people will tell you that betta fish can live in a tank with no filter or heater. While they may survive in a tank like that, they probably won’t be happy or healthy.
Without proper water filtration, betta fish are prone to fin rot. Their ideal water temperature is between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you choose to not have a heater for your fish tank, then the water may become too cold and the betta will become listless and refuse to eat.
Don’t go and buy a betta before you have all everything they’re going to need. Make sure you have the following:
- A five-gallon minimum tank or fish bowl. People will tell you that a betta can live in a one gallon tank, this is not true. Your betta fish will need a bigger tank in order to live a healthy and happy life.
- Pellets and insects for food.
- A thermometer to monitor the temperature of the water.
- Any plants or decorations you want to add to the tank. These aren’t necessary but bettas love them for hiding and playing in.
- A filter. People will say that it is not necessary to have a filter, but it will ensure that your betta is healthier and happier. They are still succeptable to getting sick from dirty water.
- A heater. People say you don’t need a heater but it is important to have one so that you can maintain a constant ideal water temperature. Betta fish, after all, are tropical fish, so they are more comfortable in warmer water.
- They don’t require it but it will improve the bacterial health of the tank, anchor the plants, and improve the appearance of the tank. Also, having a glass bottomed tank causes reflections which make your betta flare up and increase their stress levels. If you decide to use a substrate it is probably best to use gravel or sand
Prep Your Tank
Make sure you have a good space to put your tank or fish bowl. Place it in plain sight so that you can have good view of the fish for your entertainment, and in case anything goes wrong.
Make sure it’s not in a space that is too close to windows, or heating and cooling systems. You don’t want the water temperature to change too much, and too much sunlight will build up algae in your tank.
Be sure to wipe down your tank with warm water and a cloth to remove any dust. Thoroughly rinse any decorations before adding them to the tank.
With proper care of the tank and water, your betta fish will live for longer.
If you are using a substrate, carefully pour it into the tank.
Although you don’t have to have a filter or heater in a betta tank, your fish will be much happier and healthier if you keep their water clean and warm.
Install your filter and heater equipment into the clean tank.
Once all of your decorations and filters are in place, you can add the water. It is extremely important to not add tap water because it contains harmful chemicals like chlorine and heavy metals. These can kill your fish.
You can purchase filtered water that it specifically for betta fish. However, if you only have access to tap water, then you can pretreat it with Novaqua plus Amquel to remove chlorine and aquarium salt, never use normal salt.
Choosing Your Betta Fish
Now that your tank is set up, you can purchase your betta fish! Look for the fish with the brightest colors, this is a pretty good indicator of their health. Stay away from the paler colored fish as often they can be diseased. Check the fins on the fish to make sure that they aren’t torn or damaged and make sure they have clear eyes that aren’t bulging out. Look at their bodies to spot any signs of trauma such as cuts or scratches.
Interact with the betta, they should be active and reactive to you putting your hand on the tank. If they are docile and unresponsive, they may not be healthy. Determining whether a betta fish is male or female should be relatively easy. Male betta fish will have more vivid colors, more elongated bodies, longer fins and a much larger beard fin. Females will have vertical stripes on their body if they’re ready to mate. They’re also shorter and wider bodied than males. They might also have an egg spot between their ventral and anal fins.
Be aware that when you purchase your betta fish it may already be about 6 months to a year old. Females may be sold slightly younger, but males are typically sold at maturity because their colors are at their most vibrant. You can always ask the pet store worker how old the fish is.
Betta Tank Mates
Betta fish got their fighting fish name for a reason, they are highly aggressive. They have unfortunately been bred to be even more aggressive. It is vital that you don’t ever put a male betta fish with another male betta fish. Female betta fish can live together, but there is still a risk of fights breaking out.
Keeping males with females is also not recommended unless you are breeding, and even then, you must remove the female as soon as possible.
It is so important to separate bettas because, especially when in a small tank with no room for escape, they will often fight to the death.
You need to choose tank mates for bettas that have the same water needs and don’t intimidate the betta fish. Here’s a few options:
- Khuli loaches
- Ghost shrimp
- African dwarf frogs
- Catfish, such as Bristlenose Plecos
- Neon and Ember tetras
Be sure to thoroughly research what fish you are adding to your tank. Especially when you have an aggressive fish like a betta. Once adding another fish, closely observe how they are all getting along.
Feeding Your Betta Fish
A healthy diet will lengthen your betta’s life. It is important to not overfeed them as it can lead to fatty liver disease. More fish die from overfeeding than starvation.
There is a misconception that betta fish will nibble on plant roots, but in fact, bettas are insectivores and don’t eat plants.
You should feed them store bought fish food pellets that are made specifically for bettas. Give them about 2 to 6 pellets per day.
You can feed your betta live or dead insects and worms. If you are using gravel in your fish tank, it is not a good idea to feed them live insects as they will hide in it.
Freeze dried brine shrimp, black worms and blood worms can make a good treat. Limit these to a once a week treat.
Only feed your betta as much food as it can eat in 2 minutes. That’s enough for a day.
You should never change the water in the tank all at once because sudden fluctuations can prove fatal for your bettas.
If you have a small tank without a filter, the water should be changed every other day.
Filtered aquariums should have a 25% or more water change every two weeks.
Although betta fish have the reputation of being able to survive in dirty waters, they still need regular water changes. Like any other fish, their health depends on clean and filtered water. In the wild they are in large bodies of water with currents and air flow, so the water may be dirty but there is more of it.
In a tank, dirty water can have devastating effects in a much shorter period of time. Their health depends on good filtration and frequent water changes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Oldest Betta Fish?
In captivity, there are records of betta fish living to 9 or 10 years old.
Do Betta Fish Get Lonely?
Betta fish are unlikely to get lonely in a tank by themselves, but they might get bored. It is a good idea to have decorations in a small tank to entertain them. If you want to introduce other fish be sure to do thorough research to ensure you don’t have any issues. Definitely don’t introduce any other betta fish to the tank as that will almost certainly cause fights and possible deaths.
Do Betta Fish Jump Out of Their Fish Bowls?
Bettas are good jumpers and definitely could jump out of a tank if it wasn’t properly covered. However, they would probably only do this if their tank conditions weren’t adequate.
How Do I Play with My Betta Fish?
Playing with your betta is a great idea as it if fun, entertaining and it helps your fish exercise and escape boredom. Here’s a few ways you can play with your betta:
- Hold a mirror up to the tank and watch your betta flare up. This is a good way to see your betta in all its glory, and spot for any fin damage. It can also help a constipated betta fish defecate!
- Put a ping pong ball in the tank. If your betta feels like it, he will push the ball around with his nose. Just be sure to take it out of the water when you’re finished playing so that it doesn’t cause any stress.
- Add floating decorations to your tank. You can buy betta logs or floating fake or real plants. Your betta might choose to sleep in the betta log and build bubble nests inside. The plants will provide a fun space for your betta to swim through.
- Train your betta to swim through hoops. Be sure to do this in moderation as your betta will get tired and maybe stressed or fearful. Use hoops that are big enough for your fish to easily swim through so that it doesn’t suffer any harm.
Can I Touch My Betta Fish?
You should rarely, if ever, touch your betta fish. It is not good for them as it can remove their natural slime coating. Also, if you have dirty hands, you can transmit harmful bacteria to them.
How Do You Know If Your Betta Is Happy?
A happy betta will have strong and vibrant colors. They will feed readily and swim around the tank actively and smoothly. Their fins will be held open but not taut.
How Much Darkness do Betta fish need?
Betta fish typically need about 8 to 12 hours of light and 12-16 hours of darkness. It Is extremely important that your fish gets enough darkness so that they know when to sleep and when to wake up, Otherwise, they can get very stressed and exhausted.
Giving Betta fish a long life just takes time and care. A tank with clean, warm water and ample room to explore is a great start. Add some quality food, space above the water’s surface, and gentle current, and your Betta might just beat the 10-year record. How long has your Betta been around? If you don’t have one yet, what else do you want to know? Let us know in the comments!