Betta Fish Tank Setup and Basic Care (Siamese Fighting Fish Aquarium and Care)

A proper betta fish tank setup is the first step to take good care of your betta fish. Betta fish, also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish, are one of the most popular aquarium fishes around the world. They are popular for their colorful fins. Their infamous temptation to fight each other if more than one is placed in the same aquarium gives some people the impression that they are the fiercest fighters among the fish.

Almost every pet store that carries aquarium fish also sells betta fish. Unfortunately, betta fish are one of the most mistreated aquarium fish due to the false impression about their basic needs. Most fish stores carry betta fish in small plastic containers rather than in fish tanks. It is because betta fish will fight each other to death if they are not separated, and the pet stores will not invest money in one proper setup aquarium for every betta fish. Thus, the well-being of the betta fish is ignored.

Furthermore, many people were told that betta fish can live in small jars, and that they do not need a filter or heater. This is not true. Worse still, some companies market betta fish with a flower vase. It looks like a “good” deal since people can buy a flower in a vase, with a fish in it… And some people were mistakenly told that betta fish will eat the root of the plant, providing nutrients for the plant at the same time. It can’t be more wrong! Betta are tropical fish! They need a heater. Betta are carnivorous, and they eat insect larvae in the wild. No fish can be housed in a small jar or a vase without proper filtration. Placing betta in such terrible conditions is to kill them slowly.

A Proper Betta Fish Tank Setup

1. A 5-gallon or a 10-gallon fish tank
Just like all aquarium fish, betta fish need stable water conditions in order to thrive. A minimal 5-gallon fish tank is a must for stable water temperature, PH, hardness, and other readings. A 10-gallon is recommended for even more stable water conditions, and more swimming room. Besides, a 10-gallon glass fish tank can be picked up for only around $15 USD (compare to $12 for a 5-gallon) from most places.

2. An Aquarium Heater
Betta fish are tropical fish, and thus they not only need warm but also stable water temperatures. An ideal water temperature for a betta fish is somewhere around 76~82F. When the temperature is too low, they will become less active, and their immune system will be weakened which makes them easier to catch diseases and parasites. To avoid all the above problems, an aquarium heater is a must. A fully submersible and adjustable aquarium heater is highly recommended. For example: EHEIM Jagar Aquarium Heater is fully submersible and adjustable, and a high quality German brand.

For a 10-gallon fish tank, a 50w aquarium heater is more than enough. Make sure you get a separate thermometer to monitor the water temperature.

3. An aquarium filter
No fish should be kept in an aquarium without an aquarium filter running 24/7. Betta fish is no exception. A filter is used to keep the aquarium nitrogen cycle going with the biological filtration. Otherwise, betta fish will die due to ammonia poisoning. For a 5 to 10-gallon fish tank, a small AquaClear 20 Power Filter will do well. If you want a cheaper option, a Hydro Sponge I filter will also do the trick but it requires an air pump to power it.

4. An aquarium air pump (needed only if you use a sponge filter)
The only typical aquarium equipment a betta fish does not need is an aquarium air pump. Since betta are labyrinth, they can breathe directly from the air. However, an air pump is needed to power the sponge filter if you decide to use one. Make sure you also get the air tubing and air stone for proper installation of the sponge filter.

5. Aquarium water conditioner
Just like any other aquarium fish, you will need an aquarium water conditioner if you use tap water for your betta. Any regular aquarium water conditioner will do. Do not look for any “Betta water conditioner.” It is purely for a marketing purpose. An aquarium water conditioner is an aquarium water conditioner, which neutralizes chlorine and chloramine in the tap water. SeaChem Prime is my favorite.

6. Fish food for betta
Please ignore the “betta fish food” label marketed by some fish food companies. Once again, it is for marketing purpose. As a tropical fish, betta can eat most typical fish food made for small tropical fish no problem at all. Just keep in mind that due to the small mouth of betta fish, it is better to feed them a small sized pellet than flakes. On the other hand, they do need a high quality fish food to have optimal health and colors.

New Life Spectrum 0.5mm pellets is perfect both in size and nutrition value. It is in fact one of the best fish foods available as its main ingredient is whole krill. If you decide to feed your betta fish flakes, make sure to crush it to smaller pieces first. Omega One Flakes is the best flakes available because of its main ingredient, “whole Salmon.”

Treats: Bloodworm is a good treat for betta, as their natural food is mostly mosquito larvae type of insects. Just make sure you do not over feed them with treats. Once or twice a week is enough. Too much high protein food might harm them, as they do not usually get mosquito larvae on daily basis. Pre-soak it first if it is freeze-dried bloodworms. Thaw it first if it is frozen bloodworms.

7. Substrate
As betta fish is not a bottom feeder, you may get any substrate you wish. Regular aquarium gravel is the cheapest option and it will work great for a betta fish tank.

8. Decorations
Any aquarium decoration that fits your personal preference will do. Plastic or silk plants, driftwood, artificial caves, etc., are all some good choices. Just make sure all of them are specialized for aquarium use. Since some non-aquatic items are known to poison the aquarium fish. I have heard a story of non-aquatic plastic plants releasing harmful chemicals into the water and caused the fish to be sick. Please also make sure there is no sharp object in a betta aquarium to tear/wound the long fin of betta fish.

9. A canopy
While it is not mandatory, it is a good idea to have a canopy to cover up a betta fish tank. These little fish might jump to their deaths if there is no cover on the top of the tank. Although it does not happen often, better safe than sorry is the way to go. A canopy can also slow down the water evaporation, and keep the water temperature more stable. Get a canopy with built-in light fixture would also provide your fish tank with adequate lighting for you to view the fish tank at night.

Proper Betta Fish Care

A. Pick a good location for the betta fish aquarium.
Some places at home are just bad for fish aquariums. To choose an ideal location, please refer to The Location to Set up an Home Aquarium.

B. Set up the betta fish tank.
Once the betta fish aquarium has been set up, you must not rush to get your betta fish. You need to make sure everything is working properly by turning them all on. Check the thermometer for water temperature and adjust the heater accordingly. Make sure the filter is working too.

C. Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle
A fishless cycling is required to get your aquarium nitrogen cycle going. For further details, please refer to Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle and Fishless Cycling. If you absolutely have to get your betta fish as soon as possible, please get a bottle of Tetra SafeStart (commercialized live bacteria in a bottle) to jump start the aquarium nitrogen cycle. Make sure you get a bottle that is rated for at least twice your tank size. You may get your betta fish 24 hours after you have dumped the whole bottle of Tetra SafeStart into the fish tank with filter running the whole time.

D. Get a single betta fish for one fish tank.

One betta, one tank.
As you have already known, betta fish are territorial to each other. They will fight one another and cause great injuries and even deaths if you get more than one in the same fish tank. That is why you must get one betta for each fish tank.

Do not put them in a community tank.
Contrary to a popular misconception, betta fish might not be the aggressor in a tank full of other fish species. Many faster moving fish species are nippy. The slow moving Betta’s long fin makes the perfect target. The only fish that is betta safe would be bottom feeders such as Corydoras catfish, since they do not occupy the same water level in a fish tank. But then you will need minimal 5~6 of them since corydoras catfish is a school fish. It might be too much for just a 10-gallon betta tank. It would be no problem at all if you were generous enough to give your betta fish a 20-gallon to begin with. Another betta safe aquatic animal is snail.

Do not put more than one betta fish in the same tank just because they are females.
Although they might seem to be peaceful with each other for now, it does not mean accidents won’t happen. Some female betta fish are even more aggressive than the males. They are ticking time bombs. All it takes is one incident for “everything is alright” to become a disaster.

If you absolutely have to get more than just one beautiful betta fish, you can get a second fish tank. Or use a fish tank divider, which allows you to divide a fish tank to multiple sections.

E. Feeding
Just like most other tropical fish, betta fish only need minimal fish food to thrive. Please stop your temptation to feed more food. Overfeeding is one of the top fish killers. Once a day feeding routine is recommended. For each feeding, you only need no more than 3~5 pellets of 0.5mm. Or a single piece of flake of no more than a half square inch crushed into smaller pieces. You may feed your betta fish once every two days. Do not double the food portion if you do that. You may also feed your betta fish twice a day, but then you need to cut the portion to half for each meal. Make sure there is no leftover fish food after the feeding. If there is, you must remove it immediately to avoid water pollution, and you need to reduce the portion next time.

For bloodworm type of high protein treats, make sure you only feed 1 or 2 worms at most for each meal. Skip the staple food during that day. You do not want to overfeed your fish.

F. Betta Fish Tank Maintenance
The aquarium maintenance for a betta fish tank is no different than the maintenance of any other tropical fish tank. Weekly partial water change of 30~50% is highly recommended to keep the nitrate and other organic waste low, and to restore the water buffer. Substrate vacuuming by using a gravel vacuum is needed at the same time of water change. For more details, please refer to Aquarium Maintenance.

Betta fish is actually quite easy to take care of if you do everything properly. They are expected to live for at least 2~5 years if taken care of properly. There are also reports of betta fish that lived up to 7~10 years. In such case, you need more than just excellent water quality and perfect nutrition fish food. As the reports indicate, you also need to make your betta fish work out. Typical betta fish do not like strong water current as they are a slow moving species with long fins. However, just like us humans, fish can also live longer if they have been working out regularly. If you provide just one hour of stronger than normal current to make them “work out,” they will actually be healthier and live a lot longer than usual.

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