Bettas are among the most interesting and low-maintenance fish you can keep. And their ability to breathe atmospheric oxygen and live in very small volumes of water allows them to be housed in a variety of small aquaria that can complement any home or office. However, there are some important considerations to bear in mind when shopping around for the perfect tank for your pet betta. Please read on as we discuss these issues and our own opinions on what to look for in a small betta tank.
Characteristics of The Best Betta Fish Tanks
1) Adequate Size
Yes, it’s true that a betta can live in a small bowl, if it had to. But this is not the most fulfilling life for such a regal fish. In addition, very small bowls are prone to heating and cooling extremely rapidly, as well as suffering quickly from pollution that can easily occur from even slight overfeeding. As a general rule of thumb, we suggest a minimum tank size of one gallon to keep one adult betta. Of course, your betta would be happy if you provided a larger aquarium, but a gallon container is generally sufficient so long as it is diligently maintained. Bettas can also be housed in community tanks, but take care not to keep them with fish that tend to nip fins. For example, tiger barbs are notorious for fin nipping, and will shred a betta’s fins very quickly. Shredded fins are not just a cosmetic issue, unfortunately, and a betta with badly torn fins can easily die from stress and/or secondary infections like ick/fungus.
2) A Good, Tight Fitting Cover
Bettas are not what I’d consider big time “jumpers,” but they can and will jump when given half a chance. Sometimes osmotic or other stress will cause them to jump, and sometimes they will leap simply because the can. To minimize any risk of such escape, for whatever reason, do yourself a favor and put a lid on the tank. Be careful though to leave some air space between the surface of the water and the cover as they are air breathers and need to gulp air occasionally.
3) No Strong Currents or Water Movement
This is a consideration that I often see overlooked, especially in some of the smaller betta tanks. Bettas have evolved to thrive in still or stagnant waters where this no little or no current. And, as a consequence of this design, they are unhappy when subjected to currents typically generated by hang on back filters or powerful aeration. Bettas require water that is either still, or very placid. They do not require aeration of any kind, especially when properly maintained and in a tank by themselves. If you do use a filter at all, make sure that the tank is large enough (e.g., 3 gallons or more) or the filter can be dialed down (e.g., an air release valve on an aquarium pump) such that the betta does not need to exert effort to maintain its position in the water column. If your betta is getting pushed around or fighting to stay still, it will put constant stain on the fish that can eventually lead to disease or death.
4) Bare Floor or Fine Substrates
Bettas don’t need or want any substrate in their tanks. In fact, bare bottom tanks are best for you and the betta since they facilitate easy clean up. If you do want to add some colorful gravel, however, keep it sparse and opt for relatively small grained types, rather than the large, marble-sized gravel that is often sold for small decorative bowls/tanks. Very course gravel makes a great trap for uneaten food, which then decays and causes potentially lethal ammonia spikes. Finer gravel (pea-sized or smaller) allows the fish to get at food that lands on the bottom, and still allows you to see when food is left uneaten and needs removal – both of which is better for your fish.
5) Regular Light Cycles
Fish, like most vertebrates, react profoundly to light cycles. As a species that lives close to the equator, your betta will expect a photoperiod of roughly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. If you don’t use artificial lighting, you don’t need to provide any, but avoid turning the lights on late at night when your fish is preparing to “sleep.” Also, try to purchase a tank that uses LED lighting. LED lights are by far the most efficient and long-lasting type you can buy, and also generate the least amount of unwanted heat.
6) Warm Temperatures
Unlike goldfish, for example, which can thrive in very cold water, betta are a very tropical fish. In their native waters of Southeast Asia, they rarely experience temperatures below 76 F. Consequently, you should always aim to keep your bettas at a minimum temperature of 72F, with a temperature of 78F being ideal. Bettas can certainly withstand cooler temps for short durations, but extended exposure to water temperatures below 72F make them lethargic and highly vulnerable to infections and diseases, particularly fin rot, ick, and fungus.
7) Individual Housing
Although female bettas can be kept together, males cannot be kept with other males or females. The only exception to this rule is if you are attempting to breed bettas, in which case the male will tolerate the female (grudgingly) only until the eggs are laid, after which time he will attack and kill her if the tank is not large enough for her to escape his line of sight.
8) Good Water Quality
Whatever you do, you must keep a betta’s water clean. This means that periodic water changes should be conducted, which involve removing any debris from the bottom of the tank. A good rule of thumb is to change between 30-50% of the water per week. This keeps the water fresh without changing things too drastically. Make sure to use dechlorinated water and try to match the temperature of the new water to the old water.
9) Placement in a Calm Area, Away From Direct Light
You wouldn’t want to live next to a 6-lane highway, and neither would your betta, so keep the tank somewhere away from heavy foot traffic. It’s difficult enough living your life in a small transparent container, don’t make matters more stressful by locating the tank where your betta will be subject to constant movement and/or vibrations. Also, locate the tank away from direct sunlight, which can cause rapid temperature spikes and encourage algae growth.
If you’ve chosen a tank of sufficient size, keep the betta by itself, maintain proper temperatures and keep up with regular water changes, there’s not much else you need. Be wary of vendors that try to sell lots of accessories for beta-only tanks, like sophisticated filters, lighting, etc. These things are usually unnecessary.
Featured (top) photo credit: “CT Multicolour M – Betta-Online” by Veronica Daniella Vereeken under CC BY 2.0