Articles Betta

Betta than a Bowl: betta fish aquariums & betta tank inspiration

May 8, 2013
female betta

Vases and bowls have been the first choice of many beginning fishkeepers for their new betta for years. After all, a vase is cheap, doesn’t take up much space, looks pretty with a plant in it and bettas are very hardy and don’t require much specific care at all, right? Unfortunately, this info, which is mostly spread by pet stores who are trying to maximize their profits, is often accepted without second thought.

People assume pet store employees are knowledgeable and never look up additional information – when the betta dies after a few months, they are told it passed away from old age. Keep reading for information on what a good betta tank should actually look like, what equipment it should contain and, most importantly, tons of photos of beautiful betta tanks that will hopefully convince you that an actual aquarium looks much better than a bowl anyway! For more information on exactly why bowls are unsuitable betta homes, check out why betta bowls are bad.

Betta tank size

Try to go for a minimum of 5 gallons (19L). Tanks that size will actually cycle when a filter is used (click here for more info about cycling an aquarium), which reduces the need to do water changes. Tanks of 15 gallons (57L) and up can sustain some types of tank mates besides small snails like trumpet snails.
A good example of an aquarium suitable for a single betta is this aquarium kit.

But why not just a bowl? Bettas are naturally found in ponds, rice paddies and slow moving rivers in Thailand and Cambodia. Contrary to popular belief, they do not live in animal footprints and tiny pools and therefore can’t just be kept in jars and bowls.

But I see big fish rooms with tons of bettas in jars all the time!, I hear you say. Correct! However, these fish are kept by experienced betta breeders who often use a drip filter system so their bettas are supplied with fresh water 24/7 and heat their entire fish room to a stable temperature. Without a drip system, a full water change has to be done every other day to prevent ammonia poisoning, which is of course quite stressful for the fish (and for you, when you’re sick, tired or just in a hurry). Bowls, jars and vases are also often too small to put a heater in, and without heated water bettas will get lethargic and stressed from temperature fluctuations. In short, an aquarium is just much easier and reduces the risk of stress-related illnesses or even death.
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Ko Yao Yai by notashamed. Rice fields like these are an example of a natural betta habitat.

Betta equipment

  • Heater – Bettas are tropical fish that require a stable temperature of 77-82 F (25-28 C). Without a heater, they will become lethargic because of the cold water and fluctuating temperature. This is a major cause of premature death in bettas.
  • Small filter – Bettas don’t produce a lot of waste, so there is no need for huge canister filters. A simple hang on back or internal filter is enough to cycle the tank and keep water values stable. When dealing with bettas with long, flowing fins it might be necessary to baffle the filter. This can be done easily by tying a piece of sponge in front of the outflow or putting a plant with big leaves in front of it.
  • A water testing kit like this one will last you a long time and gives an accurate picture of water values and whether your aquarium is safe for your betta.Water testing kit – As with all types of aquariums, you are going to need a test kit like the one pictured to the side to monitor the water values in your betta tank. I recommend drop tests, as they are cheaper than test strips in the long run and certainly much more accurate. The API Freshwater Master Test Kit is a favorite among many aquarists.
  • Water conditioner – Often forgotten by new fishkeepers, water conditioner removes chloramine (which is used to desinfect tap water in most countries) and heavy metals, thus making tap water suitable for the aquarium. Follow the instructions on the bottle after every water change.
  • Thermometer – Heaters don’t usually fail, but when they do, it can be a huge problem. You really don’t want to accidentally cook your fish or have the temperature suddenly drop, so getting a thermometer (they are usually $2-3) and checking it daily is a good idea. They’re also very handy for matching the water temperature when doing a water change.
  • Tank lid – Bettas are known to jump when scared or excited. This behaviour has caused many a betta keeper to find their poor fish dried out behind the tank. Prevent this by getting a lid for your aquarium.
  • Substrate – Gravel is very pretty but also a pain to clean as food and poop bits get stuck in it very easily, so I personally recommend filter sand (never play sand). More information about choosing a substrate can be found here.

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Decorating a betta tank

In their natural habitat, bettas are constantly surrounded by overhanging plants and aquatic vegetation. This creates a fairly dark environment where the fish can feel safe and rest on the leaves (which makes it easier for them to dart to the surface to breathe air at night). When this effect is imitated in the aquarium, bettas will often be calmer and less skittish than when they’re in a very bare, harshly lit environment. This gives us two general guidelines when decorating a betta tank:

  • Lots of hiding places. This means plants (big leaves are always a plus), statues/caves, rocks, driftwood, etc. Having plenty of places to hide makes your betta feel safe and drastically reduces stress levels. Be sure to only use decorations that are aquarium-safe. When working with fake plants, silk ones are preferred, as the plastic ones are known to tear betta fins.
  • Something to rest and sleep on. This is especially important when you have a betta with big, heavy fins. Live plants like lotus varieties (Nymphaea lotus, pictured below) and Echinodorus varieties are perfect for this. Aquarium decorations designed especially for bettas to sleep on (like the Betta Hammock) are a great addition as well.

The lotus plant (left) has some growing to do, but the leaves already make a great place for the betta to relax on.Floating Salvinia natans dims the light, forms a place for the betta to make a bubble nest and has long roots for it to hide in.

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Betta tank mates

As mentioned earlier in this article, stick to just your betta in aquariums under 10 gallons (38L) – a few small snails like trumpet snails are fine, but there are very few fish that can be kept in such small tanks and their additional bioload could disturb the balance of the aquarium.

If your aquarium is bigger than 15 gallons (57L), you can keep your betta with some types of tank mates. Stick to fish and invertebrates that are calm, won’t nip your betta’s fins and are big enough to avoid being seen as a snack by a hungry betta. Don’t get tank mates that have different requirements than your betta when it comes to water values and temperature. Do some research before running out to the pet store.

Examples of bad betta tankmates:

  • Goldfish (coldwater fish)
  • Other bettas (unless you have a fairly large group of females)
  • Barbs (will nip at betta fins)
  • Dwarf shrimp (will often be eaten)
  • Cichlids
  • Brightly coloured guppies (will often be seen as rivals and attacked)
  • Gouramis (belong to the same family as bettas and will be seen as rivals)

Examples of good betta tankmates:

  • Corydoras varieties (like Pygmy Corydoras)
  • A group of otocinclus catfish (should only be introduced to fully cycled & stable tanks!)
  • Snails (list here)
  • Bigger shrimp varieties (amano shrimp will usually be left alone).

Note: Mystery snails are popular betta tankmates but produce a lot of waste and are unsuitable for tanks under 15 gallons (57L). back to navigation

Dividing a betta tank

Yes, this is possible! Many betta collectors keep their bettas this way. For a divided tank, try to go for something that is at least around 10 gallons (38L). To keep maintenance to a minimum, bigger is better: a 20 gal (75L), for example, can house up to 3 bettas when divided correctly.

When dividing an aquarium for your bettas, be sure to use a divider they can’t wiggle past or jump over. Many a betta has gotten stuck or ended up in another one’s territory, with fighting and injuries as a result. This is a great article by Sitting by the Koi Pond with more information about dividers and this is a great guide which explains how you can make a cheap but safe divider yourself.

Tall and floating plants and a divider with some space in the middle, which prevents the bettas from seeing each other, make this tank a stress-free environment for bettas. Photo & aquarium by Izzy the Fish Girl, via Sitting by the Koi Pond

A well-divided aquarium makes a great betta tank!

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Betta aquarium inspiration

Although there are some general guidelines, there are countless possibilities when it comes to decorating an aquarium for your betta. To provide you with some inspiration, the wonderful followers of the Aquariadise Tumblr have allowed me to share photos of their own tanks. Real plants and fake ones, divided aquariums, small aquariums, big aquariums, examples of every kind of betta aquarium can be found in the gallery below.

Click to enlarge. Enjoy & be inspired!

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A huge thank you to all the lovely people who submitted photos of their aquarium. Without you, this article would not be the same. If you want to share your own experiences with setting up a betta tank, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!

Cover photo: Melissa

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  • Reply Esen October 10, 2016 at 12:59 am

    Hey Mari, thank you for this arricle. Do I still need a filter if I have a 10 gallon bowl with a lot of live plants?

    • Reply Mari October 10, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      You sure do! And don’t forget to cycle the tank beforehand as well.

  • Reply Eva Vazquez July 19, 2016 at 7:02 am

    HI! I’m a beginner and I’m researching as much as I can before I get anything, so I have a few questions.
    Do Bettas need light? You said they like the darker environments, so should I get a light or not?
    Can my tank have only fake plants? And if so, are they aquarium specific fake plants or any will do as long as they are soft?
    How often should I change the water? And how much water at a time?

    Sorry for all these questions! And thanks!

    • Reply Mari July 27, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Hi! My apologies for the late reply. Bettas do need a light and a normal day/night cycle. Some people keep them with just fake plants but if you get a light there isn’t really much of a reason not to keep real plants! There are plenty of easy aquarium plant types that don’t require a green thumb at all. How often you should change the water and how much water needs to be changed depends on many factors. Most aquarists go for one water change a week and change anywhere between 20-80% of the water. An exact water schedule can be figured out by keeping a close eye on your water values using your liquid drop test kit.

      I hope that helps! Great to hear you’re doing your research beforehand 🙂

  • Reply Emerson June 11, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    I have had several Bettas and have kept them all in a bowl (not from a pet store, but actually a large round flower vase) and every one has blown a bubble nest. It is large bowl and all my Bettas have been very happy and had plenty of room to swim around. I do agree that some people get a bowl that is way to small. However, if you get the right size of bowl it will work perfectly. Thanks for the tips!

    • Reply Mari June 12, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      Yes, this article obviously doesn’t apply to 5+ gallon bowls that are filtered and heated. Anything under that is not recommended. Please do keep in mind that bubble nests say nothing at all about a betta’s health! Good luck with your fish.

  • Reply Bobby May 29, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Oops! I’ve bought a high tank instead of a long one!

    • Reply Mari May 29, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      Not ideal, though it could be alright if you don’t get a long-finned betta. High tanks aren’t really a great option for any fish, they all like being able to swim horizontally 🙂

  • Reply Kallie Smith February 9, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Hi, this article is great but I don’t agree with the tank size necessarily, Obviously I don’t think a bowl is a suitable house for a better but I have a five gallon that is divided with two male bettas. There has been no fin rot, pop eye, etc. I have had bettas my entire life and none have ever lived as well and without illness than my bettas have today. They have a heater, filter, thermometer, and plants. So I would just say a five gallon, (with proper care and water changes) is perfect for two healthy, happy bettas. Thanks!


    • Reply Mari February 13, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Hi. I definitely don’t agree. 2.5 gallons is too small for any type of fish in my opinion, it’s so tiny! This may be because I’m European, but over here it’s just not considered humane at all, except if you’re a breeder with a large amount of stock that is temporarily in there.
      Five gallons is the absolute minimum but many people refuse to keep fish in anything smaller than 10. Things may be fine water value wise (though you are at high risk of a cycle crash is anything does go wrong), but bettas naturally patrol quite a big territory and I just can’t imagine such a small area being ideal for them.

      Good luck with your fish, though! I hope they live long and healthy lives.

  • Reply MakaylaSer January 31, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    I have a dragonscale halfmoon in a 15 gallon and he does nothing but do the food wiggle whenever he sees me!

    • Reply Mari February 1, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      I had my betta in a 15 gallon too, it’s such a perfect size for a single betta. He was located next to my bed so it was nothing but the food wiggle from the moment I started moving in the morning haha 🙂

  • Reply Robin January 11, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Please be cautious when combining ghost shrimp with bettas. They can attack them at night and kill or injure the bettas. I have made this mistake.

    • Reply Mari January 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Oh dear, I’m so sorry to hear that! I’ll change that to just Amano shrimp then to be on the safe side, those definitely won’t harm your betta.

  • Reply EhEddery December 8, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    I have my betta kept in a bowl now, everything is pretty neat, he is very healthy and active, my though is what matters is how you control the water, mine was very simple, tap water and few pinch of salt, I kept few in bowls before they survive very long too and no major sickness or disease. Would recommend to other betta keepers, put a few pinch of salt everytime you change your water, it helps lower the pH level of the water and kills parasite worms too.

    • Reply Mari December 9, 2015 at 8:49 pm


      I’m sorry this article didn’t convince you to move your betta to a more suitable setup. Unless you’re a breeder or very serious hobbyist with an advanced water changing system, betta bowls and barracks are just not suitable. Adding salt to a betta’s water is also not a great idea at all and can be detrimental to their health in the long run. I hope you will reconsider in the future.

  • Reply Charles October 13, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    The Apple/’Mystery’ snails commonly sold in the pet trade, at least in the USA, Pomacea bridgesii, are not very large snails. A typical adult will be about 40-50 mm. There are other snails of similar shape in the same family (Ampullaridae) also called Apple snails which can grow much larger, but Pomacea bridgesii is not a particularly large snail and general advice seen elsewhere on the internet is 5 gallons of tank per snail. From my own experience keeping P. bridgesii this is true. While the species does make a lot of waste compared to other snails of its size I have kept these Apple snails in 10 gallon tanks with Bettas. Weekly water changes of course are necessary, you’ll see the distinctive snail droppings every week.

    The primary concern with Apple snails and Bettas is that Bettas will attack and bite the snails, sometimes eating an eyestalk. The snails can regenerate those lost eyestalks. To minimize the chances of these attacks, it is important to have many hiding places and distractions in the tank for the Betta.

    • Reply Mari October 14, 2015 at 9:14 pm


      Thanks for this additional information, great to hear from someone who has experience with combining these!
      I mentioned 15 gal because it’s better to be safe than sorry with all the mislabeling and other conflicting information going on. For example, when you google Pomacea bridgesii, you get this, similar to what you mentioned, but also this, which wouldn’t be great in a 10 gal. Aquarists interested in apple/mystery snails should always do their own research and if they’re not 100% sure what snail they got, 15 gallons is a safe place to start. If they do aqcuire a smaller type, then I agree 10 gallons would be alright (just not smaller than that, imo).

      Thanks again!

  • Reply luke September 28, 2015 at 3:29 am

    what kind of Betta is the one you have in the picture of your tank?

    • Reply Mari September 28, 2015 at 11:30 am

      He was a half moon and the coloration is called black orchid! 🙂

  • Reply Rob July 12, 2015 at 2:17 am

    As you said, so many people just buy a bowl and use that for their betta tank without giving it a second thought. The problem with this is it does not provide your betta with the maximum space and the best environment it needs to grow. A tank is definitely the better option if you want the best for your fish. And when you have a pet as awesome as a betta, why wouldn’t you give it the best possible home!

    • Reply Mari July 12, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately in the article you link to there is a lot of incorrect information so I would really recommend reviewing that. Male bettas should NOT be kept with females as they really stress each other out, especially not in something as small as 15-20 gallons. You also recommend a 2.5 gallon tank with a divider, which is too small to begin with in my opinion and definitely absolutely too small to divide. There is already tons of bad information about betta fish out there so please don’t make that worse.

      • Reply Rob July 19, 2015 at 9:03 am

        It could be just me, but my male Betta didn’t do any harm to the females around it. Although it showed glimpses of its inherent aggression, it was not significant enough.

        Also, thanks for pointing that 2.5 gallon aquarium thing out. I myself don’t recommend keeping Bettas in tiny bowls or aquariums as I’ve found that they really enjoy roaming around in a larger aquarium – contrary to popular belief.

        I’ll edit that part.


  • Reply Nate October 16, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Great article with some Betta care tips I had not thought of. Thanks!

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