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
- Betta equipment
- How to decorate a betta tank
- Betta tank mates
- Dividing betta aquarium
- Betta aquarium inspiration
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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- 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.
- 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.
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.
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)
- 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.
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