If you’re been in the aquarium hobby for a while, you might have come across the term “Betta sorority”. Many aquarists still advocate for keeping multiple female Betta fish together, as they are supposed to be less aggressive than their male counterparts.
Is this actually true? Can female Bettas cohabit peacefully in aquariums as small as 10 gallons (38 L)? The world of domestic Betta keeping is riddled with myths and as you might have guessed… this is, unfortunately, one of them. Keep reading to find out the ugly truth about the concept of the Betta sorority.
What is a Betta sorority?
When it comes to Betta tankmates, one of the biggest and most stubborn myths is that you can keep a group of female Bettas together. This concept is is known as a Betta sorority. Unfortunately, though the name makes it sound quite fun the Betta sorority is a cruel practice. In our opinion, it shouldn’t be a thing in this day and age where information about Betta keeping is so readily available online.
Just think about it: almost all the major guides for keeping a “successful” Betta sorority essentially tell people how to try and stop their Bettas from hurting and killing each other. If you have to frame keeping a Betta sorority in such a way, it’s obviously not in the best interest of the fish! We’ll go into the specific reasons for not keeping sororities below.
Note: if you’re interested in keeping a Betta (whether male or female) with other fish, pop over to the article on Betta tankmates. This article describes some of the few actual suitable aquarium fish species to accompany your Betta.
Why shouldn’t you have a Betta sorority?
- Bettas are constantly stressed. Many Betta sorority keepers claim that their fish never attack each other or that they rarely flare. Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that such submissiveness is another form of excessive stress. Also keep in mind that while horizontal stress stripes are easy to see in some Bettas, they’re not in others because of their colors, so don’t assume that lack of stress stripes means everything is going well! For example, stress stripes are really visible on blue and red Bettas but not on yellow or white. There are tons of other signs to watch out for as well, such as clamped fins, quick breathing, darting, lack of appetite, and hiding.
- Diseases and illnesses spread faster. When fish are kept under stressful circumstances, their immune systems take a hit. In a Betta sorority, illnesses can spread like wildfire and take out an entire fish tank. It’s not uncommon to lose groups to parasites, which take advantage of compromised fish. Not only do the fish suffer, but you’ll be stressed, too, as you try to remedy emergency situations.
- Bettas are often injured. It’s not uncommon to see torn fins and missing scales within a Betta sorority. Open sores leave fish susceptible to bacterial diseases and injuries to fins can make swimming difficult.
- Bettas get killed. Now, this is the worst-case scenario that all those “how to keep a Betta sorority” guides know can happen but try their best to explain away. No matter what, there will be deaths. There are people out there who have had Betta sororities for years only to lose them overnight because of a murderous rampage. It’s not a matter of if but when. Even if it hasn’t happened yet, we don’t see why anyone would willingly accept the fact that their pets’ lives are at risk.
- Bettas are fighting fish. We’ve spent centuries selectively breeding them to be highly personable and flashy by being aggressive, and this doesn’t go away just because they’re female.
- It can be very expensive. If you have multiple fish in a Betta sorority that gets injured or sick, do you have the funds to treat and medicate them? Do you have the extra tanks, filters, heaters, and décor needed to create hospital tanks or permanent setups for females deemed “too aggressive” for the Betta sorority?
What about Betta sororities kept by many breeders?
It’s not uncommon to see a Betta breeder with a Betta sorority. For many breeders, it ultimately comes down to space and demand, but this doesn’t mean their sororities are successful nor that you should attempt the same thing at home.
Unfortunately, it’s no secret that male Bettas are the ones that fetch high prices. A lot more care is typically given to the boys to ensure that they’re looking their best. This means that males are often separated and given their own jars or tanks to ensure that their bodies and fins are left undamaged, which makes them a lot easier to sell. This also means that males need a lot more space and resources to raise.
Females, meanwhile, are often practically given away since many people typically don’t buy females unless they’re planning to breed… or they’re creating a Betta sorority of their own. It doesn’t help that many breeders, in their desperate bid to offload excess females, often sell groups for cheap.
It’s important to note that Betta sororities kept by Betta breeders are, more or less, like how you see fish kept in pet stores. We all know that fish store aquariums are overstocked and that staff has a bad habit of mixing incompatible fish. Those setups are meant to be temporary, with the goal being to move as many fish as quickly as possible. When it comes to Betta sororities kept by breeders, the goal is much the same. Just as we wouldn’t attempt to squeeze entire schools of fish in a tiny tank-like aquarium store do, we shouldn’t imitate the habit of keeping Betta sororities.
What about keeping wild female Bettas in groups?
What many people don’t realize is that the Bettas we see in pet stores, despite all their different looks, are just one species of Bettas. They’re domestic Betta splendens that are bred to be very aggressive to best show off their form and colors.
There are over 70 officially recognized Betta species with another 20 or so that are yet undescribed. A lot of these species are more docile than domestic Betta splendens and can potentially be kept in pairs or even groups, including groups with multiple males and females. However, much more research is needed since there’s still much debate about how compatible some fish are.
For example, Betta mahachaiensis, Betta smaragdina, and Betta imbellis, three species believed to have had a major role in the creation of our beloved domestic Bettas, are often listed as being able to be kept in pairs or groups with one male and multiple females. Yet, many fishkeepers are finding that they’re just as aggressive as the domestic variants and cannot be safely kept with others of the species. Even the females!
Looking to get into keeping wild Bettas (whether alone or in groups)? The article on wild Betta species describes some of the beautiful varieties out there that can be just as or even more exciting to keep than domestic Bettas.
As you can see, there are lots of reasons why Betta sororities should not be attempted. Give female Bettas a chance by setting them up in their own tanks like you would with males. There are countless stories of people falling in love with female Bettas once they give the fish the best chance to thrive. The females deserve as much love and respect as the males and can be every bit as impressive.
Want to know more about the specifics of female Bettas and keeping them in your aquarium? You can find a full article on the topic here!
Considering keeping a Betta sorority because of the females’ irresistible colors and active, zippy behavior? There are many alternatives that won’t bring you nearly as much stress. Have a look at the article on colorful fish, for example, or read up on keeping the equally colorful but much more mellow fancy guppy.
21 thoughts on “Betta sorority | The ugly truth”
I have had my betta sorority tank for 4 years and never lost a fish to sickness or violence or anything else. I did, however almost lose a young female because I kept her with my female bettas while my son”s room was being redone and when I put her alone with glow fish she was lethargic, laying on her side, not eating, not swimming, giving up. Have you studied bettas? They don’t just fight. They actually can be trained! After a week I moved her back and she’s been happy since. My females can’t live without each other. Just like in the wild, there are docile bettas. When I was reading your article I felt like you were comparing these fish to serial killers, but like you said, man, they are fish…..
People have varying levels of success with sororities! There are definitely horror stories of fish being beaten to death, though.
I just don’t think this is the case. I have a well planted 40 gallon tank with 6 female bettas and a few assorted tankmates (Otos, small cories, rasbora). It’s been running for nearly two years now, and all my fish are relaxed,inquisitive, healthy, and exhibit no signs of stress. They eat well, they explore, they interact in a very chill way, and the individual personalities and quirks of each of them have a chance to be expressed. In two years I have had no aggression or fin nipping at all – except for when I added some peacock gudgeons to the tank! I had to take them out again pretty quick. The fish seem to actually enjoy interacting with each other. The occasional flare or small chase, but It seems to me like these are little Housewives of Beverley Hills issues and they quite like the drama! Bettas would normally encounter each other in the wild, and they’re very intelligent personable little fish. Mine have always seemed much happier and more engaged/enriched with some company
The problem is that many casual fishkeepers are keeping betta fish incorrectly as it is. A betta sorority can definitely work, but it will take special consideration and a higher skill level. We want to deter bettas from being kept in unhealthy conditions.
You’re comparing your fish to the House Wives and telling us that they’re socially OK. Right…
Look, it’s a hard maybe with 4 bettas in a 40 gal, but 6…
This situation is not something they would be thrilled about in the wild. Imagine being stuck in a house with 5 of your school bullies. What you’re doing just isn’t fair to them and their mental health.
I don’t know what to think, it’s hard to find the truth through opinions. I’m planning a sorority and my plan has 5 in a 50 gallon tank with a school of rummy nose that’s heavily planted. I like to keep Cherry shrimp with my bettas and that’s supposed to be a no no too, I have great success with doing this. So I don’t know what’s fact and what’s opinion. There is more opinions out there than facts in the aquarium hobby and everyone thinks they are right. I like to be objective hence doing some more research before getting the girls. My tank is at the 6month mark of planning and week 5 since filling. I could really go into it but basically people are saying my tank can’t be were it is within 5 weeks because it takes that long to cycle. I really don’t want to do a sorority if it’s going to fail, just have to sort through opinions and find the facts
A lot of this hobby is about trial and error and that results in almost truthful opinions: what works for someone else might never work for you. There are definitely some guidelines that should be strongly considered, but if the fish is happy and healthy then that’s mostly what matters.
I was just about to do a Betta Sorority… so glad I read this. Thank you for not allowing me to kill many fish.
Thank you for researching before making your decision!! Good luck with whatever fish you choose to go with :-).
I’m interested in starting a sorority in my 20gal. Tons of hides and live plants. I might get siblings and raise them, or go to my local pet store (petco is the only one) and find the least aggressive fish. I love the article! It’s good to see valid points on both sides. I want to do this right., Because I know that it’s been done.
It is near impossible to tell the true personality of a fish in the store. While your setup sounds good with lots of hides and plants, be aware that this still might not be enough. Female betta fish can be just as aggressive as males and those sorority setups that have worked in the past might not hold true for your tank.
I don’t want to scare you out of trying it if it’s something you really want to try, but just be prepared if things don’t work out and make sure that you research as much as you can before going out to buy your bettas! When selecting fish, try to go for at least 5 of the youngest female bettas to help deter aggression problems. Add them all at the same time and keep the lights off for a few hours. Monitor aggression levels and adjust accordingly; remember that these fish are naturally aggressive, and some offensive signs are to be expected, just don’t let them get out of hand.
I hope this helps! Good luck and let us know how it goes!
I like how informative your article is, I have been researching and getting both sides is very important! I was wondering where you got your sources from so I can look more into the topic.
Thank you! Honestly, we search through a lot of fish forums where hobbyists share their own experiences, success stories, and failures! We try to compile as much personal experience as we can into these articles, and then do further research to make sure we’re getting all the facts right.
My sorority of 5 females has been great for 6 months. I have neon tetras and Cory cats with them. No problems at all.
Hi, what size tank do you have trying to start my own!
No smaller than 10 gallons for sure. I’d recommend 20 to 30 gallons because it gives them more room. I’d also recommend keeping them in odd numbers, and no more than 5 in a ten gallon. But good luck! I love my sorority
Each betta to be happy should have at least 5 gallons, especially in a sorority. Always keep an odd number of females. Keep in mind ,less is more! Make sure there’s plenty of plants (real or fake!) And at least as many hiding spots as females. If possible,buy from a shop that already has them together,to see which are “more aggressive” and which are more “timid”.All my males have a 5 or ten to themselves. The thought of more than one (female) in that small of a tank is horrifying (not to mention you could space wise only put two and even numbers are a no-no). Try a 20 long (not tall!!) With 3 females and maybe some bottom feeders. If larger ,keep the basic rules in mind.
1 year old sorority and have lost 1 fish because the filter was open. I have a 40 gallon with 8 fish. My favorite tank
Eh it’s still just a really bad idea to encourage tankmates at all. It’s not really a matter of “well my fish has a nice personality so it’s OK”, fish do have different personalities, but humanlike morality and knowing right from wrong is not one of them. Even if the Betta acts indifferent to tankmates, why take the risk?
This was a really good article but snails really aren’t a good tankmate either. They foul up the water (they produce a ton of waste) and bettas have a tendency to nip their eyestalks..so. ..not very fair to the snails. Neither Animal benefits from the presence of the other. Just keep your betta in a tank to themself like you should.
Snails don’t necessarily foul the water as long as you don’t overstock, your tank and filter should be adequate for both of the species if you want to combine them. So no apple snails in a 5 gallon haha!
With all Betta tankmates it’s a hit or miss and I’m a fan of always having a back-up tank ready. I don’t personally combine my Bettas with anything else but it does really depend on the temperament of the specific fish whether it will work or not.
Glad you liked the article 🙂