Betta splendens, or Siamese fighting fish, have become so popular because of their stunning colors. Centuries of breeding have produced bettas of almost every imaginable color, so it may be shocking to discover that your beloved betta’s colors are fading or changing.
Color changes in betta fish often indicate a health problem that needs attention, although there are some perfectly harmless causes for color change in bettas.
Let’s look at some of the most common reasons for a color change to help you understand why it’s happening in your fish.
So Why Do Fish Change Color?
First, we must be clear that bettas are not the only type of fish that can change color. Just as you may be concerned over a human’s health if their skin looks very pale or suddenly turns crimson-red, the pigments displayed by any fish are a good indicator of their overall well-being.
Have you ever noticed how different the fish colors are in the pet store? In one shop, the fish look vibrant and glowing. In the next one, they appear dull and gray.
Of course, fish color can be influenced by tank lighting, but the most significant factor affecting fish color is their health.
Bright colors are a sign of vibrant health. A fish feeling happy, nourished, and fulfilled in its environment will be radiant. But a fish turning pale or gray is a cause for concern.
Pale colors often signal that a fish is unhappy in some way and that there could be some issues in the aquarium that need to be addressed.
What Causes Betta Fish To Experience a Color Change?
Stress is the most common cause of mild color changes in betta fish. Bettas are fairly sensitive fish; their tank environment must be set to the correct parameters for them to thrive. They can quickly become stressed if something is off.
Stress will often cause a betta to turn pale or may even see them developing ‘stress stripes’ – dark horizontal bars that can run the length of the fish’s body. Stress stripes may appear especially prominent in female bettas.
Causes for stress in betta fish are numerous. Let’s look at a few of them.
Bettas need warm water. They come from near the equator, so they prefer water to be between 78 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water temperature fluctuates outside this range, your betta could become stressed or even shocked and lose its beautiful colors. Make sure you have a reliable heater with an accurate thermostat to keep the water temperature steady.
Bad Water Quality
Every betta tank needs a filter that will keep the water clear and convert dangerous ammonia into nitrates. Bettas also need their tank to be kept clean, with frequent partial water changes to manage the build-up of nitrates and other potential toxins.
If your filter isn’t working correctly or you’re not keeping on top of your tank cleaning regime, your betta may become stressed and lose its color due to poor water conditions. In the worst case, ammonia poisoning could even kill your betta.
Bettas need a tank of at least five gallons to remain happy and healthy. If they’re kept in tanks or bowls any smaller than five gallons, they quickly become stressed, lose their color, and can die young.
Rough handling or a traumatic event can leave your betta feeling shocked, which will strain his circulatory and immune systems. Just as humans turn pale after a shocking episode, your betta will also lose color if he’s recently experienced a traumatic event.
Bettas are not suitable for community aquariums and need a very careful selection of tankmates to prevent them from becoming aggressive toward, or intimidated by, other fish.
Incompatible tankmates like gouramis, cichlids, and barbs will likely cause your betta stress by dueling with him or nipping his fins.
Illnesses and ailments are another reason betta fish lose color.
Just as your skin may turn pale with the flu, your betta fish will tend to lose its vibrant colors when it’s under the weather. Common diseases for bettas include fin rot, ich (aka. white spot disease), and velvet parasites.
All these diseases can be treated, but they must be diagnosed swiftly to remedy the infection. If you notice your betta losing color, take a closer look at its skin, gills, and fins.
White spots or dusty speckles on the skin could be ich or velvet infections. Frayed fins may indicate a bacterial infection known as fin rot. And red gills might be a sign of gill flukes or ammonia poisoning.
If you have doubts about your betta’s health, it’s vital to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible, as these conditions can be fatal if not treated in time.
Bettas need to be given the right foods to be at their brilliant best. Ordinary community fish foods are not rich enough in protein for bettas and can cause bloating, digestive upsets, and color loss.
Bettas are chiefly carnivorous fish and should only be fed with specialized pellets if you give them dried food. A selection of meaty foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, daphnia, and mosquito larvae is even better for bettas.
These natural foods are fantastic for enlivening colors in fish owing to their high content of quality proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Change in Environment
One of the biggest causes of stress and even shock in betta fish is being transferred to a new fish tank. If not done correctly, the process could easily cause color loss that could take a long time to recover.
Imagine for a moment that you’re that little betta fish sitting in a pet store, perhaps in a tank that’s too small for you. Now, suddenly, you’re being scooped up in a net, bundled into a tiny polythene bag, hoisted into a car, and sloshed around all the way to your new home.
Then you get dumped in a totally unknown environment, where the water is different, the surroundings are different, and maybe even your new, mysterious-looking tank mates are different!
A pretty stressful experience, wouldn’t you say? It’s really important that you empathize with your fish so that you know how to make this transition as smooth and painless as possible.
How To Make a Change of Environment Less Stressful
If you want your betta to be at his brilliant best from the word go, you’ll need to do everything you can to make his transition into his new tank as calm and gentle as it can be.
If you’re buying your betta from a store, be exceptionally careful with the bag in transit. Take care of it like you would a newborn baby! Any sudden movements or bumps on the way could cause a lot of stress to your betta.
If you’re buying your betta online, check reviews and choose a reputable supplier you can trust to deliver your betta in immaculate condition.
When introducing a betta to a new tank, you can make the ordeal much less stressful for him by floating the bag in a darkened environment so that he can gently acclimate to his new tank.
If you release him in the evening, keep the lights off until morning, which will give your betta much more time to settle in before being confronted with the strange new world of his new tank when the lights go on!
Just as our skin becomes wrinkled and our hair loses color with age, a betta fish will also undergo its own appearance changes as it grows older. While most bettas in captivity only live to around three years old, these fish can live up to ten years – quite a long life span for such a little creature!
During the latter years of a betta’s life, it shouldn’t be surprising if its colors begin to appear slightly less dazzling than they once did. By now, you’ve probably shared a long journey with your pet fish and can allow him to pass into his elderly phase, accepting that he might not be quite as colorful as before.
At the very end of a betta’s life, you will likely see a marked decline in color. In their last few days of life, bettas may lose a significant amount of their color and appear pale or gray.
A lack of appetite, lethargy, and lying on the bottom of the tank are other signs that a betta is about to pass on.
If your betta is dying from old age, all you can do is accept that it’s their time to go and make his passing as comfortable as possible.
On the other hand, if your betta is less than three years old, you may still be able to intervene to save his life. Perhaps there is a disease or condition that hasn’t yet been diagnosed, or your heater or filter isn’t working correctly.
Check your fish carefully and do some water tests to see if you can do anything to save it from needless death.
The final cause of betta color loss we’ll explore is also the most benign. One cause of color change in bettas is of no cause for concern, and that is the marble gene.
Advanced breeding programs have produced betta fish with all manner of genetic characteristics. One of the most famous lineages is the Marbled Betta.
Marble Bettas possess a rare genetic sequence that gives them a random, blotchy appearance – with different pigments scattered over the body. They can come in a variety of colors, including black and white, but those that have colors resembling koi fish are often referred to as ‘Koi Bettas.’
Amazingly, the coloration patterns of Marbled Bettas are not stable – they change with time! This remarkable morphing of colors is caused by a ‘jumping gene,’ which can change its sequence at any time during the course of the fish’s life.
How Do I Know If I Have A Marble Betta?
Now you may wonder to yourself, what if my betta is a marble type – maybe he’ll suddenly change color!
And you will just have to keep wondering because there’s no good way to know whether your betta has a marble gene or not – until you see his colors changing!
While the classic Marbled Betta will have random pigments scattered on a plain, cellophane body, other bettas with the marble gene will show one color as a juvenile but develop different colors later in life.
Because of the rich cocktail of domestic betta genetics, marble genes occasionally pop up where you least expect them. Even buyers who think they’re buying a purebred Royal Blue Plakat can later be surprised to see him turning white. Likewise, a White Opal Betta could turn red or purple – there’s no way to know until it happens!
How Do I Know If Color Change Is Genetic or Something Else?
Genetic marbling in bettas throws a bit of confusion into the color change mix. While in most cases, we would associate color change with something to be concerned about, when it comes to the marble gene, color changes could happen to a perfectly healthy fish quite unexpectedly.
In general, color loss or colors becoming paler on your betta are a sign of a health problem or stress. Horizontal dark stripes may also be stress stripes. On the other hand, marbling will usually produce an unexpected change of pigment on any part of the body. If your fish suddenly has a blue patch on his flank, it’s safe to say it’s marbling!
But there are also some gray areas. Marbling can also cause a colorful betta to turn white gradually. So in some circumstances, it can be difficult to know the exact cause.
What To Do If Your Betta Changes Color Unexpectedly
If your betta changes color unexpectedly, he may be experiencing natural fluctuations caused by the marble gene, or it may indicate a more serious problem. If you don’t know why the color changes are occurring, it’s best to be safe and check things out.
Give your fish a thorough inspection to ensure nothing else is out of place. If your betta seems lethargic or uninterested in food, test your water parameters to ensure your heater and filter are working correctly. Also, make sure there haven’t been any sudden changes in the tank’s pH or dGH.
Healthy fins, bright eyes, shiny scales, a good appetite, and energetic swimming are all signs that your fish is well and unlikely to be suffering any adversity. In this case, the color change is likely caused by a marble gene.
How Long Will It Take For My Betta To Get His Color Back?
The speed at which color will return to your betta depends on the cause and severity of the problem.
If the color loss has been caused by stress or mild illness, it can quickly return once you’ve corrected the cause of the problem. For example, if your betta is losing its color because the tank is a few degrees too cool for him, you can correct this by raising the temperature on your thermostat dial. In this case, you should see a marked improvement in your betta’s color within a week or so.
It will take longer for your fish to recover from serious diseases. But, with meticulous care and a high-quality feeding regime, your betta should eventually recover his former glorious colors within several months.
If your betta is simply getting old or in a natural process of dying, you can only expect his colors to keep diminishing.
Color changes caused by marbling are entirely unpredictable and can be permanent or morph into something completely different! You’ll just have to wait and see!
Several different factors can cause a color change in betta fish. While stress, sickness, and old age are likely candidates, your betta may also change color through the harmless process of genetic marbling.
If you’re unsure what’s causing your betta to change color, it’s best to be on the safe side and investigate. Although some causes of color change are harmless, many others can indicate a problem that needs to be urgently remedied for the well-being of your precious pet fish.