Are Betta Fish Smart (& How To Train Them)

The betta fish is a beautiful fish that comes in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and fin shapes. Their gorgeous and elegant fins are a wonder to observe. They are a popular pet choice for beginner aquarium enthusiasts. Betta fish are sometimes described only as aggressive and low maintenance, but scientific studies have demonstrated that bettas are highly intelligent fish, and they need an appropriate aquarium set up to truly thrive. Bettas can be lively pets and can even be trained to perform simple tricks! 

Bettas have the reputation of being a hardy species that can thrive in any condition, but this is not the case. A small, unheated, unfiltered fishbowl is not the right environment for a tropical fish species like the Betta. Neglect of this nature will greatly impact the health and lifespan of the fish. The ideal aquarium setup for a Betta fish is a large tank, ideally at least five gallons, that has a filter and heater than can be set to better mimic the warm tropical waters of Southeast Asia. Bettas love to hide and rest among aquatic plants, making them an ideal fish for an aquascaped tank with live plants.

In addition to an appropriate habitat setup, Bettas need a lot of physical and mental stimulation to flourish. Thinking about adding a betta to your aquarium family? Read on to learn more about the Betta’s intelligence and how betta owners can keep their betta fish mentally and physically stimulated.

Are Betta Fish Smart?

In scientific studies, betta fish have demonstrated intelligent behavior. Bettas are capable of remembering, and this attribute makes them more trainable than other fish species. Bettas thrive in an environment that provides plenty of stimulation, either through habitat enrichment or interaction. A bored Betta may become lethargic, weak, or sick.

In their native habitats in Southeast Asia, male bettas (also known as Siamese Fighting Fish) are captured and trained to fight. This aggression is an example of species interaction and also a signal of social intelligence. For example, bettas are highly territorial and use aggression to exert dominance. Studies have shown that male bettas can synchronize their reactions the longer the males battle. For this reason, male betta fish should not be kept together in the same tank, although many other fish species can live in complete harmony with a male betta fish.

Much of the bettas’ intelligence is related to the natural instincts of the species. This includes not only its territorial aggression but also how the betta fish mates and cares for its young.

The Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), also known as the betta, is a freshwater fish native to Thailand (formerly Siam) and present in neighboring Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

How Smart Are Betta Fish?

Betta fish demonstrate intelligence in several ways. Their intelligence has been observed in scientific studies and are well-known to Betta fish enthusiasts. 

Memory

Betta fish demonstrate memory in their ability to be trained. Bettas also can recognize and remember their owners’ faces and voices, especially with regular interactions. Bettas also demonstrate memorization as it relates to its territory and any potential threats. Not only does the male Betta differentiate between a threat or non-threat in its territory, but it can also remember where that threat/non-threat was encountered.

Learning

Betta fish are capable of learning in many different contexts. In scientific studies, bettas have demonstrated the ability to distinguish between colors and can also identify whether a fish placed in their tank is a real fish or a “dummy” fish. Betta fish are capable of learning how to complete tasks or tricks that increase in complexity.

Trainability

Bettas can be trained to do a variety of tricks. Some of these tricks can include hand-feeding, swimming through small hoops, and jumping. Fish training kits can be purchased and usually include a variety of fish training games and other accessories to make training your Betta even easier. Live treats and high-quality fish food are great motivators when training a betta fish to perform tricks.

Social Behaviors

While male bettas are well-known for their aggressive defense of their territory against other males, bettas demonstrate other social behaviors that provide further proof of intelligence. For example, bettas are highly attentive parents. Male bettas create bubble nests under leaves and in calm waters to protect eggs. Mating with a female betta only happens after a lengthy courtship. Additionally, male bettas can coexist in a community aquarium with many different species of fish and aquatic life.

Do Betta Fish Recognize Their Owners?

Betta fish are capable of recognizing their owners, especially owners who interact with the Betta regularly. Betta fish may approach the aquarium glass excitedly when encountering movement outside the fish tank, flaring their gills and swishing their beautifully ornate fins. Betta fish can also recognize and distinguish between human voices.

Do Betta Fish Have Feelings?

It can be difficult to determine the emotions of a fish. Fish cannot communicate to their owners like dogs and cats, so the behavior of the Betta will be the best measure of how the fish is feeling. However, many Betta behaviors can provide important clues. A thriving and content Betta fish will act differently than a sick and bored Betta.

Can Betta Fish Feel Happy?

Betta fish can demonstrate feelings of contentment and happiness through certain behaviors and how the Betta appears. A content Betta will have a robust appearance in color and be active at mealtimes or when the tank is approached. Tails and fins will have no signs of damage or diseases such as fin rot. A happy betta fish will swim easily and nestle among tank plants. Bettas may also be found contentedly resting at the bottom of the aquarium as a way to rest from swimming with its large fins.

How To Tell If Your Betta Fish Is Happy

A happy betta fish will appear lively and curious. You may also find a bubble nest tucked away under tank plants or in a corner. A bubble nest is a good indicator that the fish feels secure from predators since this behavior is typical during mating.

Do Betta Fish Get Bored?

Because betta fish are highly intelligent for a fish species, mental stimulation is important. There are many ways a pet owner might provide enrichment to prevent boredom. This can include tank setup and aquascaping, food or treat rotations, and interaction. Betta fish thrive in planted tanks that mimic the shallow muddy waters and slow-moving streams of their natural habitats.

Do Betta Fish Get Depressed?

If a betta fish is not cared for properly, the fish will become lethargic and sick. This can be caused by dirty or crowded tank conditions, incorrect pH levels, and poor diet. Stressed Bettas will also have irregular swimming patterns and may reject food. They may also lose their distinctive bright colors. If a betta seems unusually sluggish, struggles to swim, or sinks to the aquarium bottom, a veterinarian or marine wildlife specialist should be contacted.

Can You Talk To A Betta Fish?

Talking to your betta fish is a great way to bond with your pet. Regular conversation can make training your fish easier because the fish has learned to recognize your voice. While it may seem silly to talk to a fish, betta owners can talk to their pets just as dog or cat owners would.

Can Betta Fish Learn To Perform Tricks?

In their natural habitats in the waters of Southeast Asia, Betta fish have long been prized for their beauty and fighting spirit. Captured and trained to fight, male Bettas would be enticed into battles. Additionally, wild bettas can jump to capture food. These natural abilities and instincts make training a pet betta to perform tricks easier than training other species of fish.

How To Train Your Betta Fish

Betta owners who are interested in training their fish to perform tricks should be prepared to be consistent and patient. Using fish food as a reward for training must be done carefully to avoid overfeeding and polluting the tank. A healthy betta that is fed a high-quality diet and lives in suitable tank conditions will be much easier to train.

Follow Finger

Training your betta fish to follow your finger is a great foundational trick to teach. It will teach your Betta to come when summoned. Start by simply dragging a finger slowly across the aquarium glass until the Betta approaches, then promptly reward with a special treat. 

Hand Feeding

Once your Betta has mastered following your finger, they are ready to attempt hand feeding. Before attempting to hand feed a Betta fish, your hands must be totally clean and free from all soap or hand sanitizer residue. Your fingers should also be free of cuts or other abrasions that would allow bacteria to enter; wearing gloves is another option. Slowly introduce your fingers to the water during feeding time; this will help your Betta associate your fingers with a positive event. As your Betta loses fear of your fingers in the water, you may experiment with feeding them directly from your fingers.

Jumping

Betta fish are natural jumpers and do so in their wild habitats. The betta fish may even be trained further to jump for a treat. Using a training stick with fish food on end, hold the stick very close (but not below) to the water’s surface. Keeping still, allow the fish to make a small leap. You can gradually increase the distance of the reward/training stick to encourage higher jumps.

Swimming Games

Swimming games, such as swimming through hoops and fish obstacle courses, can be an enjoyable bonding experience with your Betta. Bettas can also be trained to push small, lightweight balls (like a table tennis ball) around the fish tank.

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Are Betta Fish Smarter Than Goldfish?

Betta fish and Goldfish are the two most common species of fish that are kept as pets. They have different instincts and typically live in very different habitats. While both Bettas and Goldfish both originate in Asia, Goldfish are related to larger fish species, such as Koi and Carp. Goldfish grow larger than Bettas and need a larger tank, at least twenty gallons. Goldfish generate a lot of waste and need a powerful filter to keep the tank water clean. In contrast to Bettas, Goldfish typically require cooler temperatures to thrive. Because these species vary so greatly, their levels of intelligence and instinctual natures will be variable. As with all pet fish, tank conditions greatly impact the health and behavior of Goldfish.

Memory of Goldfish

There is a popular saying that if someone “has the memory of a goldfish,” they forget easily. This is based on the notion that the attention span of a goldfish is merely three seconds long. However, scientists have proven this false! In fact, Goldfish can retain information for at least a week.

Learning Ability of Goldfish

Like Bettas, Goldfish can learn to perform simple tricks, such as swimming through hoops or completing a simple obstacle course. Using a food reward system is key to success. 

Trainability of Goldfish

Goldfish are trainable in the same fashion as other fish species. Patience and repetition are the cornerstones of an effective training game for a goldfish pet, as well as using food-based rewards. However, Goldfish cannot be trained to jump, as jumping out of water is a defense mechanism that Goldfish use when tank conditions are extremely dirty.

Social Behaviors of Goldfish

Goldfish are social and docile fish. They rarely show aggression toward other Goldfish and tankmates unless they are competing for resources or mates. Goldfish also forage, so they may uproot aquatic plants. Conditions in the aquarium will greatly impact the behavior and health of the Goldfish. Goldfish require larger tanks than Bettas and much more maintenance in terms of water filtration.

Recap

Betta fish are a beautiful and intelligent fish species. They make excellent pets, given the correct circumstances and environment. Despite their reputation as low-maintenance fish, Betta fish thrive in large, clean, heated tanks that provide opportunities for stimulation and enrichment, such as plants and caves. With the right environment to thrive, Betta fishes demonstrate natural instincts and intelligence that separate them from other fish species. These traits include the ability to learn and remember, making Bettas a more interactive pet than most fish.