Bettas are a tropical fish species that are generally considered to be very easy to care for because they are hardy and able to survive in oxygen-deficient conditions, but they actually need specific surroundings and thoughtful care in order for them to be happy and healthy in a tank.
In this article, you will find out what conditions betta fish need if they are going to not only survive but thrive. Bettas are among the most popular aquarium fish in the world, but far too many of them suffer in improper living conditions because of careless or ill-informed owners.
Do Betta Fish Live in Tropical Water?
Betta fish, otherwise known as “Siamese fighting fish”, are famous for their ability to live in water that is deprived of oxygen, using a specialist lung-like “labyrinth organ” to breathe air directly at the surface. Although it may seem like betta fish can live in harsh or unforgiving water, the temperature and water quality in their tanks should match the preferred conditions that these fish are designed for.
Betta fish are native to the tropical waters of Southeast Asia. To be more precise, they are most commonly found in the shallow marsh waters, ponds, and slow-moving streams of the Mekong River basin in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. This means that they are tropical fish and, as such, they want to live in waters that reflect those tropical conditions.
In their natural habitat, betta fish have a lot more space and a greater variety of vegetation than any fish tank can provide, but they can still be perfectly happy in shallow waters if it is the right temperature and quality. They need a balance of surface air and oxygen in the water around them in order to survive, so oxygen-rich water and lots of available air are essential.
Amongst the fish species that use a labyrinth organ for breathing, bettas are part of a group known as obligate breathers, which means that getting oxygen directly from surface air is essential to keeping them alive. You want to make sure that there is a good amount of fresh air at the surface of their tank and that their access is not limited by vegetation or decorations.
Can Betta Fish Live in Freshwater?
Creating a freshwater aquarium environment for pet fish is a lot easier than setting up and maintaining a saltwater tank, and there are very few species that can survive in both fresh and salty water conditions. Betta fish are freshwater fish, and they cannot be housed in saltwater of any kind. They do not tolerate saltwater and will quickly die in a saltwater tank.
In their natural environment, whether that be marshland, rice paddies, ponds, or slow-moving streams, the waters in which betta fish live are all fed by freshwater. These are simpler conditions to replicate than seawater for most home aquariums, as it is a lot less hassle to fill or recycle the water in a tank when you don’t need to worry about the levels of salt involved.
The wrong type of water will kill most fish because of a process called Osmosis, which allows water to move through a semi-permeable membrane, into or out of a fish’s body, based on the concentration of the liquid. If a freshwater fish, like a betta, is housed in salt water, then the water inside their bodies will be drawn out of their cells, causing them to dehydrate and die.
Bettas need freshwater that is clean, warm, and at the right PH level. Springwater or tap water can be used once you have checked that the PH levels are as close to 7 as possible and any chlorine, heavy chemicals, or heavy metals have been removed. A water conditioner is easy to find and will dechlorinate your water, leaving just the healthy minerals and nutrients behind.
Do Betta Fish Need Tropical Plants?
When you are trying to create a natural and fulfilling habitat for your bettas, you will want to think about the plants and decorations that they have inside the tank. The rice paddies and tropical marshes where they live are generally full of thick vegetation, but they will need a delicate balance when they’re living in an aquarium.
In their natural habitat, bettas have a lot of room in which to move around, so they can easily find access to the surface, allowing them to breathe. Too many plants in a smaller tank can limit how much your bettas can move, and it can make it difficult for them to get enough oxygen. Bettas do love having plants around, though, as they offer safety, security, and entertainment.
Live, tropical plants are generally much better for betta fish as they provide oxygen during the day, more accurately reflect the natural environment that bettas live in, and are suited to warm water temperatures. They do require a bit of maintenance, but they are certain to improve a betta’s mood.
Betta fish are carnivorous, so they don’t naturally feed on plant matter, which makes selecting and caring for any plants in their tank nice and simple.
Is Tropical Fish Food OK For Bettas?
A lot of fish can survive on generic food, but it may not actually be well-suited to their needs. Betta fish are carnivores, and they need to eat a lot of protein, which many tropical fish foods just don’t have enough of. It’s always better to select a fish food that has been specially formulated for bettas so that you know it is delivering the right nutrition.
Although generic tropical fish food might keep a betta fish from starving, a good diet should actually be centered around a high-quality betta pellet that is specifically designed for their needs. You might also consider flakes formulated for bettas and supplement that diet with some extra proteins where you can.
In the wild, betta fish eat things like insect larvae, worms, crustaceans, and some smaller fish to get the amount of protein that they need. If you want to give your bettas some extra treats, then foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, tubifex worms, and mosquito larvae are great extras to add to their diet, but be careful not to overfeed them or leave uneaten food in the tank.
Betta fish are pretty opportunistic and will likely eat most things that fall into their tank, but that doesn’t mean it is always good for them! For example, bread and fruit can actually be very harmful to bettas and should definitely be avoided.
Do Betta Fish Need a Heater?
Knowing that betta fish are native to Southeast Asia and naturally live in tropical waters, you need to think of the best ways to replicate the habitat that they are used to. A heater is an essential component to making sure your betta feels at home, and any tank that you want to raise betta in will need one. Unhealthy or unhappy bettas are often feeling too cold.
Unlike many fish species, bettas can actually handle some temperature changes because the waters that they are used to are relatively shallow and heat up or cool down depending on the season, but long periods of cold will cause them to suffer. Like most fish, bettas are cold-blooded, and they rely on the environment around them to regulate their body temperature and keep warm.
Fortunately, aquarium heaters are generally low-cost, easy to use, and quick to install in almost any tank. Two of the most important things to look out for when you are shopping for aquarium heaters are the safety and accuracy ratings that they have, so you know it is not going to malfunction and is going to keep your tank at the right temperature throughout the year.
There are a few ways to keep your tank warm without a heater, but they are rarely effective enough to keep a betta healthy, and they require a lot more work and maintenance. Covers, lights, and insulation may help to warm up a tank and can be utilized in case of an emergency, but you can only really trust a good-quality heater to get the job done properly.
What Is the Ideal Temperature for Your Betta Fish?
If the temperature in your betta’s tank is not warm enough, it can have fatal consequences. In water that is too cold, a betta’s metabolism will slow down, and they will become unable to process their food or expel waste properly, stunting their growth and affecting their digestion. Undigested food can even start to rot inside of their stomachs and cause fatal intestinal bloating.
If you notice your bettas becoming lethargic, lying on their side to conserve energy, or eating less, they may be too cold. If their water is nice and warm, they will be energetic and vibrant, and males may even start building bubble nests to impress a potential mate. A warm betta is a happy betta, so keeping an eye on the thermometer is really important for their wellbeing.
Around 75°F (23.9°C) is the absolute minimum temperature that is safe for bettas, but they really prefer their water to be a bit warmer. The ideal temperature for your betta fish is somewhere between 78°F (25.6°C) and 82°F (27.8°C), but you don’t want to go higher than 85°F (29.4°C) as it can lead to stress.
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Recap: Are Betta Fish Tropical Fish?
So, are betta fish tropical fish? Fundamentally, yes, betta fish are tropical fish, though they are a bit more adaptable than some other tropical fish species.
They are native to the tropical waters of Southeast Asia and naturally live in the warm freshwater of the Mekong River delta. Unlike most tropical fish, bettas are quite hardy. They can actually handle some pretty varied living conditions. Still, to be truly healthy and happy, they should be kept in a tank that replicates their natural habitat and ultimately fulfills their needs.
Betta fish need to live in clean, fresh water at a temperature that is carefully regulated using a high-quality aquarium heater. The ideal temperature for a betta fish is between 78°F and 82°F, where they should feel energetic and contented. Although they can survive on generic tropical fish food, bettas are much healthier when eating specially formulated betta food that has enough protein to suit their dietary requirements.
Betta fish are often viewed as an “easy-care” fish species because of their adaptability and hardiness, but they need as much personalized and thoughtful care as any other pet. Without the right water conditions and food, bettas will struggle to survive, and they won’t be as vibrant and happy as they should be.