How To Set Up A Betta Biotope Aquarium

A biotope aquarium is essential for a healthy Betta fish and can be set up fairly easily using the right tank size, planting substrate, and natural elements such as driftwood, tropical aquatic plants, botanicals, tankmates, and blackwater tint.

In this article, we will look at each element that makes up a successful biotope and a step-by-step process so you can make your own easy-to-care-for Betta biotope aquarium with as little maintenance as possible as the tank, plants, and exosystem establish themselves.

What Is A Biotope Aquarium?

A biotope is another word for habitat and is the re-creation of an environment similar to the one found in the wild of a particular species of fish, animal, or plant.

What Is Your Betta Fish’s Biotope?

The South-East Asian Biotope includes several fish and aquatic life, including Betta splendens.

What Are Some Tips For Setting Up A Betta Biotope Aquarium?

Here are some tips for setting up a Betta Biotope Aquarium:

  • Choose as large of a tank size as you can for a healthy tank ecosystem.
  • Choose your plants and decoration elements carefully, taking into account that you don’t want to overcrowd your fish in the initial setup, or after six months when the plants are established and growing to their full size.

For a tank that you want to have a well-functioning ecosystem with, choose a tank that is at least 5 gallons or more. This gives your plants space to establish themselves, space for substrate, and for the biological ecosystem on the microscopic level to balance within the tank.

Too small of tanks lead to a buildup of waste, such as ammonia, faster than any plant life that’s crammed inside to keep up wit

111h, and won’t allow you to create a low-maintenance or even a self-maintaining tank.

Larger tanks of 5 gallons and up, accounting for any additional stock, give space for the tank to ‘cycle’ (when ammonia is processed into nitrates and nitrites by mechanical and biological filtration) and give space for the plants to establish themselves.

If you want to know everything about betta fish care, click here!

In larger tanks, any changes made to the water are buffered due to the larger volume of water, which is a safer environment for your fish as Bettas are sensitive.

You will also want to choose your plants, substrate, and elements carefully to allow the fish room to swim and the plants to grow over time.

How Do I Make A Biotope For My Betta Fish?

What Betta Fish Tank Size Should I Use?

A tank size that’s friendly to both fish and tank owners is a minimum of 5 gallons, and then anywhere up to 10 gallons.

Keep in mind that the other tank mates that you may add to the tank need extra space, so count how many gallons each tank member needs before finalizing your tank size.

What is Needed in My Betta Fish Tank Setup?

These are the necessary items for your Betta Fish Tank Setup:

  • Tank.
  • Planting substrate.
  • Filter.
  • Heater.
  • Elements (driftwood and stones.)
  • Substrate topper (sand.)
  • Aquatic plants.
  • Botanicals.
  • Tankmates.
  • Blackwater tinting medium.

What Type of Tank Should I Use for My Betta?

Bettas have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe water when they touch the surface, so Bettas prefer tanks that are wider than they are high to allow easy reach to the surface at all times.

What Type of Planting Substrate is Suitable for Betta Fish?

You will want to look for a substrate that is nutrient-rich and formulated for freshwater plants. The granules will be the ideal size for plants to establish their roots in, and substrate with volcanic soil or rocks is always a great choice due to the high nutrient content.

What Filter do Betta Fish Prefer?

Bettas have large, beautiful fins that easily catch any current in the tank, so the tank owner has to be careful in choosing a filter that will circulate the water while also not creating a strong current to stress out your Betta.

If you find your filter is too strong, adding filter media to the intake and outtake will slow down the current, and more filter media can be added as needed.

What Aquarium Heater Should I Use for my Betta?

Bettas are tropical fish that prefer temperatures between 76 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s necessary to use a heater if you are living in a cooler climate. Heaters should be submersible with an auto-turn-off so they turn off when the water reaches a set temperature.

What Elements Look Great in a Betta Tank?

Driftwood (such as weathered driftwood and Malaysian driftwood) and stones (such as Seiryu stones) are great pieces to add to a natural-looking tank. The driftwood is dense so it will sink to the bottom of your tank almost immediately, and the stones can help stabilize your design.

The elements can be set up in a decorative way to accentuate their natural beauty, especially after the rest of the items are added, such as the plants, botanicals, and the Betta.

What Substrate Topper Should I Use for My Biotope?

Substrate topper, or sand, comes in many colors and should accentuate the colors already present in the tank. For example, if you have grey stones, you can use a grey sand topper. For added texture, this can be sprinkled with light red sand.

What Types of Plants Can I Use in My Betta Tank?

Here are some plants that work well in a Betta Aquarium:

  • Dwarf Aquarium Lily (Nymphaea stellata)
  • Red Tiger Lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri)
  • Giant Hairgrass (Eleocharis montevidensis)
  • Creeping Charlie (Micromeria brownie)
  • Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri)
  • Anubius nana ‘Petite’
  • Taiwan Lily (Nymphoides hydrophylla ‘Taiwan’)
  • Bronze Crypt (Cryptocoryne wentii ‘Bronze’)
  • Hornwort
  • Kleiner Bar Sword (Echinodorus ‘Kleiner Bar’)
  • Flame Moss (Taxiphyllum ‘Flame’)
  • Cryptocoryne lutea
  • Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

For more plant options, Francodex has an article dedicated to the South-East Asian Biotope.

What Kind of Botanicals Are Good for a Betta Tank Setup?

Here are some botanical examples that are great for a Betta tank:

  • Oak leaves.
  • Alder cones.
  • Banana stems.
  • Sterculia pods.

What Are Good Choices for Betta Fish Tank Mates?

Here are some good tank mates for a Betta tank of at least five gallons:

  • Amano shrimp.
  • Ghost shrimp (requires at least eight gallons.)
  • Mystery snails.
  • Zebra nerite snails.

These tank mates go well with Betta fish as they are all docile and non-aggressive. Snails can hide in their shell if a Betta is curious and wants to nip at them. Shrimp stay on the ground level of the tank most of the time, out of the way of the Betta who usually dominates the mid to top level of the tank. goes further into detail in their article about other types of tank makes, but these require large tanks.

betta care facebook group

Why is Blackwater Tinting Good for My Betta Tank?

Natural blackwater tinting mimics your Betta’s natural habitat, increases the water quality of your Betta tank, and creates an environment that is easier to hide in, giving your Betta more comfort.

According to Modest Fish, Betta fish live in “blackwater environments where the water is a dark brown color… caused by [leaves in the water.] As the leaves break down, they release tannins [which dyes] the water dark brown.”

Tannins cause the water to soften and lean toward the acidic side of the pH scale, making it antibacterial and antifungal. Your Betta and your plants will love this, naturally thriving in these conditions in the wild.

How to Use Blackwater Tinting to Mimic the Betta Fish Natural Habitat?

You can boil Indian Almond leaves, Oak leaves, and alder cones and use the dyed water as a tank supplement, or add the botanicals directly, which will leach tannins into the water over time. Or, you can steep Rooibos tea in the tank for an instant darkening effect.

How Do I Use Rooibos Tea as My Blackwater Tint in My Betta Tank?

Here are the steps on how to use Rooibos tea in your Betta tank:

  • Take some organic loose leaf rooibos tea and fill a sterilized tea steeper (preferably one that is only used for your tank) with about one teaspoon or one and a half teaspoons of tea.
  • Hang the tea steeper inside the tank.
  • Let the tea steeper suffuse the water until the desired level of tint is achieved, at least 10-30 minutes.

What Are the Steps in Making My Own Betta Fish Biotope?

Here are the steps in making your biotope:

  1. Set your dry, sterilized tank on a flat surface.
  2. Choose your planting substrate (stratum) and gently pour it in about two to four inches deep. Smooth it out with a brush and create a gentle slope from the front, making it higher in the back to give the tank more depth.
  3. Place your key element in the tank first; it is usually the largest and most uniquely shaped piece out of all your chosen driftwood and stones.
  4. Shape the rest of the aquascape around the key element with other pieces of driftwood and stones, working your way from larger items to smaller items. To create more height, more substrate can be added to raise the stones and other elements.
  5. Also, add the filter and heater in the back of the tank or on the side. At this point, it’s optional to use the decorative elements to hide or obscure the filter and heater if you don’t want it to be directly visible.
  6. Add an inch of substrate topper (which is usually sand) to your substrate, using the brush again to even it out and create the sloping effect. Multiple colors of sand can be used to create a more appealing aquascape.
  7. Using de-chlorinated water and a type of strainer so the water flow does not disturb the substrate, pour in water slowly until it reaches near the top of the tank, one or two inches off from the rim.
  8. Using long tweezers or clean hands, add the plants into your tank. Moss grows over time and can be added to cracks in driftwood. Taller, bushier plants fit well in the background and midground of your tank. Shorter plants fill in the crevices of your tank’s foreground. If you are using Hornwort in your aquascape, be sure to give it extra room as Hornwort is an avid grower.
  9. Boil your botanicals for at least 10 minutes to sterilize them and cause them to sink faster, then let them soak in water overnight so they become waterlogged, and then add them to your aquarium. Sprinkle them throughout your midground and foreground for a natural look. If necessary, you can use the long tweezers to move the botanicals around for a pleasing, clean look.
  10. Add a live bacteria product or an old tank filter media to get the tank cycled and established. When water parameters meet satisfactory levels after a water test, stock can be added.
  11. Add your tank mates, if you are using any. They should be slowly acclimatized to the water before releasing them into the tank.
  12. Add your Betta fish. They should also be slowly acclimatized to the water before being released into the tank.
  13. Add your blackwater extract or steep your rooibos tea in the tank to achieve the desired tint level.
  14. Check the water parameters of your tank every day to ensure the parameters are healthy for your fish, perform water changes when needed, feed your fish and tank mates, and enjoy your tank.

For a video tutorial on the step-by-step process of making a Betta biotope tank, SerpaDesign, a professional tankscape builder, offers a DIY Betta tank tutorial and a blackwater Betta tank tutorial along with the tank’s maintenance tutorial.

How Do I Maintain My Biotope Tank?

Here are some steps on how to maintain a healthy biotope tank:

  1. Unplug the filter and heater.
  2. Clear the surface and substrate of debris, such as dead plant matter.
  3. Trim back plant leaves and roots to encourage bushier growth and to give the tank a cleaner, well-maintained look. Large roots need special attention as they can be invasive for other plants, making trimming a necessity. (Trimming a well-established tank is usually only needed once every two months.)
  4. Wipe the inside and outside of the front of the tank. If there is algae on any of the walls, remove it with a scraper or a sponge, taking care not to disturb the decor or substrate.
  5. Drain at least 30% of the water. You may need to drain more depending on your tank’s ecosystem and size.
  6. Take out the filter media from the filter and rinse it in the dirty tank water to get rid of debris and waste.
  7. Refill the tank back up with fresh de-chlorinated water, using a strainer to not disturb the substrate or plants.
  8. Replenish botanicals as needed, removing old ones that have broken down too much.
  9. Replenish blackwater tint as needed with the extract or steeped tea.
  10. Plug back in the filter and heater.

What Are Some Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Betta Biotope Aquariums?

Do Betta Fish Like Biotope Aquariums?

A biotope mimics the Betta fish’s natural environment, making it not only the healthiest, safest, and ideal living space for your Betta, but your fish will immediately feel at home in a biotope, and you will notice your fish thriving in its living space.

Can Male and Female Betta Fish Live Together in a Biotope?

The same rule applies for Bettas living in a regular tank or a biotope; males and females should only be together for a short breeding session and then separated.

Bettas are aggressive, even with each other. This is why Betta females and males can only spend a short time together, or they may become injured or weak.

Can Betta Fish Live With Goldfish in a Biotope?

Due to different needs, such as water temperature, diet, and temperance, Betta fish and Goldfish cannot be housed together.

Betta fish are tropical fish from Thailand, preferring water temperatures of 76 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Goldfish, however, prefer cooler water temperatures of 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

Goldfish also produce high amounts of waste, such as ammonia, which Betta fish are lethally sensitive to in high or fast-producing amounts. 

Goldfish are also known to be aggressive and have fin-nipping tendencies. This can be dangerous for Betta fish as they have long, ornate fins and short-tempers.

There is also a difference in the diet as Goldfish are omnivores and Betta fish are carnivores. Betta fish won’t like goldfish food, and Betta fish food is bad for a goldfish’s health in the long run as they will be lacking vital nutrients only found in plant matter.


Creating a biotope for your Betta fish is an easy and fulfilling journey as long as you are equipped with the right knowledge. When it comes down to it, creating an aquascape tank is more of an art than a science, and a well-made tank setup can thrive with minimal maintenance on your part.

This gives you more time to do what’s important, spending time with your Betta fish and enjoying its beautiful home.