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Bowls are Foes for Bettas, too


Narny105

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Not only is this a very controversial topic, it is also an extremely serious topic that I take to heart. As many of you know, I keep my betta in a 54L tank (15US gallons) with a filter, heater, and a densely planted environment. The reasons for this are mainly due to his fin nipping, which I ruled down to boredom, and a little stress many years ago.

Providing a larger tank environment for him means I can provide a more stimulating environment. This allows him to have the ability to explore in a larger environment, and also allows me to provide a better sense of security for him with a good amount of swimming space in the center of the tank, and heavily planted corners in which he is able to retreat to as necessary.

Secondly, being a fin nipper means a greater exposure to infection within his environment. A larger tank allows me to keep a higher standard of water quality, and also reduces stress during water changes as he can easily avoid the siphon, and I can easily prevent stressing him out myself. Stress is a contributing factor to a lower immune response, and this is definitely something that needs to be avoided with an already compromised fish.

If we are to look at the natural environment of Bettas, they come from densely planted, shallow, yet vast warm waters that stretch kilometers, as well as flooded marshlands, canals, and pits. With that being said the view that bettas originate from and can be kept in small environments equivalent to a puddle is not a feasible nor supportable conception.


The home range of an animal provides everything the animal may need nutritionally, and often reproductively depending on the animal. The territory of an animal, whilst smaller, is within the home range and is often protected for most parts of the day and night. This is a form of social organization many animals form (including bettas), and is a method of coping within the environment and preventing fights between animals.

Reasons for housing bettas in no more than 5US gallons (20 litres) in captivity:

Environmental enrichment: It is important that we can provide not only a ‘safe’ environment for the fish, but also a stimulating environment that allows the fish to carry out natural behaviors such as foraging, exploring (also a natural territorial behavior), and resting. In a 5 gallon tank, we are able to provide a well planted environment, whilst still allowing a good amount of swimming space for the fish to explore, and to also find places to retreat to. When we start to look into smaller tanks, space becomes restricted, and we are very limited to what we can put into the environment.

Filtration: Filtration is an absolute must, regardless of how many water changes are done to keep the tank clean. Filtration not only allows to biological filtration providing a more stable environment, but also provides circulation so the water is not stagnant in the environment. Unfiltered tanks result in minerals accumulating due to stagnant water (often on the surface) and can also cause cold spots in the tank where heating does not reach. Unfiltered tanks require 100% water changes, and décor such as gravel needs to be removed and rinsed meaning the fish needs to be removed during cleaning. At minimum, the tank should have some form of circulation, whether that is provided by a sponge filter, or just by a small air-stone.

In a smaller tank environment, filtration also becomes restricted as we want the fish to be able to swim without the issue of a filter current making that difficult. Since they are not very strong swimmers, filter current needs to be minimal, and in an already smaller tank, a sponge filter will only further restrict space.

Heating: whether or not the temperature is warm enough for a Betta, temperature regulation needs to be taken just as seriously. A fluctuating temperature even between 24-28C can be just as stressful as a colder temperature.

Although 5 gallons is still a small volume of water, it is generally safe to heat as the temperature can be maintained for long enough for the heater to keep up and maintain it. Smaller volumes of water will fluctuate considerably in relation to the size of the environment around it, so tanks under 5 gallons are not necessarily safe environments to heat. A smaller tank with a heater can exasperate fluctuation, and can also result in overheating. Heaters are designed to flick on when the temperature drops by a certain amount, and in a small tank with constant fluctuations, the heater will continue trying to correct the temperature.

Even though we may be able to heat a small environment such as a bowl, whether or not it is safe to do so is another story.

Bowls:
I've never liked bowls for bettas and will never advocate them, and these are due to the reasons above, but also because the environment is particularly stressful and unstable.

As many people know, the shape of typical aquariums (having four sides) allows us to put one side to the wall, and plant corners or other sides of the tank. This is a sense of security for many fish, and particularly for territorial fish, it is not very nice to have a clear 360 view. The shape of bowls obviously restricts what we can do in terms of providing security for the fish, and also limits us in terms of the surface area we can plant. Secondly, rounder objects will amplify sounds much more efficiently than square environments. Vibrations are always of concern in terms of where we put fish tanks, and bowls are perfect vibration amplifiers which will make for a very stressful environment.

Life span:
Life span is little indication of whether the environment is suitable. Obviously we can observe the health and productivity of the animal to somewhat provide a good measure of welfare, however we can have a betta live longer in cooler waters than warm waters. Tropical fish have heat-dependent metabolisms, so although a warmer environment may be a lot better for them, it will often reduce their life span. Ironically, we can keep a betta in colder waters, and provided they does not succumb to illness, they can live much longer with a slower metabolism.

This is where we rule in the quality of live vs the quantity of life. A shorter life in an enriching and ideal environment is much more beneficial than a long life in a less than ideal environment.

Bowls may be aesthetically pleasing, but are often too small, and do not provide adequate space for what the fish needs in terms of environmental enrichment, heating, and the ability to carry out natural behaviors. Just like any other tropical fish, we keep them in a reasonable sized tank with lots of plants, a heater, and filter, so bettas should be kept with just as much care as other tropical species.

So please, keep animals out of them that are not suited to those environments.

Edited by Koko
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I have to agree with everything you said. My betta is in a 5 gallon, and I wouldn't go smaller. I'd never keep him without a heater either. I remember my first bettas - kept in those little betta kits, a fake plant and some gravel and about 1-2 litres of cold water. No wonder they were so dull and inactive :( My betta is so bright and colourful, loves playing hide and seek in the plants and is very active. I really feel that 5 gallons + heated should be the bare minimum for bettas

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very well said, Narny! couldn't have put it betta(!) myself.

Oh, uPun, iPun, and there's no wePun here! :rofl :rofl :rofl

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Great job, Number 2. :)

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very well said, Narny! couldn't have put it betta(!) myself.

Oh, uPun, iPun, and there's no wePun here! :rofl :rofl :rofl

_________________________

Great job, Number 2. :)

very punny.... :rofl

Edited by Narny105
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Always wondered how much territory a male betta needs. How large would 1M be in an aquarium?.

depending on depth, quite large, so probably anywhere between 200-500L-

However as I said, captive environments, even in zoos, are often much smaller due to the fact that the animals resources are provided. The point of a home range is to establish grounds for where the animal can get all of it's resources, whereas their territory is often much smaller.

That being said, territory and home range sizes do vary depending on environment and available resources, so it's not necessarily a matter of how much territory a betta needs, it's more of a question of how much space is needed to provide a good enough environment- territory will form within and may be limited to a terracotta pot or a group of plants. So although it's roughly estimated that they occupy a range of around 1m square in their natural habitat (which of course will vary considerably depending on environment, resources, etc), 5 gallons is still enough space to provide the main essentials they need, plus enough space for good heating, filtration, and environmental enrichment :)

Edited by Narny105
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Thank you for posting this, Alex. Both my males have an 11g to share with a divider. They both have great temperaments and I'm always on the hunt for new stimulation for them. I can't imagine how panicked the would be in a bowl... :cry

Once my 20g is empty, they'll both have even more space. :)

Edited by Chai
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Wonderful article!

Until I got my current betta, who resides in a planted ten gallon, I thought bettas were really lethargic and kind of boring since I had kept them in small, unheated containers as a kid. It's amazing how perky and energetic they are in the proper environment! My current guy jets all over the tank and loves resting on the different plant leaves.

I think bettas, along with goldfish, are one of the fish people are most uninformed about. I wish pet stores would stop encouraging people to put them in half gallon containers and would put a sign near their betta display letting people know that bettas are tropical fish and need heaters.

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That's a good idea. The little cups typically used to sell bettas are misleading to the average person.

I like seeing a longfinned male betta cruise across a tank, his fins flowing behind him like a rippling flag.

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Unfortunately most pet stores are just as misinformed about bettas as many people are, so it's a huge chain effect. Some stores have fish keeping guides available for download on their sites, and simply emailing them with concerns and corrections will usually result in a change :)

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Buying bettas only supports what you are against. Most are grown in pint whiskey bottle their entire life on the farm and then continue their life in small quarters.

With proper husbandry they can do very well in bowls. It's great to provide them with more space but they also want someone to fight, that's in their nature but not something you want to provide.

Edited by Ichthius
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Buying bettas only supports what you are against. Most are grown in pint whiskey bottle their entire life on the farm and then continue their life in small quarters.

With proper husbandry they can do very well in bowls. It's great to provide them with more space but they also want someone to fight, that's in their nature but not something you want to provide.

With proper husbandry, yes, they can live in bowls just like goldfish can, but how do you justify them doing well in bowls? And no, it's not in their nature to fight, just as much as it's not in other territorial animals nature to fight. Fighting happens, but is and has always been one of the last resorts among flaring and chasing first. Flaring is not only a part of mental stimulation, but is also a part of maintaining muscle and form on bettas, and is what many show breeders will do. Obviously it's discouraged as a routine thing, but the occasional flare exercise is harmless and part of natural behaviour.

Having a nature purely of wanting to fight completely throws dominance hierarchies and territories out the window- they are, of course a form of social communication that reduces physical contact. To be more correct, it's in their nature to be solitary and territorial.

Buying bettas does support trades depending on where you buy them, and that's particularly the reason why I buy from my local importer. But I didn't mention in here supporting a trade, since many stores actually carry out great husbandry for their bettas. More importantly, this post concerns housing them when you get them, since that's ultimately what should change regardless of where you purchase them from.

Edited by Narny105
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There is a pet store near me, that I really like. They do keep their bettas in the small tanks, but have a sign:
"Siamese Fighting Fish are tropical fish and require a heater. Our display tanks are heated. These are only a hotel until your fish goes to it's permanant home, this is not suitable as a permanent home. They require a tank big enough for a heater and filter"

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Wonderful article!

Until I got my current betta, who resides in a planted ten gallon, I thought bettas were really lethargic and kind of boring since I had kept them in small, unheated containers as a kid. It's amazing how perky and energetic they are in the proper environment! My current guy jets all over the tank and loves resting on the different plant leaves.

I think bettas, along with goldfish, are one of the fish people are most uninformed about. I wish pet stores would stop encouraging people to put them in half gallon containers and would put a sign near their betta display letting people know that bettas are tropical fish and need heaters.

I very much agree with you! I used to think they were boring as well, until I seen them live in a proper tank. My bettas are so lively and are always swimming around and exploring and they dance like crazy when I come near the tank!

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Wild bettas came from thailand and lived in very small mud puddles , they are very territorial fish and guard the small space they have , they were kept in small clay pots for hundreds of years in thailand, bettas dont need a huge space and yes they dp prefer to be in a small space that they can guard as their territory but not to small 5-10 litres would be what they were in , in the wild

Sent from my iPod touch using Tapatalk

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They can live in a bowl. With a lot of water changes. I do every other day when I have one in a bowl even with it is planted. There are also heaters you can get for a bowl. Although if you keep your house warm enough in winter you wont need one. I have also used bubble stones in them but found most Betta's don't like that.

So yes I have to respectfully disagree.

Right now I have no Betta'a and my last two were in tanks not bowls. They did not live any longer then my others I kept in bowls.

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Wild bettas came from thailand and lived in very small mud puddles , they are very territorial fish and guard the small space they have , they were kept in small clay pots for hundreds of years in thailand, bettas dont need a huge space and yes they dp prefer to be in a small space that they can guard as their territory but not to small 5-10 litres would be what they were in , in the wild

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As someone who actually had seen bettas in the "wilds" of Vietnam (my grandparents farms), I can tell you that they most certainly do NOT live in 5-10 liters of space. This unfortunately is something people may have used to justify keeping bettas in equivalent spaces.

My uncle used to take me to catch them in our rice fields, and those were not little puddles. :)

I'm not saying that bettas cannot live in just that much water volume. I will leave that to the betta experts to decide. However, I just wanted to share my experience of these wild bettas. :)

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Wild bettas came from thailand and lived in very small mud puddles , they are very territorial fish and guard the small space they have , they were kept in small clay pots for hundreds of years in thailand, bettas dont need a huge space and yes they dp prefer to be in a small space that they can guard as their territory but not to small 5-10 litres would be what they were in , in the wild

Sent from my iPod touch using Tapatalk

As someone who actually had seen bettas in the "wilds" of Vietnam (my grandparents farms), I can tell you that they most certainly do NOT live in 5-10 liters of space. This unfortunately is something people may have used to justify keeping bettas in equivalent spaces.

My uncle used to take me to catch them in our rice fields, and those were not little puddles. :)

I'm not saying that bettas cannot live in just that much water volume. I will leave that to the betta experts to decide. However, I just wanted to share my experience of these wild bettas. :)

I thought this was a very neat story to share, and I wanted to thank you for sharing. :)

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