Betta fishes, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish, have become one of the most popular fishes to keep as pets over the past several decades, if not centuries.
Have you ever considered where they come from, what the betta fish natural habitat is like, or how they look?
In the wild, betta fishes can be very different from domesticated fish.
That’s why we have put together this guide that will tell you everything you have ever wanted to know about the betta fish’s natural habitat.
Scholars believe that betta fish keeping first began over one thousand years ago. But one point of early documentation was in Thailand over 150 years ago.
Children caught the fish from the rice patty fields. They realized the fish were very aggressive and started fighting them.
Throughout history, betta fish fights have been a popular sport to bet on locally in different parts of the world.
A turning point was in 1840. Then, Dr. Theodore Cantor, a Danish physician, began studying these creatures.
Bettas were brought to the United States in the 1940s and have remained popular among serious fish keepers and hobbyists alike.
But before all that, these animals were once able to live in the wild. Many betta fish still do live in their natural habitats.
Of course, these environments are very different from the ones you find modern betta fishes swimming in!
That is why we have broken down every common question about their natural habitats and the differences between the modern aquariums.
The betta fish comes from various parts of the Mekong Basin, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand, where the fish are considered one of the country’s national symbols.
They are also native to Cambodia, specifically in the river basins of the Chao Phraya and Mekong rivers.
These are all tropical areas, where the coldest it gets is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the summers, it can get hot, hitting 104 degrees Fahrenheit!
Betta fishes also live in areas with a variety of rainfall.
Some seasons can be extremely dry, but other times of the year, betta fish live in daily rain thanks to the monsoon seasons.
Due to how hardy and difficult it is to kill betta fishes, they are discovered in the wild in other countries. Some consider them an invasive species because of it.
For example, in 2019 several thousands of betta fish were discovered in the Adelaide River and floodplains of Darwin, Australia.
As we mentioned before, the water is tropical. This environment makes the water exceptionally warm, and betta fishes thrive in hot waters.
The pH level can vary, as some waters in that area can be very acidic. The water hardness also has a wide range, from very soft to brackish.
They also naturally live in very shallow, small bodies of water of around 3 ft deep and rice paddy fields, usually filled with thick vegetation.
While shallow, these natural habitats are also wide, allowing the fish plenty of space.
Typically, these streams are slow-moving or even still, and in the dry season, can evaporate quickly. Because of this, there is a myth that bettas live in puddles.
However, it is just that: a myth. The only time Bettas lived in puddles is if they have been forced. Often, it is because their habitat has dried up into nothing.
Betta fishes have a labyrinth organ, which allows them to get oxygen from the air.
This organ allows them to survive in oxygen-poor water if necessary. They are also skilled jumpers.
With those two traits, they will hop from puddle to puddle to find new homes, if they must, but can die in the process.
Ideally, they only get in puddles to get themselves to a larger body of water.
Also read: Can Guppies Live in Cold Water?
Can Betta Fish Live in Shallow Puddles?
Yes and no.
Betta fish can live in shallow puddles. Yet, they do not thrive in this stagnant water. Its strong breathing organs allow it to survive in these spaces.
However, it persistently searches for better living conditions by jumping from puddle to puddle.
During dry spells, its natural habitat can get evaporated. When the environment becomes unfavorable, they swim or jump to another location.
Its chosen places are generally interconnected through smaller streams. That makes it easier for the fish to find sufficient water.
In the wild, Betta fish have a pretty varied diet. They are big eaters and omnivores. So, they eat plant matter and protein from other live animals.
Overall, though, a betta fish’s favorite meal in their natural habitat will be insects.
In Asia, there are plenty of flying bugs to fill them up. Their favorite insects are midge fly larvae (also known as blood worms).
These insects need water to lay and hatch eggs – making them readily available for a hungry betta fish.
They also enjoy larvae like mosquitos. And if they can, they will also eat smaller fish in the wild.
As a general rule, if the insect can fit into their mouth, they will try to eat.
Betta fishes require a large amount of fiber to avoid constipation (a common killer in household pets). Therefore, they also eat exoskeletons of insects and local plants.
While household betta fishes can be trained to eat fish food or floating pellets, they’ll always prefer insects or other live food.
Also read: How Often Should You Feed Betta Fish?
Betta Feeding Tips When Keeping in a Fish Tank
Keeping your betta healthy and well-fed seems easy.
After all, they thrive well enough on their own in th wild where food can be scarce.
However, new owners may make some tragic mistakes. Here are some feeding tips that can ensure your betta lives a long and healthy life:
- Add more diversity into its meals by changing fish pellet brands or feeding live larvae. The changed menu can attract a fussy fish’s attention.
- Set a proper feeding routine to ensure that your fish eats on time. That means feeding it once or twice a day and no more/less than that.
- Avoid sinking fish pellets because bettas do not eat from the bottom of the tank.
- Do not over-feed your betta. The fish will keep eating no matter how much food you give it.
- Do not overfeed it frozen food. It should only be used as a treat. Frozen food can cause constipation with time.
- Contrary to popular belief, bettas do not eat plants. They just like to hide among them. Some may nibble at leaves. However, a protein rich diet can keep your betta healthy. If you place plants in the tank, make sure it doesn’t block the fish from swimming up for air.
- If you use a live plant, make sure it is planted on a substrate. It will keep feeding nutrients to the plant. A small plant that is fixed on a small substrate pot will be sufficient. These are available in pet stores and can be removed easily during cleanup.
- If your betta refuses food and a diet change doesn’t help, give it a few days. It may just be stressed out.
- Don’t encourage your betta to jump for its food. It can miscalculate and land outside the tank or hurt itself on the lid.
- Do not give your betta old fish food. It can pollute the water and make the fish ill. If you are going away for a few days, have someone feed it daily.
- Remove rotten food from the tank immediately. Plus, clean the tank afterwards. The water quality will have gone down.
Also read: How Long Can a Betta Fish Live Without Food?
Domesticated betta fish are known now for their bright colors and many popular variations. But in their natural habitats, betta fish don’t exactly resemble a rainbow.
Domesticated betta fish are sometimes known as ornamental bettas. That’s because of long-term breeding turning them into living and swimming works of art.
Betta fish in their natural habitats often have shorter fins and duller colors, typically gray and green.
They also lack the long, often striking plumes found in the domesticated fish.
Typically, the females look much like the male betta fishes, just slightly smaller. It is very difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference between the two sexes.
If you didn’t already know what one looked like, you may not even recognize it as a betta.
Also read: Can Betta Fish Change Color (or Lose Color)?
It is well-known by owners that betta fish will kill each other if left alone in a tank. However, those fish have been bred to fight, much like fighting chickens.
In the wild, betta fish are still aggressive. However, they are not nearly as difficult as the domesticated versions.
They also have more room to spread out in their natural environments.
In the wild, they had to spread out and be less aggressive if the species was going to survive.
But while wild male bettas may be less aggressive than their housepet counterparts, they’re still more willing to fight than the females.
Just like in an aquarium tank, female bettas may be aggressive toward each other. But they are overall more peaceful with other fishes.
Mating in the wild is also slightly different. First, male bettas create a bubble nest. This nest is made from mucus-coated air bubbles and saliva.
They then wait for an egg-bearing female to come by.
When one finally does, the male will participate in a mating ritual, chasing her around to gain acceptance.
At first, the females resist – sometimes for a while – but eventually accept them. The male then rolls the female over and wraps himself around her.
The male betta fish then actually squeezes out the eggs. He then fertilizes these eggs as they are released into the bubble nest.
There, he keeps them safe in the bubble nest while he patrols the space for other fishes that might cause them harm.
In their natural habitat, there’s enough room that the female swims away immediately after the eggs are fertilized. If she doesn’t, the male betta fish may perceive her as a threat.
In a tank, a good owner should make sure to get the female betta out right away before there is a fight.
This reaction is one of the reasons that betta fish are famous for their aggression.
But in the wild, betta fishes aren’t necessarily aggressive just because – they’re just really protective fathers!
Keeping Betta Fish in an Aquarium
As we’ve mentioned before, betta fish have become very popular pets for serious breeders and those who just want a fishy friend.
They can be kept in many different environments.
But they will thrive in those most like their natural environment, one that will mimic the water, vegetation, and food.
Mimmicking Betta’s Natural Habitat in Your Fish Tank
It’s a popular misconception that betta fish prefer to live in baren bowls.
Just like with puddles, they can survive this way for short periods, but it’s not preferable.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, you need a relatively large tank to house a betta fish.
Keeping any fish in a small container can be dangerous for them, as the water becomes toxic faster.
This also causes the water to lose its oxygen more quickly, and ammonia accumulates.
While they can survive in many types of water, above all, they have to be in water that they can breathe in – one with lots of oxygen. Make sure you have a proper filter no matter what.
On top of that, betta fish thrive in warm environments.
A larger tank is going to be best, not only to keep the water safe but to make it hot enough for these tropical fishes.
With all that in mind, betta fishes need at minimum a five-gallon tank, a tank hood and light, a heater, and a filter to best make sure the water mimics their natural environments.
Since they come from such slow-moving streams, you should only change 25% of the water out once a week, allowing the filter to handle everything else.
They require lots of light during the day and darkness at night.
While it might be tempting to rely on natural light, that can cause algae overgrowth. Artificial light is easier to control.
Also read: Can Betta Fish Live Without a Filter?
Like any other fish, bettas need enough room to exercise and be stimulated. And just like in the wild, where they live with thick vegetation, they need plants around.
If you’re not sure what plants to add to your betta fish’s tank, there are plenty of options for beginners.
Some of the most popular include:
- Amazon Sword Plant
- Betta Bulb
- Java Fern
- Water Sprite
- Christmas Moss
- And many more!
There are plants for every kind of light and skill level for your tank.
These plants will better mimic the betta fish’s natural habitat and keep them mentally stimulated.
It will also allow them a space to explore, rest, or hide if they feel threatened.
Unlike their wild cousins, domesticated male betta fish should not be kept in a tank with other betta fish at all.
Unless you have an exceptionally large tank, they will likely fight to the death.
However, there are other fish that you can keep in a tank with a male betta fish! There are just some criteria to consider when selecting a friend for your betta:
- No Bright Colors: these can resemble a betta fish and intimidate them into fighting.
- No Nibbling: if a betta fish gets nibbled on, it’s almost guaranteed that it will end in a fight.
- Can’t Take Up All the Room: betta fish need their space, so you have to make sure there’s enough room for everyone.
Female betta fishes are much more similar to their wild counterparts and are often able to happily co-habitat with other fish.
Some recommended possible tank mates include blue gourami, neon tetras, or bottom feeders like the pictus catfish.
Of course, each fish is different with different temperaments. So, make sure you get to know your betta fish before mixing it with others.
Interesting Betta Fact – Betta Can Breathe in Air (Briefly)
The fish was first discovered by rice farmers in their fields.
The shallow water and the high temperature of the air provide it with the perfect habitat.
Incidentally, the low oxygen level is said to have contributed to the evolution of its ‘labyrinth organ.’
The lung-like organ allows betta fish to breathe direct oxygen. It also allows it to thrive in harsh environments compared to other freshwater fish.
In fact, this organ allows the fish to jump from puddle to puddle in search of a new home. This is the last resort though.
Bettas jump ship only if the water conditions are beyond uninhabitable.
This doesn’t mean that you can keep Betta out of water. It can breathe in the air only briefly (a few seconds). It still needs to be in the water.
Ensure that the water parameters in your betta tank align with those of their natural habitat.
If it’s not possible, use heaters, coolers, filters, and more to adjust aquarium conditions. That way, you can increase the longevity of your betta fish.
Keeping your tank similar to their natural habitat will help ensure you keep a healthy and happy betta fish.
- A happy betta is a betta that lives in a tank that mimics its natural habitat.
- Feed your betta a varied and protein-rich diet.
- Make sure the water in the tank does not exceed a certain temperature.
- Breeding bettas are territorial and will kill females.
- Keep live plants in the tanks to provide your betta a hiding spot and to keep the water clean.
The best way to determine if your betta is healthy is by its appearance.
A healthy fish will retain its beautiful colors, remain active, and will have a healthy appetite.
A sick betta will be listless, may refuse food, and may also have frayed fins. Consider those signs as red flags that you are doing something wrong.
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