What are betta fish?

Siamese fighting fish, otherwise known as betta fish, are very well-known and have been one of the most popular fish to keep.   Being one of over 60 species belonging to the genus “betta”(BAY-tuh), betta splendens are one of the few ornamental strains making them easily recognized by their diverse vibrant colors and long flowing tail fins.

Another feature that makes them unique to the fish world is related to their breathing. I’m sure you’ve wondered like I once did, “why are bettas sold in cups, and how do they survive?” I will explain how this is possible further on with a diagram of the betta anatomy.

Bettas have been collected as far back as the late 1700’s and are most commonly known for the aggression males have toward each other. If we take a closer look at bettas it’s apparent that they are not just a fish with attitude. They are curious to learn and explore. Let’s start with a look into the history of the betta fish.


Where did betta fish begin?

Betta fish or betta splendens were originally found in rice paddies and puddles around Siam(now Thailand) and other surrounding countries. They were first a hobby of Siam back in the late 1700’s and were collected even though they were wild species of betta fishnot the beautiful fish you would expect today. They were collected due to the dramatic aggression and flaunting display made by males when in the presence of one another.

Bettas were soon trained to be fighters and used as a means to gamble. It became so serious that soon homes and families were laid on the line as collateral and servants. The King of Siam even taxed and regulated this new sport. It is important to point out that the fish did not actually fight to the death. The two bettas were to fight until a winner proves dominant and the loser retreats. The fish are then retired and the winner is rewarded and allowed to breed.


Betta fish as a Pet

Siamese fighting fish were introduced to America in 1910 as “Betta Splenden“. It is rumored that the word “betta” came from an Asian warrior clan named the “Bettah” and that the second half “Splenden”, meaning “Splendid” in Latin, was added later when brilliant colors emerged.

Originally used for entertainment and gambling we now see bettas occupying homes, offices and cups on the shelves of our local pet stores. Over the last 30 years there has been a big increase in betta fish hobbyists.

betta fish cupsNow contrary to belief, betas are a very sensitive fish. They can survive in harsh conditions but the aftermath can stress them into illness. One of the main stress factors for betta fish is temperature changes. An abrupt change in temperature and constant varying temperatures, even if only a few degrees in change, can cause a fish to become stressed. This is why bettas housed in a bowl are more likely to become ill, with poor water conditions being a close second. A small bowl of water cools and heats up faster than a large mass of water therefor making unstable living conditions.

Betta fish water should always be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frequent or extreme temperature changes can be avoided by keeping your betta in a habitat that is at least 3 gallons. If you are living in a climate where your room temperature is less than 75 degrees year round you will need to purchase a tank heater. Always keep an aquarium approved thermometer in the tank. This will make it convenient to monitor safe water conditions. When introducing your fish into a new habitat and after water changes, be sure your betta is temperature-acclimated. This can be done by letting the new water sit in the same room for at least one hour until the two containers reach the same temperature. Or, you can float the betta in its original cup in the water for ten minutes to slowly acclimate your fish to the new water.

The Anatomy of Betta Splenden

(click to enlarge)


Why are bettas are sold in cups, and how do they survive?


Betta fish are unique from other fish even in their physiology. This is because they have an organ in their head called the “labyrinth”. This organ acts as a lung to enable them to breathe air from the surface. It is believed they have obtained this organ by evolving to acclimate to their harsh living conditions. Gouramis share this attribute and are closely related to bettas.

The labyrinth is a vital asset to betta fish. This organ makes it possible to sell betta fish in their own personal cups because they do not rely on obtaining oxygen from the water. This is very beneficial because betta fish cannot be placed together.

Note: Bettas should only be kept in a cup for selling purposes and need to be transferred to an acceptable habitat once purchased.


How long do bettas live?

Compared to other fish, bettas have a relatively short life span. Part of this is attributed to poor care. Many people are misinformed on the proper living conditions betta fish require. The typical life span of a betta splenden is one to three years. One thing to keep in mind is the age of bettas sold in stores. When you go to a pet shop to purchase a betta you will notice a variety of bright colors and long fins. Though they are beautiful, it also means these fish are already one year of age or more.

Betta fish sees his reflection as a potential opponent

Healthy betta fish have been known to live up to 15 years!

With the help of this website you will be able to learn everything you need to know to extend the life of your fish. Just keep yourself informed on water conditions, diet, and disease prevention and you could achieve a full healthy life for your fish.

Exercise is key. One thing you can do right now to improve the health of your betta is to incorporate exercise into a daily routine. Just like humans need exercise so do fish. In the wild they evade predators and search for food. In a bowl or tank they are likely to get lazy. Their food is readily available and they have no enemies. Lack of exercise can lead to obesity and degenerative diseases. Try placing a mirror next to their habitat for ten minutes a day. This will stimulate them to protect their territory by puffing their gills and fins.


Is a betta fish right for you?

I recommend researching betta fish before deciding to purchase one. A lot goes into the care of bettas and it becomes easy to accidentally mistreat or neglect your fish. Just like any other pet, owning a betta is a commitment. Think about why you would like to own a betta fish and consider any costs that go into it as well.


For a free downloadable ebook on this information, click here: Betta Info 101


About Angela Soup

6 Responses to “What are betta fish?”

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  1. Paul says:

    I don’t think I am a suitable candidate for taking care of a betta fish…but I can now say that I have a much better understanding of the fish that is called the Betta.

    They seriously live to be 15 years old?? wow!

  2. Sharonveit says:

    my fish is boated and I have been feeding her peas for 5 days but still nothing

  3. Ram187 says:

    All these betta websitesites and books have made me feel like an expert!

  4. Ram187 says:

    I meant websites

  5. First photo I’ve seen of a Betta’s anatomy. Nice. Hate seeing the pretty guys in those cups. Mine has a 5 gal, heated, filtered tank with lots of swimming room.

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