Random Bits of Projects

September 7, 2008

Betta Fish-Look at the Bubbles!

My beta just built a huge bubble nest so I thought I would do a quick blurb on betas (Siamese fighting fish).

A beta can be a good starter fish. They actually can do well in a bowl or an aquarium and can be easy to keep (for a fish).

Here the beta is flaring his gills to threaten the camera.

Last update: October 31, 3008

Note – 1 US gallon = 3.79 liters. I keep meaning to convert throughout the text in these posts and hope to do so soon. But here is the formula for those who need it in the mean time. 🙂  Hope it helps.

Keeping them in a bowl:

If you wish to keep a betta in a bowl, please avoid those really tiny bowls they have for them. Because a pet shop sells them, it does not mean they are good for the fish. They appeal to the customer because they are small. They will actually create more work and stunt the behavior of the betta, causing the owner to grow bored with the fish.

I like to suggest something that can hold a gallon of water at least. You can get very creative with the container. I have used interesting pitchers and other glass containers that look neat that you can pick up anywhere other than a pet shop. This gives the fish some room, allows you to put in plants or other decorations, and reduces the frequency of water changes a bit. If there is not top, do not fill the container to the top. The fish are good at jumping out. Some are really stubborn about it.

For substrate I have found using a few round or flat marbles work better than rocks. They are easier to clean when cleaning the bowl. Whatever you choose, do not put more than what will hold down a plant. Just a thin layer. With the water sitting without circulation and the substrate trapping uneaten food and poop, the deep gravel can turn bad and poison the water. I have also found that you will more likely house little worms if you get behind on cleaning.

Not many live plants do great in a bowl. Try a peace lily (that has not been in dirt) or ask an aquarist at a pet shop (that knows anything) for a suitable plant. (You can see part of one of these plants in the picture to the right that has been plunked down into the bowl/beer pitcher.) You will need to trim the roots of the lilly and remove dead leaves sometimes. NOTE: If someone says that the fish can live off of the plant and you do not have to feed it, that is not true. Another problem happens when the plant is propped in a plastic holder that fits into the mouth of a vase or bowl. If you do this, be sure that air can get to the fish. Many, many betas have died from suffocating or starving because of this pretty set up. I just put the plant right down into the bowl. If it is a peace lily, the leaves can stick right out of the water, or not. Looks neat.

You also need drops that will take chlorine out of the water or just let water sit in an open container over night to “age” it so that the chlorine evaporates. The drops are instantaneous though and you can get some with aloe and whatnot.

A small net may help remove the fish for cleaning.

I also tend to do an odd thing. I put a tight layer of plastic wrap over the top when possible and poke air holes into it. This keeps out dust and extends the water quality for a little longer. You can drop food through the holes. It looks odd though.

Why can betas live in a bowl where other fish cannot (goldfish do not do well either)? They can gulp atmospheric air. You will see them go to the surface and take a gulp once in awhile. They have a rudimentary lung that can process air. Gills are still the main way for them to get oxygen but this supplements. So the low oxygen in bowls are ok.

Should you put more than one beta in a bowl? The males will kill each other. The males will also kill a female. If they mate and she does not leave, he will kill her then too. Females may get along ok but cramming too many fish in a bowl is not good. They still may pick on each other so you will need a place they can hide. Multiple females do best in an aquarium with things to hide behind and maybe some tetra to distract them.

A note on fighting:

If you buy males just to watch them fight you may be disappointed. They shred fins and wound each other but it is not the blood bath that people who like to do this hope for. It is a sick thing to do to trap animals together and force them to kill each other. I have only seen this because of people in stores sneaking the fish together for kicks or where some displays allow for fish to jump compartments (good jumpers) and get trapped together.

Care of the bowl:

The really tiny bowls should be changed about every other day. As the bowls get bigger, the time in between cleaning increases. The fish is swimming in its own urine, poop, uneaten food, and whatever falls in the water. The water slowly becomes poisonous. The fish’s fins will start to shred, his gills will be irritated, and other signs of distress will be evident. A gallon size bowl or pitcher can go a week to two weeks. You will eventually get the feel for how often.

It is not too hard to clean. Put the fish in a container that has not had soap in it (if you get them in a plastic container from the pet shop, keep it for this purpose) and either put something over the top in case he jumps or do not fill the container with water. Use water from the bowl. Keep the fish away from the drain. Very often they will jump out of the container or even the bowl. I tend to pour my fish into the container so I have to keep him away from the drain. Do not ever use soap to clean anything for fish. You can use bleach in water but be sure the object is rinsed very well and left to dry for a little while so that the bleach is evaporated. Do not clean anything with rubber seals with bleach water or you will shorten the life span of that object.

After securing the fish, dump out the water. Swish with tap water over and over until no more fecal matter and other waste comes out of the sediment. Wipe the sides of the container to wipe off crud and algae. Wipe down the decorations. Fill the bowl with fresh water and add drops to remove chlorine. You may want to let it sit for a half hour to get it to room temperature. Now you can put the fish back into the bowl. It maybe takes 10 minutes (not counting letting it get to room temperature) once you have the routine down.

Getting them excited:

The beta will extend or flare his gill coverings (see first picture) out when he is trying to threaten something. This is a treat. You can hold up a mirror to him to get him to do this to his reflection. Many will do it to about anything you put next to the bowl. You can even place two bowls near each other to keep them active. Do not leave a mirror up all the time or you may exhaust the fish.

Bubble nest:

You may notice foam on top of the water. This is normal. The fish will mix mucous and air and form one bubble at a time until he has built up a nice foam on the water. This is a bubble nest. The males build the nest and wait for a female. The female will have her eggs fertilized by the male who will then put the eggs up into the nest. She leaves and he stays and guards the eggs. He will also keep the nest clean. Once the eggs hatch though he is not as great of a dad. He will eat the babies. If you try to breed betas, read up first. The female must be gravid or full of eggs or they will just fight. There is much more beyond that.

(If you do get babies, they are very sensitive to many things. Be sure there is a cover on top (with vents). I am trying to dig up old links for raising these but I am not sure where they are. Sorry for the wait.)

In this picture my betta was feeling very randy. This nest is HUGE! And he is still adding bubbles. Here is is flaring his gills at the camera (again) and defending his nest.


There are flakes and pellets made for betas. Some betas are picky and will only eat one or the other. Only feed a little bit. Their stomachs are only as big as their eye so you can over feed. They will also eat baby fish like guppy babies. Once again, sparingly. If they do not over eat, the uneaten food will fall to the bottom and rot.

Keeping in a tank:

I actually have the best luck with bowls. Though I have had success with betas in tanks, for some reason their fins do terrible. It might be due to faster water flow than for which they are built.

The betta can do well in a community tank. Tetras work well. No guaramis though. Betas are related to them. Do not have anything that looks like a betta such as fish with long fins. Fast fish are probably best. Betas are not fast swimmers with those flowing fins. Larger or aggressive fish will find a beta easy prey so no cichlids. The betta also does not like rapidly flowing water where he cannot get out of it. The betta with the bubble nest pictured above is in a 20 gallon tank. He just recently moved to a 55 gallon tank that has mostly tetra and our black ghost knife. He is doing fine and so are the other fish in there. He stays away from the knife. My others are in bowls or small tanks with less water flow.

Lifespan: Betas can live up to 5 years or maybe a little more. My average is 3 or 4 years and my record is nearly 6 years (the all blue fish pictured under care of bowls. I recently lost 😦 that guy.)

Weird swimming: If you have a beta that cannot seem to float at all except for mad dashes to the top for food (sits on the bottom all the time) let me know. You may be able to do few things for them if you have the patience and they are otherwise healthy. I had one live for nearly 2 years this way and then he was fine.

If he seriously bloats, on the other hand, and cannot sink, he has other issues that need medication (if not overfeeding). Go to a pet shop and read fish disease descriptions for the right medication. This is usually fatal if left alone.

Fin splitting: You may see your beta’s fins split here and there or split in the middle to form holes. This is often an indicator that you need to change the water in the bowl. Ammonia and pH may be off of the scale. Try that first and if you have it, add a water conditioner with aloe. Beta fins heal fast so you should see an improvement in a short time. Splits here and there are normal though.

If he is in a tank, it might be water that is not compatible to him or the flow is too fast. He may need to go into a bowl.

Bloated Belly: If your fish’s belly looks horribly bloated, he may have Dropsy. This is usually fatal. I have never been able to treat this and it can take what seems like forever for the guy to go. 😦

Strange, foggy water: If your water looks kind of foggy, here is one thing to check (among many) that I have seen happen sometimes. Worms. Look very, very close to the sides of the bowl. Do you see fine, white “hair” hanging off of the glass? Do they curl and straighten on their own? Are some floating in the water curling and straightening? If so, you may have “worms”. They are either a nematode or a planaria but I am not yet sure which one. In any case, these cannot hurt you but they are not good for the fish. They clog things up. He will go off of his food after awhile too.

I find this happens most often to people who have too much gravel on the bottom and/or forget to change the water too many times. Get rid of the gravel or boil it. Clean out the bowl very well. Use very hot water and wipe it down with fresh paper towels. The beta can go awhile without gravel. Anything else that might be in there you can try to clean as well but it is often best to just get rid of it.

Do this every other day or so. If they reappear, then you probably need to treat the fish as well. I often get “Tank Buddies-Parasite Clear” for this (especially in case it is a nematode and not a planaria). The tablets are for a larger tank so just take of a tiny bit to put in the bowel. If you are unsure if the bit is too big, make it smaller. You will be retreating anyway. Keep an eye on the fish. Continue with the water changes and fresh treatment every few days. You can get rid of these. I have had it happen. But if you catch it late the fish will be very weak and may not survive treatment and it is harder to get rid of the worms as well. A clean bowl and substrate is the best prevention.

You can replace the gravel later but do not put very much in unless you keep up better with changing the water. The gravel traps food and other debris and can cause much more water quality problems than a worm haven.

Another reason for cloudy water is dust and debris. A bowl sitting in the open without a cover (with holes) will collect dust just like your furniture. If you are like me, who hates dusting, I recommend covering the bowl in some way, as long as they can still get air and food. I put plastic wrap over mine with holes poked into it. I can also drop pellets through the holes. Replace with fresh wrap with each water change.

For more on the care of a beta visit http://fishprofiles.com/files/profiles/545.htm. For more fish links go to my Page O’ Links listed at the side of the blog page. I am slowly adding more. To read about my ghost knife fish go to https://virtuallyamy.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/fish-black-ghost-knife/

This picture is not the most clear but we are seeing the nest from below. The fish is adding a bubble to the nest. You may have to click on it to enlarge to see much.

For more fish and tank related stuff, go to my Categories listed on the right and click on fish from the drop down menu. (Hopefully it will show all.)

I recently came across this link. This person has a great site on treating Beta problems among other useful bits. http://nippyfish.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html

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  1. Very good information thank you

    Comment by Amanda — November 6, 2008 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  2. Your welcome and thank you!

    Comment by virtuallyamy — November 6, 2008 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

  3. Great information, i just bought a betta (my 4th over the years) and he’s doing great… He’s building a bubble nest as i’m typing! Great site!

    Comment by Rina — December 5, 2008 @ 9:18 am | Reply

    • Thank you for this information. I decided to google fish bubbles when my male beta was making a huge nest of them. I was concerned that he was crazy or something, now I think it’s jsut the cutest thing in the world.

      Comment by Elizabeth — March 17, 2009 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

      • Hi! I think they are a riot when they guard the nest. They seem so proud.

        Comment by virtuallyamy — March 22, 2009 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

  4. Thank you!!! Aren’t they neat fish? I love it when they get a huge bubble nest going. It is like they are just that determined to be ready for a female to swim by. ha! “Hey Baby, check out my bubbles!”. 😉

    Comment by virtuallyamy — December 5, 2008 @ 11:06 am | Reply

  5. do fish put bubbles at the top of the fish tank and nest them so the male can like it everyday so something dos,ent happen and it hatches?please respond fast please i have four diffrent fishes i dont want to crossbread 2 females and two males

    Comment by nerlande st.vil — December 26, 2008 @ 11:53 pm | Reply

    • Hi, I am not sure I understand the question. The male Beta fish will put bubbles at the surface of the water and wait for a female. If he does manage to mate with a female (and this is difficult if you do not know the timing) he will put her eggs in this nest and guard the nest until they hatch. Then he eats them if he is not removed right away. I do not think he will do this for multiple females at a time. Is this what you needed? If not, let me know. 🙂

      Comment by virtuallyamy — December 29, 2008 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

  6. Hello, I was cleaning the beta’s tank today and so I put the beta in a smaller fish bowl. About two hours later there is a large mass at the bottom that was not there. It looks like a cocoon that is the same color as my fish. It is about 1 cm in length. Do you have any idea what it could possibly be?
    Thank you for your time,
    Kathy A.

    Comment by Kathy — January 2, 2009 @ 12:06 am | Reply

    • HI! Hard to say without seeing it. The only thing I can think of is that he defecated very thoroughly. I have seen a few of my betas put out quite a bit at a time and the fecal material was the same color as the fish. Was the material narrower than the fish?

      Comment by virtuallyamy — January 2, 2009 @ 10:09 am | Reply

  7. My son’s beta fish will dart to the surface to eat and gulp air and then fall like a rock back to the bottom. He will lay in his plant up near the surface sometimes, too. Last night he looked like he was going to land on his spine when he dropped. Is there anything I can do for him?

    Comment by Rea — January 2, 2009 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

    • Hi! It sounds like your fish may have a swim bladder problem. I have had fish go through this before. Some eventually get over it. Just be sure he is not laying in his waste on the bottom, feed him less, and keep the water fresh. It helps. If you can arrange a plastic plant so a leaf sits flat like a shelf, he may lay on it. If his problem is due to a bacteria infection, you may try to treat him. This link I am pasting at the end of this shows a good response on another blog to someone with a similar problem. Not a whole lot can be done to aggressively treat it but it is not always fatal. Just needs a little TLC for awhile. This is assuming the belly is not extended as that is another problem. If you do treat the fish with medication, keep in mind he is in a smaller amount of water. Use less medication and, if you can, add a bubble stone for awhile (as long as the fish can rest and not have to constantly swim against a current.)
      Here is the link: http://nippyfish.blogspot.com/2007/02/darting-betta-stuck-on-one-side.html

      Comment by virtuallyamy — January 3, 2009 @ 11:22 am | Reply

  8. Thanks for your help. The other site was also very informative.

    Comment by Rea — January 3, 2009 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

    • You are very welcome! Yes, I was impressed with that site. I found it after writing my little blurb here. 🙂 Let me know if the little guy ever gets better!

      Comment by virtuallyamy — January 4, 2009 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  9. Very helpful info … i need to get some plants!

    Comment by anthony — February 4, 2009 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  10. I was thinking about getting a fish, and read your guide. I bought my fish in November and used your guide in order to keep my fish alive! He is doing well!


    Comment by Paul — February 11, 2009 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

    • Great!!!! That makes my week!! Hope you enjoy the little guy. 🙂

      Comment by virtuallyamy — February 12, 2009 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  11. My son has had a Beta fish for over 2 years and he has been acting strange lately.. He has a plant in the bowl with him and he seem to have to get in the plant to stay a float.. He looks as if he is dead and he makes a dash for the top of the bowl to get air.. He them stays at the top of the bowl as if to breathe???
    I read where there is something we could do if we were patience???

    Comment by ted wilkes — February 16, 2009 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

    • HI, I will be emailing you soon through your Yahoo email given to me by this posting. My email is down but I am trying (or you just got many copies of the same email-oops). Also, read the response to “Rea” above.
      Good Luck!

      Comment by virtuallyamy — February 17, 2009 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  12. Hi,

    I have had my little guy for almost two years. He has always been an active and fun little critter. However, I’m worried about him as lately he has been hanging out at the bottom of the bowl almost upside down. His belly looks a little extended and he is only making mad dashes to the top for air and sinks right back down (one day without eating). His fins seem extended…I know it sounds bad but I really hope there is something I can do for him : (

    Comment by Jessy — February 18, 2009 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

    • Aww sorry to hear about the poor guy! I have not had good luck with any of mine when they get like this but you can try to medicate if it is a bacteria infection. There is a link at the bottom of my post to a site that has excellent advice on this sort of thing. Can be a bacteria infection, constipation, or several other things. 😦 Just remember if you medicate, to use much less than called for if he is in a bowl.

      Comment by virtuallyamy — February 23, 2009 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  13. Hi there!
    I was looking at pictures of betta’s to understand my betta fishes behavior a little better, and I read your article. It’s great! I appreciate the info!

    My fish is really active, but I noticed sometimes that he will float at the top and kind of hang out for a few minutes without moving. He isn’t belly up, he’s kind of…well, chillin’ out, if you want to put it that way. I was wondering if this is normal???

    I’ve had him for about a week or so now so I’m trying to understand him better.

    Comment by Brynna — March 8, 2009 @ 12:12 am | Reply

    • Hi! Figuring out the behavior of animals is part of the fun! If he looks fine (no bloating, red around the eyes, etc), eats fine, responds to you if you wiggle your fingers at him, he is fine. Mine hang out like that at times too. Just chillin’. 🙂 Most of mine seem to hang out to watch or guard their territory that way I suppose. I am most likely to get them to flare their gill covers then. Take a pencil and slowly direct the eraser and towards him. He may flare his gill covers and come at it. Retreat the erasure like it is a bit frightened and see what he does. Ha! Glad you liked the article! They are really neat fish if one takes the time to watch. Otherwise they seem to just sit there and there is so much more to them. 😀

      Comment by virtuallyamy — March 8, 2009 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  14. wow, thank you for posting this, it realy has helped seeing as though i just recently got my first beta! i bought a bamboo plant to put in his bowl which is growing very healthy and in its roots was a small snail that i didnt realize was there until he recently has gotten much bigger, and i thought it was the snail creating the bubbles, but now i know its my beta! haha, quick ?, when i got him he was very small and a solid light pink color, he has grown quickly and seems to be getting black on his fins, idk if this is ick or if its just his colors changing. ive put ick away in his tank and changed the water but it doesnt seem to go away. please write back!

    Comment by Ryan — March 8, 2009 @ 10:13 pm | Reply

    • HI! Sounds like things are going really well! That is not ick. Probably just normal color changes. Ick is white, bumpy, creepy stuff that even grows on the eyes. Keep up the good work! 🙂

      Comment by virtuallyamy — March 9, 2009 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  15. Hey stupid question, but I just got my baby and I don’t know how often I should feed him. One person told me twice a day but another said only once a day. Which one is it? I would appreciate your response.

    Comment by Janice — March 11, 2009 @ 7:31 pm | Reply

    • HI
      I feed mine twice a day. When I get up, and then before bed. But just a tiny bit. Their stomach is as big as their eye so not much fits in there. The rest will just spoil the water. They can go once a day if you tend to overfeed. Try the twice a day and see how it works out. If you notice a lot of it is falling to the bottom, either switch to once a day or feed less per session. Hope this helps!

      Comment by virtuallyamy — March 12, 2009 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

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