The Clean Betta

I was reading over my comments from a few weeks ago, and saw someone posted about their own betta fish experience. A few of them had died, one of them due to… soap poisoning?

That sounds pretty funny at first; I honestly laughed, just because it sounds so ridiculous. However, it’s a pretty common problem with new owners. As humans, we believe soap and/or disinfectants = clean. The same rule doesn’t apply for fish though. They actually thrive in filth, to some degree. Good bacteria reduces the amount of ammonia in fish tanks, which keeps the nitrite and nitrate levels at the proper level. So put down the Dawn, and try this instead.

How you clean your tank properly depends on the size. If it’s larger than 2 gallons, it’s better to siphon about half of the water and clean the gravel in the process. Some people recommend even less than half. Technically, you don’t even have to take your fish out to clean it. But you might scare the heck out of them.

Steve lives in a half-gallon tank right now, so I just put her in a little plastic cup (much like one a person would put beer in) filled with water and I dump the rest of it in the sink. I also make sure all the residue at the bottom is gone. However, I won’t scrub her plastic plant, castle, or inside of the tank. This still keeps some of the necessary bacterias sticking inside of it.

And a word to the wise, be careful when taking your fish out of the tank. Bettas are natural jumpers, and will probably try to jump ship while you’re trying to fish it out. Steve’s pulled that one on me once; she wound up on the desk, and I had to drag her into the cup of water. Needless to say, she no longer interferes when I’m trying to keep her home clean.

And don't do this either. We're watching you, kid.

Another important tip that a lot of people forget is to put a water conditioner in the tank, regardless of its size. Fish aren’t accustomed to swimming in our tap water, which contains certain contaminates that could harm it. You don’t need much either: a capful per two gallons is all that’s necessary.

What keeps you clean won’t keep your fish clean. So keep your soap to yourself.

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The Playful Betta

Most people buy a betta just for decor or as a beginner pet for their kid. After all, it’s just a fish. It’s not like you can play with it, or teach it tricks or anythi-

Oh wait, yeah you can.

Bettas are actually much smarter fish than most people give them credit for. They have been known to bond with their owners, usually by darting around the tank to “beg” for food. Steve’s tank is on a desk by my bed, so when I lie on my bed to do my homework, she usually looks at me and hangs around the side of the tank where I can see her. She even sleeps there inside the plant.

Steve is kind of a diva - she swims right to the tank when I pull out my camera. Betta fish are known for having individual personalities.

The males will also keep busy by making bubble nests. Typically when they’re content, they’ll blow bubbles and collect them along the rim of the tank. They make these to put fish eggs into (if there are any), but most make them regardless if there is another female in the tank or not. A few months ago, before learning Steve’s real gender, I had been looking out for these nests. I guess that explains why she never made them.

And as mentioned before, bettas can do tricks. However, they almost always need food as a motivator. I’ve actually managed to teach Steve how to jump out of the tank to get food off a pen. In the video, you can see her freaking out a little  at the bottom (I think she was still mad at me because I’d taken her out of her tank earlier to clean it), but around 0:15, you can see her jump a little bit.

Other people have taught their bettas to swim through hoops and follow their fingers in the water. I usually drag a pen across the outside of the tank and let Steve follow; she has a strange thing for pens, especially colored ones. Maybe I’ll eventually teach her more tricks to keep her mind sharp.

But don’t say your betta can only eat and float apathetically. I’m sure it can be more capable than that if you let it.

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The Female Betta

So pretend for a sec that you have a friend named Jim.

You and Jim have been pals for a few months. You get food together, you go play pool on the weekends, and you wingman for each other at bars (which may or may not be weird, depending on “your” gender). Jim’s a pretty chill guy.

You start to notice strange things about Jim you hadn’t picked up on before; he “accidentally” uses the ladies’ room, you’ve seen cosmetics around his place, and other strange female oddities. After confronting him, Jim tells you: he’s really a woman.

What.

This is what I went through with Steve today. When my friend picked him out from Petco, she used her own coloration knowledge to determine his gender, so I took her word for it. Steve was just a baby when she got him anyway, so there was no real way of knowing the precise gender.

I’ve had Steve for going on four months, and he still hadn’t developed long flowing fins even though he’s grown a bit. So I decided to look up how to tell the gender of a betta fish. I found this helpful picture online:

Image

Suddenly things began to make sense. Steve did have that egg spot, which I thought was just a mark. And his (her?) fins are much smaller than a male’s.

Steve is a girl.

I feel a little deceived. Maybe I should have just picked a more gender-neutral name? Although, I suppose it’s not too late to change the name to Stevie.

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The Lonely Betta

In my comments on my last post, someone brought up getting a companion for Steve, wondering if he got lonely sometimes.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought the same. Doesn’t it get boring in there all alone? Sure, he can push his rocks around and dart around his tank to get my attention, but other than that, his life is pretty boring unless I tap on his glass. Shouldn’t he have a little friend?

Chances are, he would rip a new comer a new one.

The proper name for betta fish is “siamese fighting fish,” and for a reason. The males are extremely territorial and will get possessive over their space. As I mentioned before, if you hold a mirror up to a betta, he’ll puff to say “hey! Back off my turf!” (he’s too stupid to realize he’s arguing with himself).

However, they’re really only possessive with their own type or other fish that resemble them with long flowing fins, such as guppies. Fish that are notorious for nipping should also stay away from bettas unless they want to turn the tank into a WWE cage. So what’s left? A couple of creative options, depending on the temperament of the betta:

Platy

Tetra

Catfish

Molly

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The Perfect Betta

Last semester, I really wanted to get an animal. I had a dog when I lived at home, and loved to take care of him and play with him. But since I was living in a dorm now, there weren’t many choices I had for pets, and none of them would be as bonding as a dog. A girl I knew kept a lizard once while she was going to school, much to the dismay of her roommate, so maybe I could do something too. However, getting a lizard wasn’t really my thing. I only could imagine it escaping from its cage, and maybe even my room to reek havoc on my floor.

A friend of mine heard my gripes over winter break, and bought me a fish for Christmas. His name is Steve.

He’s a baby betta fish from Petco. He doesn’t have his majestic fins yet, and he’s pretty puny compared to his adult counterparts. Depending how old he is right now, it’s going to take a few months for him to grow to full size. After that, he can live up to a year or so.

I keep him in a half-gallon tank on my desk so I can glance over at him while I do my homework. I’ve heard some people recommend 2 gallon or higher tanks to keep a single betta in, but I think that’s ridiculous. Steve is perfectly happy in his little tank, the same way I am living in my small dorm.

Initially, I thought I was just getting a desk decoration for Christmas. Just feed it once a day, clean the tank once a week, and let him be. But actually, they’re a more responsive fish than most people think. When I tap my fingers on the glass a few times, he flips his fins and swims over to where I’m tapping. It’s almost like when you whistle for a dog to come, and he wags his tail. He also has a thing for the colors red and orange, so if I drag an orange pen cap across his tank, it immediately grabs his attention more than with other colors.

It’s nice that I can have a pet that’s not just a nice decoration in my room. It definitely helps that he’s low-maintenance, especially with my 16-credit course load this semester. He’s even got a personality, to boot (which apparently quite a few bettas do). It definitely beats your average goldfish.

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