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Maintenance for Bettas

Keeping Bettas healthy.
If you are under 15 years of age, an adult should be asked to help you with this page.
Disclaimer
Water conditions
Tank Habitats
Bettas in Bowls and Jars
Water changes
Ageing water
Cycle
Diseases in Bettas
Alum Rinse for plants.
Glossary
 
Keeping Bettas requires attention to adequate living space, water quality, water temperature, water changes, cleanliness and disease prevention and treatment.  A basic knowledge of water chemistry is a big help in maintenance procedures.

Understanding Water Chemistry: read this introduction for beginners and use your back button to return here.

Water conditions: clean, freshwater, kept at a constant  temperature of 24°C - 27°C (75-80oF) is ideal.  Colder than that can lead to stress and greater risk of White Spot disease developing.  Bettas tolerate a wide range of conditions, from slightly acidic, moderately soft water to alkaline,  hard water (pH range 6.8 to 8.0 is tolerated), which means that any domestic water supply is suitable for use once it is de-chloraminated (chlorine and chloramine removed completely) and "aged".
Tank Habitat: As Bettas are air breathers, the tank must be fitted with a close-fitting lid and have an air space between it and the water so that the fish breathe warm, humid air at the same temperature as the water.  Diseases of the labyrinth organ develop when Bettas breathe cold air.  These fish will survive in limited space or water with low oxygen levels.  However, holding male Bettas in very small containers should be discouraged.  Providing a complete habitat, in a well planted tank and filtered aquarium, is best.  Biological additives, such as "Cycle", also help to maintain nitrifying bacteria in the filter medium.  Keeping Bettas in large jars or bowls is second best, provided that the water quality is maintained with frequent, partial water changes.
Water changes: Frequent water changes are essential, to remove uneaten foods, faeces, and the build up of ammonia, nitrites and nitrate in the water.  These chemicals are produced by bacteria that metabolise the waste products of the fish and their food.  Ammonia, ammonium and nitrites are toxic to fish, even in amounts as low as 1 part per million (0.1 gms per litre).  Nitrates are relatively harmless in low concentrations and are removed as through water changes.  Use well conditioned, chlorine free water and taking care taken to adjust for temperature so that the new water is the same temperature as the old water when making water changes.

Using a small diameter siphon is the best way to remove the water: turkey basters are also useful tools for removing wastes and water.   Add new water gradually.  Only change all of the water at one time when drastic measures are necessary to overcome a problem.  Fish do not like sudden changes to their water conditions.  Using frequent, partial water changes ensures less shock.
 

  • Prepare the water for water changes a head of time (use a reservoir container that is non-toxic);
  • treat tap water to remove chlorine and chloramines (Stress Coat is OK); see "ageing" water;
  • change only 1/4 to 1/2 of the water each day (if the fish are in small containers);
  • change 1/5 of the water fortnightly if in filtered tanks where the biological filter is functioning correctly..
  • Bettas in Bowls and jars.

    Large collections of male Bettas are often kept in large, wide mouthed, deep, "pickle" jars.  These either stand on shelves in heated fish rooms or are stood in a larger tank of water which can be heated to the appropriate temperature of 27°C.  Covers ensure that the space above the water in the jars has a warm, humid conditions that suits the needs of the fish who will breathe from the surface.  With care and attention to water quality, this housing is satisfactory, but not ideal.

    Clean the jars very thoroughly inside and out, and rinse well to remove any oils, "pickle smells", food particles dust and detergents.

    Fill the jars to 3/4 full, leaving an air space at the top.  Try to maintain the water at 27°C and cover with a glass lid to conserve temperature and moisture.  OR stand the jars in a large aquarium that is higher than the jars are deep, so that the cover plate forms a humid environment around the jars.  Heat the water with an aquarium heater.

    Frequent water changes are necessary- twice weekly is sufficient for large bowls OR daily changes of half the water at one time for small bowls and jars.  Always use water that has been dechloraminated and "aged" before hand and is at the correct temperature and pH.  I siphon half of the the water from the jars, each day, using a small hose that also enables the bottom of the jar to be cleaned ("hoovered") at the same time.  Fresh, "aged" water is added slowly.

    Wide topped bowls that are at least 15 cms deep and have a larger surface area than jars, are suitable for housing Bettas.  Some bowls are large enough to be contain plants as well, in a small habitat for the Bettas.  Water management with frequent, partial water changes is necessary if bowls are used.

    If bowls and jars stand alone, a vivarium heater may be used, adjusted to  27°C.

    "Ageing" water:  Use a large enough container to prepare all the water that you will need for water changes.  Dechloraminated Tap Water is made by treating tap water with "Stress Coat", Wardley's "Tri-Start" or Biotec's "Water Ager Cn" or similar products, to remove the chlorine and chloramines.  Letting the water stand before using it will remove free chlorine only.  A serious aquarist will prepare a large volume of tap water by treating it to remove chlorine and chloramines and letting it stand before introducing it to an aquarium.  Filtration through activated carbon will remove most other contaminants in tap water.  Boiling also reduces some mineral content and sterilises the water (but is impractical on a large scale!).

    A reservoir tank is a good idea for Betta keepers to maintain.  It enables large volumes to be kept in readiness for those urgent and daily water changes and enables consistent water conditions to be maintained.  If your tap water is safe, all that may be needed is to treat it to remove chlorine and chloramines to instantly "age" it from the tap.

    Boiling water to sterilise it is useful to provide small quantities of "safe" water.  Let it cool, of course.

    Treating water with any of the biological additives, such as "Cycle" is also recommended to maintain nitrifying bacteria.  Add "Cycle" at each water change.

    "Cycling a tank" refers to fish keeping that uses the biological processes that convert toxic ammonia/ammonium, and nitrites to harmless substances. 

    My notes on fish keeping will help understanding of the cycling process.

    PLANTS in the Aquarium.
    Plants help provide a natural environment for our fishes.  Of course, in the confines of a tank, the environment can only approximate nature, as it is a closed system on a small scale.  Well grown plants in an aquarium look good and contribute to the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the water, depending on their respiration state.  They also assist other biological processes in the water by providing a  huge surface area upon which colonies of  micro flora and fauna live.   Nitrifying bacteria are important among those colonising organisms in providing essential processes in the nitrogen cycle to help manage ammonia/ammonium and nitrites.  Plants themselves remove ammonia and assist with the nitrogen cycle, too.  In general, in tanks where plants are growing well, Bettas display good colouration and behave more normally than in bare tanks.  Betta fry also are easier to raise in well planted aquaria, as the micro-organisms present are available as food in the crucial early stages of their lives.

    I find Java Fern (Microsorium pteropus) to be the most useful plant in my aquaria.  It can be tied down or allowed to float freely.  Bettas will build nests among its leaves at the surface and newly hatched fry will cling to it.  Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana), Indian Fern and Duck Weed are also good plants for Betta habitats.  They are particularly useful as supports for spawning and for new fry. 


    ALUM FOR STERILISING PLANTS
    An alum solution of one tablespoon to 2 litres (= 2 pints or 1 quart) of water at room temperature, is a suitable rinse for removing parasites from plants.  Soak the plants in the mixed solution for 5 minutes and then rinse clean thoroughly in fresh water.
    Use under adult supervision.

    ALGAE IN TANKS

    All aquaria will develop algae on sand, gravel, rocks, plants, ornaments, glass walls and the equipment. It is natural and it is possible to control it as part of general maintenance. All that is necessary in well cycled, established tanks is for the viewing sides of the tank to be wiped clean at each water change. I recommend that not all of the algae be removed, and I leave the end walls of the tanks uncleaned of algal growth- some fishes pick at the micro-organisms that grow there. I find that when algae is left to grow on the end walls (or on rocks), it helps to consume nitrates and other nutrients and inhibits further growth of unsightly algae.  In a well planted aquarium, algae does not grow as well, as the vascular plants will usually out pace it in consuming nutrients.

    New tanks are notorious for developing algal growths.

    Conditions to decrease the rate of algae growth:

    1. have a well planted aquarium, with well grown aquatic plants;
    2. have optimum lighting for the plants for no more than ten hours a day (the fish only require about 6 hours per day of good light in order to synthesise vitamin D);
    3. don't allow uneaten foods to build up, rot and provide excessive nutrients;
    4. have a regular water changing routine;
    5. have a regular cleaning schedule- wipe the sides of the glass with a non-scratching, chemical free cloth or steel wool at each water change.

    Nuisance Algae

    Unsightly, brown algae is a micro-algae; yellow-brown or golden algae is an encrusting growth of diatoms. The former grows in low light when nutrients are available and usually dies back when green algae or vascular plants grow well.  Yellow-brown algae is a mass of diatoms- what you see in the tank are diatom skeletons, all linked together to form a mass.  It easily wipes away and does not come off in sheets. It can appear as a simple dusting on the tank walls and substrate surfaces, or it can turn into a massive growth that covers just about everything in the tank. This type of algae outbreak typically occurs when a tank is just completing or has finished the "cycling" process in new tanks. Diatoms are among the first organisms in the tank to benefit from the nitrates produced by a functioning biological filter. If excesses are wiped away or disturbed by using a gravel cleaner (like a vacuum cleaner or bell on the siphon hose) then the build up of other, desirable algae and the growth of plants competes for the nutrients and the diatoms become less of a problem in your tank's ecosystem.

    A Link to more detailed information re algae.

    GLOSSARY
    acid: a compound of Hydrogen that can exchange hydrogen with a metal or basis radical to form a salt.  Thus in aquaria, acidic water means that there are Hydrogen ions in high concentrations.  Hydrochloric acid and phosphoric acid are two acids used to lower the pH of aquarium water (treated separately from the fish BEFORE adding it to the tank).

    Aged water is water that has stood for a time so that it takes on characteristics of pond water; water that has stood to allow free chlorine to escape.  The latter process is assisted by using chemical treatments which will also remove chlorine and chloramines, and is the most common usage for the term.

    alkaline (adj.): having the characteristics of an alkali: alkali refers to compounds of hydrogen and oxygen with the elements lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, and caesium, or with the ammonium radical and capable of neutralising acids.  In aquaria, sodium and potassium form alkaline compounds such as carbonates.  The presence of alkaline substances gives higher pH values.  Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) is used to increase pH.

    ammonia (NH3) and/or ammonium (NH4) are produced by fish urine, faeces and other organic wastes in the tank.  Ammonia is very highly toxic to fish in quantities as low as 0.25 mg/litre (25 parts per million) and ammonia forms in water of pH greater than 7.0 (basic);  ammonium forms in acidic water (pH < 7.0) and it is highly toxic but not as dangerous as ammonia.  Nitrifying bacteria metabolise ammonia/ammonium to nitrites and nitrates, forming part of the nitrogen cycle.

    Chlorine and chloramines are chemicals added to tap water at the point of supply to act as sterilising agents.  Both are toxic to fish and are removed with chemical additives.

    cycle, and cycling refer to the nitrogen cycle in standing bodies of water and to our practice of allowing time for such processes to develop to helpful levels.  In well cycled aquaria, nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia/ammonium to nitrites which in turn are converted to nitrates as an end product.  Nitrates are used by plants and are also removed by partial water changes.

    "Cycle" is a proprietary name for a biological aid product that supplies nitrifying bacteria to  aquaria.

    dH, dGH, dKH refer to degrees of hardness, degrees of German Hardness or to calcium Hardness in water, respectively. These factors are important when examining water chemistry for keeping hard water loving species such as Mbuna and are not so important with reference to Bettas under normal, home care.

    labyrinth organ: this is the second breathing organ in anabantids such as Bettas and Gouramies; it is located in the head and enables oxygen to be taken directly form the air.  See Betta Anatomy: labyrinth organ.

    metabolism: all the physical and chemical processes of living, especially those by which energy is obtained.

    nitrifying bacteria are those that use nitrogen compounds such as ammonia/ammonia or nitrite in their metabolism; they form an essential part of the Nitrogen cycle and are found growing on the surfaces on all objects in the aquarium (or lake, pond, river, etc.) and are cultivated in filters to perform biological filtration processes.

     nitrates: NO3 are an end product of the metabolism of nitrites by certain bacteria that is less toxic than ammonia or nitrite.

    nitrite: NO2 is a very toxic chemical produced as a by product of metabolism by some bacteria.  It is further metabolised by other bacteria to form nitrates.  Nitrite levels should be kept below 0.1 mgm/l. (1 part per million).

    pH (the potential of Hydrogen) is a measure of the hydrogen ions in solutions, giving the negative logarithm of the hydrogen-ion concentration in grams per litre; pH 7.0 is regarded as 'neutral' shows a concentration of 10-7 or 0.0000001 gm/litre.  For simple purposes, the lower the pH, the more acidic the solution (contains more Hydrogen-ions), thus a pH of 6.8 is slightly acidic; the higher the pH value, the lower the Hydrogen concentration - such solutions pH > 7.0 are called "basic" solutions and are typical of  alkaline water. See Understanding Water Chemistry.



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    Bettas in small containers require special attention.  Avoid cruel practices and use as large a bowl or jar as you can.

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