First off, what is a betta fish? Everyone has seen them in the fish section of the pet store; brightly colored fish with long fins, sitting in tiny little pots. Most people look and think, “Poor little fish, they’re so cramped and lonely.” The truth is that betta fish come from Thailand, where their natural habitat consists of locations like shallow ponds, swamps, and rice paddies, and the males are highly aggressive, so the pet store is right about on target when it comes to their display. But there is more to the story when it comes to keeping them as pets.
The first thing everyone does when they buy a betta fish is pick out the tank and these beautiful fish seem to provide a chance to combine flowers and fish all in one. Many use a vase and flower setup for their betta fish, thinking it is more natural because of the original habitat, but what you have to remember when selecting any aquarium is that you are providing a CONTAINED environment for your fish, not one where nature has taken action, providing an entire ecosystem. Most importantly, the betta fish actually requires access to the outside air. Yes, I said it: air. They have a special organ that allows them to take in air from the surface and if you block off that access to air, your fish can actually suffer from lack of oxygen. The quick point: Avoid the vase. Pick something small to help with mimicking habitat and remember that your fish will prefer water at room temperature (75 or 80 degrees) that isn’t filtered and doesn‘t really have any flow.
Still, once you have your simple tank, you’re going to want to entertain your fish. Most pet owners agree that intellectual stimulation is very important for any animal and your fish is no exception. Plus no one wants to see a fish in a box. It’s just unnatural. A fish in a box with STUFF, now that’s more like it. The most important point I can make regarding toys is this: The common misconception is that betta fish WANT to play with a mirror all the time. These guys are called fighting fish for a reason, they fight, but think of it another way. Would YOU want to spend every waking minute of your life, trapped in a tiny room, facing the moving image of someone who drove your blood pressure through the roof? Didn’t think so. While it is natural for your betta to encounter his reflection every now and then, please remember to remove your mirror after a few minutes. If you want some more permanent toys, consider the more natural solutions. There are floating logs and leaf hammocks made for betta fish to interact with, which simulate the natural environment and are far more comfortable for them to use on a permanent basis.
Now we come to the part where we talk about food, where most new fish owners see the words “meat” or “live” and begin to get squeamish. Keep in mind your new betta is a natural at catching mosquitoes and other insects. He isn’t a vegetarian and you should make certain that the food you are giving him has the right stuff. They make flakes and pellets for betta fish, but to have a truly healthy fella swimming beside you, it’s best to supplement with brine shrimp, glassworms or other such foods that can be found frozen or freeze dried.
It all sounds complicated, and now you won’t believe me when I say it, but these are actually some of the easiest fish to care for. If you are unsure of your chosen setup, just ask the people at your pet shop. Trained professionals can easily point you to the right items to include for a happier, healthier fish friend. We used to have two betta fish in our home, Eric and Cody. They’re more social than you would expect. Our two lived side by side on our computer desk, each in their own setup (Never put two males together in the same tank!) which we could move closer together or farther apart, making their natural interactions replace the need for a mirror. Eric and Cody knew when we came home and would swim to “meet us at the door.” They loved humans occupying their space and one even had a “romantic interest” in my computer’s mouse, often flirting with it and making bubble nests in preparation for becoming a fishy father. (Yes, it’s the men who care for the children when it comes to betta fish.)
To put it all simply, make sure that just like getting a dog or a cat, your betta isn’t a rush purchase. Take the time to select just the right habitat for your needs and grab a toy or two for the needs of your fish. Most importantly, if you have a question, ask a professional. They’re out there to help you and they’re the best resource there is.
Mirrani Houpe has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has purchased, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.
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