Truth and Myth: Siamese Fighting Fish Facts

LAST UPDATED 6 JANUARY 2020

This article is written by one of Pet Circle's pet product and lifestyle gurus, Gemma Radcliffe and approved by our veterinary team

If there were ever a fish to be crowned royalty, we think it would be the Siamese fighting fish. These incredible fish, also known as betta (short for betta splenden), are renowned for their vivid colours and ethereal fins, which can take on forms that resemble everything from a flowing veil to an elephant's ear.

But while beautiful, there are a lot of myths that surround the Siamese fighting fish. So before you decide to take one of these fish home, brush up on some knowledge, bust some of said myths, and learn how to better care for your betta!

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1. "It's not just a name - they really do fight"

FACT

We probably didn't need to tell you this one. Captive Siamese fighting fish were bred especially for fighting, and in the past, grew in popularity to the point where the King of Thailand started licensing fights and collecting these fish around 1840. And yes, even the females fight!


2. "Siamese fighting fish can live in tiny tanks, because they live in little creeks in the wild"

MYTH

This must be the biggest misconception out there! When searching for a tank for their betta, people often believe that their fish will be able to live a tiny bowl or even a cup, because betta live in shallow or pockets of water in the wild (and tiny tanks in the pet store). While this may be true, these creeks and rice paddies stretch for miles and miles, giving wild betta plenty of room to move.

If you're looking for a tank for your Siamese fighting fish, it's best to ignore the size of the tank you may have bought your fish in at the pet store - for a single betta, you need at least a 9.5 litre aquarium (but ideally 20 litres!) for them to be happy.


3. "Betta fish don't need a filter because in the wild they live in muddy water"

MYTH

Muddy water doesn't necessarily mean dirty water. You're better to cycle the tank and keep it clean like any other fish tank, including a weekly 10% water change. Fin, tail and mouth rot will infect them otherwise. Betta fish also don't like swimming against currents, so you'll need a low flow filter. Plus, betta splenden are much different to their wild cousins - they have been selectively bred, so they don't appreciate the same conditions.


4. "Bettas can breathe air, unlike other fish"

FACT

They totally can, and we think that's awesome! Bettas both in captivity and in the wild have a special organ known as the labyrinth organ, which allows them to breathe air from the surface. This is how they survive in waters with low-oxygen content, such as shallow rice paddies or stagnant ponds.


5. "Betta fish can live in a vase with a plant, eat the plant waste, and the plant will keep the water clean, creating a natural cycle"

MYTH

This is not true for many reasons, but the most important two are that your Siamese fighting fish needs room to swim (more room than a vase can provide, as we've already learned), and that they are omnivorous. This means that your fish cannot solely eat the plant's waste, as they need insects and other foods in their diet.


6. "A betta blowing bubbles at the surface of the water is a good thing"

FACT

It's also a good indication that they are happy in their tank, as they now consider it safe and healthy enough to breed in - you see, the bubbles are a nest! But no bubbles are not a cause for concern - if your tank filter has any sort of current that the fish notices, he may be less inclined to build a nest.


7. "Baby betta are raised by their dads"

FACT

In fact, male betta will chase away the female of a breeding pair once eggs have been spawned (in case she eats the eggs!), and will diligently look after the eggs to make sure they don't fall to the bottom of the tank. Father of the year, much?


8. "Siamese fighters don't live long... that's why mine didn't last long"

MYTH

While some Siamese fighting fish owners claim to have given their betta the bare minimum in care and still had it live for a year or two, betta can actually live up to five years with proper care.


9. "Betta fish cannot live with other species"

MYTH

It's a myth, but of the good kind! With the right introductions, betta can live in what's called a community tank. Some other fish species bettas tend to get along with are tetras, guppies, shrimp, snails, platies and loaches. Rest assured however, that betta are not schooling fish - they are more than happy to live on their own.


10. "The brighter my betta, the happier they are"

FACT

A vivid betta is a happy betta - but betta do change colours throughout their life, such as the point where they are fully mature, or as a response to stress or disease. But as a general rule of thumb, yes: if your betta is looking radiant, they are likely quite happy...and doesn't everyone want that from their pet?

Further Reading

The beginner's guide to seeting up a fish tank

How to choose the best food for your fish

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