Hey betta tag, it seems like some of you have fallen into the trap of some common misconceptions. So allow me to clarify… (edited)
bettas are perfectly happy in tiny spaces like bowls and vodka bottles
No, no they’re not. The idea that they live in puddles in the wild is a misconception. They actually live in slow-moving bodies of water like streams, and even rice paddies in Thailand, which are quite spacious. No animal is ‘made’ to thrive in such cramped conditions. Of course, they cannot tell you when something is wrong; you have to know exactly what to look for. If you do some research about betta behavior and signs of stress, you will probably find that, if you are keeping your betta in a tiny, unheated, and ill-maintained environment, they have been displaying visible signs of discontent the whole time, which previously you had either not noticed or passed off as ‘just their personality’. In other words, they are likely not happy at all, and if you believe they are, you are kidding yourself. I can guarrantee that if you moved your betta into a proper habitat that their behavior would likely become much more active and animated, and that you would feel silly for what you had put them through before.
what about vases with those plants in them?
If you see a store trying to sell you a betta in a vase + plant, DO NOT BUY IT unless you intend to immediately give the betta a better home. Not only is the vase too small for the betta to have a proper environment, it is likely the store will also say that the betta can live by eating the roots of the plant. THIS IS NOT TRUE. It is nothing short of animal abuse, in fact. Bettas are carnivores and need lots of protein to live a long and healthy life; you wouldn’t make a lion live on grass, would you?
but my mom’s friend’s cousin had a betta who lived in a tiny bowl and he survived for 7 years!
This is like the ‘my grandpa smoked every day of his life and he lived to be 90’ argument. It is irrelevant: the exception that proves the rule. Just because your grandpa lived for so long, does that mean every other person on the planet should smoke every day of their life and expect to live to the same ripe old age? Say it with me: surviving is not thriving. Surviving is not thriving.
they don’t need a lot of space, because they don’t move around much
Wrong again. Bettas are tropical fish who, as a result, need a warm environment. What will happen if you take a tropical animal out of its warm environment and put it into a cold one, I wonder? Hmm… Oh yeah, it’ll become sluggish to conserve energy! Not really rocket science.
they don’t need clean water because they have that organ-thingie which allows them to breathe air
Yes, they have an ‘organ-thingie’ which allows them to take oxygen straight from the air, but let me ask you something. Would you want to swim around in a pool of your own waste? No, I didn’t think so. A betta’s labyrinth organ is a wonderful adaptation, but it should be considered a back-up tool. It is not an excuse to slack off in maintaining your betta’s water quality. Fooling yourself into believing that a betta can thrive in filthy water will eventually result in them getting sick and dying, just like any other animal. Furthermore, beliefs like this show a plain lack of understanding of the nitrogen cycle (which is absolutely crucial if you intend to keep an aquarium). Sorry guys, but no organ on earth can protect you from ammonia burns.
but the pet store said—
Just stop there. Most large chain stores (yes, even pet stores) are ill-informed about fish and do not train their employees thoroughly in aquatics. It is simply not in their interest to do so - all they want, all they need, is to make a sale. Whatever misconceptions they have told you, do some research and you’ll see pages upon pages of evidence to the contrary.
who cares? they don’t live that long anyway
Again, a misconception. Most people seem to believe that a betta’s maximum life span is one or two years. The sad truth is that so many people keep their bettas in poor conditions that this has become normal and almost commonplace. Two years is, under most circumstances, a premature death for a betta. And under the right conditions, your betta can live four years or more. I have even heard of some outliving the family dog! (Furthermore, wouldn’t a short life be even more reason to give them the best life ever?)
my fish is floating upside down/on its side! it must be dead; I’m going to flush it
Actually, you should double check. It is incredibly easy to overfeed most species of fish, partially because well-meaning but clueless owners interpret their enthusiastic feeding behaviors as proof they’re ‘still hungry’. Like most animals, bettas will never turn away food except in extreme situations; it’s the instinct that helps them stay alive in the wild, where food is scarcer. If your betta appears to be ‘dead’, take a look at him and check for any gill movement at all, then take a look at his belly and be honest with yourself: is he bloated? Have you overfed him? Eating too much can cause problems with a fish’s swim bladder, which is what allows them to swim/float normally. If you suspect this might be the case, fast your little friend for a few days, keep his water extra clean, and he might just return to normal. And to think you almost flushed him! (Note: overfeeding is just one thing that can cause problems with a fish’s swim bladder. If your fish has a wonky swim bladder and you haven’t been overfeeding him, more specific treatment may be required.)
bettas have little more brain activity than a plant, so I don’t need to provide any of that stuff. all they care about is getting fed
This is a common and incredibly sad myth. Bettas have a memory of at least a year, and are known to be able to recognize their primary feeder. They can even learn tricks! Google ‘fish intelligence’ and you will see that fish can use tools, recognize other individual fish as ‘friends’, pair with each other for safety, learn new skills by observation, decorate their homes, and even play soccer (take that last one with a pinch of salt)! (source). Some scientists believe they even compare to non-human primates in intelligence. Furthermore, the argument itself makes no sense: if fish could not think at least on some level, they likely would not have survived the gruelling process of natural selection. Besides, even plants need specialized, sensitive care, and they probably don’t think much at all!
but I’m broke! all that stuff is expensive and I was told bettas are cheap to care for
Sorry, but fishkeeping is actually quite an expensive hobby if you do it right, no matter the species. If you are genuinely broke, really the only question to ask is: why on earth are you buying a pet? Why not wait until you have disposable income? Obviously it’s understandable if you can’t afford the very best fish supplies: not everyone in the hobby can. But if you cannot at least afford the bare minimum for your betta to thrive, then please, please don’t get one.
who cares? it’s only a fish!
Aside from the fact that fish are much more intelligent than people give them credit for, aside from the fact that they deserve care just like any other living thing, and aside from the fact that YOU are in charge of their entire habitat, their entire livelihood, I have only one thing to say: if you have that attitude, why the heck do you want to keep fish? Unfortunately they are not given the same welfare rights as other animals; it’s incredibly unlikely that an officer is going to take your fish away if you don’t treat it right. This makes it all the more important that we take matters into our own hands and make sure they are cared for responsibly. If you cannot do that for whatever reason, you owe it to yourself, to the aquatics community, and to all the little fishies out there to not keep them at all.
Disclaimer: I know what it’s like to believe such misconceptions and I can sympathize. But in an age where knowledge is right at your fingertips, literally just a click away, it really pays to do your research and there is little excuse not to do it. Your little betta friend will thank you for it.
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