Jun 132012

It is interesting how each Betta (Betta Splendens, AKA Siamese Fighting fish) has a slightly different character and behavior. Unlike any other, Georgie Porgie I (GP I), our first Betta male, liked to take naps either tangled in the onion plant leaves (Crinum thaianum) or resting still on top of a rock or on the sand bottom, and in the beginning I’d think he was dead, but knocking on the glass or opening the lid would make him move and come see what was going on. Later I realized that I only needed to check whether his gills were moving. Otherwise he was a typical male Betta, quite a lethargic fish, except when he was introduced into his main habitat, the 55 gallon community tank, where he flared (displayed some threatening poses with fins and gill membranes spread wide to appear as big as possible) at the big dudes, our Turquoise Rainbow fish (AKA Lake Kutubu Rainbow or Melanotaenia lacustris), obviously feeling endangered, but since they were totally ignoring him and going their own way of chasing each other in their benign dominance game, he soon relaxed and went to occasional mild flaring at his own image.

Flaring at Self

Male Bettas often flare toward their own reflections in the aquarium glass, and this didn’t last long with GP I and GP IV, but GP II was “entertained” with this for a very long time. At first I thought this was because the 10 gallon has a mirror behind and I covered two thirds of the mirror so that he could retreat to the “peaceful” areas whenever he wanted to relax, but then he was displaying to his reflection in the glass.  On the other hand, I also covered most of the mirror for GP IV but after a while he began ignoring his own reflections and the cover is out. Perhaps he’s too smart to be fooled by the mirror.

No More than One Male Betta in Each Tank

As mentioned in one of my other related posts (see end of article for links), Bettas don’t kill other Bettas in nature because they just chase the weaker one from their territory, but in the confined space of a tank there’s nowhere to run and with frequent confrontations either one or both fish will eventually die from injuries.

Before he met Jewel (Our Betta female), GP IV was first rather lethargic and slow, but after meeting and trying to kill her for the first time (we unsuccessfully tried to get them together five times so far, both in the 10 and the 55 gallon, see one video below), it was like someone flipped a switch in their brains and they did the same thing in separate tanks for a month or so – swimming back and forth next to the glass. Jewel used to do this in front of the same 10 gallon where GP IV is, but when I moved her to the 55 gallon she swam back and forth along the back side very quickly. However,  they didn’t repeat this after other tries to get them together. They both slowly went back to their normal behavior, exploring the tank slowly, GP IV rarely flaring at his own image.

There are some exceptions with peaceful males that you can read about on the internet, but don’t count on it. It is much better to assume that a stronger Betta male will attack and kill a weaker male or female if you put them in the same tank, so if you’re buying a second Betta, you better have an extra tank, and it better not be just one gallon or a bowl. This may not happen immediately with a female if they are both willing to mate, but he will kill her even more zealously after the fact because he will chase away all fish that come close to the nest, including the female Betta who will likely try to eat the eggs. Considering that in a 10 gallon or (hopefully not) smaller tank everything is close to the nest, and that during this time a normal male Betta will not hesitate to attack fish even bigger than him, it is best to keep him alone.

Betta Males Don’t Get Along with Other Fish

During the short attempts to get GP IV and Jewel together in the big community tank, GP IV tried to fight the much quicker rainbow fish of his size, but they just kept out of his immediate surroundings. Surprisingly, he didn’t attack the neons, but I suspect he wasn’t in for the food but for picking a fight, while the neons, timid by definition, kept the safe distance. Not that it is safe to keep them together, though, because most aquarium books and salespersons will advise that you keep male Bettas separate from any fish.  It is possible that if I left them together, GP IV would learn that the rainbow fish were not competition and lived along peacefully with them like GP I did, but since Jewel is getting along with everybody just fine it doesn’t make sense to isolate her in the smaller tank.

Betta Males Will Harass Anything Alive

The day I bought GP IV and let him into the planted 10 gallon tak, he flared at a plant and tried to attack it, what a character. Not only should you keep Betta male separate from other smaller or vulnerable fish, but you should keep them away from shrimp and any other fragile creatures. Once I thought I saw GP IV sneaking and attacking a pebble on the bottom, but most likely it was a snail. My tanks have quite a number of snails (never bought them as they usually come with plants) and later I’ve seen him sneak up on them and wait till they get out of the shell, then quickly attack and probably get at least some of their meat. That will also explain a number of empty shells on the bottom. In spite of being cute and colorful, Betta fish males are predators that attack and eat insects, shrimp, fish and anything smaller than them. Although I’ve had and seen some community tanks where Bettas were friendly like my GP I, you never know which will one will be friendly while the rest show their true nature and kill everything around them. The only time I bought a peaceful Betta, it died the next day (GP III), so it wasn’t his nature but sickness or stress that made him seemingly friendly.


Just like GP I, GP IV gets curious and comes dangerously close to my hands or tools whenever I’m doing something like planting or trimming a plant, digging and cleaning sand, and so does Jewel who’s the least timid, acting like she knows I won’t hurt her, while GP IV sometimes acts like he wants to scare my hand out of the tank. In my second post about GP I (see link at the bottom) I described similar behavior when his curiosity made him sneak under my hand while I was trying to plant a new plant in the sand.

GP II was very timid in the beginning, particularly in the store when he’d jump on every move or noise and it continued at first at home, even when I closed the lid less carefully, but this gradually stopped as he got used to us and to his tank. Once accustomed, he was curiously swimming around and exploring all the corners and he even started entering a stone cup we have resting sideways at the bottom of the tank and spending time inside it like it was his house. This guy knew his territory and was one of the most curious Bettas we had. I’ve very rarely seen other Bettas before and after him enter this cup or slowly and almost methodically patrol around plants, rocks and all corners of the tank. We miss that fish.

Female Bettas Are More Social than Males

Jewel, our “Red Widow” female Betta is very special and has most personality. I never had a fish that  needs no net to be caught. I just put in the 16 oz. red plastic cup and she comes to me and it’s very easy to catch her, almost like she wants to be caught. You can see this in the second YouTube video below, while the first one shows the preceeding unsuccessful attempt to introduce her to GP IV.

Georgie Porgie IV Meets Jewel:

Getting Jewel Out with a Cup:

Jewel is so friendly that it seems like the person who bred her was hand-feeding them because whenever I stick my fingers in the water, she gets around and I can pet her.  She likes to eat a lot, but it’s hard to control her portions because she’s the only fish in the 55 gallon community tank who comes and stays at the surface when it’s feeding time, so she always picks the best pieces and eats her own eggs from the bottom as well. You can read more about this “smart” fish in my Jewel’s Odyssey post. You can also read more about Georgie Porgie I in Georgie Porgie’s Odyssey post and in the second post about him.

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