Betta fish, also called Siamese fighting fish are sold as pets, decorations and party favors. These living creatures are often treated as nothing more than home décor and trinkets. They are not only sold at pet stores, with staff that knows very little about their care, but offered for sale by retailers who have no business selling animals such as discount superstores, florists and Internet outlets. These fish are kept in tiny cups with less than 4 ounces of water. Customers who complain about the cruelty of the manner-of-keeping of these fish are assured they are fine and come from “puddles and muddy hoof prints in Viet Nam.” Furthermore, customers are told that it is necessary they live in forced solitary confinement because they will fight with other fish.
This lie helps the pet stores to sell more tanks and vases, but forces the fish to live out its life never seeing another member of its own species. The truth is that female bettas can live together and males can be placed in community tanks with some varieties of other fish. Bettas are curious and intelligent fish with interesting habits and personalities and should not be forced to live dreary, lonely lives with no stimulation or enrichment. Customers are told bettas can live in the bottom of a vase filled with water with only the roots of a plant to eat and these vases are offered for sale specifically for this purpose. But as omnivores, bettas need protein which they get in the wild from insects and larvae. Putting a betta in a glass flower vase under a plant dooms the fish to a slow death. They may stay alive for a while, but will not thrive.
Bettas are members of a species of fish who need oxygen from the surface of the water, called labyrinth fish. The presence of the plant on the vase prevents that opportunity. Furthermore, betta fish do not live in “puddles” as customers are told, they live in rice paddies and streams, in warm waters with temperatures above 75 degrees. Bettas in homes almost always need a tank heater, which is often not provided in the ½ gallon bowls specifically marketed for betta keeping.
The University of South Florida’s Department of Biology advises that each betta needs at least 10 gallons to be happy and healthy, but the tanks marketed to customers for betta-keeping are far less than even a half-gallon. Bettatalk and other betta experts recommend at least a gallon per fish. Mine each has his own 5 gallon tank all to himself.
Spend some time getting to know bettas (visit Bettatalk) and I guarantee you will want to help them. They are so cool. Mine prepare for sleep at night by lying down. Fuego sleeps on a hammock, Pierre wedges himself into a tank ornament, and Declan lays flat on the gravel at the front corner. They use the same quarters every night. It's downright adorable.
My curiousity about bettas has turned to obsession, I'm in deep. I've even asked my kids to remove them from my house and take them home so I will stop obsessing over them, but we all know I would probably just go get more and that's not good. Luckily, there're support groups at BettaFish and FuckYeahBettas (sorry, great site, unfortunate name) where I can commiserate with like-minded fish fans. I've written on this subject before, not only on this blog but elsewhere. Try not to judge. I've convinced myself I am redeeming my sins of buying bettas by doing my part to make their lives better. Allow me this one little fantasy and don't comment about how Peta and the HSUS are going to disown me for breaking two basic rules: don't buy animals at pet stores; don't put fish in tanks.
We will most likely, never see the stores stop sellling bettas in my lifetime, but maybe if the American Pet Products Association were to come out with a statement telling pet stores to up their game on betta-keeping, we can effect some change for these tiny living precious jewels. So here's a call to action.
Please take a few seconds to use their contact form to let them know they should discourage its members (pet stores and manufacturers and suppliers of pet products) from carrying betta fish in tiny cups and carrying undersized habitats for betta fish and increase the industry standard for betta fish keeping.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)