Betta fish have a reputation for being feisty, territorial and all-around bad tank mates. But that reputation is only partially earned. Male bettas are aggressive, but mostly with other male bettas which is why they should not be kept together in the same tank. There are a few other “tail nipping” fish that shouldn’t be kept with bettas, but for the most part, these colorful fish with flowing plume-like fins can cohabitate when you find the right betta fish tank mates.
“The reality is that although male bettas are aggressively territorial with other male bettas, they are generally peaceful with other species in a community setup,” says Dr. Julius M. Tepper, DVM, a certified aquatic veterinarian and fellow at the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association in Stafford, England.
Betta Fish Aggression: Born, Bred or Both?
Why do betta fish fight with other bettas? Betta fish are naturally territorial and will almost always show aggression when they encounter other males in the wild. In the canals and rice paddies of their native habitats in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, less dominant bettas have plenty of places to flee and hide, so fighting isn’t always necessary.
But a fight between two dominant bettas can be vicious and to some during the 19th century, entertaining. Betta fighting became a popular sport, so much so that villagers in these areas began breeding the fish to be more aggressive. This genetic aggression is believed to exist in bettas today.
Betta attacks can cause severe injury, infection and even death, so keeping males separate is crucial to their well-being. Females are more interactive in a community tank, Dr. Tepper says.
Best Betta Fish Tank Mates: What Fish Can Live With Bettas?
While females are more interactive in a community tank, they aren’t as attractive as their male counterparts and tend to be a less popular choice. To create a serene community tank where your male betta is the focal point, it’s important to know what fish can live with bettas.
Bettas usually attack scales, gills and tails and will respond if bitten by aggressive fin nippers like angel fish or red tail sharks, Dr. Tepper says. Goldfish and dwarf gourami should also be avoided, as well as fish that are larger than your betta or have similar fins.
Consider these fish and other aquatic animals to put with bettas:
- Cory catfish
- Neon and ember tetras
- Ghost shrimp
- African dwarf frogs
- Kuhli loaches
You can get more tips on what type of fish to put with bettas from the book, “Freshwater Aquariums for Dummies.”
Introducing Your Betta Fish to a Community
When you’re ready to combine betta fish with other fish in a community tank, take the same precautions you would before adding any fish:
- Ensure they are free of disease and parasites
- Clean the community tank
- Check water condition
- Keep water at the optimal temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit
- Acclimate them to the water temperature by floating them in a plastic cup or bag
Release your betta fish and then monitor his interactions with other fish. Provide him with lots of hiding spots where he can escape if he gets stressed, and make sure the tank is large enough for all your fish.
If you see any conflicts or notice your betta tucked in a corner hiding, community life may be too stressful for him and he may prefer a small betta tank setup of his own like the biOrb Classic LED Aquarium with its proper circulatory filtration and heating. You can also add a water conditioner like Aqueon Betta Bowl Plus Water Conditioner, which is specially formulated to promote good health, vibrant color and natural slime coat protection. It also conditions tap water instantly, making it safe for your fish.
“Bettas tend to be sedentary due to the weight of their fins and prefer to be in their own tank, where they will spend a good deal of time sleeping and resting quietly,” Dr. Tepper says.
But don’t feel bad for your betta fish. Just because he is alone doesn’t mean he is lonely. Bettas are intelligent and can recognize their pet parents—some will even follow your finger. Bond with your fish with delicious treats like Omega One Freeze-Dried Blood Worms Freshwater & Marine Fish Treat and reduce boredom with enrichment fish tank accessories like the Zoo Med Ceramic Betta Log or the Zoo Med Floating Betta Log. Inspired by his natural habitat, these betta logs make ideal areas for your betta to sleep, relax, feed or blow a bubble nest.
Want to know more about how to help keep your fish happy and healthy? Check out:
Chris Brownlow has been writing about pets for over 10 years. As a writer who believes in immersing herself in her topic, she has tasted more than 20 different flavors of dog and cat food while working on an advertising campaign for PetSmart. Prior to her pet days, Chris was a print and digital journalist at The Tampa Tribune and The Virginian-Pilot.