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Your basic sorority tank


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#1 Eudie

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Posted 05 June 2007 - 12:10 PM

How to start a Sorority Tank


First of all, what is a sorority tank? It is a tank of all female bettas that will hopefully live together in peace and harmony. Sometimes this is easier said than done because by nature bettas are very aggressive and will attack other bettas as well as other species of fish. Male bettas are never kept in tanks together because they fight to the death in most situations. Females are a little more passive and with some work and special care they can sometimes be kept together in a community type setting. But please remember that each individual fish is different and has its own unique personality and level of aggression. There is no certain tank set up or number of females that will guarantee that your tank will be peaceful and even though you may have a placid easygoing tank one day, you may walk into the room the next day and find half of your females dead or dying because one of them was having a bad day. Now, if you still want to set up a sorority tank, here we go.

Tank Size – I recommend no less than a 10 gallon tank. Mine is a 20 gallon and I personally like that size better because it allows plenty of room for lots of plants and hidey holes. The reason I recommend a minimum of 10 gallons is because I also recommend no less than six girls in your sorority and you will require a 10 gallon to comfortably house that many. Do not try to keep less than four females together. With two, one will become more aggressive and pick on the other. With three, the two dominant females will gang up on the more passive girl and kill her given the opportunity. The more females you have the more the aggression is spread out and six is about the minium number for a fairly peaceful tank.

Keep in mind when you purchase your tank that a lid is a must for female bettas. They are excellent jumpers and without a lid I can guarantee you will have one or two that go flying merrily out of your tank and wind up stuck to your carpet or injured from hitting a hardwood floor. A light is optional if you don’t plan on using live plants, but it is much easier to check those dark corners of your tank with one and they make wellness checks go much easier.

Heater – Yes. A heater is important in a larger tank to keep the temperature stable. I cannot stress how important it is for bettas to be kept warm at a stable temperature. Your tank should stay in the 78-82 degree temperature range for ideal betta conditions. Bettas are tropical fish and although they can survive in lower temperatures, they are not as comfortable and have more health issues. It is best to buy an adjustable heater that is the correct wattage for your tank size. The adjustment on the heater should not just read ‘Higher’ or ‘Lower.’ It should have the actual degrees on the dial and allow you to set it for the temperature you desire. This is important especially when treating illnesses – which everyone encounters from time to time – because some treatments require temperatures to be raised as high as 86 degrees and others recommend lowering the tank temperature to the low 70’s.

Thermometer – If you have a heater a thermometer is a must have as well. Sometimes even the best heaters will malfunction. I recommend the glass ones that go inside the tank and have a suction cup to stick them onto the glass so that they can be easily monitored from outside the tank. I always place my thermometers in the corner of the tank furthest away from the heater so that I know the entire tank is warm. I do not recommend the kind that stick onto the outside of the tank. They are terribly inaccurate. They give you the temperature of the glass that they are stuck on, not the water temperature.

Filter – I know some people with 10 gallon tanks do not use filters and do 100% water changes. If you choose to do this, you have my greatest admiration because it is an incredible amount of work in a female betta tank. If you prefer to use a filter and cycle your tank there are several good brands of filters out there and the type you use is up to you. Just keep in mind that bettas do not like a lot of strong current, although the females can handle it better than the males. I use a Whisper filter rated for a 10-30 gallon tank. It has both the biopad and the charcoal pack insert. The biopad is rinsed off monthly when I do a water change. I use the water from the tank to rinse it out. The charcoal pack is changed bi-monthly with a monthly rinsing. It is a quiet, low current filter that my girls seem to do quite well with.

Substrate – Most aquarium safe substrates will work with your female bettas. I use standard aquarium gravel in mine, but sand, river rock or going bare-bottomed are all acceptable for the girls. Just keep in mind that if you should decide to put other fish in your tank such as cories, you will need a substrate for them that they can sift thru for food.

Decorations - I think the success or failure of many tanks has to do with the amount of cover you provide for your girls. They each need to be able to establish their own little ‘home’ that they will patrol and defend. I use only silk plants in my tanks because the plastic ones tear up delicate fins so badly. Right now I have three large silk plants that run from the bottom to the top of my tank, and at least half a dozen smaller ones. This is in addition to one large tree decoration, one tree stump ‘cave’ decoration, one anchor, three large rocks (aquarium safe – not out of the back yard), two pieces of driftwood, one castle, one bridge, and a half dozen cambomba plants. Sound crowded? It is. I’ve arranged it all as attractively as possible, but I have kept in mind that this tank is for the happiness and comfort of my betta girls, not for my own personal tastes. And the girls like clutter. The more you put into the tank, the better they will like it. It gives them plenty of places to make their own, and they also have many little nooks and crannies to hide in when one of the other girls decides to play Jaws. I’ve found that the more I have in my tank, the fewer problems I have with aggression and fighting,

Ideally, the best chance of success for a peaceful sorority tank would be for all the females to be siblings. They would have been together since they hatched and would be used to each other, however this is not always possible and may not be desirable if you want a variety of color in your tank.

Now that we have the tank set up, cycled if you are running a filter and ready for your girls, I am going to tell you to break one of the cardinal rules of fish keeping. Usually you are told to only add one or two fish a week to a newly cycled tank. This will not work with betta girls since you would have to tear your entire tank down each time you add another girl. You start with your most passive girl, put her in the tank and give her 15 or 20 minutes to nose around and check things out. Then you add the next least aggressive female and watch them closely, always being ready to pull one out immediately if things get too rough. A small amount of fin nipping and body slamming is to be expected, but if you see one aggressively attacking another then it is time to make other arrangements for one of them. Continue to add your females, one every 15 to 20 minutes in the order of most passive to most aggressive with your most aggressive girl going in last. Once all the girls are in the tank, monitor them closely for the next few days. They will nip and chase each other about to a certain extent and this is normal because they will have to work out their pecking order. One betta will become the dominant female and will rule the tank. She gets the choice territory and the other girls will give way to her. She usually remains the dominant one until she dies or a more dominant female is added to the tank.

A 10 gallon tank can comfortably hold up to 10 females. Again another cardinal rule broken! Normally you add one inch of fish per gallon of water. Since female bettas are 2-3 inches long (measured from their eye to the end of their body, tail fins not included), 10 bettas would take a 20-30 gallon tank. But bettas are not normal fish and seem to do better when slightly overcrowded. This also diffuses some of the aggression since there are so many different girls for the more dominant females to pick on. With a heavier bioload like this, be sure to check your tank water readings often and make appropriate water changes when necessary.

If you decide to add other tankmates such as cories, otos (which should only be added to a well established tank of at least six months), snails, ghost shrimp, plecos, etc, you need to consider them in your bioload and reduce the number of female bettas accordingly.

Should you decide to add more females after you initially set up your tank, you will need to remove all the females from your tank and then totally rearrange your decorations. This breaks up the already established territories. Then add your new girl or girls first. Allow them the 15 or 20 minutes to explore before starting to add the other girls back in and then do it in the same way as you did when you first set up the tank. Most passive to most aggressive with short time intervals between each addition. Again, be very much aware of what is going on in your tank for the next few days and be prepared with a backup tank if one is being attacked aggressively.

I have been keeping a sorority tank for a couple of years now and finally seem to have a fairly peaceful tank with no nipped fins or major fighting but it has been a long hard process to get there. However, once you do have an established and peaceful female tank, I think you will find them well worth the effort. We all know how special and intelligent these wonderful fish are and a tank full of sassy girls will bring you many hours of enjoyment and pleasure.
  • LilGreenPuffer, jedimasterarmi, bobthebetta and 6 others like this

#2 Gerbiee

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Posted 05 June 2007 - 01:45 PM

Glad to see a pinned topic. Great article to!

About adding the females I actually released them all at once with the help of my sister. When I had my girls living alone I couldn't tell who would be the tougher one. The one girl who I thought would be near the top of the chain is all the way near the bottom. While one of the smaller girls is, I would say, second in command. Just my 2 cents.

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#3 Neuroticax

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Posted 05 June 2007 - 03:24 PM

Wheeeeeeeeee thanks Eudie!! dance2.gif

#4 Eudie

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Posted 05 June 2007 - 04:36 PM

QUOTE (Betta_luver @ Jun 5 2007, 03:45 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Glad to see a pinned topic. Great article to!

About adding the females I actually released them all at once with the help of my sister. When I had my girls living alone I couldn't tell who would be the tougher one. The one girl who I thought would be near the top of the chain is all the way near the bottom. While one of the smaller girls is, I would say, second in command. Just my 2 cents.

~CH



Thank you Betta_luver, this thread is for us all to share our experiences and hopefully others can learn from all of us. I just got the ball rolling. And you just reminded me of something I've left out. I need to go back and make an edit. smile-222.gif

#5 Weirdkid

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Posted 05 June 2007 - 05:00 PM

Looks very nice! Thanks for taking your time and typing it all out =) Will be useful when I start a sorority tank =)

#6 Palor

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Posted 05 June 2007 - 09:47 PM

My sorority tank (12g) only has 3 females. I was going for 4, but 1 was too aggressive and had to be removed. I found by adding some danios to the tank aggression among the 3 girls dropped to 0. The danios zip around and basically ignore the bettas and their territories. Now the girls almost school together.

#7 Eudie

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Posted 06 June 2007 - 05:12 AM

I have danios in my sorority as well, but don't let it give you a false sense of security. no1.gif When one of your girls starts to feel a little under the weather, or gets a minor injury, the other two will make short work of her. It's their nature and no amount of 'dither' fish will change that. The dither fish are too fast for the betta females to take out their aggression on, so they will go after the other betta females. I've learned the hard way over the last few years. That is why I stress that a tank may seem peaceful for months and then you will come home one day to find half your fish dead. I've had it happen and so have several others here. Our girl Jazz, who just passed away was a perfect example. Fine for months and then she killed off all her tankmates one day. After that she could never be kept with any other fish, snail, ghostie, etc. They become more aggressive as they mature so what works today, won't necessarily work next month.

#8 Scarlet Veil

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Posted 06 June 2007 - 05:40 AM

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Very nicely done, Eudie!

#9 Jahosacat

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Posted 06 June 2007 - 12:22 PM

Thanks for the helpful article. I just got the ladies for my sorority yesterday. They're young and small. It's fascinating to watch them dart about. I can pick out the 'top fish' already. I'm going to add a few more plants and hiding spots for them.

I got the idea for the sorority after seeing a PetsMart have a lot of ladies in stock. Then I saw an Aquabid auction and thought that young ones who had lived their lives together might work better. This article made me feel better. I had an extra 2+ gal tank that I put 1 lady in. The single lady has actually been the least active of the group I bought. I'm wondering if it's because this is the first time she's been alone in her life.

If at some point I have to move someone out of the sorority tank, it's a good excuse for another 'last fish tank'. smile1.gif

#10 Eudie

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Posted 06 June 2007 - 12:41 PM

Glad it helped! smile1.gif
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#11 Tess

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 11:10 AM

I realize that conventional wisdom seems to be that a drastic change in the tank environment (as in rearranging things) and/or removing your current females is necessary when adding a new fish to a sorority, but that hasn't been my experience. Once the new female passes the quarantine period, she's acclimated to the sorority and released, with a pinch of food being thrown in at the same time just to diffuse the "who the hell are you?" flaring.

I get an occasional nip on one of their tails, and there are random incidents of some girly-macho posturing and flaring, but one of the "combatants" ends up swimming off and it's over with no violence. I had to remove one fish from the sorority because she was a finned terror, and she eventually went to live at my mother's house, but one heathen out of 19 females isn't too bad, imo.


I don't know if it's purely tank size, the number of females involved, some combination of the two, or maybe I've just had an astonishing run of good luck, but adding a single new female has never been an issue in my sorority. I've talked to Chuck at length about it recently, and he explained it to me as females being more "personal space" oriented, as opposed to males being territorial of particular spots, and his explanation perfectly matches what I've observed in my own fish. My males will sometimes aggressively guard their plastic "caves" from their neighbors, and from me at times, while my females seem more concerned about being crowded by another fish, or worse, more than one other fish. A couple of the girls will immediately take a hostile stance if a small group of the other girls approaches her, but those same fish are pretty much oblivious to other fish that approach singly. They also do this weird body posture dominance/submissiveness thing that *looks* like it's based on who's highest in the water, but that's a whole different thing and I could babble about the sorority for days....


Anyway, not claiming to be any sort of expert on female betta psychology here, just sharing what I've observed while watching my own fish, coupled with advice and information from Chuck, whose fish experience far exceeds my own.

Edited by TessV, 07 June 2007 - 11:12 AM.


#12 Eudie

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 11:21 AM

Once again what works for one may be different from what works for another. I have had the exact opposite experience. No mater how much distraction I've made when adding that new girl in to keep from having to rearrange the tank, it has ALWAYS ended in disaster. And I've found the females to be every bit as territorial as the males. I have several cave type things in my tank and whichever girl claims them defends their 'home' with a vengance. Just wondering what size tank you have? I know that the larger the tank the less aggression that develops because the girls can each have their own corner of the world. yes1.gif

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