By "Ren" Weeks
_____A common question that arises when a first time betta owner purchases a fish is typically, "won't my betta be lonely?" To dispel any concerns straight away, please understand that bettas are a solitary, territorial, aggressive species whose ideal living conditions are incompatible with those of many other fish species. There is strong evidence suggesting that they do best in a solitary living space, especially if kept in a smaller tank, as it is stressful for them to feel a constant need to patrol and defend their "turf." A betta will not be lonely if kept singly, nor should it become bored with sufficient behavioral enrichment. So please, do not buy any tank mates until you can ensure compatibility with your betta and your tank.
_____That said, some bettas can be kept with a limited number of species, if the betta's temperament, tank mate's species, and aquarium size are all appropriate. Some invertebrates, peaceful bottom dwellers, and a few small, dull colored fish seem to be compatible with mellow-natured males or females, though all tank mates should be closely monitored for damage - as should the betta! That's right - it's not only a betta's tank mates who are at risk of injury, but the betta itself. Many fish will take advantage of the long fins and slow speed of a betta, which can cause serious harm.
_____So what makes a suitable betta tank mate? Ideally, it should be small, dull colored, peaceful, and fairly placid - though able to escape aggression in a hurry if need be. Short finnage, and a lower swimming space (i.e. Bottom feeders) may also be beneficial. It should not be known for fin-nipping or territoriality, as this puts it at odds with your betta. It should also be comfortable in a similar range of temperature, current, and water parameters as bettas - perhaps the greatest challenge. You may need to consider the ethical connotations of keeping either the betta or its tank mate outside of the species' ideal conditions to compromise for co-habitation.
_____This guide seeks to explore some potentially compatible betta tank mates, as well as some definitive "no's." Please understand that potential compatibility and actual compatibility are not the same thing; it is always possible that your betta simply does not have the appropriate temperament to be housed with other fish. As thus, please read the section towards the end of this article regarding appropriate introduction and monitoring. Now, on with the species list!
- Cherry and Ghost Shrimp: These small, scavenging invertebrates are good tank mates for bettas in that they produce minimal waste, do not mind stagnant water, and can be kept in the same temperature range of bettas (though it will mean faster development and thus a shorter lifespan). Unfortunately, some bettas think ghost shrimp are a large, overpriced snack; if you see your betta harassing a shrimp, remove it promptly. You must also never use additives or medications containing copper to a betta tank containing shrimp, as it is highly toxic to these animals - as well as all other aquatic invertebrates.
- Apple Snails: These colorful snails are an active, attractive addition to a betta tank. They are capable of surviving in lower oxygen environments, and tolerate tropical temperatures - with some reduction in overall lifespan due to the increased speed of development. They also adapt quickly to nipping and are generally too large for most bettas to kill or consume. However, the ideal conditions of both species is compromised to keep both in the same tank; apple snails do prefer oxygenated, filtered water and slightly lower temperatures. What's more, they demand for survival hard, slightly base water - the opposite of the betta's soft, acidic preferences. Finally, you must have a minimum of 5 gallons to keep both a betta and an apple snail, as apple snails are a high waste species demanding 2.5g of water per snail.
- Olive Nerite Snails: These small, rounded snails are the lower waste, smaller size alternative to apple snails. A species that only breeds in brackish or salt water, nerites are a great way to enjoy snails without the risk of breeding. They keep aquariums free of algae, and are safe for planted tanks. However, they are also not as hardy as apple snails, and prefer slightly cooler temperatures. They also need a source of algae to survive, even if in the form of algae wafers, which runs the risk of the betta consuming the wafer and becoming ill.
- African Dwarf Frogs: These tiny aquatic frogs are considered one of the best candidates for a betta's tank mate. The share the same preference for stagnant, warm, soft water, and are not as likely as other fish to attract a betta's aggression. They also contribute minimally to the bio-load, a plus for those with 2.5g tanks. However, it is essential to keep water conditions pristine, as they are very prone to bacterial infections with even moderate declines in water quality. What's more, as with invertebrates, African Dwarf Frogs have no tolerance for copper. Finally, be sure your ADF is getting sufficient nutrition; because both bettas and ADFs are carnivores, they will be at odds with each other for food competition. It may be wise to feed the betta or frog in another container, as food competition can illicit aggressive behavior.
Note: Do not mistake the African Clawed Frog, a species that grows to some 5" and consumes fish, with African Dwarf Frogs! An "albino ADF" is a mislabeled clawed frog! Always check the front feet for webbing; if it is lacking, you have an African Clawed Frog.
- Otoclinus Catfish: Many betta keepers house otoclinus catfish with their bettas. These small, low-waste fish are fantastic additions to planted tanks and greatly reduce algae. They are fast without being distracting, dully colored, and do not share the same water space as bettas - thus, they seldom encourage aggressive responses from bettas. However, they require an extremely stable environment, and thus require a matured, cycled tank - preferably planted. When stressed by fluctuations in water temperature and parameters, their digestive systems may shut down. It is also important that harassment from the betta be monitored, as this form of stress can be equally serious. Finally, remember that otos are a social species that prefer living in larger groups. It may be difficult to accommodate this need in tanks that are not at least five-ten gallons.
- Corydoras Catfish: Dwarf, albino, panda, and other small cories are another popular bottom feeder to keep with bettas. Hardier than otos with a greater acceptance of scavenger wafers, cories make for a hardier algae eater in a filtered betta tank. However, they are also larger and a shoaling species, which means that they demand a group preferably numbering at least six, but always more than four. Even a ten gallon tank could thus build up a heavy bioload, in which case over filtration may be required - which in turn could stress the betta.
- White Cloud Mountain Minnows For a tank mate more dynamic than bottom feeders, the white cloud mountain minnow is often an acceptable choice. This small, peaceful fish does not tend to nip fins, and can usually escape a betta's aggression with ease. They are very hardy, and inexpensive to purchase. However, they also prefer cooler water, so your betta's tank will need to be kept at the lower end of the preferred range. Also, a tank of at least 10g is preferred to 5g in this instance, as WCMMs are very active; your betta will need plenty of hides and plants to avoid feeling stressed.
The following are "At your own risk." People have had luck in keeping them with bettas, but there is strong potential for injury to either or both fish.
- Zebra Danios: While some keepers have had success with this small, peaceful species, they are not suggested tank mates for male bettas due to their propensity to nip fins (females probably "ok"). The zebra danio is very hardy and stands up better to harassment that some topical fish. However, they are a schooling species preferring lower temperatures and larger living conditions than is ideal for bettas.
- "Feeder"/Wild Type Guppies: These small, gray fish are in many ways compatible with bettas due to their peaceful disposition, dull coloration, and small size. However, like fancy guppies, their finnage may be a source of conflict, as the flowing length may be alluring to bettas. Also, feeder stock requires prolonged quarantine and extensive anti-parasitic treatment before it is safe to be placed with other fish - and tuberculosis is still always a risk among feeders.
- Neon Tetras: In many ways compatible with bettas, neon tetras share a similar preference for pH, temperature, planting and light conditions. However, they may nip fins, and a minimum of six fish is essential - meaning no tanks under 10g.
- Rasboras: Duller colored Rasbora species are sometimes compatible with mellow tempered males or females. They prefer soft, acidic water like bettas, and many species are very dull in color (esp. female specimens). However, they are schooling and required a large, long tank due to their activity levels. Both the size of the tank and the activity itself may stress bettas to an undue degree.
- Fancy Guppies: Many betta books and sites inaccurately suggest that fancy guppies and bettas are suitable tank mates. Due to their bright coloration, long flowing finnage, and size, it is easy for a male betta to mistake a guppy for another male - with disastrous results for the guppy! Even female bettas will aggress upon guppies in many cases. As thus, these species should never co-habitate.
- Gouramis (all sp.): One might think that two top-dwelling, bubble nesting, labyrinth species like bettas and gouramis would be a match made in heaven - but do not be mislead. Gouramis, like bettas, are highly territorial. They are also notorious fin nippers, a combination that often makes for injured or dead bettas. NO fin nipping species should ever be housed with bettas, but the betta/gourami combination is an especially lethal one.
- Cichlids: South American cichlids in particular share the pH and hardness needs of bettas, and both species are aggressive, so some inexperienced fish keepers attempt to house them together. This is a grave mistake. Bettas will make for a fast kill for even a young cichlid. Tank size incompatibility aside, cichlids will destroy a betta's finnage - and probably the betta itself. Please, never house any cichlid with any betta.
- Mollies: Mollies are an often aggressive species with a preference for high pH, hardness, and salinity. While the color and size of some types may seem acceptable, the disposition and demanded water parameters are not. Long finned bettas in particular are at risk from both the water conditions and aggression of mollies.
- Platys: Platys, like mollies, prefer a higher pH, hardness, and salinity than is appropriate for betta health. While bettas are hardy enough to adapt to these conditions to some extent, their fins will suffer. What's more, male platys can be very aggressive and will chase and bite bettas. Their coloration may illicit aggression as well, creating danger to both species.
- Swordtails: Sword tails, a species similar to platys, share the species inappropriate water parameters, bright colors, and male aggression. Also, as stream dwellers, they prefer an aeration and current stressful to bettas.
- Chinese Algae Eaters: Often marketed under other names as a peaceful community fish, the Chinese Algae Eater grows into a large, territorial, solitary species. At adulthood, they are a danger to slow moving male bettas as well as curious females, which may be head rammed, nipped, chased, or consumed should they enter the CAE's "territory." This fish is also a stream species preferring a fast current and high aeration - as well as a tank of at least 20 gallons, none of which are conducive to healthy betta keeping.
- Common Pleco: This species requires a tank size far too large with too much filtration to possibly maintain a healthy betta. They grow to 12-20", prefer temperatures in the 60's to low 70's, and may be territorial at maturity. Overall, utterly incompatible with bettas.
- Goldfish and Rosy Reds: Many fish keepers and laypersons alike seem to think that if goldfish and rosy reds "can" be kept in bowls, and so too can bettas, the species must be compatible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bowls and small tanks are inappropriate for goldfish, which require a minimum of 20 gallons (fancies; more for commons/comets/shubunkins), and rosy reds, which require a minimum of 10 gallons as they must be kept in groups of 3+ to avoid neurotic behavior. What's more, both species are coldwater, with a preference for high pH, high hardness, high current, and high aeration - and did I mention they are also high waste? For a tropical, low pH, low hardness, no current, no aeration, waste-intolerant species like bettas, these two species could not be less compatible.
- Other Bettas!: While this may seem like a no brainer, many bettas have been hurt or killed by the suggestion that they can co-habitate. Obviously, two males can not be housed together safely, but a male and female (or combinations thereof) are also not acceptable tank mates. They will inevitably wound each other, even if there is a short term period of peace. Even females will only co-exist under highly specified conditions, with no guarantee of peace; the safest way to keep a betta is solitarily!
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