Friday, December 28, 2012

The Mircale Plant: Indian Almond Leaf

There is a plant that betta fish enthusiasts have fallen in love with. It is sometimes referred to as the miracle leaf with breeders across the globe claiming its usefulness in creating spawns and citing wondrous healing properties. It is the Indian almond leaf (Terminalia catappa), sometimes referred to as IAL. This plant is said to be responsible for healing fungal infections, lowering pH, and treating water hardness (kH). Although the claims are great and vast, like many parts of the betta fish care trade, the Indian almond leaf has little scientific research done on all of the claims of its beneficial properties.

Indian almond leaves are popularly used in Thailand for betta fish. There are many kinds that can have varying effects on a fish’s environment with consideration to a variety of factors. The natural tannins produced by the leaf in water are said to be the source of the plant’s medicinal and general beneficial properties. While that is true in a sense, placing a connection to all the claims of benefit onto tannins is simplified at best and false at worst. Many plants release tannins when soaked in water, creating a yellowish-brown look to the water similar to tea. However, not all plants are beneficial to the betta fish living environment and so tannins cannot be solely referred to when citing Indian almond leaf benefits.

T. catappa growing on farmland. Image from Wikipedia

The various varieties of Indian almond leaves have different components that can affect water in a range of ways. One strain, for example, called Ficus benjamina was studied in 2009 and was found to have “a newly identified triterpenic acid exhibited significant antimicrobial activity against Salmonella typhimurium, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli, as well as low activity against Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus brassicola” (AllNaturalPetCare). This strain specifically carried the unique triterpenic acid, which is not found in other species of Indian almond leaf.

Thus, not all Indian almond leaves are equal in what they do for beta fish. The T. catappa species of the plant is one of the more popular ones and has been found to contain both anti-inflammatory and anti-parasite properties. In fact this species of Indian almond leaf has been proven to even provide immune support in humans, helping carriers of HIV. While it has been cited by breeders to help with everything from creating vibrant colors in betta fish to increasing spawning activity, the Indian almond leaf is not a magical cure-all plant to used for every situation.

A 2008 study by KKU Veterinary Journal in North America focused on certain benefits breeders in Thailand claimed were due to the Indian almond leaf. It specifically looked to evaluate the antibacterial activity of water extract from dried Indian almond leaves and its toxicity in ornamental fish. It used three species of ornamental fish over 14 days: guppy fish (Poecilia reticulate), fancy carp (Cyprinus carpio), and Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). The study also measured alkalinity, hardness, ammonium, and nitrite.

A fish tank rich with tannins from leaves. Photo by Practical Fish Keeping Magazine

It was found that the Indian almond leaf did in fact prove to be beneficial for antibacterial purposes and that “as natural products, the extracts may overcome the problems of chemical residues and antibiotic resistances in fish cultures” (Chansue 2008). The study found that the Indian almond leaves performed best if applied for three days.

Other studies have shown Indian almond leaves to inhibit fungal growth, making them helpful in combating fungal diseases.

To apply Indian almond leaves to an aquarium, the plant should be cleaned. However, boiling the leaves will not be beneficial because while boiling may help sterilize it also removes the beneficial components. It is perfectly fine to simply add dried leaves to a betta fish tank so long as there are no known pesticides or harmful ailments on them. The Indian almond leaves will float at the surface of the water, sinking after a few hours or days.

While there are no studies for each claim attached to this beloved leaf, Indian almond leafs can promote benefits when added to a betta fish tank. They can be purchased from a variety of online sellers in many forms, some even coming in tea bags. This plant may not have all its rumors completely researched but it certainly does have beneficial properties that will only do good for a betta fish tank.


CHANSUE, N., ASSAWAWONGKASEM, N.. The in vitro Antibacterial Activity and Ornamental Fish Toxicity of the Water Extract of Indian Almond Leaves (Terminalia catappa Linn.). KKU Veterinary Journal, North America, 18, apr. 2011. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 28 Dec. 2012.


Dunlop, Colin. "Leaves for Aquaria." Tropical Fish Hobbyist Dec. 2010: n. pag. Web. 27 Dec. 2012. <>.

"Indian Almond Leaves (T. Catappa) for Aquariums." AllNaturalPetCare, n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tail Biting: A Troublesome Self-Infliction

Tail biting is self-inflicted damage to the tail of a betta fish. Two common ailments often confused for tail biting are fin/tail rot and torn, or “blown,” fins from swimming. Blown fins is a term “associated with the curious aberration that occurs in some heavily-finned males that are swimming or flaring too hard” (Parnell, It is important not to confuse tail biting with natural tears or with fin/tail rot, which is a fungal disease that can be lethal if not treated correctly. Tail biting is less prevalent in short finned betta fish, such as the plakat breed. The causes of tail biting are largely unknown while “some say it’s stress, others say boredom and still others think it could be hunger, pent up aggression or even hereditary” (

A diagram depicting the differences between biting and ripping. Photo by Star's Betta Blog (

While it is not definitely known what causes tail biting, the behavior is generally easily remedied. Although some betta fish may be more persistent than others, tail biting can be stopped and fins will grow back with proper care. After diagnosing a betta fish tail biting, and not fin/ tail rot or merely having blown fins, it is important to first treat the wounds. Even though the fish is doing the damage to itself, the damaged area may become infected if preventions are not taken. Keeping the water warm and adding medication such as Melafix or Pimafix can help prevent infection , although medication is not necessary in most cases ( It is also recommended that a betta keeper adds aquarium salt (not to be confused with Epsom salt!) to the tank for a short period of time and that water conditions are kept very clean.

Common ways to remedy the behavior include rearranging the tank, adding new hiding places, making an environment more stress free, and adding Indian Almond Leafs  (IAL) to the water. Checking the tank for possible aggression enhancers can also be useful, such as changing bright lights to “reduce reflections, which may fuel…aggression” ( These treatments are typically in response to the idea of tail biting being the cause of boredom or stress.

A halfmoon male with damage to fins from fin rot, which is often confused with tail biting. Photo by LeopardFire (

Rearranging the betta’s tank can help with stress and enrichment issues because the new arrangement can give the fish a feeling of security, such as having new hiding spots, and give it the opportunity to explore. Change objects around in a tank can also give the fish more space, which leads to more exercise. In addition to adding hiding spaces, sometimes taking some objects can help. Betta fish react differently to different objects and how they are placed. Sometimes betta keepers notice one of their fish constantly flaring at a decoration and another not leaving its side. Because they have personalities, environment preferences will vary widely. Adding the temporary presence of mirrors can also be helpful for exercise and releasing aggression (

Sometimes betta fish will do this for a lifetime and it will be something betta keepers will have to constantly deal with but most of the time a betta can be appeased. Experimenting and knowing a fish’s personality is the best step to take when dealing with this troublesome behavior.

References "Fin Biting." Darkmoon Bettas. Web. 17 May 2012. "Tail Biting." Tail Biting. Web. 17 May 2012.

Parnell, Victoria. "Tail Biting- Why Do Bettas Do It, and Is It Genetic?" BettySplendens. Web. 17 May 2012.

Star. "Star's Betta Blog." Star's Betta Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. <>.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Betta Fish Tank Debate

Betta splendens are surrounded by myths. Misconceptions about this domesticated betta species have created a slew of controversies about their care, some perpetuated by confused owners and many perpetuated by fish supply stores. One of the most debated topics on betta fish care is one of basic care: What size fish tank does a betta fish need?

Some claim that betta splendens do not need more than a few inches of water, citing the idea that these fish live in mere puddles of water in the native lands the species originated from. Others say that the size of the tank does not matter as long as it is not too large or else the betta fish, territorial in nature, will panic from trying to protect too much territory and thus a large tank will kill it from stress. On the other end of the spectrum, there are advocates screaming that anything less than 10 gallons is animal abuse and owners that place their fish into an environment of less than that should lose the right to own an animal. Finally, there are those who believe that as long as the water in the tank is changed regularly and the fish does not appear to be in distress that it does not matter what sort of tank a betta is kept in.

So what is the true answer to the betta fish tank question? This can easily be found by looking at scientific explanation and concepts crucial and essential for the fish-keeping hobby. First, however, it is important to debunk the myths and separate them from the truths.

Origin of the Species

Betta splendens is the proper name of the commonly sold betta fish, sometimes referred to as the Siamese fighting fish, in pet stores. There are hundreds of betta species existing in the wild but long-finned and brightly colored betta splendens are not one. This is because this form of the betta splendens is a species of fish entirely man-made through years of domestic breeding for various desires, such as aggression and/or fin length, and there are enough genetic differences that identify it as its own domestic species despite sharing the genus name splendens of its short-finned and duller-colored wild counterparts. The wild b. splendens variety may not even exist in pure forms any more, or at least not in high populations, because of the amount of domestic betta splendens that are sometimes released into the wild and breed with wild types to produce impure offspring.

A wild type betta fish, the Betta enisae. Photo by Kei Sasaki

Domestic betta splendens come from a lineage of their wild counterparts of the same name and various betta species that are native to the areas of Thailand (formally Siam), Malyasia, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The wild species are found living in rivers, streams, and rice paddies. The myth that betta fish naturally live in puddles comes from a misunderstanding of what rice paddies are. These areas of shallow water are nowhere near puddles; rather, they are pools of water that can be anywhere from ankle-deep to 6.5 feet deep and contain long, horizontal, space. Farmers use rice paddies to grow various crops and they can support many semi-aquatic plant species.  The paddies are deep enough to hold an ecosystem and wild fish species often live in them, including wild betta species.

One of many different styles of rice paddies in Indonesia. Photo by Samuel Matthews

Companies, however, have been known to take advantage of such a misconception about the natural habitat for wild betta species and create dangerous fish tanks that feature the false factoid on their boxes that betta species originate from puddles of various countries, including ones where they are not even native. As a result, the consumer, who would naturally trust a company creating a product for the wellbeing of the animal, does not look into whether or not these creatures originate from puddles and the myth circulates like poison, infecting the minds of all who hear it because it is confirmed by the sight and sale of products in stores.

Commercially Available Fish Tanks

There are literally hundreds of fish tanks to choose from in a pet store or even those exclusively available online. They range from traditional, rectangular, designs to modern pieces of abstract art. Some are tall, some are fat, and many are deadly.

Just because a tank is available for purchase, it does not mean it is safe for use.

The most dangerous tanks are ironically usually ones specifically advertised as betta fish homes, often with the label “ideal betta home” or “best for betta fish” and other similar phrases that are only not considered false advertising because of the vague, subjective, wording and the fact that proper betta care knowledge is often unknown by mainstream pet owners. Holidays and birthdays become opportunities for companies to take advantage of this lack of animal care knowledge and they often market novelty tanks designed like candy machines or glass bowls inside of teddy bears.

The "teddy tank" that encourages the use of a betta tank as a toy and nightlight. Photo by
The controversial "ipond" betta tank in Australia. Photo by

It is not a North American exclusive marketing technique; these tanks can be found globally and are just as dangerous in other parts of the world. The Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in the United Kingdom is only one of many animal welfare groups that addresses the dangers of novelty fish tanks. In 2011, Sophie Adwick, the group’s scientific officer, released this statement on their website about novelty fish tanks being given as holiday gifts:

    “People buying these tanks might think they are getting a novel or unusual present but it is unlikely to be a happy Christmas for any fish inside. They are designed and marketed as fashion accessories to match your living room rather than with any thought of welfare, and are inadequate homes for these animals. Displaying live fish as ‘art’ encourages people to see them as replaceable ornaments, rather than living creatures in need of care and commitment.

“Some tanks are being marketed as a complete aquarium but include no enrichment (eg. gravel, plants, places to hide), no mention of the need to provide this and no instructions as to how many fish can safely be kept in the tank.”

Other betta-marketed housing units are not even fish tanks at all. These can be the worst containers to consider housing a betta fish in and unfortunately many used to be very popular because of their marketing. Betta vases, the arrangement of a betta fish inside a glass vase with a plant such as a peace lily nesting on top with its roots exposed to the fish, were once a commonly seen and advertised fad. These so-called betta homes are still being sold in dollar stores and large chains such as Walmart with instructions on how to create the arrangement.

A betta vase by AquaCulture, a Walmart brand, with instructions on how to create the arrangement. Photo by Betta Fish Awareness Day

A misunderstanding of betta fish care stems into the idea behind these containers. The betta fish is supposed to live under the plant and receive oxygen from it, while the plant is supposed to receive, and clean the water of, fertilized nutrients from the fish excrement. For feeding, the betta fish in this arrangement is thought to devour the roots. Once examining this arrangement with a more critical analysis, however, it becomes obvious that this ecosystem in a vase idea is misconstrued and dangerous to the well being of the animal.

Betta fish require surface air and frequently go to the top of a tank to breath from it through the use of their labyrinth organ, which acts like a pair of lungs. With a plant on top, there is no access to air and new oxygen cannot be circulated in the water because of this. The plant’s roots do not create oxygen in the water, making for a slow suffocation of the fish. Betta fish are carnivores and do not eat plants, so in addition to denial of air the betta fish is starved. Finally, the only way to remove toxins from fish excrement is through water changes and with a plant on top this becomes impossible. These betta vases threaten the animal with suffocation, starvation, and ammonia poisoning, conditions that when applied to other species would spark out rage in animal welfare supporters.

With novelty-style fish tanks out of the question, what are other signs of an inappropriate home for betta fish? There are two main important factors to examine before considering a tank: volume and shape.

The Proper Volume

Very few fish species can live in small quantities of water but small is a subjective term that can be interpreted differently by different people. Instead of thinking about tank size in terms of how it looks, a fish keeper should measure space by the volume of tank. Gallons and/or liters are the standard measuring units of fish tank volume and small is generally referring to any tank that holds less than 5 gallons (18.92 liters) of water because most species cannot live in a volume so low due to many factors.

5 gallons is a special volume too. It is the lowest volume of water that is easiest to establish the nitrogen cycle in. Although cycles can be established in smaller volumes, it is generally a long, frustrating, process that requires fishless cycling and precision. 5 gallons establishes at an easier rate and there are more options for filters that suit 5-gallon tanks than there are for smaller sizes and since filters are only useful if left on every hour, everyday, in order to cycle, they are useless in smaller tanks that come with them without the intention to cycle.

For a betta keeper who is new to or inexperienced with the nitrogen cycle and desires to keep a betta fish in a cycled aquarium, 5 gallons is generally the minimum standard for easy establishment. With 5 gallons an in-fish cycle can be established with relative ease, although it is recommended to always establish fishless in order to avoid ammonia burns. A 5-gallon tank is also easier to chemically balance and provides other benefits outside of cycling that include more room for a betta fish to exercise, a larger selection of reliable heaters, and a prettier aesthetic display. Most importantly, however, is that “a higher volume of water allows for more stable water conditions and thwarts the waste concentrations that a polluted betta bowl is subject to—it can go from livable to toxic literally overnight” (Purser 2007).

A 5-gallon tank, however, is suitable for only one betta fish and a possible small snail or shrimp companion that does not emit a high bioload into the water. For sororities (groups of female betta fish) and other community tanks, the minimum volume is generally at 10 gallons and up, requiring cycling.

A 5 gallon betta tank. Photo by Betta Fish Awareness Day

For Those Not Interested in Cycling or Who Are Space Conscious

But what if it is not possible to have a 5 or 10-gallon fish tank? Is anything smaller considered abuse or neglect?  Simply put: no. It is not animal abuse or neglect to house a betta fish in a tank smaller than 5 gallons. To understand why, the definition of abuse and animal neglect must be considered.

Abuse — “treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeated” (The Oxford Dictionary)

Because abuse is defined here, and other places, as the either violent treatment or neglect toward human or animal, the definition of animal neglect needs to be further examined. While the legal definition varies by each American state due to wording and individual regulation, as well as varying by different countries, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) provides a general definition for animal cruelty that is used within the United States and similarly by other countries by their respective prevention of cruelty to animals societies.

Animal Neglect — “a failure to provide an animal with adequate food, drink, veterinary care, shelter. The neglectful behavior either endangers the animal’s health or causes physical injury or death.” (

At the basic level, an animal’s essential needs must be provided on a regular basis in order to keep the animal healthy and stress free. To determine the minimum tank size for a betta fish, all one has to do is simply examine the basic needs of a betta fish and see if a certain tank provides these requirements.

Betta fish require a few basic needs: a tropical temperature range of water between 76 and 84 degrees that does not regularly have large fluctuations, an environment with no to few toxins present that are removed through care, places to hide in order to reduce stress, easy access to surface air, and exercise. These needs are not negotiable and are required to maintain in order to keep the animal healthy. Any tank that cannot support these needs is not an appropriate permanent home for a betta fish.

1 gallon (3.78 liters) is the minimum requirement for a betta fish home because any tank of lower volume does not have the ability the regularly maintain a constant temperature without large fluctuations. A regular tropical temperature range that remains mostly consistent would be impossible within a tank that holds less than 1 gallon and there are very few heaters that would fit in a tank of such size let alone maintain a constant temperature without overheated the animal.

In addition to temperature, a 1-gallon tank is also the smallest size in which naturally occurring toxins in the water can be easily regulated. Because clear water does not mean healthy or even safe water, the appearance of a fish tank is the worst way to judge whether or not conditions are appropriate. Ammonia is the number one killer of betta fish and it is excreted into the water through food, waste, and exhale from the gills. Tanks that hold less than 1 gallon of water are subjected to high ammonia spikes and easily poison the fish living inside. 

The Importance of Shape

Tank shape is also important to consider when purchasing a tank because like most fish species, betta splendens prefer long, horizontal, spaces rather than vertical ones. Vertical spaces allow for less access to air and some breeds that have particularly long, heavy, fins may struggle to get to the surface easily. Horizontal spaces allow more room to swim and easy access to the surface.

A fish tank with more horizontal room than vertical room. Photo by

It is less important that a fish tank blends into a room than the quality of living space it provides the living, feeling, creature inside. Although horizontal tanks may take up more room than vertical ones, a fish has no business living in an unsuitable environment simply because it is more aesthetically pleasing to the owner.

Why Bigger is Better

As long as a fish tank is at least 1 gallon of water, can provide room for a heater without worry for large temperature fluctuations, and room to swim, it can be an appropriate permanent betta fish home with proper maintenance and care. However, if more room can be provided for this charming aquatic creature then it should be given. There are studies existing that show betta fish living in larger spaces have an extended lifespan and a better quality of life.

Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine writer Philip A. Purser described such experiments in his article Better Betta-Keeping, explaining that “specimens confined to tiny bowls seldom exceed 18 months to 2 years in captivity, while free-ranging specimens housed in larger aquaria may thrive for more than seven or eight years!” (Purser 2007).

If it is possible to provide an animal with the best quality of care, then why not provide to the best of one’s ability? Betta fish have the unfortunate plague of misconceptions that harm their care and lower their lifespan. By looking critically at the myths and misconceptions that plague this beautiful species, a step can be taken toward improving their care and giving them a more deserving life.

*Because fish tanks that hold less than 1 gallon of water are harmful to fish health and often lead to their deaths, we have created a petition that has a goal of the voluntary ending their sale at PetSmart. If interested, please look at and sign the petition here. Thank you.*


Denaro, Mark. "Splendid Bettas." Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Oct. 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

F., Christine. "Choosing a Tank." Choosing a Tank | Betta Fish Care., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

Fenner, Bob. "Choosing and Caring For The Betta Fish." Choosing and Caring For The Betta Fish., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

Purser, Philip A. "Better Betta-Keeping." Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Apr. 2007. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase. "What Sort of Environment Should Siamese Fighting Fish Be Kept In?" RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase RSPCA Australia, 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

RSPCA United Kingdom. "Decorative Fish Tanks Are Inadequate for Fish." RSPCA United Kingdom. RSPCA UK, 07 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <>.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Understanding Proper Water Conditions and the Nitrogen Cycle (Article)

Unlike cats or dogs, fish are hard to take care of in that their entire world depends on the quality of their water. Different chemicals naturally build in water and depending on the water and its source, different toxins can be present. Betta fish, like many fish, are considered hardy and able to thrive in nearly any condition. This is a false sentiment because thriving is not the same thing as surviving and poor conditions are severely cut the lifespan of a betta.

The first thing to understand are the different chemicals to look out for, some of which are more important to be concerned with in regards to different tank sizes. It is important to have a water test kit that can test for these chemicals--it can save a betta's life!

The first and easiest way to remove these problems is for tanks that are 5 gallons or more, which can establish a cycle. A water cycle is the control of chemicals and bacteria in the water through the use of a filter, making water changes easier. The following contains basic information only.

Ammonia (NH3)

This chemical is the most common cause of betta death. Ammonia develops from natural waste, the build up of not eaten food, and from the excretion from gills; in the same way humans breath out Co2, betta breath out ammonia. Ammonia poisoning comes in many forms including red/purple gills, lethargy, and red stripes appearing across the body, among symptoms.

Ammonia can be removed from the water in several ways. First is through a water cycle. If the tank in question is under 5 gallons or establishing a cycle is not a possibility, then the second way to remove ammonia is through water changes. Changing the water is the quickest, most effect, way to rid a tank of most problems.

NitRITE (NO2-)

Nitrite is a chemical excretion of good bacteria that eat ammonia. These bacteria do not have time to appear in a non-cycled tank, so those who cycle must pay careful attention to this chemical. Nitrite can harshly poison a betta, with some symptoms including rapid gill movement and extreme lethargy. It can also cause "Brown Blood Disease," which is the imparement of a betta's ability to carry oxygen and circulate blood, causing gills to appear brown. This can lead to the suffication of the fish.

The only way to get rid of nitrite is do water changes. Some live plants can help decrease nitrites in the water but water changes are still required.

NitRATE (CO3-)

Nitrate is a chemical excreted by nitrite-eating bacteria. Although this chemical cannot harm a betta as much as nitrite or ammonia, it can still poison the fish and kill it. Nitrate poisoning includes spastic swimming, bent spine, curling of the body, and twitching.

Nitrate also can only be removed through water changes.

A liquid water test kit, essential for monitoring water conditions. Photo by Petco

The Dangers of Hard Water

In addition to toxic chemicals, water hardiness can harm betta fish as well. Hard water is water that contains high and/or concentrated amounts of minerals. Betta fish can tolerate a water hardness of 5-20 dH or 70-300 GH ppm, preferably with conditions in mid-range. Water hardness is not a usual problem in most areas. Some places like Las Vegas, Nevada have very hard water that is not good for any animals, let alone fish. This is not typical as most water systems contain water softeners, making water safer for consumption.

Because most places have water softeners in the system, it is often not necessary to worry about this but if there is a need to lower the water hardness, there are products that pet stores and fish stores sell to lower the hardiness. It is important not to just place these conditioner into the water but to carefully read the instructions on how to mix them in.


There is always some level of chlorine in water supplies in order to kill harmful bacteria that would otherwise be present in it. However, chlorine is very deadly to a betta fish and any level above 0.5 ppm will result in death. Water conditioner is needed as a result.

The types of water conditioners vary and treat different things. Thus, it is important not to purchase just any water conditioner at a store. Sometims the cheapest product will not remove every harmful element in the water, for chlorine is not the only purpose of conditioning treatment. The Seachem Prime conditioner brand, for example, is one of the best brands of water conditioners for that it covers everything that can make water toxic for fish. API Stress Coat, Aqua+Plus, and other conditioners are recommended as well. It is important to read labels before purchase in order to ensure that what needs to be removed from the water will be.


Water pH is not hard to mantain. pH is the balance of acidic or base content in water. It is not good to be too high in acid or base, so test kits are essential for mantaining proper water for betta fish. The range of pH measures from 1-14, with 1 being acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being basic. It is ideal to have a pH of 7 for a betta fish, as a pH of 6 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 7.

Betta fish can survive in a pH range of 6-8 but it is important to try and mantain a pH of 7 in order to give a more neautral condition of the water, in case of pH spikes.

Total Alkalinity (KH)

This is a measurement of how well water can resist pH changes. This is a good reason not to use distilled water for it has a total alkalinity of 0 KH, which means that any change to the acidic or basic content in the water will be easily  increased of decreased. This can stress the fish and sometimes kill it in extreme situations.

Tap water has a total alkalinity buffer added to it already, making it ideal for tank water. There are some products on the market that can help increase alkalinity, if need be.


This is a combinition of chlorine and ammonia. Chloramine tend to be unstable and can evaporate over time. Water sanitation plants have begun adding chloramine to water in order to kill harmful bacteria, as it does a better job than chlorine. This is a very harmful additive or a betta fish and must be removed from the water to ensure a healthy life.

Water conditioners that remove chlorine will only remove chlorine and not chloraine, unless otherwise specified. Prime water conditioner was specifically mentioned earlier because of its coverage of this chemical as well. If only chlorine is removed from the water, then ammonia is left behind. This can cause an ammonia spike which, as stated earlier, can be deadly.

The only way to remove chloramine is through a proper conditioner.


Phosphate in addition to sunlight cause algae growth. Phosphates get into water through food or through previous presence in tap water. Water changes are the best way to remove phosphates from a tank, although there are products to remove them if they get to extremes. Additionally, some live plants remove phosphates as well.

Water Change Schedules for Best Tank Health

As can be seen, water changes are the best solution for tackling most problems. A clean source of water is an assurance of better betta health. However, water changes are dependant on tank size. This next section is a basic guide to the most popular tank sizes used for betta fish. Bigger is always better and means less changes, especially if cycled.

1 gallon: Do a 100% water change every other day. This sized tank cannot establish a water cycle as it is too small.

2 gallons: 50% water changes 2-3 times a week and one 100% water change weekly. Another tank size too small for cycling, it is important to maintain regular water changes. Gravel vacuums will make cleaning easier and help maintain better water.

5 gallons: This is the first tank size that can be cycled and thus is has two different water change schedules. For cycled tanks, perform 50% water changes weekly. For non-cycled tanks perform 50% water changes twice a week and one 100% water change weekly. Non-cycled tanks are much harder to clean and it is recommended that a cycle is established for the this purpose.

10 gallons: For cycled tanks, perform 50% water changes weekly if there is only one betta inhabiting it. If it is a community tank, add another 50% water change to its schedule. For non-cycled tanks 50% water chanes should be performed twice a week and a 100% water change bi-weekly.

20 gallons: Tanks this size should only be cycled. 50% water changed should occur each week.

There are many other tank sizes but these are some of the most common. For in-between sizes, adjust the schedule to your best judgement. Although these are not absolute, strict, must-have schedules, they are recommended for the best health of betta fish.

What is cycling?

A diagram of the nitrogen cycle. Photo by PetSmart

When referring to a "cycle" aquarists are referring to the Nitrogen Cycle, which is created by a series of chemicals and bacteria that are naturally present and created in water. Cycling is not easily possible in smaller tanks and generally can only be established in tanks of 5 gallons or more, even if the small tanks are equipped with a filter. The cycle begins with ammonia, which is a toxic chemical created from fish and food waste that gets dispersed into the water the animal pumps through its gills. The cycle's purpose is to convert ammonia into safer substances for your fish through creating good bacteria. The beneficial bacteria turns ammonia into nitrite, then nitrite into nitrate. Although these substances are still harmful to the fish, they can be tolerated for longer periods of time and cause less harm as a result.  On average, a cycle can be established between 4-8 weeks, depending on the method you choose to use.

Note: Unless an aquarium is filled with a certain eco-balance of live plants, partial water changes are still required. This article will not cover live plants.

The Fishless Cycle
This cycle is performed without the fish in the tank. This is the preferred method of cycling by many aquarists, for ammonia will not be able to harm fish while establishing the cycle. The following are needed to begin a fishless cycle: A fish tank, a filter, non-treated water, a water-test kit, and an ammonia source. The ammonia source commonly used by hobbyists is either fish food or pure ammonia, with pure ammonia being the preferred choice due to more precise accuracy and measuring abilities. Follow the steps for completing a fishless cycle:

1. Prepare a clean, empty, fish tank that has not been washed with any chemicals. Clean and add substrate if desired; substrate provides a home for the beneficial bacteria to live in and although it is not always necessary since beneficial bacteria tends to house itself within filter media, substrate can help with this process.

2. Add non-treated water to the tank. It is essential not to add conditioners to the water at this time since no fish will be present and water conditioners can alter test reading results.

3. Connect and add filter to the tank. The type of filter is not important but depends on preference. If filter media from a previously cycled tank is available, it can be added at this time in order to help jump-start the cycling process. If not available, proceed to the next step.

4. Add the ammonia source. If the source is fish food, the amount added should be noted so when replenishing the ammonia source a similar amount is used and the cycle becomes easier to monitor. If the ammonia source is pure ammonia, then use an eyedropper to measure the amount being added to the tank.

5. Allow the filter to run and preform a water test within the first week. Sometimes it is needed to replenish the ammonia source for the beneficial bacteria and so testing the water is critically important throughout the cycling process. Eventually the ammonia will be eaten into beneficial bacteria and nitrite readings will begin to show up, followed by the same process eventually resulting in nitrate readings. Once the levels are at a safe range, the cycle is complete.

The fishless cycle can vary in length of completion depending on many factors such as tank size, filter, ammonia source, live plants, and so forth. It can take from several weeks up to a two months to cycle, usually with the average one month.

The In-Fish Cycle

Sometimes aquarium hobbyists will cycle their tanks with their fish stock as the source of ammonia. This can put the fish at danger because ammonia levels will not be at a safe range and can harm their gills and general health. However, it is still do-able and fish do not always get harmed or die in the process. Like the fishless cycle, the same materials are needed to begin the cycle except this time the water will be treated and the ammonia source will be the fish itself.

Water changes must be completed on a regular basis to help reduce harmful chemical spikes and maintain balance in the water. It is important to test the water regularly during the cycling process because any spike can hurt the fish or kill it and testing the water can indicate a need for a water change. Once ammonia and nitrite levels begin to read at 0 ppm and a nitrate reading become available, the cycle is complete.


Bahamut285. "Water Chemistry Basics." Water Chemistry Basics., 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>.

F., Christine. "Water Changes." Water Changes | Betta Fish Care. Nippy Fish, 01 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>.

Nippy Fish. "Nitrogen Cycle." Nippy Fish., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Betta Fish Disease and Illness: Preventions, Causes, and Cures (Article)

Although most people do not think of disease and illness when it comes to aquatic life, Betta fish are no more immune to harm than other animals. There are many health-oriented issues that can ail Betta fish and most are preventable. However, sometimes fish do fall sick and it is important not to panic and rush to buy medicine to put in a tank. Diseases and illnesses can be identified, which makes figuring out treatment a more manageable task.

Bacterial Diseases

Bacterial diseases are diseases that are caused either internally or externally by bacteria. These diseases are common among aquarium fish predisposition to them include factors such as poor water quality conditions, stressful living conditions, hypoxia (when a whole body or part of a body is denied a proper supply of oxygen, temperature changes, and the handling and transport of fish. High amounts of bacteria, both good and bad, are normally found in aquariums. A lack of proper nutrition and traumatic injuries can also make it easier for an otherwise healthy fish to fall ill due to bacterial diseases.


The bacteria usually enter through an open wound, mouth, or gills. Commonly happens in stressful living conditions such as a high bioload, not enough oxygen, and over-crowding. The bacteria can live in the water for up to 32 when water hardiness if at 50 ppm or more.

Symptoms: Ragged and frayed fins, usually followed by skin ulcers within 24 to 48 hours. Identified by cotton-like fungus covering wounds. Gills may change color, becoming light or dark brown, and fish will breath rapidly as a result of gill damage.

Columnaris in a goldfish. Photo by

Cause: Bacterial infection.
Fatality: Infected fish will die between 48 to 72 hours if no effort is made to cure. This is a rapidly moving disease.
Cure: If the fish is still willing to eat, feed with food containing oxytetracycline. If unable to eat, treat with antibiotics. Medications such as Tetracycline are recommended as well as those including drug combinations of TMP Sulfa, Sulfa 4 TMP, and triple sulfa.  Increase aeration in order to help fish not suffer from gill damage. Also treat secondary fungal infections.


This deadly ailment is not a disease itself but rather a symptom of a disease. It is usually the result of kidney problems and appears to be contagious because fish in the same tank will share the same living conditions but most cases are non-contagious. Dropsy can be the result of viral, parasitic, and nutritional problems, especially vitamin deficiencies.

Symptoms: High swelling of abdomen, due to large amounts of internal fluid. Scales appear to stick outwards, like a pine-cone. Sunken eyes and a tendency to stay at the top of the aquarium are also common but less definite symptoms of dropsy.

A betta with pine coning scales, a symptom of dropsy. Photo by

Cause: Bacterial infection of the kidneys and viral, parasitical, and nutritional deficiencies also cause dropsy.
Fatality: Very High. Most fish that show signs of dropsy do not survive.
Cure: Can try medications aimed at dropsy or kidney failure, however, there is no known cure. Euthanizing fish to prevent suffering is common.

 Enteric Redmouth (hemorrhagic disease)

This disease, more commonly known just as redmouth disease, is a bacterial infection that can occur in both freshwater and saltwater fish. Symptoms: Serious bleeding (hemorrhaging) from broken blood vessels inside a fish’s mouth, body, fins and eyes. Can be clearly seen as bloodshot appearance on fins.

Cause: Bacterial infection from the bacteria Yersinia ruckeri.
Fatalitiy: Low. Very treatable.  
Cure: Antibiotics such as ampicillin.

 Eyecloud (cloudy cornea)

Symptoms: White, hazy, film on eyes.
Cause: Bacterial infection commonly caused by bad water quality.
Fatality: None. Can harshly impair vision.
Cure: Antibiotics such as Fungus Clear and Metafix. Also, be sure to clean and improve water conditions.

Fin and Tail Rot

Not to be confused with tail biting. This disease will slowly eat away at the fin and tail of a Betta fish and if it reaches the base, the fin and/or tail will not be able to grow back. It may also attack the fish’s body if left to worsen at this point. 

Symptoms: A ragged rotting of the fin or tail. Infected areas appear to be melting away.

A male halfmoon betta with fin rot. Photo by Google Image 

Cause: Bacterial or fungal infection, sometimes with both together.
Fatality: Medium, depending on effectiveness of treatment.
Cure: Antibiotics specifically labeled for fin/tail rot, such as Tetracycline.


Symptoms: Open red sores, skin abscesses, and ulcers around sores.
Cause: Bacterial infection due to poor water conditions.
Fatality: Medium to high.
Cure: Antibiotics such as Fungus Clear.

 Mouth Fungus

This disease appears to be fungal disease but is actually bacterial.

Symptoms: Grey or white line around lips, later as fungus-like short clumps around mouth.
Causes: Bacterial infection.
Fatality: Medium to high. Fatality occurs if not treated in early stages.
Cure: Antibiotics such as amoxicillin.

A betta with mouth fungus. Photo by
 Pop Eye

 This is another disease that is actually a symptom of a disease. The real cause is difficult to determine but can be generally guessed.

Symptoms: Swelling or bumps on one or both eyes. Eye may pop out of socket.

A male betta with popeye. Photo by
Causes: Could be viral, a tumor, parasitic, or tuberculosis infection.
Fatality: None to Low
Cure: Antibiotics such as Tetracycline

Fungal Diseases

Fungal diseases are usually secondary diseases that are the result of a previous health problem. However, such is not always the case. There are many fungus treatments that cover a wide variety or symptoms and disease, so treatment is not difficult. It is important to keep fish separated when fungal diseases are present, so a quarantine tank is recommended.

 Fin and Tail Rot

Not to be confused with tail biting. This disease will slowly eat away at the fin and tail of a Betta fish and if it reaches the base, the fin and/or tail will not be able to grow back. It may also attack the fish’s body if left to worsen at this point.

Symptoms: A ragged rotting of the fin or tail. Infected areas appear to be melting away.
Cause: Fungal or bacterial infection, sometimes with both together.
Fatality: Medium, depending on effectiveness of treatment.
Cure: Antibiotics specifically labeled for fin/tail rot, such as Tetracycline.

Fish Fungus

Fish fungus is almost always a secondary infection, meaning that it commonly follows other infections such as an injury or bacterial infection. It often appears as white strings from external injuries. Eggs infected with fungus can infect other eggs with this disease.

Symptoms: Clumps of dirty, white, cotton-like growth on skin or fins.

A male veiltail betta with fish fungus. Photo by

Cause: Secondary infection.
Fatality: Low to Medium. Fatal if not treated relatively early.
Cure: Antibiotics such as Fungus Clear and Methylene Blue.

Parasitic Diseases

Parasites are one of the most common and problematic diseases for freshwater fish, especially betta fish. They are, as the name suggests, caused by parasites that can enter the water through the introduction of a new fish (which is why it is important to quarantine new fish before placing into community tank), contaminated water, and other ailments. They are treatable, like most diseases, and medication can be used but is only recommended if the problem is properly identified. Like with all diseases, try asking on an online community before treatment and care suggestions.

 Anchor Worms

Anchor worms are commonly found in aquarium fish. While more common in cold-water fish such as goldfish and koi, it may infect other fish species such as Betta splendens as well.

Symptoms: Commonly attach to base of tail and/or fin as a worm-like extension. May also appear anywhere else on body. Swelling and redness may appear at site of extension.

A male veiltail with anchor worms protruding from his body. Photo by

Cause: Parasite infection. Can spread to other fish if new infected fish is introduced into tank.
Fatality: Medium
Cure: Antibiotics such as Parasite Clear and Methylene Blue.

Hole in the Head Disease

Symptoms: Fish will develop small pinhole-like abrasions at first. As disease progresses it will travel down the lateral line. May appear, as the name implies, like the fish has holes in its head.
Cause: Parasites. However, causes are sometimes debated.
Fatality: Medium to High Cure: Antibiotics such as Parasite Clear. Removing carbon from filter may also help improve condition.

 Ich (Ick or White Spot)

This is one of the most common Betta fish diseases. The best prevention is clean, regularly changed, water kept at a steady tropical temperature as needed by this species. Although there are preventative medications specifically for ich and often pushed by stores onto consumers, this disease is highly preventable with proper care.

Symptoms: white spots appear on body of fish, generally with even distribution. Spots usually look like a grain of salt.

A male betta with very visible ich spots. Photo by

Causes: Parasitic infection.
Fatality: Low to High, depending on when treatment begins. Usually it is very easy to deal with. Cure: Antibiotics. Many exist specifically for ich but some recommended ones include Malachite Green and Fish-zole. Sometimes salt baths are also used in treatment.


Symptoms: appears to be gold or rust colored dust sprinkled on fish.
Causes: Poor water conditions, cold water, and stress leave fish susceptible to parasite
Fatality: Low to Medium. Very treatable.
Cure: First isolate fish, as velvet is very contagious. Parasite lives in dirty places, like gravel, so a 100% water change is a must. Clean tank thoroughly. Medicate fish and keep water conditions without fluctuation.


Some Betta fish healthcare issues are not diseases or illnesses. Here are some common problems Betta fish keepers face with their pets:

 Lethargy (lack of energy):  Can be symptom of most diseases but may also be due to cold water. Make sure water temperature is between 72 to 85 degrees, preferably ranging from 78 to 85 degrees.

Not Eating: Most common with new fish, often Betta fish will not eat when introduced into a new living environment. They do this because they are adjusting to their new home and may be stressed. Behaviour usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a week. If the problem persists, try soaking food pellets in garlic water. Do not begin to feed bloodworms, as they are like junk food for betta fish and have almost no nutritional value while causing health problem if primarily fed. Some fish are very picky and will only eat flakes, in which case the best to get are ones easy to measure in size and leave the least mess so ammonia does not spike. Betta fish that are otherwise situated in an environment and stop eating may be exhibiting a symptom of a disease but it is important to determine what could be the cause as it is a common behaviour for multiple problems.  

Tail Biting: See article here. 


 Budiardja, Ray. "Fish Disease - Fish Medication." Fish Supplies. Web. 6 May 2012.

 F., Christie. "Velvet Disease." Nippy Fish. Web. 08 May 2012. Merck. "Merck Veterinary Manual."

Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. Web. 06 May 2012. Merck. "Furunculosis - The Disease." Merck Animal Health. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. Web. 06 May 2012.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Betta Splendens Tail Types (Article)

Betta splendens is the proper name for the domesticated betta fish species commonly sold in stores throughout the world. Wild type betta species are neither brightly colored nor long finned like the b. splendens variety and had to be selectively bred for the fish many hobbyists covet today. Within the betta splendens species, there are many different tail types that make each breed visually unique. Although often not called by their proper breed names by pet stores that may simply label them as “betta” or mislabel their type altogether, these are the officially recognized names for the domesticated betta fish.

1. Veiltail (VT)

A young male veiltail betta. Photo by Betta Fish Awareness Day

Veiltail bettas are the original betta splendens, meaning that they are the first variety of the domesticated betta fish as a pet. Bred from a variety of wild betta types, these fish were sought after due to their colorful and long, flowing, fins. The veiltail’s most distinctive feature is its asymmetrical caudal fin that flows from its body, often in a variety of lengths and shapes. Despite their common availability and ease of breeding, official International Betta Congress shows no longer have a veiltail category and the breed is seen undesirable.

Yet the veiltail strives on, often finding itself defended by lovers of the breed. It is the most common type available in pet stores, sometimes are the only variety, and is often simply referred to as just a regular betta rather than by its tail type.

2. Spade tail

A male dragonscale spade tail. Photo by AquaBid

The spade tail is very much what it sounds like, a betta with a tail in the shape of a spade. Often confused with the veiltail, the spade tail has a long caudal fin that comes into the shape of a point.

3. Round tail

A male round tail. Photo by

The round tail betta has a circular shaped single tail that has round edges and is often confused with delta tails. Round tails are common but often mislabeled or ignored as a variety.

4. Crowntail (CT)

A male crowntail. Photo by Betta Fish Awareness Day

The crowntail is a popular breed that is more commonly found in pet stores in recent years than it has in the past, perhaps popular due to its unique look. The long strands stemming out from the base of the fish’s fins easily identify the crowntail. Severely reduced webbing causes this spiky appearance. The crowntail was originally identified as a breed in Indonesia in 1997.

5. Halfmoon (HM)

A male halfmoon. Photo by AquaBid

The halfmoon is a wildly popular breed commonly found in breeding shows. Its long, symmetrical, anal fins and full dorsal and caudal easily identify it. A halfmoon betta spreads its fins out at 180 degrees. Any span more than 180 degrees is referred to as an “over halfmoon” or OHM.

6. Rosetail (RT)

A female rosetail. Photo by Pedro Emidio

This breed variety is similar to the halfmoon and is often identified as such, except it is visually distinct from the halfmoon. The rosetail has overlapping rays, which produce a folded, rose-like, look to the fins.

7. Delta tail

A male super delta. Photo by

A true delta tail betta is not merely a single tail betta, as they are often confused. Delta betta fish have straight caudal fin edges that unlike the halfmoon betta do not arch straight upwards. An enhanced version of the delta is known as a super delta and this version describes the fins to be just short of a full 180 degrees required for halfmoon status. Delta tail betta fish carry a dominant gene and breeding them can result in more delta tails, super delta tails, and sometimes halfmoons.

8. Double tail (DT)

A female double tail. Photo by AquaStar71

Double tails are a coveted breed, spawned from a mutation. Double tail betta fish have a dorsal and anal fin of the same length in addition to their most defining feature: two caudal lobes. Double tails are often bred to create a single tailed spawn due to the beautiful length of their fins and the fact that many double tails bred with other double tails can result in deformities.

9. Combtail/Half-Sun

A male half-sun. Photo by BlackRoseDarkDragon

The combtail, sometimes referred to as the half-sun, is a combination of crowntail and non-fringed single tailed genes. The result is fringe on the fins with minimum webbing. While crowntails have long spiky looking fins, the combtail has a slightly spiked looking appearance. The half-sun is a combtail that bred specifically with crowntail and halfmoon genes.

10. Plakat (PK)

A male plakat. Photo by Daniella Vereeken

Plakat betta splendens are very popular due to their short fins, a look most similar to their wild counterparts. Without the weight of heavy fins that the other breeds have, the plakat is generally more active. It is often sold in pet stores under the name “dragon scale” but that title is not mutually exclusive to being a plakat. Rather, a dragon scale is not a fin type but a scale mutation type defined by a heavy metallic look to the scale caused by being thicker scales than normal and can be found in varieties other than the plakat.


Setsuna. "Tail and Fin Forms In Betta Splendens." Tail and Fin Forms In Betta Splendens. Aquatic Community, n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. <>.

F., Christie. "Veil-tail Betta | Betta Fish Care." Veil-tail Betta | Betta Fish Care. Nippy Fish, 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. <>.