When I was about seven or eight years old, my mom brought home a betta and kept it in a regular ol’ bowl. He was blue and very active and I loved watching him swim around in the bowl smacking into whatever things I dropped in for decoration. His name was Tamahome and he only lasted for about two and a half weeks before he died. A moment of silence for Tamahome (and for the fact that I named my fish after an anime character)…

Okay, as a kid, I did not know a thing about taking care of fishes and left that up to my mom (which I realize now might have been a mistake). All I did was feed my new fish twice a day – according to the little paper that came with my blue betta – and change the water once a week. I thought that was it. Guess not, because the next thing I knew, Tamahome was gone (and without me ever getting him a Miaka, too. Sads) and I didn’t even know why. I thought it was because I only fed him once a day before. Turns out, that wasn’t actually it.

I don’t want to say it’s common sense, but it’s probably common sense but it’s probably common sense that keeping a betta fish in a simple little bowl is only asking for hard times and sadness. Luckily, a book entitled The Betta Bible by Dr. Martin Brammah landed in my lap – okay, no, a friend lent it to me when I asked for help. In any case, thanks to the book and some extra help from the Almighty Internet, it’s time to get cracking on why bettas shouldn’t be kept in bowls.

Not-so-itty-bitty living space

Bettas are small fishes, that’s true, and according to Brammah’s book, you could actually house a betta “in any glass or plastic container that holds water and is big enough for the fish to turn around in.” He even says you could keep a single betta alive for many years in a large wine glass of all things.

Before anybody gets into a tizzy over the wine glass, there are obviously things to consider. For one, is this “large” wine glass big enough for your betta to swim and turn around in? And if it is, there are other more important things to consider. For example, is the water the right temperature? Is the water clean enough that you don’t risk your betta developing a disease or getting poisoned?

If for some reason, you can’t make sure of those above things, even if you put your betta in a giant tub or even an Olympic sized swimming pool, it’ll eventually die.

But, most importantly, if you can make sure of all those things, just because you can keep bettas in small spaces, it doesn’t mean that you actually should. It might be hard for hobbyists starting out to have a giant five gallon tank for their single betta but you can actually keep a betta in a single gallon tank (which we talked about in a previous article about bettas — I wonder who the writer is, hmm). Bigger isn’t always better; just remember that your betta will need to swim around and not be so cramped.

Top three

For starters, it’s good to mention what’s needed to care for a betta. Surely, most know what it takes to care for bettas, but for beginners’ sake, let’s talk about it anyway. According to Brammah’s book, a betta only needs three things to live a good life:

Clean water, high temperature ranging from 25 to 28°C, and a regular supply of varying food stuffs.

Really doesn’t seem like much, right? That’s because it really isn’t much. If you can make sure your betta has all of these, then you’re good to start.

Again, good to start but to maintain a healthy betta takes more than just this (obviously). These are just the basics and everyone has their own opinion on what makes for good food variety for their bettas and how to handle the water temperature and such. Let’s face it, though, we don’t really need water heaters for our fishies; it’s hot enough as it is in this country.

Bust out for bowls

In conclusion, it doesn’t take much to keep your betta happy but if you want to keep them happy and alive for a long time, taking the proper steps is definitely the way to go.

Don’t keep your betta in a bowl. It’s too small for them – even if they’re no bigger than a toddler’s palm – and other necessary implements like a filtration system or even hiding spots for your betta are not going to fit in a tiny bowl. It might be a good idea to invest in a good sized tank and proper implements.

Clean water = Happy betta

Clean water is what you need to keep a betta happy. What does this have to do with bowls? Think about it: A smaller space means that dirt accumulates, which means having to make more frequent water changes. Also, fish or human, nobody really wants to swim around in their own filth, you know?

Although, I’m sure that some of you have heard about “aquaponics”. If you have not, this is a system some people “developed” in which plants grow on top of an aquarium and use the waste of your fish as fertilizer. Sounds fun, right? Yeah, no, it’s not. These things are just traps and, aside from the aquaponics tanks being no larger than a regular fish bowl, the plants have the potential to block the surface where your betta goes to breathe. Not sounding too fun, right? These things were advertised as a way to keep bettas and not have to change the water or clean the tank.

No matter what proper size space you have for your betta, they will always need to have their water changed and their tanks cleaned. It really is like keeping your own home clean and habitable. Fishes just don’t have the hands to clean their tanks themselves so we have to step in and help our fish babies.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s June 2019 issue.

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