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How Can I Play With My Betta Fish?

a finger next to an aquarium with a betta fish inside the fish tank following the human finger

Bettas are among the most popular pet fish in the world, and many betta owners feel the same way about their finny friends as owners of more conventional pets like dogs, cats, hamsters and parakeets. As fish go, bettas are fairly intelligent. They are thought to be closely related to cichlids on the evolutionary tree, a very intelligent family of fish, and this is demonstrated by their high level of parental care for their young. On a more human level, bettas tend to be aware of their surroundings, like to explore their environment, claim personal areas, and they often develop amusing personality “quirks”. They quickly learn to recognize their human companions, they know when feeding time is, and they get excited when you approach their aquarium.

But did you know you can play with your betta and even train it to do tricks?


How to Teach Your Betta Fish Tricks

Training a betta can be fun for the whole family and it’s surprisingly easy to do. It’s also good for your pet as it keeps them active and helps prevent boredom (yes, fish can get bored!). With patience and a little persistence, you can teach him to do things like follow your finger, eat from your hand, swim through a hoop, play soccer, and even jump out of the water or come up to be petted.

Fish food is the best reinforcement for desired behavior. But just be careful not to overfeed your betta, especially in a small aquarium.

close-up picture of the face of a betta fish


Start your fish’s first day of “Betta School” by:

  • Moving your finger slowly across the outside of the aquarium or along the water surface, and drop a live blackworm, bloodworm, or food pellet in when your betta comes up to it.
  • Once he’s mastered coming to your hand for food, use verbal commands to impress your friends!
  • From there see if he’ll take the treat directly from your fingers or tweezers by sticking a pellet to your fingertip or holding a live blackworm below the water surface.
  • In time, it’s possible to teach your fish to leap out of the water for a treat. After your fish learns to hand-feed in the water, gradually raise the food up to entice him to jump out of the water for it.
  • Keep in mind bettas are natural jumpers, so it’s important to keep a secure lid on the tank, at all times, when you are not interacting with it.

Another fun activity is to fashion a hoop using a pipe cleaner or the plastic ring from a milk jug cap, hold it perpendicularly below the waterline and coax your betta to swim through it for a treat. You can do the same thing with a tunnel on the bottom of the aquarium. Or float a ping pong ball or other small plastic ball at the surface and see if your betta will push it around! There are lots of other fun activities you can engage in with your betta by using your imagination or doing a little online research.

Bettas have different personalities and abilities, which makes it difficult to predict what each individual fish can be trained to do.

As you start your training, consider these tips:

  • Start out slowly and be patient.
  • Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day working with your fish and then stop.
  • Remember not to overfeed, you don’t want poor water quality that can cause other health problems for your beloved fish.
  • Watch for other interesting behavior and encourage it by giving your betta a treat whenever the fish does things that make you smile.
  • Finally, talk to your betta. Call them by name and treat them like any other pet. Those who do this will tell you it makes a difference and they respond to it.


How to Choose the Right Habitat for Your Betta

One of the reasons bettas are so popular as aquatic pets is that they’re relatively easy to take care of and they don’t require a massive amount of space. When deciding what to place your betta tank on, remember that the full weight of a decorated and filled aquarium is approximately 10 lbs. per gallon. Your betta will be happiest and healthiest in an aquarium with a filter and heater. If you want to teach your betta tricks, you will want them at their most active, which means keep the aquarium water clean and between 76° and 84° F, as they are native to tropical environments. Unfiltered habitats in warmer environments can work, but they are more susceptible to water quality problems and may require partial water exchanges 2 to 3 times a week. There are many philosophies on what constitutes the ideal aquarium size, but bigger is always better (and less work for you as more water is more forgiving!).

No matter what type of fish tank environment you choose, use plants and other decorations to make your fish feel safe and at home. Aquarium lighting for betta should be somewhat subdued to simulate their natural habitat and reduce stress. Use a timer to maintain a consistent day/night cycle. In nature bettas live in relatively still water, so the filter should have a gentle flow.

A frequently asked question is “Can bettas be kept with other tropical fish?” A truthful answer is “It depends”. Most male bettas will peacefully co-exist with other mild-mannered fish species as long as there is adequate space, enough decorations and they aren’t extremely fast swimmers. That said, male bettas have individual personalities and occasionally you’ll encounter one that doesn’t play well with other fish and must be kept by himself. Aside from never putting two male bettas together, avoid fin nippers like tiger barbs, other anabantids (gouramis), large predatory fish and tiny fish that your betta might go after. Some betta are also known to eat small shrimp, so you don’t want to pair them together in a fish tank or your shrimp may start to disappear! Female bettas can often be kept in groups and with other peaceful community fish, with ample space. A group of female bettas is often referred to as a “sorority”.

gradient red betta fish

Why Betta Fish Make Great Pets

Bettas make great pets for beginning and experienced aquarists alike. Unlike some fish species, they are highly interactive and you can truly “bond” with them. The beauty of bettas also rivals many saltwater fish. There is an endless variety of colors and fin types which means there’s a betta for just about everyone!

A betta fish tank is affordable, fits almost anywhere, and is easy to take care of. In addition, there are typically no vet bills with a betta, they’re not demanding, don’t make noise, and they don’t need walks. Plus, you can go away for the weekend and your betta will be just fine. A betta fish is also a great way to teach kids about nature as well as the responsibility of owning a pet. On average, bettas live 3 to 5 years, but reports of them occasionally living longer are not uncommon.

Are you looking for more helpful facts and information to keep your fish happy and healthy? We have a number of additional educational resources created just for you -- take a look now!

Video: 3 Tips to Succeed with Fish Care
Betta Care Sheet
Frequently Asked Questions

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