Alpha the Betta

Posted 2009.08.03 8.37 in Aquaria, Photography, Pointless Blather by Stephanie

This week, I decided to adopt a Betta fish (Betta splendens). See, when I moved all my fish and snails to the 23 gallon aquarium, I had my original 5.5 gallon starter tank sitting empty. Empty empty empty. I wanted to set it up again, do it right this time, but 5.5 gallon is hardly enough for anything. One fish, really. What good-looking fish does best alone? The male Siamese Fighting Fish!

Alpha the Betta

So meet my betta — I named him Alpha. Alpha the Betta. His home is my 5.5 gallon aquarium. It’s the Alpha Betta Base. I love his gradiated blue colours, and the splash of red on his two lower fins. He’s not the flashiest or most-colourful betta, but I like him. And now I’m going to break into a rant about how some people treat fish in general and bettas in particular, so if you aren’t up for a rant, don’t read on.

When people go pick up a puppy or kitten at the pet store or pound, you see the animal is in a small cage… yet you don’t take it home and stuff it into an equally small cage for the rest of its life. You don’t poke food through the bars and maybe shake out the box once a week. Why the hell do some people think that the way pet stores display fish is the way fish should be kept at home?

I’m sure we’ve all heard or seen or been taught that pets are a committment and responsibility, and you have to learn how to look after them et cetera et cetera, yet many people seem to forget that fish are pets too — living things.

The pet stores tend to keep their stock in overcrowded, less-than-ideal conditions because they can’t afford the real-estate to provide each animal the perfect temporary home. They don’t expect their livestock to live out its entire life there at the petstore, it’s hoped that the harsh conditions will only be brief. Yet people go in, see a hundred fish in a 10 gallon tank, and figure that’s how you do it. They see the sad droopy (but colourful!) betta in a plastic cup or a 1-pint bowl, and think Hey I have room for that at home!

How is it that people don’t understand how inhumane, how grotesque it is to keep a beautiful fish with long flowy fins in a tiny container too small for the unfortunate inmate to do anything more than turn around?

Don’t forget, a fish’s home is not just where he swims. It’s also his toilet, where he eats, sleeps, his source of water, and what he breaths.

Health issues aside, what about quality of life? Sure you might keep a fish alive for some time imprisoned in a tiny cell, if you do daily water changes and feed it just enough to prevent starvation. But…why? Is a sad droopy little fish clinging to survival going to augment your life so much?

When I put Alpha in the 5.5 gallon tank, initially there was no substrate (gravel) and no decorations. This was a selfish choice on my part – without decorations or gravel, it’s easier to see (and therefore clean) the poop off the bottom, and without decorations I could (theoretically) see my pretty fish more. That situation did not last 24 hours. I could immediately see how unhappy Alpha was – the only place for him to hide was to wedge himself behind the filter, and so that’s what he did. He spent his time either hiding there or sitting on the floor in the corner. When I offered food, the motion and sound of my hand at the surface made him dart away in fright. This is not the behavior of a happy fish.

I was going to put in a stone decoration that would provide some hiding space, but then I caught myself – the stone decoration was ‘easy’ because I happen to have one laying around. An easy lazy choice, that felt wrong. Long flowy fins could get damaged on hard sharp rocks. So I read up on what B.splendens‘ natural habitat was like and realized that sure enough, soft flowy decorations would be better. I didn’t spend a lot of money – I found some soft plastic/silk aquarium decorations that were on sale, and I already had some gravel. Five minutes of research, five minutes of ‘decorating’, and the 5.5 gallon aquarium has transformed from a ‘sterile box’ to a rather pretty and interesting addition to my home.

And more importantly, Alpha is now a happy, comfortable fish! Although he now has dozens of places to hide, he choses to spend most of his time showing off at the front of the tank. See how this works? When there’s nowhere to hide, fish get anxious and try to hide in any way they can – or if they can’t, they just get stressed and listless. When there’s lots of hiding spots to choose from and they are comfortable, they don’t feel the need to disappear.

He’s happy, and now when I offer food, he comes right to my hand to get it. He seems to enjoy swimming through the plants, and he even made a bubble nest! This “transformation” took 12 hours. I feel happy I am able to offer him a good-sized home that’s clean, filtered, heated, and is suited towards his needs.

When I see the dozens of sad droopy bettas in their little cups at the pet store, it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel worse to think that some of them will end up as sad droopy bettas imprisoned in a tiny bowl because someone thinks of them as little more than a colourful decoration that will look good on their desk or mantle. If this is all you think a fish should be… do your karma a favour and just get a colourful photo or painting instead.

Finally, if you think I’m full of sh!t and that bettas are just fine in a tiny prison, I offer this article, this list of erroneous fish myths, and this website, where an experienced aquarist can explain things better than I. Another good source of information is this blog, dedicated to betta fish.

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