Is Your Betta Fish Lonely?
Siamese fighting fish or betta fish (Betta splendens) have a reputation for being hostile toward other fish and other bettas.
Their reputation is not undeserved; bettas were, in fact, bred to be fighters.
While bettas are generally best kept alone, there are some tank mates that can live peacefully with a betta fish.
But, each betta has a unique personality and aggression level so some tolerate tank mates more than others.
So, if your betta is the type of fish who likes to chill rather than chase, you may be able to add tank mates that would normally be unadvisable.
Other factors like tank size, number of plants, and whether the tank mate competes for food with your betta, or if the tank mate is colorful, can affect your betta’s acceptance or disapproval of tank mates.
What Qualities Make a Good Betta Fish Tank Mate
No fin nippers – your betta will not appreciate having his fins pulled on or ripped up by other fish. Sustained nipping may stress your betta and degrade his appearance.
No showy fish or betta look a likes – Brightly colored fish like other bettas and male guppies may be seen as rivals and attacked. Bottom feeders and small schooling fish are far more likely to be accepted by your betta.
Success Factors for Betta Fish Tank Mates
Plants and décor – Live or silk plants, rocks, and driftwood provide excellent hiding places for fish that are shy or bullied.
In my experience, plants also have a calming effect on the fish and add ridiculous aesthetic appeal to any aquarium.
Not only will your betta appreciate a live plant to hang out in or build a bubble nest under, your betta’s tank mates will also appreciate a place to hide if your betta fish gets grumpy.
Dietary requirements – If your betta’s food is being snatched away by his tank mates, you may want to move him into a different tank.
Choosing fish that eat at night or on the bottom of the tank, will help prevent other fish from stealing your betta’s food.
Betta fish need a high protein diet, so choosing tank mates with similar needs will make feeding easier.
Tank size – Tank size is perhaps the most important factor in whether your betta fish will tolerate tank mates or not. More room allows other fish to swim away from your betta if he or she becomes aggressive.
Betta fish tend like to explore a tank, which makes them so fun to watch.
So, an appropriately sized tank, between 3-5 gallons, will give your better some personal water space but if you plan to have tank mates other than shrimp or snails then consider a 7-10 gallon tank.
If conditions are too cramped, your betta’s tank mates may receive some punishment.
10 Reliable Betta Tank mates
1) Kuli Loach
Generally bettas feed at the top of the aquarium and kuli loaches scavenge at the bottom of the tank.
Kuli loaches are often most active at night.
These differences in behavior and feeding patterns make kuli loaches a decent tank mate for you betta because your betta is unlikely to see the loach as a threat.
Kuli loaches, with their eel-like body and striped body, are also fun to watch and look amazing.
Keep in mind that Kuli loaches reach over 4 inches in length and will need an appropriately sized tank.
2) Ember Tetras
Ember tetras are another potential tank mate for your betta.
These tetras are peaceful and not nip your bettas fins like some of the larger tetras.
Their ruddy color may provoke your betta to chase them, but these tetras are quick and your betta may learn to live in harmony with these tank mates.
3) Rummy Nose Tetras
Some tetras are fin nippers, but rummy nose testras are not.
These tetras look superb in a school and will keep their distance from your betta fish.
The red faces of these fish contrast well with a blue betta and a carpet of plants.
4) Cardinal and Neon Tetras
Neon and Cardinal Tetras are peaceful fish, and are also quick.
As a schooling fish, keeping at least a school of 6 is ideal.
Neons and Cardinals will generally hang out mid water and avoid getting close to your betta.
5) Malaysian Trumpet Snails
Malaysian trumpet snails make a great addition to your betta tank is your setup is especially small (3 gallons or less).
These snails are voracious scavengers and will “vacuum” the tank’s substrate, looking for uneaten food, soft algae, and plant debris.
Surprisingly, these snails will not chew on your live plants but will eat the old leaves and other debris that your plants naturally shed.
While a curious betta may harass a snail by biting at it’s eyes, Malaysian trumpet snails tend to come out only at night, and spend most of the day hiding in the substrate.
6) Harlequin Rasboras
Harlequins can make great tank companions for your betta.
Peaceful in nature, harlequins will not nip at your betta’s fins and provide extra visual appeal.
Harlequins should be kept in a school, so they may not be ideal tank mates if your betta lives in a smaller tank (under 10 gallons).
7) Pygmy Corydoras
Pygmy corys are peaceful bottom dwellers that can make great tank mates for your betta.
Pygmy corys love bloodworms and will happily eat any that a betta fails to devour.
Pygmy corydoras feel most comfortable in a school and should be kept in a at least a 10 gallon tank.
Otocinclus are small, hardworking algae eaters.
Otos are peaceful and make excellent tank mates for a betta fish.
However, Otos often die after a week or two, leaving the aquarist with the impression that something is wrong.
A Otos early death may actually be attributable to how these fish were caught and later transported to a fish store.
Often a chemical is used to stun these fish before they are delivered to wholesalers.
This chemical actually damages the Otos kidneys, which eventually kills the fish.
When awaiting sale to a fish store, Otos often do not feed for a week or even 2 weeks.
By the time the fish reaches your home, the fish may be too weak or suffering from irreparable kidney damage.
So, when shopping for Otocinclus, look for a lively fish that is vigorously cleaning its tank.
9) Bristle Nosed Pleco
Plecos make great betta tank mates because they are reclusive and like to hide. In addition, plecos also keep algae under control.
These prehistoric looking sucker fish are one of my favorites to observe. A down side to most plecos is that they grow quite large.
If you purchased a juvenile pleco as a tank mate for your betta, plan on upgrading that tank in the near future.
10) African Dwarf Frog
While I have not personally tried keeping an African Dwarf Frog with a betta fish, many aquarists have successfully kept the two together.
Both need protein rich diets and will readily eat bloodworms.
African Dwarf Frogs spend a significant amount of time at the bottom of a tank, which leaves your betta plenty of free space to swim around.
However, betta fish are voracious eaters so make sure your Dwarf Frog is receiving adequate food, and not having his blood works snathched away by Mr. Betta.
6 Betta Tankmates To Avoid
1) Other betta fish
Male betta fish cannot be housed together peacefully. Instinct drives male betta fish to fight, even to the death.
Even when keeping male bettas in separate tanks, it’s smart to prevent the fish from seeing another male through the glass.
A betta that is constantly flaring and trying to interact with another male nearby will become stressed and weak.
Male and female bettas should not be housed together either.
If breeding is you goal, the female should be added to the male’s tank for a short period of time but should be removed once the eggs are laid and placed into the bubble nest.
Otherwise, the male betta may chase the female around and even kill her.
2) Cichlids and angelfish
Cichlids and angelfish tend to be aggressive toward other fish that are “invading” their territory.
Betta fish are generally slow swimmers, and a betta’s fins often targeted.
3) Barbs and larger tetras
Barbs and some tetras are not so much territorial as nippy.
These fish do not make ideal tank mates for a betta ,who will not be able to out-swim these quick fish.
4) Male guppies
Male guppies are colorful and therefore do not make idea tank mates for a betta fish.
Male bettas likely see fancy male guppies as rival male bettas and will attack them.
Female guppies can be kept with a betta fish, but better kept in a separate tank if you plan to breed them.
5) Freshwater Puffer Fish
Puffers have mouths that can crush shells.
They are snail destroyers and have wonderful personalities.
But, they do not make ideal tank mates for betta fish because they also tend to nip fins.
Many puffers are brackish water fish and should be kept in a brackish tank while betta fish are purely freshwater fish.
Goldfish are some of the worst companions you could purchase for your betta fish.
Goldfish are cool water fish that thrive between 62-71 °F while a betta fish should be kept at 76-80 °F.
Goldfish also grow quite large and are voracious eaters, outcompeting other fish for food if the aquarist is not careful.
Goldfish also produce a lot of waste, and significantly increase the bio load of your tank, which will need additional maintenance and water changes.
Goldfish should be kept in their own cool water tank, for their sake as well as for your betta’s.
A big part of picking the right tank mates for your betta fish is gauging your betta’s personality and using common sense.
Different betta fish have different personalities, and some will tolerate a tank mate that another betta will not.
Choosing the right tank mates for your betta fish is important because the wrong tank mates may stress out your betta and affect his or her lifespan.
Consider turning your betta tank into a planted aquarium.
Live plants reduce fish stress and provide hiding places for both your betta fish and his tank mates.
Betta fish have huge personalities and each fish is unique, you may need to test out if a tank mate works for your betta and have a backup tank if things don’t work out.
If you are looking for a name for your betta fish based on color and personality, check out my article on betta fish names.
Stay zen aquarists.