Betta fish (Betta splendens) have become one of the most popular aquarium fish in the world.
And for good reason.
Betta fish are colorful, easy to keep, and have attitude.
In almost any pet store, betta fish can be found on display in small cups or jars (not ideal for their health, and something we as fish keepers need to work on changing through education and awareness).
Male betta fish are typically what you see when you get up close to the plastic cup for a better look at the fish.
If the pet store also carries female betta fish, you might be wondering if you should get a female instead of a male betta fish.
That is the question we are going to answer in this article.
Female and male betta fish are similar in many ways, but some factors may make one fish more desirable than the other for you to keep.
Female Betta vs Male Betta Fish Head to Head
This comparison of male vs female betta fish is based on my experience, but keep in mind that every fish is unique.
The female betta wins this category hands down.
Male betta fish just have too much fin drag slowing them down.
While, plakat type male betta fish can swim faster, I am still going to give the overall speed prize to the female betta fish.
This one was almost a tie, but the male betta fish wins by a slight margin.
The main reason is that female betta fish can actually be kept in “sorority” tanks with other females betta fish.
A group of 4-5 is not uncommon.
But, the tank generally needs to be well planted and observed, otherwise 1 or 2 of the females may get bullied, even to the point of death.
This category is definitely subjective.
Both male and female betta fish come in a wide range of colors.
If long fins increase beauty in your eyes, then male betta fish will win this category, but if short, torpedo like bodies are more attractive to you, then female betta fish likely win the beauty category.
This one is going down as a tie.
How to Tell if a Betta is Male or Female
The difference between adult male and adult female betta fish is primarily going to be fin length.
Male betta fish, especially those with longer tail fins – veiltails, crowntails, halfmoons, and rosetails – are easily distinguishable from female betta fish because females possess much shorter fins.
But, there is an exception: plakat betta fish.
“Plakat” generally refers to betta fish with shorter fins.
Plakat betta fish are thought to be most closely related to wild type Betta splendens, but that is becoming less certain as the breeding of plakat bettas becomes commercialized.
Plakats are actually extremely popular betta fish and many of the most striking koi and galaxy betta fish are plakats.
Because plakat betta males have short fins, distinguishing them from females becomes trickier.
Telling the difference between male and female juvenile plakats is especially difficult because both have short fins and torpedo-like bodies.
But, two factors in particular may help you figure out if you have a male or female betta fish:
1) the beard of a betta; and
2) the egg spot of a female betta fish.
The Betta Beard
Both male and female betta fish have a flap of skin beneath their gills covers called the opercular membrane.
On female betta fish, this membrane is not visible unless she flares out her gills.
On male betta fish, the opercular membrane can be seen pushing past the gill cover, but is much easier to see when a male betta fish flares his gills.
The large opercular membrane on a male betta fish adds size to his flaring gills and stretches below his chin, creating the appearance of a “beard.”
Males typically flare their gills in the presence of another male betta, when displaying for a female, or when feeling threatened.
The Female Betta Egg Spot
Another factor that may help you tell the difference between a female and male betta fish is the presence of an egg spot on the female.
The egg spot looks like a tiny white/cream colored dot underneath the female betta, between her short ventral fins and her longer anal fin (the largest fin before the tail).
The egg spot on a female betta is actually an “ovipositor,” which releases her eggs during spawning.
Male vs Female Betta Fish For Small Tanks
Both male and female betta fish make excellent choices for tanks ranging from 3 gallons to 10 gallons.
Tall or portrait style tanks should generally be avoided for betta fish because bettas prefer quick access to the water’s surface to gulp air.
Betta fish actually possess something called a labyrinth organ, which allows bettas to breathe atmospheric air (like us), helping them survive in low oxygen environments like small pools, rice patties, and small home aquariums.
Because of how hardy and adaptable male and female betta fish are, both make excellent aquarium fish for beginners or those getting back into the aquarium hobby.
If you are interested in setting up your own planted betta fish tank, check out my step by step guide to designing a planted betta fish bowl.
Can Male and Female Betta Fish Live Together?
A male betta’s aggression toward other male betta fish is well known.
In fact, betta fish are also called Siamese fighting fish because male betta fish were actually bred to fight other bettas for sport in Thailand.
But, are male betta fish as aggressive toward female betta fish?
The answer is yes, most of the time.
Keeping a male and female betta fish together typically results in the death of one of the fish.
While the male betta fish is typically the aggressor, some of the feistier females will kill a male if given the chance.
The exception to keeping male and female bettas together is during breeding.
But, introducing betta fish to each other for breeding purposes should be done carefully.
Lowering the female betta fish into the male’s tank in a breeder box or similar container will allow both fish to see each other while preventing the fish from attacking each other.
This will also allow you to observe whether the fish appear interested in pairing with each other.
If the fish appear interested in breeding, you can release the female betta and the make will chase her and display to her.
If all goes well, they will engage in a fascinating mating process where the male betta wraps the female, who seems to enter a trance and subsequently drops her eggs.
The male betta then gathers the eggs and places them into his bubble nest.
At this point, the male may again become aggressive with the female betta and chase her away from his bubble nest.
Removing the female betta fish at this point is recommended as the male will continue to chase her away from his nest.
How to Choose Between a Male and Female Betta Fish
The virtues of both female and male betta fish are many, and your choice to keep one or both in your fish room should come down to your aesthetic preferences and goals.
If you want to experience how betta fish breed and the unique behaviors that both males and females exhibit during the breeding process then your choice is easy, get a pair, or even a couple of pairs.
But, if your goal is to have a display fish, perhaps in a planted tank, a male betta with flowing fins is your best choice.
However, if you love colorful fish, but prefer a streamlined look with a strong personality, a female betta is one of the best aquarium fish to keep.
Betta Fish vs Goldfish
If you are deciding between a betta fish and a goldfish, you are likely wondering which fish is easier to keep.
Both fish are relatively easy to keep, but betta fish and goldfish require very different conditions to thrive.
The first thing to know is not to trust everything you see or hear at a big box pet store.
These huge retailers typically keep betta fish in small cups and goldfish in small tanks.
This is to save the retailer floor and shelf space for other products and animals.
But, if betta fish or goldfish are kept too long in these small tanks and cups, they become much more prone to disease and often die before being purchased.
So, the differences between goldfish and betta fish care that I describe below relates to keeping both those magnificent fish in proper conditions.
1. Water Temperature
Goldfish thrive at temperatures between 68-75 Fahrenheit (20-23.89 Celsius).
In the aquarium hobby, temperatures below 74 Fahrenheit are often considered “cold” water fish, and goldfish certainly fall into the cold water fish category.
While goldfish can live at temperatures above or below this range, they will be much less active or become stressed.
Betta fish generally require higher temperatures than goldfish.
An ideal temperature range for a betta fish is 76-80 Fahrenheit (24-26.67 Celsius).
Betta fish are able to tolerate lower temperatures than 76 Fahrenheit, but may develop digestion issues and become lethargic.
2. Fish Size and Tank Size
Goldfish grow to a far larger maximum size than betta fish.
Pet stores typically sell juvenile goldfish, which often appear to be the same size or slightly smaller than an adult betta fish.
But, that pet store goldfish can reach a length of 10 inches if given a properly sized tank or pond.
In average sized fish tanks, goldfish rarely reach more than 3-4 inches, but they are still much larger than betta fish, which only reach about 2.25 inches in length.
So, unless you have the space for a large tank (like a 40 gallon), a betta fish is going to be a much more reasonable choice for you to keep.
3. Feeding and Temperament
Proper goldfish food includes a diet of high quality flakes and live foods, like tubifex worms and daphnia.
Goldfish metabolize food quicky and have a reputation for being “messy” fish requiring large water changes to prevent disease and ammonia buildup.
Betta fish, being smaller than goldfish, produce less waste and typically require fewer water changes.
But, if a betta fish is kept in a tank smaller than 3 gallons (which is not recommended), water changes may need to be more frequent than for a goldfish to ensure that water quality remains safe for the betta.
Betta fish, like goldfish, appreciate a varied diet of betta pellets, frozen or freeze dried bloodworms, and live foods like tubifex worms.
When it comes to temperament, especially toward other fish, betta fish are best kept alone but will tolerate certain community fish as tank mates.
As for goldfish, they are peaceful fish but generally make poor tank mates for other tropical fish due to temperature and tank size.
But, fish, such as zebra danios and even platies, can be kept with goldfish due to their ability to thrive at colder temperatures.
The choice between a goldfish and a betta fish likely comes down to how big a tank you want to keep.
One other thing to note is that goldfish love to eat plants, so if you plan on establishing a planted tank or aquascape, you may want to go with a betta fish.
Betta vs Guppy
Guppies and betta fish are both wonderfully colorful fish.
Male guppies and male bettas tend to be more colorful than their female counterparts, but female guppies and bettas are full of personality and deeply enjoyable to keep in an aquarium.
Let’s take a look at some similarities and differences between these two vibrant aquarium fish.
Guppy fish are best kept at 76-80 Fahrenheit (24-26.67 Celsius) and betta fish also thrive in that temperature range, with 78 Fahrenheit (25.5 Celsius) being ideal.
So, when it comes to warmth, both these fish are tropical and will need a heater.
2. Fish Size and Tank Size
Male guppies, which reach a maximum of about 1.5 inches, are smaller than male bettas, which can achieve lengths of 2.25 inches.
But, female guppies typically range from 1.2 inches to 2.4 inches in length, putting them at about the same size as female betta fish.
As for tank size, both guppies and betta fish can be kept in relatively small tanks.
A pair of guppies can easily be kept in a 5 gallon tank, which is also an excellent size for a single betta fish.
If you plan to breed guppies, you may want to start with a larger tank, like a 20 gallon, otherwise your tank will quickly become overrun with guppy babies.
3. Feeding and Temperament
Both bettas and guppies are very personable fish that excitedly swim toward you if they think it’s feeding time.
Guppies will thrive on a flake food in addition to freeze dried and live foods like daphnia and black worms.
Betta fish enjoy these same live foods but typically don’t like flake foods and will need a quality pellet food.
Guppies are extremely peaceful fish and can be kept with a wide variety of community fish.
Their peaceful nature also means you can keep multiple male guppies together without violence (which can’t be said for male betta fish).
Overall, you have a tough decision if you are choosing between guppies and betta fish because both are wonderful to keep.
The decision will likely come down to whether you are excited to keep a peaceful fish or a feisty fish.
Whether you decide to keep male betta fish, female betta fish, goldfish, or guppies, or all of them, there really isn’t a bad choice if you do your research and plan out the proper setup.
I personally find betta fish to be some of the easiest and most enjoyable aquarium fish to keep, especially in a well planted tank.
If you want to learn more about easy to keep aquarium fish, check out my article on 12 of the easiest fish to keep.
And, if you want to learn about algae eating fish that you can keep with a betta fish, check my article on the best algae eaters for freshwater aquariums.
If you already have a betta fish and want to create a planted tank, check out my article on the best betta fish plants.
Finally, if you want to learn more about caring for a betta fish, check out my article on properly keeping a betta.
As always, stay zen aquarists.