The goal of this article is to show you how to setup a betta fish bowl that isn’t a tiny, polluted prison for your fish.
Before we dive into a step by step guide to creating your own planted betta bowl, let’s address whether betta fish are suited to living in bowls.
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Can Betta Fish Live in Bowls?
Keeping a betta fish in a bowl is a controversial subject.
The contention centers around how betta fish are typically sold: in small cups or jars.
The thinking seems to go like this: because betta fish are sold in small cups, it must be ok to keep a betta in something like a vase or that 1 gallon fishbowl that used to house the goldfish before he/she croaked.
The problem is that small containers usually doom a betta fish to a short life.
The reason is water quality in small containers and tanks quickly becomes toxic without frequent water changes.
And most people don’t plan on changing the water in their betta’s 1 gallon bowl every 3 days.
So, in general, keeping betta fish in bowls has become antiquated and a sign of an uneducated fish keeper.
But, does that mean you should never keep a betta fish in a bowl?
Is there some way a betta fish can live in a bowl and thrive?
The solution is to find a bowl that holds the minimum volume of water needed to provide a betta fish with a safe and healthy environment.
How to Setup a Betta Bowl Aquascape
This betta bowl setup covers 6 steps:
1. Finding a 3-5 gallon bowl.
2. Filling a Mesh Filter Bag with Gravel
3. Adding Plant Substrate
4. Positioning Your Driftwood and Seiryu Stones
5. Adding Aquatic Plants
6. Adding Water
For those who enjoy watching a tutorial, I’ve created a video on how to setup a betta bowl aquascape.
And, for those who enjoy a detailed written explanation of a betta bowl setup, including which plants are best for a betta bowl, keep reading, the steps and equipment I use are outlined below.
Step 1: Find a Betta Fish Bowl
The ideal size for a betta fish bowl between 3 and 5 gallons.
This particular bowl holds close to 4 gallons:
Bowls larger than 5 gallons are difficult to find and typically cost more than a similarly sized rectangular tank.
Betta bowls smaller than 3 gallons are not recommended because in smaller bowls,
1) Water quality decreases rapidly
2) Equipment, like a heater and sponge filter, crowd the space; and
3) Room for aquarium plants and décor is severely limited.
If your goal is to create a stunning betta bowl aquascape, then getting your hands on a 3 gallon bowl or larger is best.
If you are only able to find fish bowls smaller than 3 gallons, consider creating a planted shrimp tank instead.
Once you have your bowl, it’s time to pick out gravel or substrate.
Dark substrate is ideal for planted tanks because it contrasts well with the green aquarium plants and also with colorful fish like neon tetras and koi betta fish.
Lighter colored substrates are suited for creating tropical beach inspired aquascapes or for mimicking the habitat of certain cichlid species.
If you want to learn about picking the right gravel or substrate, check out my article on the best substrates for planted tanks.
Step 2: Fill a Mesh Filter Bag with Substrate
The second step is to fill a mesh filter bag with gravel or substrate.
The mesh bag will be covered by a layer of substrate so it can be filled with old gravel, small rocks, or any other aquarium safe medium.
The purpose of the mesh bag is to create an incline on the bottom of the fish bowl.
This allows driftwood and stones to sit at slightly different heights, which creates a more natural and pleasing appearance.
Step 3: Add Plant Substrate to the Bowl
Keep adding substrate until you have roughly a 45 degree incline of substrate.
Make sure the substrate is deep enough for plants, 1/2 inch is typically enough for plants like cryptocoryne.
Step 4: Position Your Driftwood and Seiryu Stones
The fourth step is the fun part.
Gather your hardscape (aquarium safe driftwood and stones like Seiryu stone) and begin placing them into your betta bowl.
Avoid cluttering the middle of the bowl, and instead position your stones and wood off-center.
This will create a more natural look.
Aquascaping a betta bowl is an art, not a science, so place your rocks and driftwood in a way that looks interesting to you.
You can always rearrange them in the coming weeks.
In fact, modifying the design of your planted bowl weeks or even months later is part of the enjoyment of maintaining a betta bowl aquascape.
Step 5: Add Aquatic Plants
After arranging your driftwood and stones, it is time to add aquatic plants.
Aquarium plants not only add beauty to a betta bowl, but also 1) fight algae and 2) boost water quality by filtering chemicals and releasing oxygen during photosynthesis.
Aquarium plants that do not require substrate to grow, or plants that require shallow substrate, are the best choices for a betta bowl.
Plants like Anubias and Java fern are well suited for betta bowls because these aquarium plants grow via a rhizome, which means they do not need to be planted in substrate and can be attached to driftwood and stones.
The plants used in this betta bowl aquascape are:
1. Java Fern
2. Java Moss
3. Anubias Barteri
4. Brazilian Pennywort
5. Alternanthera Reineckii
If you want to learn more about easy plants for a betta bowl, check out my article on the best plants for betta fish.
Step 6: Add Water
The final step of adding water may seem simple, but this is the step where you can disrupt your entire aquascape by flooding your betta bowl.
If water is poured too quickly into the bowl, the stream of water will dig into the substrate and uproot plants, or dislodge stones and wood.
The solution is to cover your carefully designed hardscape and plants with a plastic bag.
This will prevent the water from unsettling your betta bowl aquascape.
Caring for Betta Fish in a Bowl
Betta fish care in a bowl is not remarkably different from the care you would give your fish in a 5 or 10 gallon tank.
But, bowls, being spherical in shape, present a few unique challenges as compared to “normal” fish tanks.
A 3+ gallon fish bowl is an adequate size for a betta fish or a trio of Endler’s Livebearers, but keep in mind that water quality in small tanks can shift quickly and dramatically.
I recommend at least two 30% water changes a week for a 3+ gallon bowl to prevent ammonia spikes and nitrate accumulation.
This is especially important if you chose not to run a filter in your betta bowl.
More frequent water changes will also help prevent algae blooms in your bowl.
The spherical shape of a betta fish bowl is part of the visual appeal of this setup.
But, a circular shape also presents challenges.
First, cleaning the glass of a betta fish bowl is trickier than a cleaning rectangular tank.
Most algae magnets are meant for flat surfaces and will not function well in a bowl.
And, putting your hand in the bowl usually dislodges plants and rocks, messing up your design.
The solution is to use a scrubber with a handle.
Second, the round edges of a betta bowl prevent the use of hang on back filters and clip on aquarium lights.
Here the answer is to leave out a filter or use a small sponge filter.
As for lighting, desktop lamps and lights that perch on the edges of an aquarium serve as excellent alternatives to clip on fish tank lights.
Can Betta Fish Live in a Bowl Without a Filter?
If your planted betta bowl is 3 gallons or larger, a filter is not strictly required because the bowl’s aquatic plants will act as water purifiers.
But, if the bowl is smaller than 3 gallons (not recommended), waste accumulation is likely too quick for the plants to handle
If you prefer to have a filter, a small sponge filter is an ideal choice for a betta bowl aquscape and can be hidden from view with plants or driftwood.
The advantages of a sponge filter is that it produces almost no water current, which is important in a betta bowl setup because almost any kind of water flow would push your fish around and uproot plants.
Most sponge filter are made for tanks of 5 gallons or larger, but the filter below will work in a betta bowl setup if you plan your design around it:
Remember, sponge filters need to be attached to an air pump, which can be loud.
I am still searching for the perfect air pump but this one is serving me well so far:
How to Clean a Betta Bowl
As mentioned, cleaning a betta fish bowl is more challenging than cleaning a rectangular tank.
The trick for betta fish bowls is to use a scrubber, which is a stick with a sponge on the end.
This allows you to scrub off algae quickly and without uprooting your plants and knocking over your décor.
This scrubber should only be used on your betta bowl and not for other cleaning projects, as chemical residue may kill your fish or plants.
My personal favorite, in terms of value, is this scrubber:
Betta Bowl Heaters
Unless you live somewhere tropical, putting a heater in your betta bowl is necessary.
Betta fish are tropical fish and feel comfortable between 76-80 Fahrenheit (24.44-26.67 Celsius).
Many of the smaller aquarium heaters on the market are notoriously unreliable, and break within months.
While I can’t predict how long your heater will last, the heater I am currently using on my betta bowl is:
Betta Bowl Lights
Growing live aquarium plants in your betta bowl means you will also need a light source.
Aquarium kit lights may be able to keep low light plants like Java moss and Anubias alive, but if you want your plants to produce new growth and flourish then I suggest finding a budget LED.
One effective and affordable option for betta bowls is a desk lamp style light with a daylight LED daylight bulb.
The reason a desk style lamp with a long neck works better for a betta bowl setup is that most aquarium lights are designed to stretch across rectangular and square tanks.
And clip-on type aquarium lights are almost impossible to clamp to the edge of a spherical betta bowl.
So, desk lamps with longs necks that can be placed behind or next to your betta bowl work much better than other types of aquarium lights.
3 Gallon Betta Tank Mates
Space is limited in a 3 gallon betta bowl and that means your options for betta fish tank mates is also limited.
Many betta fish, both males and females, will attack other tropical fish if they see them as competition.
So, finding a tank mate that is active at night or a fast swimmer is key.
Otocinclus fish (also known as dwarf suckers) make decent tank mates for bettas because Otos are skilled at hiding and tend to come out at night.
Otocinclus also eat algae, making them especially helpful for planted betta bowls.
But, the best tanks mates for a betta in a bowl are invertebrates, like aquatic snails and aquarium shrimp.
Invertebrates produce little waste, meaning they have a small bioload, which is critical in small tanks where water chemistry can quickly shift into a danger zone.
Both, mystery snails and cherry shrimp make excellent tank mates for betta fish.
Some betta fish may try to eat the cherry shrimp, but if your shrimp are large enough they will easily escape.
Betta Fish Jars vs Bowls
I am often asked, “can I keep my betta fish in a jar?”
My answer is the same for betta fish jars as it is for betta bowls: “it depends on the size.”
Like bowls, large jar aquariums are difficult to find.
If you happen to locate a jar that holds 3+ gallons of water, then this article and my recommendations apply.
But, if the jar is smaller than 3 gallons, you are better off creating an aquarium shrimp jar.
This is because aquarium shrimp produce much less waste than a tropical fish and do not require swimming space that a fish needs.
Betta Fish Mason Jars
Keeping a betta fish in a mason jar is a hotly debated subject and sparks strong feelings.
Most mason jars are meant for food storage and hold less than a gallon of water.
The concerns are that mason jars do not provide enough swimming space for a betta fish and also lack enough water volume to provide stable water chemistry.
In most cases, keeping a betta fish in a mason jar for longer than a few weeks results in the death of the fish.
And the reason is usually due to something like an ammonia spike from decaying and left over food or simply infrequent water changes.
The less water you have to work with, the quicker that water can become toxic for your fish or become a breeding ground for fungus.
So, in general, mason jars are lousy setups for betta fish.
If you want to keep a betta fish for its lifespan (up to 9 years in some cases), do yourself and your fish a favor and invest in a tank of 3 gallons or larger.
I hope you learned something or found inspiration for your next betta bowl setup.
Keeping tropical fish in bowls is how the hobby gained popularity, but it also led to poor conditions for fish and unsatisfying experiences for keepers.
The goal of this article was to reimagine the fish bowl as an ethical and viable option for housing a betta fish.
But, that goal is challenging to meet unless we educate others about tank size and water chemistry.
Part of ZenAquaria’s mission is to strive for enlightened fish keeping, and what that means here is spreading the message of using properly sized tanks and live plants, for the enrichment of both the fish and the fish keeper.
If you want to join us, consider subscribing to the newsletter or the YouTube channel.
As always, stay zen aquarists.