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Improved (Better?) Products for Bettas!

Bob Fenner  

New Print and eBook on Amazon
Betta Success
Doing what it takes to keep Bettas healthy long-term

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

In my day as an earnest retailer (fourteen years on the floor) we hardly "cleaned up" with Betta sales'¦ the male Bettas themselves, bowls of all sorts, frozen foods, conditioners, perhaps a net and a small book'¦ Until we discovered the "new and improved" merchandising tools of selling "Betta Kits", of small plastic/acrylic aquariums with lights, filters'¦ Much more satisfying to sell a complete outfit, knowing the success of the customer was far more assured.

Still, most folks kept their Bettas in small bowls, or "Barracks" stuck to the inside of their "real" tanks, or worse, in small containers hung from a chilly wall (Brrrrrr!). All too often, these Bettas perished after living short, dismal lives'¦ from being too cold (they are tropicals after all), poor nutrition, uncycled systems and the ill-effects of nitrogenous waste build-up. Beginning Betta keepers rarely converted into long-standing aquarium keepers. This was not a way to build business.

Skipping ahead to the present we find a (potentially) much improved, Betta world'¦ with completely nutritious prepared Betta foods, a broader selection of small turn-key mini-aquariums, water conditioners and medicines, plus a cadre of informative and inspirational hobbyist groups on the Internet that greatly aid new aquarium keepers.

Betta Water:

Bettas, like all fishes, can't live in "straight" tapwater'¦ or water that isn't "cycled" in terms of biological filtration. Conditioners are now made and merchandised specifically as Betta products. My favorite example in this category is Aquarium Pharmaceutical's "Splendid Betta (copyright) Complete Water Conditioner. Along with eliminating sanitizer, this product contains Aloe Vera for repairing the trauma of handling as well as electrolytes. Another Betta water conditioning offer is Jungle Lab.s "Bowl Buddies Betta Care Kit". Whatever means they use, source water must be treated ahead of use. This is an item your customers will use with each regular water change.

Cycling Products: BioSpira, from Marineland Corp. is the best of a new generation of ready-to use nitrifying bacteria. The best in its class, BioSpira saves Bettas from the all-time-winner cause of petfish loss, nitrogenous waste accumulation and biological filter establishment bottlenecking. It does this by providing live useful microbes that convert toxic waste products to less-noxious nitrate.

Everyday water conditioners can be used with this species of course, but there are folks who only have a Betta, and they may well prefer a special-label product for their use. Fritz offers carded "Beautiful Betta Water Tablets". Aquarium Pharmaceutical's has an all-in-one water treatment in its "Splendid Betta" series, "Splendid Betta Complete Water Conditioner". Emphasize to your staff that they in turn want to make sure that Betta keepers use "ordinary tapwater", but that it must be treated to remove sanitizer. The best of these conditioners do much more, detoxifying metals, adding electrolytes, promoting a protective slime coat.

Betta Systems:

Good riddance to the tiny Betta bowls of yesterday'¦ these were just too unstable, cold (Bettas ARE tropical fish), chemically vacillating to sustain Fighters in good health. You can still find drum & squat glass bowls, variously shaped snifters and vases sold for Bettas, but folks who only stock these are missing the proverbial boat. Not only are they not building their businesses (What's your best lead to new customers? The ones you already have). DO stock and display complete Betta systems (to go!), made of a few types, price-points of components. Some such outfits come as specialty "kits", or you may opt to put your own together. A few manufacturers offer "bowl lights", and I would stock these in at least the two most popular sizes, along with the low wattage incandescent lamps these employ. Don't forget to include a small net with your kits, food, water conditioner, and perhaps a mix of decoration items. For the last Penn Plax offers a handy "Small Bowl Decorating Kit", that includes gravel and a miniature plant.

The ideal systems for making into your "Betta Kits" are Marineland's Eclipse "¢ systems'¦ These most often come nearly complete (you will want to add a small wattage heater and thermometer) with tank, filter, top (Betta's do jump out!) and their patented BioWheel filter technology, as well as water conditioner and a handy beginning aquarists Guide.

Oh, and for the budget minded, don't forget the possibility of displaying and selling in-tank plastic attachments to house male Bettas. Penn-Plax has a very nice "Betta Condo", and Tom's still offers the venerable "Betta Barracks". These attach to the inside front glass/acrylic aquarium panel, allowing enjoyable viewing of male Betta's, while keeping them from being picked on by other livestock, perhaps being out-competed for food.

Betta Food:

There are quite a few specialty pelleted foods that can form the basis for your and your customers Bettas' nutrition. AQUARIAN (registered trademark) Betta Food, Ocean Nutrition's "Betta Shakerz "¢" (and refills), O.S.I.'s "Betta Food", HBH "Betta Bites", Hikari "Betta Bio-Gold", Tetra's "BettaMin", San Francisco Bay Brand "Betta Food" among others. These foods are complete diets that are formatted to be palatable to Bettas, of the right size, and diminish the possibility of pollution. Some of these foods and packaging are really innovative'¦ Ocean Nutrition's even comes with refillable plastic Bettas of differing colors. Do stock at least two, three brands here, arrayed in your dedicated Betta Merchandising Area.

I do suggest that you encourage your staff to suggest the occasional use of other "treat" foods in addition to these dry-pelleted formats. Freeze-dried Tubifex, Daphnia, Bloodworms, even frozen/defrosted packets in small sizes make great addenda to a steady dry diet. Remind them, Betta's are carnivorous fish.

Betta Medicines:

Ideally all Betta-keepers would have their fish in filtered, heated aquariums, but this is not an ideal world. Most folks will maintain the Fighters in a small bowl or jar'¦ and not be diligent concerning regular water changes (at least weekly if the volume is a half gallon or so). Hence, the ill-effects of dirty water'¦ and a market for you in helpful remedies. Of these, Aquarium Pharmaceutical's Splendid Betta (copyright) BettaFix Remedy is one of the safest, containing an extract of the tea tree, Melaleuca.

My all-time favorite "cathartic" treatment for most anything that ails Betta's is "sea salt", and the brand, labeling that's best in my estimation is Aquarium Pharmaceutical's "Doc Wellfish's Aquarium Salt"'¦ made from evaporated sea water'¦ this simple, effective and very safe material added to Betta water aids their health in many ways'¦ impugning disease organisms that can't readily adapt to osmotic changes, restoring ionic balance'¦ generally not interrupting biological filtration. It's a winner of a treatment.

For Betta's that are really suffering'¦ from chilling, poor water quality, improper nutrition, there are two "silver bullets" that I endorse, Aquatronic's BettaMax "¢ and Spectrogram "¢'¦ these are blends of antibiotics and more'¦ and they work'¦ on fin rot, bacterial conditions that have not progressed too far. Ron Elander, Octopus's Garden, San Diego says, "We prophylactically treat all our newly arrived Bettas in (250 mg. Per ten gallons) BettaMax for their first week. This consistently reduces our incidental mortality to near-zero."

 Using H/O's for Betta Sales:

One side, Basic Betta Care, the other, a checklist for "Betta Set-ups".

Betta Set-Up Checklist

Betta's Name:

Date Purchased:

Betta Tank

Betta Filter

Betta Heater & Thermometer


Water Conditioner


Decorations: Grass, Gravel'¦

Basic Betta Care

System Size Matters:

    Bigger is better... large/r volumes of water change much more slowly than small/er... Little bowls vary way too much diurnally in terms of temperature... a shift of 3 degrees F. in a day is not a big deal... more than 5 is too stressful. If you're going to keep your Betta/s in small bowls, tanks without purposeful heaters, do consider where these are placed... NOT near doorways, windows outside walls. If you have no heater, but do have a warming light source, it is likely better to have this light on during the cool night period rather than day.

    Dilution is the solution to pollution... Having a bigger volume of water allows for more even gaseous diffusion... oxygen availability, dispersion of carbon dioxide, as well as a diluting effect on the accumulation of wastes. Remember, all the food you place in the system has to "go" somewhere... if you have no filtration, circulation... it pretty much will stay there... in the container, till you change the water.

About Temperature:

    As regards thermal variance, of course a thermometer is all-important in gaining insight. Betta's are tropical fish... they live in warm water... the mid 70's to mid 80's are ideal... anything below 70 F. is trouble... and chilling, being in cold water will result in loss of appetite, vigor, stress... and possible death directly.

    Of course, the ideal set-up includes a thermostatic heater adjusted to keep your fish's water in the tropical temperature zone. Small units exist, keep in mind you want five or so watts per gallon of system is about tops. Larger wattages can easily over-boost your temperature in a short time span.

About Water Quality:

    Actual water chemistry is a minor matter with Bettas that are otherwise healthy. They easily tolerate a wide range of pH (6-8), hardness... alkalinity. Most all "conditioned" tap/source waters are fine for them. The conditioning refers to either letting new water set out for a week ahead of use, or the use of "dechloraminators" for removing sanitizer. Some of these "treatment chemicals" have other compounds added for other benefit, but you can use "just tapwater" if you can devote a container to set out and save new water for several days. Bottled water, whether "Spring", "Drinking", or even distilled are not necessary, are actually worse than tapwater that has had its sanitizer purposely removed/neutralized or allowed to dissipate by waiting.

    Practically speaking, doing water changes, filter cleaning on a regular (weekly) basis, with water of about the same temperature, ensures that these beneficial microbes will be sustained, along with the health of your aquatic livestock.

About Filtration:

    Filtering water is all about removing undesirable parts, and possibly adding others you want. Solid and liquid wastes, excess foods are amongst the first category. These can be removed and processed through an air or water-pump driven filter, allowed to settle, mix in the water or a combination thereof. This last involves the use of a substrate, like a gravel or sponge material for harboring the beneficial microbes we've been talking about. Smooth, shiny materials like marbles or glass are not nearly as useful as natural gravel for providing surface area and possibly chemical buffering capacity here.

    For ease of maintenance, quietness, there are no matches for small internal/submersible or hang-on filters. A good practice with using these is to have two sets of filter "pads" or sponges, switching out the older for new, and rinsing the just-removed one for drying, use next week.

    As mentioned, the establishment of biological filtration is extremely important... along with chilling, nitrogenous waste poisoning is likely the two top causes of premature Betta death. If you can't or didn't start with "conditioned" gravel or filter media, don't have a bacterial prep. like Bio Spira, do monitor your water quality for ammonia and nitrite and be ready to do daily changes till both ammonia AND nitrites are below 1.0 ppm, and then every other day ones till the system cycles.

About Live Plants:

    Having just some live true aquatic plant material present does a myriad of good in Betta systems... adding oxygen, habitat, giving space for beneficial micro-life. I suggest adding a bit of living "grass"... Anacharis/Elodea/Egeria, Myriophyllum/Parrotfeather, Ceratophyllum/Coontail... among many other possibilities. A sprig or two will really help to use up algae-feeding nutrient, light... and make the system overall better. Be aware and leery of "terrestrial/house plants" that are sold as aquatics... they will not live for long submersed... the simple "grasses" listed will do fine.

About Faux Plants, Decor:

    Plastic and "silk" plants are better than none at all... they help foster useful microbe populations as well as "break up" the environment. Do steer clear of fake plants made for non-aquarium use (with metal supports) and any sharp or chalky items like shells or coral skeletons.

About Tankmates:

    Male Bettas are fine to keep with other tropical aquatic livestock... as long as these are not other Bettas, too mean, too fast, or possibly too slow for company. Platies, guppies (though some long finned males may be subject to chasing, nipping), small barbs (cherries, golds, checkerboards), small danios, rasboras, whiteclouds, delightful Corydoras catfishes... even large snails like Ramshorns and Mysteries, peaceful shrimp like Glass, Ghost, Grass... are excellent examples of suitable tankmates for small systems. For bigger tanks, let's say ten gallons or more, the universe of possibilities expands exponentially.

Do They Need A Light?

    Betta's themselves don't require lighting, though you may want to have one for your viewing or if you have live plants. If you do have a light, it's best to not leave it on randomly, but to utilize a plug-in timer, keeping a regular light-dark cycle of no more than twelve hours "on" per day.

About Covers and Jumping:

    Though they look like they couldn't possibly launch themselves out of the water Bettas indeed do end up out of their systems if the water level is not left down a few inches or the tank/bowl covered. Something over most of the top of their system is also a good idea for discounting drafts... they're aerial respirators and cold air gulping is not good for them... as well as reducing the amount of dust et al. that collects on the waters surface, heat and water loss through evaporation, keeping little hands and paws out...

Ongoing Maintenance:

    Whatever size system, gallon bowl to aquarium, regular (weekly is best...) upkeep is mandatory... with water changes (about all if a tiny volume) or gravel vacuuming and replacement of water... Again, best to do this all on a regular basis to prevent too much swing in water conditions. If the water does not have added salt, you may want to incorporate using it to water your houseplants or garden as part of your routine.



With Garden Centers selling "Vase Betta Systems", it's obvious there is tremendous interest in keeping the venerable Betta. Don't let these sales and more importantly introductions to the wider world of aquarium keeping slip you by. Develop a dedicated "Betta Corner" with targeted products, livestock, handouts, and most importantly example mini-systems for display and sale. In our day, the most money per square foot was generated from our small "to-go" aquarium assortment. Times have gotten even better'¦ for Bettas and you.

Bibliography/Further Reading/Referral:


Betta article  07/02/05 Just read your article in Pet Age. <An industry periodical> Just wanted to tell you great job. Schuyler Sloane (Mr. sky) Founder and president of The Northeast Philadelphia Aquarium Society Visit us on the web @ www.phillyfishclub.com <Thank you for this... Want to impart my thanks to the editor there... We had a "misunderstanding" or better, lack of understanding re the content of this piece... This series is more "pro" toward advertisers, extant products... But I am adverse <<or rather averse... >> to promoting poor practices, products and techniques that are harmful or just non-beneficial to our aquatic charges. In this case, the little death traps which are unfiltered, unheated "bowls" for Bettas mainly. To her credit and perseverance, the article was not tossed... or much modified. Bob Fenner>  

New Print and eBook on Amazon

Betta Success
Doing what it takes to keep Bettas healthy long-term

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

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