You may have or are considering getting a male and female betta fish and are probably wondering, can you put a male and female betta together?
Having betta fish live together is a difficult thing to accomplish but it can be done.
Betta Splendens or betta fish are so plentiful that you know males and females are kept together at least temporarily for breeding purposes.
But betta fish are called Siamese fighting fish for a reason.
The male betta fish in particular can be very aggressive. (*)
You may never have your male and female betta fish live peacefully like other species, but with a lot of forethought and some trial and error, you can have a male and a female betta fish together.
Read on to get strategies you need to keep your betta fish in the same tank.
Betta Fish in the Wild
Wild betta fish are quite a bit different than domestic betta fish. They are native to Southeast Asia, including the northern Malay Peninsula, central and eastern Thailand, Cambodia, and southern Vietnam. (*)
In their native habitat, betta fish are found in shallow, warm water with little current.
These are often broad expanses of flood plains or agricultural paddies. Betta fish have a sort of lung that allows them to sip air from the surface when they need to. (*)
Wild betta fish tend to be muted green, brown, or gray in color and have shorter fins than the colorful, ornamental varieties.
They are territorial but betta fish live together with many fish species because there is enough space for them to stay out of each other’s territory.
The betta fish you see today come from more than a thousand years of hobbyist and commercial breeding to bring out specific traits in color, fin length and style, and aggression.
Most betta fish sold commercially come from large breeder operations in Thailand.
Fish are also widely available from hobbyists in most countries in a very broad assortment of colors and fin types. But with these beautiful colors comes a temper.
Unless you are a betta fish expert and are aware of the lineage of the fish you own, the betta fish you have received as a gift or bought from a dealer will be an unknown when it comes to how aggressive it really is.
This is the key factor. If your betta is a male and is extremely aggressive, he may not let a female betta fish live in the tank for even a short period of time. (*)
To have betta fish live together you may have to try paring several pairings of male and female betta fish to see if they are able to coexist. If they cannot, your fish will be happy in solitary tanks or in those with non-threatening species.
But before you throw in the towel, there are some things you can try to minimize aggression in the tank and help your betta fish get along better.
How Can You Put A Male And Female Betta Live Together? (All Possible Solutions)
What triggers betta aggression is another betta or similar fish entering their perceived territory. The more protective the male betta fish is, the more rapid and aggressive the response will be.
If your tank conditions are dialed into the right temperature, pH, and hardness range and the water is well maintained, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize aggression and keep your betta together. These are:
- Keep your fish in tanks with ample room for each fish. Think at least 5 gallons per fish. 10 gallons is better, and 15 gallons is best.
- Create territories for your bettas that have a lot to explore but block the line of sight and entry into the neighboring space. Make sure they have hiding places.
- Select tank mates that are not threatening or too large to be intimidated.
- Ensure any female betta introduced to the aquarium is of a different color than the male betta fish.
Let’s look at these in more detail.
The Ideal Tank
Solitary male bettas will survive in a container as small as a quart if you keep the water clean and changed. But it will not thrive.
The ideal minimum size tank for one male betta is between 5 and 10 gallons.
Adding female bettas, however, means increasing the size to 15 gallons or 20 gallons, on up to 40 gallons. This gives female betta fish room to escape out of the area a male will define as his.
You can easily double this size especially if you plan on more elaborate decor and tank mates. The tank should be set up correctly for all species with special consideration for bettas. Here is how.
Betta fish are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature. This is one factor that is easy to miss and can cause the greatest stress on your bettas, making them more prone to fighting. Betta fish can live in water from 70F to 80F and do best in 75F to 80F.
This is not difficult to maintain when you live in warm climates but can be a problem if you live where indoor temperatures drop below 70F. The good news is that the ideal temperature can be maintained by an inexpensive tank heater or even a tank light.
While betta fish may not be as sensitive to water quality as more delicate species, they are still sensitive to changes in water quality. pH and oxygen levels all impact their health and overall level of aggression.
Bettas do best in water with a pH of between 6.5 and 8. This is the normal range of most water. You can check yours with pH test strips and buffer it up or down with the appropriate chemicals if needed.
Lastly, keep the water clean. A good rule to follow is to change out 10% of the water each week with fresh water free of chlorine and other chemicals.
Changing the water frequently keeps levels of ammonia from fish waste from reaching dangerous levels or causing other illnesses.
A good, standard filtration system with gentle water return will keep the tank in order.
A healthy aquarium will keep healthy, stress-free bettas who are less likely to get into fighting mode.
The single most important thing you can do to keep your male and female betta from fighting each other is aquascape a tank that provides separate territories and minimizes line of sight.
Aquascaping is the art and practice of decorating aquatic environments. It is much like gardening but in your tank.
Male betta aggression is triggered visually so if they cannot see it, they will not respond. That’s why good aquascaping is so important. You are creating a natural-appearing divider between the male and female so they are not constantly in each other’s line of sight.
Select sand or small gravel substrate that allows easy positioning of design elements and easy rooting of plants. Look at your aquarium from the top down and imagine it in two halves.
Use rock or tank decorations to make a divider between the two haves.
Don’t impede water flow or the ability of tank mates such as shrimp, snails, or tetras to go back and forth.
Place other rocks or decorations at the outer ends of the tank to give your bettas structure to orient on.
Caves and crevasses are additions that can give females hiding places in case the male and female are not completely walled off from each other.
Hiding places are important for male bettas as well.
It gives them something to explore and pay attention to other than tankmates.
Plant the perimeter of the tank with species that provide some cover. This will create territories that are interesting for your bettas to explore from top to bottom, allow your tank mates to roam freely but will help keep the male betta oriented on his territory.
If they do see each other, what happens depends largely on the unique temperament of your male betta.
Betta fish temperament is as varied as are the colors you can find them in. Both males and females can be highly aggressive or quite passive but most fall somewhere in-between the two.
The most aggressive males will try to attack mirror images of themselves or even something outside of their tank if the color or shape angers it.
You can often keep female bettas together without fighting. The only time males this aggressive will tolerate a female betta is during mating and even then, he may attack the female after mating is complete.
You can test your male betta for aggression before trying to have a female betta fish live with it. Place a mirror against the tank and see how your betta reacts. According to a study done by Reed College , common signs of betta aggression are:
- Charge: swims into barrier rapidly and repeatedly
- Mouth open: Opens mouth and locks jaw for a non-eating purpose
- Gill flare: Operculum flare(under-gill extension)
- Fin flare: Raises dorsal fin upwards
- Shimmer: Displays side within one inch of the opponent
- Color change: Lightening or darkening of body and fin color
- Jerk: Rapid twitching movement resulting in direction change
- Approach: Swims in direction of an opponent
- Pacing: Stereotypic circular swimming around the edge of the tank
- Retreat: Swims in the opposite direction of the opponent
If your male betta exhibits any behaviors to a mirror, you will have to watch how he behaves more closely when a female betta is introduced to the aquarium.
A good way to keep a male and female together is to get them both while they are young. As they grow into their habitats and personalities they will be used to each other and much less prone to fight.
Sometimes the bettas will just not get along. This is common. The best way to deal with this is to have a second aquarium that can be a home for the female betta.
Alternatively, a clear barrier can be placed in the aquarium to keep the fish separated. This works well as long as the male does not repeatedly attack it to its own damage.
Studies show that male bettas are most aggressive to other bettas and tank mates with the same or similar colors.
Trial pairing male and female bettas of markedly different colors is a good way to help minimize the potential of them not getting along. If they do breed, you may get some very interesting color patterns from your new bettas.
Betta aggression does not extend to everything they encounter in their aquarium. As long as there is ample space for all species to act in their natural manner and the tank mates have room to roam, tankmates can provide a non-aggressive distraction for bettas.
But you should be careful with betta tankmate selection. Your bettas will be aggressive towards tankmates who are of a similar size, color, or have similar types of fins.
Conversely, your bettas will be harassed, bullied, and attacked by tankmates who are equally aggressive, territorial, or who are fin nippers.
Some good rules to follow when using tankmates to promote a good male and female betta aquarium are:
- Try introducing tankmates to the aquarium a week or two before you add the betta to allow the tankmates to establish their territories. This will reduce the level of turmoil in the tank as the betta makes its territory.
- Use small schooling species such as tetras or danios as tank mates. They are too small to be threatening to a betta.
- Add non-fish species to the tank including smaller varieties of tropical freshwater shrimp and snails. As a bonus, they will help keep the aquarium clean
If your male betta shows aggression towards the female, you can try adding another female, or a few females if your aquarium size allows. Sometimes the male will ignore a group of female betta together.
Breeding Betta Fish
The difficulties in finding a pair of bettas that can coexist are challenging enough to make you feel like a fish matchmaker. Getting a pair that will breed can be difficult.
If you are serious about keeping male and female bettas together for breeding, consider finding a betta breeder with a lineage of fish you can trust and who will warrantee their fish.
Many of the bettas you find in chain store pet shops from large breeding operations that interbreed fish to the point of being unhealthy.
A reputable breeder will help you select a young male and female pair that have the best chance of being compatible and can give you specific guidance on the best way to raise, feed and manage your pair.
If you have found the right combination of betta temperament and have a pair in the same tank, encouraging them to breed is relatively easy. Start feeding them live food, either fresh or frozen. This should put them into an active breeding state.
Some betta owners will keep their bettas apart, feed them live foods, and then try to introduce both fish into a new aquarium with a clear divider. This way the fish can see each other but if the male starts to charge the female, she will not be injured.
When this happens, rest them a day or two and try again, or try new fish paring.
If you are successful in getting a compatible pair, the males will build a bubble nest and you can place the fish together at least as long as it takes for them to breed. Once the male betta has moved each egg to the nest, he may end up fighting with the female. If this happens, use a barrier or rehome her to a new tank.
Male bettas will guard the eggs until they have hatched. Once you have fry, they should be moved to a separate tank. The male may eat them.
Conclusion: Can a male and female betta fish live together?
As you can see, keeping a male and female betta to live in the same tank together is a challenge best attempted by experienced keepers with the time and resources to maintain and breed them.
- Size the aquarium to give each betta at least two to five gallons of space each.
- Keep the water temperature between 75F and 80F with proper pH.
- Change at least 10% of the water weekly.
- Aquascape well. Design the aquarium so that each betta has a territory with enough features to keep them exploring and engaged.
- Reduce or eliminate line of sight so the male and female cannot see each other often.
- Use a barrier if the male is too aggressive.
- Add non-threatening tankmates such as shrimp, snails, or tetras to help keep the male betta distracted.
- Bettas cohabitate better when they are purchased together as young fish.
- Sometimes a male betta will do better with a group of female fish.
- Feed them living fresh or frozen foods to encourage them to breed.
- Have a second aquarium ready if your bettas are just not compatible.
Keeping bettas solitary is a great way to learn about fish keeping. Trying to keep paired bettas and betta breeding is an advanced pursuit that will help you participate in a practice stretching back over a thousand years, continuing the line of the greatest designer fish of all time.