There is an idea that is singlehandedly the most harmful idea in existence to bettas. This idea is the root for most of the myths and misconceptions about their needs, an idea so intensely misguided that it altered how people view these fish at a cultural level. Companies have grown from this myth, pumping out products fed by this false notion. What first appears to be a simple mistake is actually the basis for most of the suffering Betta fish go through as pets: the idea that Betta fish naturally live in puddles, sometimes even ones created by animal hoof prints.
It is easy to understand how this misunderstanding of natural betta habitats could spread so easily. Betta fish are known for their hardy ability to survive through extreme conditions. They also have a labyrinth organ, which allows them to breathe air from the surface in addition to using their gills. Put the two ideas together, along with the fact that Betta fish species have been found in puddles during drought seasons in the wild, and it almost seems plausible.
But an ecosystem cannot be established in a hoof print.
The truth is, Betta fish species have evolved to survive in extreme situations. But, as has been detailed before, surviving is not the same as thriving. Pets aren’t meant to merely survive under our care. While they may have the traits given to them by evolution for difficult situations, it does not mean that they should rely on those traits as pets. Yes, Betta fish are hardy and, yes, they do need to breathe from the surface. These are not reasons, however, to justify keeping bettas in small tanks that do not tend to meet their needs.
In fact, wild type Betta fish species do not live in puddles at all. Puddles may form as the result of drought during the dry seasons throughout Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries Betta fish are found in, but puddles are not where these species normally live. During normal times throughout the year, when rainfall is good, Betta fish actually live in a variety of bodies of water. Rice paddies, streams, and slow-moving rivers are typical locations to find the different species in. Unlike the perception people tend to form of rice paddies, these bodies of water are several inches to several feet deep and often stretch outwards horizontally. As water begins to evaporate from these bodies of water, wild Betta fish will jump from one wet area to another in search of a larger and more secure living area.
Betta fish may be able to tolerate or survive in a puddle for a period of time during extreme situations in the wild. Pet keeping is about being able to provide an animal with an environment they can thrive in, not just survive. Survival is for the wild. A small cup or tank is not the wild, it is cruel, yet many companies create dangerous fish tanks that hold less than a gallon of water—the lowest volume needed to be safely heated for this tropical species—and market them specifically as betta homes. They even falsely perpetuate the myth further by stating that Betta fish live in puddles in the wild.
Companies that do this are irresponsible and contribute to a cycle of animal suffering. While it is becoming less fashionable to spread this lie of the puddle-dwelling betta that can live through any level of care, the effects of it still influence the betta market today. There are many reasons why the great Betta fish tank debate still goes on and it is true that there is no one right way to care for a betta nor is there one right minimum tank size for all people caring for them but to base a care routine based off a myth is downright irresponsible. Some companies try to back up their claim of Betta fish living healthy lives in puddles by comparing their natural environment to the ones created by large fish farm breeders, who may keep their hundreds of fish in bottles of water except while breeding. Even this, however, is not what it seems to be and by no means is proof of a betta’s natural habitat.
The average fish owner should keep a tank of no less than 1 gallon of water but there are breeders out there who manage on less because of their strict regiment of feeding live food, constantly replacing dirty water, and ability to maintain steady tropical temperatures. These responsible breeders are not able to keep healthy bettas by the hundreds because these fish can survive in puddles. They are able to do so because of the round-the-clock dedication they are able to give to their fish. To use their care tactics as a way to push the idea of Betta fish living their whole lives in a tiny puddle of water is beneficial to nobody but their own wallets.
The puddle myth needs to die. There is simply not enough water, bacteria, food, and other natural requirements present in a puddle to create a healthy ecosystem that supports the life of an entire species. The sooner we can move past the puddle myth, the sooner better betta products will be produced. So the next time you see a product that describes this dangerous idea, ask a store employee to remove it and explain how it is harmful to the animals they are supposed to be providing for. Together fish lovers can help put an end to a very harmful idea.
Australia, RSPCA. What sort of environment should Siamese fighting fish be kept in? 20 May 2014. http://kb.rspca.org.au/What-sort-of-environment-should-Siamese-fighting-fish-be-kept-in_440.html. 17 June 2015.
Maddocks, Lea. The Native Betta Habitat – Separating Fact from Fiction. 3 October 2011. http://nippyfish.net/2011/10/23/the-native-betta-habitat-separating-fact-from-fiction/. 17 June 2015.