Image Credit: The Wandering Angel (CC License)
I learned that male bettas shouldn’t be housed together, no matter how big your tank is the hard way. I was 9, and my pet fish’s demise was my first brush with death.
Since then, I’ve tried all kinds of things to keep bettas together. I experimented with betta condos, a betta pair, a male and a harem, and a sorority tank.
Unfortunately, none of these tricks were foolproof. They seemed to work for a couple of days, and before you knew it, things were moving south.
I’m not going to mince my words here – betta sororities are controversial. While some swear by it and claim to have no problems, others are dead set against the idea. This very topic can lead to heated discussions at times.
So although the matter has been discussed devotedly, there are still a lot of misunderstandings, or as I like to call them: myths perpetrated by both parties.
To set the record straight once and for all, I’ve penned this article after going through numerous research pieces- some dating back to the 1930s. I’ve kept this blog short and well-rounded.
Can Female Betta Fish Live Together?
Yes, female betta fish can live together – it’s true. But it is also true that it exposes them to long-term stress, diseases, and injuries/death. Raising a sorority can be successful only if you’re experienced and confident enough to deal with potential problems.
Keeping a spare tank ready is also recommended to err on the side of caution. You never know when you have to move the fish.
There’s no denying that bettas are aggressive. While mostly males get the bad press, females are no saints either.
Nipping, flaring, and bullying – all of these have been well documented in a group of female bettas. They have a strict hierarchy – a pecking order – in place, and there’s always some extent of bullying and resistance happening at all times.
Cutting to the chase, the answer is really subjective. Can female betta fish live together? Yes, but no. The answer falls in the gray area. Would I recommend it? Not really. But are there any tricks you can pull to succeed? Probably.
My Experience Of Keeping A Betta Sorority
Bettas have always had a special place in my heart. They were my first-ever pets. After one of my betta fish died violently due to ignorance, I avoided getting bettas for the longest time.
Fast forward 12 years later, I was in college and was feeling a bit adventurous owing to my newfound freedom. So, on a whim, I adopted a bunch of female betta fry that my friend was about to cull. This way, I set up my first betta sorority tank without knowing it was a thing – a dangerous thing.
There were 7 bettas, all of which came from the same spawn. The bodies were colored ivory, and the fins and tails were a metallic teal color. It was a pretty bunch.
As far as I remember, I’d never had any issue with the fish fighting. I could tell they had some pecking order, but I never witnessed violence. 3 years in, there was an ich breakout in my tank, and 4 of my fish succumbed.
Needless to say, I was bummed. The tank, adorned with moving ivory and teal figurines, looked vacant and inexpressive.
So, still shaken up by the ich incident, I meekly decided to get 4 juvenile females in an attempt to restore the hubbub.
I got the fish, quarantined them, and did everything I was supposed to do before releasing them in the main tank slowly.
For the first few minutes, both parties were confused. They were circling and “sniffing” each other. And I thought to myself, “Well, that wasn’t too difficult.”
But boy, was I wrong!
Within the next 5 minutes, I had to separate the two squads. They were literally tearing each other to pieces. You see, it can go wrong that fast! Thereafter, they were raised in separate tanks.
So, you see – it can go both ways. There’s no guarantee how your fish are gonna react to it.
I read somewhere that if the females are from the same spawn, there’s a good chance they’ll cohabitate. That was definitely what happened in my case, but I think it’s just a coincidence.
To sum it up, my betta sorority tank worked like a charm the first time and ended up in a disaster the second time. Thus, I’m left here with mixed feelings.
If I were to give you my honest opinion, I’d recommend against raising a betta sorority. The odds of failing are considerably higher. But you do you.
Now that I’ve shared my experience and given my verdict let’s have a quick look at what biology has to say on the subject. I put on my thinking cap and shuffled through several research journals.
I don’t want to sound smug, but I was pretty confident that SCIENCE would corroborate my opinion. Boy, was I wrong – once again!
Does Science Allow Keeping Female Bettas Together?
One of the first things we’re taught in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby is that bettas are solitary animals – they don’t prefer schooling or shoaling.
But upon research, I found that many new studies challenge this claim. A 2017 study led by Pleeging et al. concluded that female bettas are best kept in groups without a male’s presence. Of course, it said you can keep males and females together ‘briefly’ for breeding purposes.
Similarly, another study by Snekser et al. (2006) concluded that when given a choice to be alone or in a group, female bettas prefer being in the company of other females. The study reported that although such behavior doesn’t necessarily suggest a true shoaling tendency, it does reflect a “subtle degree of sociality.”
If we look at the old studies, it’s already been well established that female bettas form complex hierarchies in a straight-line system, as attested by Noble et al. (1939) and Braddock et al. (1955). Braddock’s research found that when kept together under crowded conditions, the females form a hierarchy without fighting.
So, science tells us that female betta aren’t as aloof and unsociable as we make them out to be. Keeping them crowded in a big tank with enough vegetation could lead to a successful sorority.
Barking Dogs Seldom Bite
A study by Elwoord and Rainey (1983) showed that although females often show signs of aggression like flaring, a tiny percentage of these behaviors culminate in fighting.
For a full-fledged fight to break out, both parties must engage in actions like biting, butting and chasing. But since subordinate fish protest so seldom, the bully isn’t hyped up enough to launch an attack.
How To Successfully Keep Multiple Female Betta Fish Together?
This title here sounds a bit clickbaity – my apologies for that. But if you’re still bent over backward to raise a group of female bettas together, there are a couple of things you can do to increase the success rate, such as getting a big tank, breaking the line of sight, and adding plenty of vegetation.
The Tank Should Be Big Enough
It’s bona fide that bettas are subjected to nano tanks 9 out of 10 times. As a matter of fact, a betta is a poster child of fish “suitable” for small tanks. But if you want to raise a betta sorority, any small tank wouldn’t do.
I’d recommend getting at least a 30-gallon tank for 4-6 bettas. I came across a forum where most people shared that they have or plan to start a sorority in a 20-gallon tank, but I still think 30 gallons should be the bare minimum to leave some room for errors.
The Tank Should Be Densely Planted
Since betta fish like to hang out near the water surface, adding floating plants like Amazon frogbit and red root floaters is a fantastic way to enhance the upper layers of the tank.
The fluffy roots and dense foliage will make your betta fish comfortable as they’re not too sociable.
The Line Of Sight Should Be Broken
In simple words, line of sight refers to the ability of an enemy creature to see and target you. You can’t attack someone you don’t see, right?
Well, things can get pretty heated in the fish tank too. Fish always don’t get along with each other – this is true for most fish, especially bettas. They’re always too eager to exchange blows.
Therefore, you should break the line of sight at various spots across the tank to keep them from raging and attacking each other. You can do so by strategically placing plants, rocks, and caves.
Color Coordinate The Fish
There were a few comments on YouTube and Reddit from people saying that when the bettas come from the same brood or look identical, they get along.
In my experience too, when all of the bettas were sisters, they cohabitated peacefully. As soon as I added new females, all hell broke loose.
I read this scientific article about how female bettas don’t mind sharing the address if the other fish also looks like them. I can’t find a link right now, but I’m sure I read it somewhere.
You might also like: Betta male and female in the same tank?
The Risk Of Raising A Betta Sorority
As someone who has experienced the good, bad, and ugly aspects of raising a betta sorority, let me tell you something. And mind you, I won’t fudge and mudge – your tank will have an exceedingly high mortality rate.
For instance, the fish will always be stressed since there’ll be a constant war for real estate. When stressed, a fish’s immunity gets weakened, and diseases and parasites can attack more easily. If not treated in time, the fish will, naturally, die untimely.
Second, these aggressive fish will also sustain injuries here and there – missing scales and torn fins. These wounds may get infected easily and lead to grim consequences.
And lastly, any illness in a betta sorority tank will spread like wildfire – I’m telling you this from my own experience. All in all, the fish will undoubtedly have a tough time.
I’m going to end my article here! I hope reading my experience and science-backed research help you come to a happy conclusion! But still, if you’re a beginner, don’t tread this path.