I still remember the first time I saw a betta fish. I was on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t understand how you could get this knockout for under 10 bucks – and even more, keep it in a teensy-weensy tank.
Naturally, I begged my parents to get me a pair of betta fish the following Christmas. They were more than happy to get away with a bargain. You can imagine my excitement.
I named them Ben and Jerry. Not very creative, I know. But hey, I was just 9 years old.
For the next ten days or so, I’d rush home from school every day, toss my bag and shoes, catch a breath, and marvel at the sheer beauty and exuberance of my little fish friends.
On the 11th day – I remember clearly – I charged into my room after school for a tete-a-tete with my fish as usual. But imagine the look of horror on my face when I found a lifeless betta sunk at the bottom, dead as a dodo.
Ben was dead. Jerry was swimming around unsuspectingly without a care in the world. Upon close inspection, I saw its fins were tattered, and blood oozed.
That’s the story of how I found out you cannot keep two male bettas in the same tank. My tank capacity was 20 gallons. But apparently, the rule of thumb is that you never keep two male bettas together – doesn’t matter how big the tank is.
I was hurt and dumbfounded. I had questions – so many of them. What if I had gotten a bigger tank? What if I had paired a male and a female betta? Would a sorority of drab females have been the right decision?
17 years since the incident – I’ve grown a bit wiser. I’d hate to blow my own horn, but years of experience and research in the hobby have made me knowledgeable and resourceful – to an extent, at least.
By now, you already have an inkling of the correct answer to the question: can two betta fish live together?
However, there are a couple of things that come into play. There’s more to the answer than a simple yes or no. Hence, the article.
Can Two Betta Fish Live Together?
Multiple male bettas cannot live in the same tank, no matter how big it is but a group of females can. You can also temporarily pair a male and a female betta for breeding purposes.
If you absolutely have to keep two or more male bettas in the same tank, using a tank divider to split the areas is possible.
I once used this divider from Toyuto to divide the tank space for two betta fish. It was a 20-gallon tank. I was surprised that the divider didn’t mess up with the aesthetic.
It was pretty functional too.
But as soon as my second tank was ready, I relocated one of the bettas. And frankly, while this product is quite nifty, it’s not a long-term solution.
Anyway, here’s a link if you want to try it for yourself. This product is available in various sizes, ranging from 10 to 75 gallons.
Don’t get disheartened! Here’s a bunch of other fish that I’ve raised alongside bettas. You might want to check out this article.
Can A Male And Female Betta Fish Live Together?
If a male and female betta couldn’t live together, this fish species should have gone extinct centuries ago. So, yes – a male and female betta fish can live together. But take my advice with a pinch of salt.
Why? Because a male betta is notorious. So, although the female will rarely be bullied to death, she’d still receive a fair share of beating every once in a while.
There are at least 3 things to take care of.
First, make sure the tank is big – both males and females are territorial. Second, introduce plenty of hiding spots. Third, add more than one female – this way, just one female wouldn’t bear the brunt of the male’s anger.
When keeping a male and several female bettas together, make sure that you add a male to a tank housing a pre-established sorority – not the other way around.
Can Two Female Betta Fish Live Together?
Female bettas are a lot more subdued than their male counterparts. Therefore, they can live together in a group of 2 or more. As a matter of fact, there’s even a term called ‘betta sorority’ in the hobby.
But frankly, I’m yet to meet anyone enthusiastic about raising a bunch of female bettas. They don’t look as striking as the males do.
And by the way, it’s not that female bettas don’t fight at all. Of course, they don’t lock horns as frequently or intensely as the males do, but they are no saints either.
Here’s an article that talks on depth about keeping two females together. You might want to read up on this. And if you want to read up on what other fish can live with female bettas, check this out.
Let’s Talk About Betta Condos. What Are They Really?
I came across the term “betta condo” while researching for this article. Yes, it’s as sophisticated as it sounds. And even though I didn’t know the terminology up until now, it turns out that my bettas did live in condos at some point in time.
Essentially, betta condos are simply small containers/tanks that are sectioned into multiple areas with provisions for vented walls for water circulation.
Betta condos are controversial – no surprises there.
Single condos kept separately within the tank are “acceptable.” But when you really think about it, whenever the bettas can see each other through the transparent walls, they’ll be triggered. They’ll flare up.
And to make matters worse (just for this context), bettas have excellent eyesight. So they feel challenged and stressed by bettas swimming in another tank across the room.
So, there’s no denying that bettas feel unsolicited stress caused by this unnatural proximity. And there’s no denying this can negatively affect their health – thereby shortening their lifespan.
When you really think about it, in the wild, no fish ever suffers such prolonged exposure to rivals. They can swim away.
Anyway, if the idea of betta condos still tempts you, make sure the fish are separated from each other by at least 12 or 15 inches. Also, remember to add a bunch of plants to create hiding spots.
Why Should Betta Fish Be Kept Alone?
Betta fish that we know and love didn’t always look this pretty, nor were this aggressive. The reason bettas should be kept alone is that they were selectively bred to have a high aggression level – to become fighting fish.
Betta fish’s relatives in the wild come from the Mekong basin in Southeast Asia, where they inhabit spacious rice paddies and canals. Even in the wild, there’s usually just one fish per paddy.
Thus, it’s not even advisable to keep multiple wild bettas in the same tank.
A 2021 study revealed that bettas were domesticated at least 1,000 years ago to have beautiful colors & shapes and a fiery temperament. Therefore, this enhanced aggressive tendency makes it even more crucial to give each fish spacious territory.
Reference: Genomic consequences of domestication of the Siamese fighting fish
To sum it up, bettas can’t cohabitate – especially males. For over a thousand years, bettas have been selectively bred to look and behave the way they do. They were bred to have a notorious temperament and fight one another to death.
Some people have successfully paired male and female bettas together – especially when keeping one male with multiple females. If you plan to do so, remember that the females should have an already established sorority and pecking order beforehand.
The idea of betta condos might seem appealing initially, but it’s controversial. This way, these fighting fish are safe from each other’s wrath, but they’re always under the impression that the ‘enemy’ is nearby.
So, does it also mean bettas can’t have non-betta tankmates? Here’s the truth: