What is a Siamese Fighting Fish?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Siamese fighting fish, also known as bettas, are tropical freshwater fish native to the Indochinese peninsula, the region once known as Siam. In the wild, these often colorful fish generally prefer warm, shallow waters. As a domesticated tank fish, Siamese fighting fish are considered hardy and easy to care for as long as they are fed a live-food diet and given a warm-water environment. They can, however, attack other fish in the tank, especially if those fish are other Siamese fighting fish or other tropical fish with large, flowing fins, such as angelfish. These fish should always be given access to the surface of the water, since they have a special organ that allows them to breathe oxygen out of the air.

The Siamese fighting fish may be one of the most popular types of freshwater aquarium fish, especially for freshwater fish novices. These fish often come in bright, attractive colors including white, pink, red, blue, or purple. The typically betta fish reaches a size of about 3 inches (7 cm) in length, and may live for two to three years. These fish normally prefer a water temperature of 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 30 C). Though many Siamese fighting fish are kept in very small containers, aquarium enthusiasts often stress that, ideally, each fish should be allowed a tank capacity of 2 to 3 gallons (7.5 to 11.4 liters).

In their natural habitat, Siamese fighting fish are adapted to life in shallow waters that aren't disturbed by a strong current. Like other fish of the family Osphronemidae, betta fish generally possess a labyrinth organ. This organ allows the fish to breathe oxygen from the air, so that it can continue to thrive in waters that do not contain high levels of oxygen. Because the betta fish typically relies on its labyrinth organ to breathe, it should always be allowed access to the surface of the water in its tank or bowl.

These fish are considered meat-eating fish, and in the wild, they subsist largely on insects. Live food, including brine shrimp, glassworms, and plankton are most often recommended for betta fish. Frozen and freeze-dried foods may usually be safely substituted for live foods.

The Siamese fighting fish is generally believed to be an aggressive fish, and it has been known to attack other members of its species when kept in the same tank. Male betta fish are considered more aggressive than females. Because betta fish can be aggressive, aquarium enthusiasts must generally exercise care when selecting tank mates for this variety. It is generally considered inadvisable to keep a betta fish in the same tank with other bettas, but other species of tropical fish can thrive in the same tank as the betta, as long as they do not have long or large fins.

Discussion Comments


@clintflint - There are a lot of arguments for and against that kind of setup. Most of the arguments are against the cheap version of it though. You can't just stick a Siamese fighting fish in an ordinary vase and expect them to thrive. Particularly if you put a plant on top of it. They need access to the surface to breathe properly, and the plant might block their access.

Plus they are naturally carnivores, so you would certainly not be able to leave them to just eat the plant. They might survive on that, but it wouldn't be healthy for them.

And most importantly, you would absolutely need to provide heat for them. They are tropical fish and they need warm water to survive. Without that, they are going to end up being either very listless, or possibly will just die.

I don't think the setup is impossible, I just think that it needs to be done well, or you are being cruel to the fish.


@croydon - My mother is really keen to get one of those plant and fish aquarium setups that used to be popular a few years ago. You basically have a large, clear flower vase with a peace lily or a similar plant on the top of it, with the roots dangling in the water and the fish lives in the vase under the roots.

Supposedly the fish will fertilize the plant and will also be able to live off the roots of the plant, although I don't know if you need to give the fish any food on top of that.

I'm just not sure if this is a good idea for the fish. I know they live in fairly confined areas naturally, but this just doesn't seem like the best idea.


The best thing about keeping a Siamese fighting fish is the tank doesn't have to be very big. People generally don't get a big enough tank for their goldfish or other pet fish and don't realize that they are being cruel because of course the fish doesn't appear to be unhappy to a casual observer.

But bettas basically live in warm puddles in Thailand and they are fine with a small tank, as long as the water is warm enough and they are fed well.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy