Basement Bettas

Raising Show Quality Bettas

The Silent Killer…

Betta FryThere are so many variable in raising Bettas there never comes a time when you can breathe a sigh of relief and feel you are out of the woods. And at each stage you have different priorities and encounter different problems trying to get them to the next step. I have found the different stages are spawning a pair, raising fry for first four weeks, getting size on the juvies [4-12 weeks] then jarring at about 12 weeks of age. From that point on you have bringing the fish to perfection in finage and deportment for showing or getting breeders ready for a spawn tank. One stage where huge losses often occur is during the first four weeks. After finally getting a successful spawn and watching the fry become free-swimming, many breeders think the battle is won and it is all down hill from there. But time and again we see people asking what happened to their fry. The spawn was huge and they were fine last night, yet today there are only a few left. Where did they go?

Disease will often get blamed for huge fry losses. But I have found fry to be more susceptible to bad water quality due to high levels of ammonia and nitrIte than disease at this age.  If you are serious about raising nice Bettas you have no choice but to understand your water. The biggest issue, at any time with these fish, is often water quality. After several days of a pair together and then the male tending a nest and hatching fry, your spawn tank’s water has changed. Fish waste is breaking down and ammonia is being produced. Though most do not feed the fish while in the spawn tank to reduce this, it still happens. And I wonder about the eggs and empty shells breaking down as well. Since we do not filter a spawn tank, and most of us to not filter till the fry are a month old, this ammonia can quickly build to toxic levels as there is often only a few gallons of water in the tank. Since anything but zero is toxic, and even more so to young fry, monitoring this and nitrIte in your spawn tank will ensure most of your fish make it to the next stage. I too have had huge spawns disappear overnight. When I tested the water I found my ammonia and nitrIte to be deadly high.

Ammonia Test KitWith my recent spawns I have been testing my water every day and am finding within 24 hours I have ammonia levels of 1 or more. Anything above 1 is toxic and deadly to fry. And the nitrItes get high too. So I have been doing 90% water changes every day with the fry. The negative is I have more time and labor in the fry and I can’t blow off a water change, for even one day, without risk of losing fry. On the plus side, the frequent water changes are putting very good growth on the fry.

What about filtering this age group? Many people do add a sponge filter and raise great fish this way. I don’t like to filter till they are older as I found the water movement tends to drive the fry to the bottom of the tank where there is less movement and I had problems with missing ventrals. I also seemed to have more issues with swim bladder problems. My conclusion is they tend to not move around as much and hang on the bottom where there is little water movement at this younger age. Lack of movement and constantly eating makes couch potatoes out of the fish.. and the swim bladder problems we see are the result. So I wait till they get into the grow out before adding filtration. Once they get four weeks of age they do not seem to mind the water movement.

So to get your fish through this stage as well as the others I recommend getting a good test kit. The strips are quick and easy but I don’t feel as accurate. I prefer the drops and use the API test kits. Get into the habit of testing the spawn tanks every day so you can see what is going on in your tanks. If the ammonia and nitrIte levels stay at zero for several days, then you can wait to change. But if you find, like me, that the ammonia gets toxic quickly then you are in a position to change the water and avoid losing your fry. After finally getting that spawn you don’t want to lose them over something as simple as a water change.

To remove water without risk of removing fry you can use a fine mesh fish net over the end of the tube. I use my large ½” tubing this way and pull my water level down to almost nothing. You can use air line tubing with a plastic air tube as a siphon in a net as well, it just takes a LOT longer. I no longer worry about the funk in the bottom of the containers. I add some snails to the tank and they tend to keep it clean of excess food. If however you get food going funky on the bottom, use the air line tubing siphon and carefully siphon the funk into a container and let it settle and feed less in the future. If you find fry in there with the funk you can use a measuring spoon to scoop them out when they get close to the surface and put them back without too much trauma to the fry.

When you change the water you want to remove as much as possible and add fresh. If you only do a partial change you are only diluting the ammonia and nitrItes. A 50% water change with readings of 1 for both ammonia and nitrIte will give you .5 for both after the change. That is still too high. If you are taking the time to do the water change might as well make it effective. To add back water I use a gallon container set above the spawn tanks and use air line tubing to siphon water back into the spawn tank. It produces a gentle current of fresh water into the spawn tank. When in a hurry I have also just poured in water and have not found it to be harmful.. but I like the gradual approach. With regular fresh water and good, not excessive, feedings you will find your fry put on size quickly in this stage.

So there you have it. Stay on top of your water quality and you will have very nice fish in a few more months. When you see how much time goes into raising a quality Betta, it sure makes you appreciate those magnificent fish you see in shows and for sale on AquaBid. And with some extra care your fish could be one of those magnificent Bettas too.


** Fry photo by Jim Sonier. Click the photo and be taken to his web site. Lot of good info there on genetics.


August 24, 2012 - Posted by | Fry, Water Quality | , ,


  1. Great article, Sherolyn.

    Comment by gloriousbettas | August 24, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks.. creating another web site that will be all reference for bettas and betta lovers. Staying busy!

      Comment by Basement Bettas | September 28, 2012 | Reply

  2. Love your article and blog being a Betta Lover Myself. Hi Im also in as FishyOwener23

    Comment by Angel | March 20, 2013 | Reply

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