The Basking Spot: Better than Basic – Betta Bowl Enrichment – June, 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Now, I know bettas aren’t really reptiles, but we carry them as well as tons of items for their care.  They’re a popular “desk pet”, and they are very low maintenance fish that many people find easy and rewarding to keep.  They come in a wide range of colors, and in recent years they also come with several color, pattern, and fin mutations for a kaleidoscope of beautiful iridescent colors you can keep in a little ½ gallon bowl on your desk.

Just because a betta fish can live in a small bowl does not mean they shouldn’t live a rewarding little fishy life, though.  I’ll be reviewing a few inexpensive items that you can add to your betta’s life to keep it entertained, exercised, and help extend its life for many years.  A well cared for betta can easily live over 10 years, and there’s no reason your betta shouldn’t live that long too!


Bettas very quickly learn the routine of begging for food, and can easily become overfed and even fat.  To maintain your betta on a diet to keep it slim and trim, try using a ZooMed BettaMatic  for the routine daily feedings.  This little automatic feeder distributes one pellet a day for your fish, which is enough food to maintain a creature that inhabits ½ gallon of water for its entire life.  You can add variety to the diet by offering treats in the form of Mysis, daphnia, or bloodworms, all of which are aquatic invertebrates that are small enough for your betta to eat.  ZooMed makes a serving size ideal for one betta with the Dial-A-Treat food container, and also comes with a neat little spoon feeding tool for you to offer your betta food with.  Keep that little tool, it comes in handy later!

Tank Décor

Give your little guy some privacy!  Add some betta-sized fake plants for them to hide behind, like bamboo leaves or papaya leaves.  Many keepers believe that bettas can live with live plants, and even eat bits of the roots or leaves, but this is not the case, and leaving your betta with just a live plant to eat will result in the fish going very, very hungry.  Use fake plants that you can easily clean, and keep live plants for your vivariums or larger aquariums – a betta bowl just isn’t enough tank space to adequately keep plants and bettas happy in one container.

In addition to decorating your bowl, there are also these cute little suction cup leaves  you can add to your tank.  Why give your betta one little leaf near the top of the bowl, you ask?

Because they like to sleep on them, of course!

In the wild, bettas will rest on foliage near the surface in order to easily take gulps of air, and when you give them a leaf to sleep on in their bowl, they’ll happily take advantage of it!

In addition, you can teach your betta to do amazing betta tricks using the leaf.  I personally have taught my bettas to jump onto their leaves to eat food (using that little red spoon that comes with the Dial-A-Treat mentioned earlier!), and so have other staff members.  With patience, you can teach your betta to be a miniature shamu too.  Start small by teaching your betta to go to the red spoon for food, and then you can easily teach the betta to follow the spoon to get a tasty treat reward.  Spend 5 minutes a day teaching your betta to tap its nose to the little red spoon to get fed, and you’d be amazed how quickly you can get your betta to follow that spoon anywhere in the bowl!

If you’re not that dedicated to training your betta, you can also provide exercise opportunities by placing a betta mirror in the bowl for no more than 5 minutes at a time.  When betta breeders were asked what products they’d like most for their bettas to live healthier, longer lives, they actually requested an item like the betta mirror to help provide them with exercise.  A fit betta is a happy betta!  Just be careful not to leave the mirror in the bowl for too long – your betta can get worn out and stressed from constantly attempting to fight the betta they see in the mirror.

Water Conditions

In order for your betta to maintain his best colors and thrive in your care, you’ll need to make sure he’s living in clean, warm water at all times.  I highly recommend changing out at least half the water in his bowl every few days if you do not have a filtration system, and you should always treat the water with a water conditioner to remove any chlorine or other chemicals.  In addition, as these are tropical fish, they thrive best in water temperatures between 78 and 82 degrees – much warmer than the average office, and most homes.  Heat up the water a few degrees with a tiny little betta-sized water heater to make sure your betta stays bright and active for you.

More Aesthetically Pleasing than a Plastic Bowl

Do you have a classy office or home, and a plastic betta bowl just isn’t your style?  Give your betta a miniature, betta sized aquarium – 2 gallon Fluval Spec aquariums filter the water, eliminating the need for constant water changes, and with the light, clean water, and extra swimming space, your betta will THRIVE!  Bettas in larger water areas, even up to 10 gallon aquariums, develop longer fins, brighter colors, and even grow larger.  Many keepers don’t realize bettas can live in slightly larger aquariums, and I successfully kept a betta and several neon tetra fish in the stylish Fluval Chi aquarium for several years.

As you can see, you can do so much more than just keep a betta in a sad, bare little plastic bowl on your desk.  Try enriching your fish’s life, and add just one or two of these neat and inexpensive items to your betta routine.  There is something extremely rewarding in seeing your betta go from a limp, listless fish in a cup to a robust, brightly colored little jewel in your aquarium.  Give it a shot!