Betta fish are also known as Siamese Fighting Fish and this is for good reason.
A distinct characteristic for these fish is the natural aggression between males of the same species.
The reason for why betta fish fight is both due to where they exist in the wild and what they were selectively bred for.
But, why do betta fish fight?
Why Do Betta Fish Fight?
Betta fish are naturally aggressive and there are two reasons for this.
The first being that they are naturally very territorial in the wild. Bettas in the wild live solitary lives and protect their ‘area’ fiercely.
Food isn’t abundant in their natural habitat so food resources need to be guarded closely.
Males are also tasked with protecting their bubble nests and the eggs that are inside them.
The second reason for bettas aggression is the selective breeding that has taken place over many years.
Due to their already present aggression, betta fish were kept and used in fights where people would bet on which fish would win.
This led to bettas being bred to produce the toughest and most aggressive fish.
Despite what many think, these fights weren’t ‘to the death’ but most often would end when one of the bettas retreated.
The winners would be used to breed and that genetic aggression can still be found in bettas today.
Signs of Fighting in Betta Fish
There are several things to look out for if your betta may be fighting.
These include fin nipping, gill flaring, and the more obvious ramming. Have a close look at your fish and see if you notice any fin tears, missing scales, or if you fish seems to be spending more time hidden away than usual.
The most concerning symptoms are decreased appetite, lethargy, and even sudden death.
Fin rot is also something to keep an eye out for. This is a sign that your fish is not healthy and could be suffering from a poor immune system which could be due to stress caused by fighting.
Betta fights will generally follow the following steps.
It will start with the fish staring at each other while either remaining still or slowly moving around one another.
They do this while waiting for the other to make their first move or back off.
Sometimes the ‘fight’ ends here after one of the bettas has successfully intimidated the other but other times it will move onto biting and chasing.
The most common place for a betta to bite another betta is on their fins.
They will do a quick strike to bite and tear the fin. If the one then backs down at this stage, the other betta will chase them around the tank some more to establish themselves as the dominant fish.
How to Stop Fighting in Betta Fish?
If you are concerned about your betta fish fighting, the most important question is how do you stop it.
The number one thing to do is keeping male bettas separately. This is not up for debate!
Female bettas can be kept together (as long as the conditions fall under certain parameters) but there is never a situation where males can be kept together.
If you have two male bettas in neighboring tanks, make sure there is a visual barrier between them or else both fish will feel stress.
Some betta toys have mirrors in them as a form of enrichment.
Any behavior shown towards the mirror is not your fish playing or having fun, they cannot tell the difference between their own reflection and another betta that is a threat to themselves.
Even mirrors in the fish’s field of vision (like outside the tank) must be removed.
Bettas will sometimes try to attack their reflection which can lead to serious injury.
Do Betta Fish Fight to the Death?
As already mentioned, bettas don’t always fight to the death. In fact, they rarely get near this point.
In most cases the weaker male will back off and retreat.
But that is more likely when bettas get into conflict in the wild and have ample space to get away from the more dominant male.
Fights that occur inside of fish tanks are much more likely to end in death and should not be taken lightly. Fights can result in damage to a bettas fins, scales, and even gills.
Not only can these wounds become infected, the stress from the fighting can lead to a whole host of other problems for your fish.
Do Male and Female Betta Fish Fight?
In short, yes. Male and female betta fish do fight.
They can only be housed together for mating and then must be separated right after.
Since betta males are tasked with protecting the bubble nest for betta eggs and spawn, they are very protective of the nest and their babies.
Female bettas on the other hand have been known to eat the eggs during spawning.
Male bettas know this and will keep any other bettas as far away from their nest as possible.
Do Female Bettas Fight Each Other?
Female bettas are less aggressive than males which is why they can be kept in ‘sorority tanks’.
There may be some aggression while a new sorority us establishing a pecking order but once the top fish has established themself, things are generally pretty peaceful.
For this reason, you should be cautious about adding new females to the group too often as this will disrupt the order that they have sorted out and there will be some clashes to reestablish the hierachy.
That being said, not all female bettas suit living with other female bettas.
Some are simply too aggressive and can only be kept alone.
If you are wanting to keep a sorority tank, make sure you have a minimum of 4 to 5 females and a big enough tank (with spaces to hide out) so that they don’t feel stuck on top of each other.
Do not, under any circumstances, add a male betta to a sorority tank.
How Do I Avoid Fighting in my Betta Tank?
The good news is, there are easy steps that you can take to reduce (and completely avoid) the risk of fighting.
The first and most important one is not keeping males in the same tank or in tanks where they can easily see each other.
When selecting tank mates for your male betta, avoid anything that has long colorful fins as this may trick your fish into thinking these are other male bettas and therefore a threat to his space.
A good sized aquarium will also reduce the risk of fighting as your betta can claim his spot in the tank without other fish always swimming through it.
The other thing that a big tank does is give all of the fish enough space to avoid each other if anyone is being too aggressive.
More space means more places to hide which will make the fish inside feel safer.
You should also add specific places for fish to get away from others like decor with hiding spots and (if possible) live plants that provide cover.
Keeping things in the tank that interests the fish can also keep them distracted from one another.
Also, choose tank mates that have a reputation for being good with other fish like Ember Tetras and Harlequin Rasboras.
Avoid species like angelfish, red tail sharks, and goldfish.
Will My Betta Be Lonely Without Other Fish?
While it is possible for male bettas to live alongside the right tank mates they will be more than fine living on their own.
They are naturally ‘loners’ and if you keep them in a tank with enough enrichment, they will not feel lonely in the slightest.
For those new to keeping bettas, this is often the best way to keep these fish while you are still getting used to caring for them.
This way you will not have to deal with selecting the perfect tank mates and the repercussions of getting that sort of thing wrong.
Conclusion – Why Do Betta Fish Fight?
There is no getting around the fact that bettas, the males in particular, are territorial and naturally aggressive.
This is not something that will ever be bred out of them as they have needed this aggression to survive in the wild and have been bred to possess these traits for the past 100 years or more.
This aggression is most prominent between male bettas but can also occur between females and even towards other fish.
By making sure the right fish are paired together and kept in the correct set up, you can greatly reduce the risk of fighting which results in much happier bettas.
How long do betta fish fights last?
It will last as long as it takes for one of the males to back down, It might be a moment or even a few minutes.
Do all betta fish fight each other?
Fighting is very common among male bettas. Female bettas will harrass and nip at each other until they have established a hieracy.
Can betta fish recover from fight?
Betta fish do not normally fight to the death so with proper treatment and care a betta fish can recover from a fight.