Betta Behavior – Male and Female Betta Fish

The Betta behavior that resulted in the sport of Siamese Fish Fighting is still a distinguishing trait of the modern-day Betta despite the customized breeding over the last one hundred years. Warriors by nature, their aggressive behavior stems from the male Betta’s need to protect his territory.

Male and Female Betta Fish

A male will adapt well to a community tank provided there is only one male Betta in residence and the other tank mates are of a peaceful variety. Take precaution not to place them in a tank with other fish that are aggressive because Bettas tend to get ‘picked on’ by the others, which could result in injury due to the nipping of the other fish.

Female betta fish, on the other hand, are not very antagonistic, and will do well when placed together, although a pecking order will be established in the community tank over a period of time. One fish will establish herself as dominant and the others will act in submission to that fish. As long as there are no new additions placed in the tank, there will be peace.

Unique Betta Personalities!

These elegant little betta fish each have their own personality. They are friendly, curious and will get to know their caregivers. Some enjoy swimming into your hand or being lifted out of the water to be stroked. There have been cases of Bettas who have suffered from depression, and after sulking for a time, they will starve themselves to death because of stress or lack of contact. In addition to their graceful beauty, these personality traits are what make Bettas ideal pets for people of all ages.

If you have ever seen a male Betta when he is “flaring,” you will understand the attraction to these exquisite fish. Flaring is a manifestation of their aggression, and it occurs when a male Betta believes his territory is being threatened. Bettas also tend to become more aggressive as they mature.

A Betta Interaction

Let’s pretend that Fred, a two-year-old Cambodian Betta, is swimming around in his tank enjoying his solitude. Ever the optimist, Fred has made a bubblenest on the surface, hoping for a ready-and-able spawning partner to soon appear. He hears the slight splash of another fish entering his space, turns and immediately spots not his long-awaited love, but Harry, the Piebald Betta. Without hesitation, Fred attempts to make himself appear as large as possible by turning his gill covers outward and extending the dark red branchiostegal membranes beyond his gill cavity. His ‘flaring’ or ‘displaying’ makes him look much bigger to Harry, since Harry has a low visual acuity.

Crowntail betta looking up

While an actual attack might not follow this position of warning, Fred and Harry assume a side-by-side position, head-to-tail, and the two males twist into a lateral S-shape as they will beat currents of water against each other. On occasion, Fred slaps Harry with his tail, and Harry responds by slapping him back with the side of his body. Neither is injured by this action, and Harry submissively retreats to a place in the tank that is beyond Fred’s territorial boundary. Minutes pass and Harry flares again, showing off to Fred, who displays his own colors.

The battle cry has sounded and they repeat the same dance. This time, however, Fred chomps into Harry’s tail. Harry doesn’t retreat, but instead bites Fred’s tail. After a couple of nips, a mouth-to-mouth battle ensues. Harry swims toward Fred with his mouth wide open and they lock jaws. Wrestling, they push and turn each other in violent jerking motions. Suddenly, Fred breaks free to surface for a bubble of air. Harry mimics him and then the battle continues for another minute. Obviously defeated, Harry capitulates and lets Fred know he has surrendered by clamping his fins close to his body and assuming the submissive posture of a head-up position. Dejected, Harry swims away with no injuries other than some tears in his fins.

Some might find the fight between Fred and Harry entertaining to watch. However, there is no question that placing two male Bettas together for the purpose of watching them battle is a cruel and inhumane practice. Occasionally, a fight will ensue between a male and female betta if they are placed together before the female is ready to spawn. These fights can be equally vicious, even though the female, by nature, is not aggressive

Anatomical Features

Solitary Bettas, like Fred, can be kept in a variety of habitats. In the wild they can survive in shallow puddles, so smaller plastic or glass containers are sufficient. However, remember that the smaller the container in which the Betta lives, the more often you should change the water. The reason that a Betta, unlike a goldfish, can thrive in lesser amounts of water, is because it is a Labyrinth fish.

It will not suffer oxygen deprivation like a goldfish will because it has the ability to take in atmospheric air at the water’s surface. Labyrinth fish have accessory breathing organs that enable them to actually live outside of water for short periods of time. Fred, like other Labyrinth fishes, has a gill cover that is partially connected to his branchial bone. His first and second gill arches are webbed together, forming a passage from the mouth through the gill cavity and into the labyrinth cavity. When he gulps air, it immediately goes to this cavity, providing needed oxygen.

The need for this supplemental oxygen is the reason why both Fred and Harry surfaced to the top of the water in the middle of their fight. They went up for air. Since Bettas originated from shallow, stagnant waters, their need for oxygen was profound. Speculation says they adapted by developing a new organ, which would allow them to acquire needed oxygen from the atmosphere.


Notice that prior to Harry’s arrival, Fred was making a bubblenest. That’s because Betta splendens are bubblenest builders, unlike other species in the Betta genus who are mouthbrooders. Although ichthyologists differ in their opinions of which species are valid, the Betta splendens class is one of nearly 23 Betta varieties. The other two bubblenest builders are the B. smaragdina and the B. imbellis species.

Fred was blowing hundreds, possibly thousands of tiny bubbles, which were accumulating in a corner of the tank. He was building it in preparation of spawning with a female, who would produce eggs that he would fertilize and carry in his mouth to the nest. Male Bettas will often make bubblenests when the sight of a Betta, even in a different container, stimulates them.

Being territorial, Fred immediately went into action protecting his domain when Harry arrived. Both of the males flared upon seeing each other. Had Harry been a ripe female betta fish, Fred would have reacted in a similar manner, displaying to attract the female rather than to repel the male. The female would have flared herself, although not in as dramatic a display as Fred.

Male and Female Betta Features

Male and female betta with a heart

Males and females tend to be easily distinguishable, but occasionally a female will look quite similar to a male. When courting, both flare and their colors intensify. Generally, the female betta is less beautiful than the male and her colors are dull in comparison. In most cases, her fins will not be as elegantly long or as showy, however, there are always exceptions. Often her caudal fin is roundish, in contrast to the very long and flowing fin of the male.

One way to determine if you have a female betta fish is to look for her ovipositor or ova. This is where she produces her eggs. It bears the appearance of a small white dot located behind the ventral fins. When Bettas are very young, it is impossible to decipher their gender.

If a female that wasn’t ripe or ready for spawning would have entered Fred’s tank, it’s possible she would’ve been attacked, as non-ripe females are not tolerated within the vicinity of the nest. By not fleeing, a female indicates her readiness to spawn.

How do your betttas get along in their aquarium?

Do you have any female bettas living together?