Sunday, September 17, 2017

50 Ways to Kill Your Fish: No Quarantine

albino cory catfish and albino corydora

Quarantining new fish seems like very obvious, super newbie advice, right? I mean, who doesn't quarantine? Look, I too read the manual, heard the warning signs, and obeyed the law. However, despite quarantining every fish, invertebrate, and plant that entered our house, I still managed to cause deaths. How is that possible? Let me give you three ways you may be incorrectly quarantining your fish:

1) Don't Use Your Display Tank for Quarantine

Some people say that if you're setting up your display aquarium for the first time, it's fine to just directly add in your new fish for "quarantine." Don't do it! The whole point of quarantine is to keep your new creatures away from the main tank to prevent cross-contamination. Ideally, the quarantine tank should be in a completely separate room from any display tanks since germs can travel through air and water particles.

If your fish get sick while being quarantined in your main tank, it can pretty expensive to medicate the entire aquarium (compared to a smaller quarantine tub). Plus, you may have to bleach everything in the tank, throw out whatever can't be disinfected, and start the beneficial bacterial cycle again. It's not worth your time and money! Treat your main display tank like Fort Knox and don't let anything nearby that doesn't have the proper security clearance.

My story is that I put two new albino corydoras straight into my main tank as the first residents and then a couple of days later, I added a third one to slowly increase the size of their school. I figured since they all went in around the same time, they could be in "quarantine" together. The third cory catfish started acting listless and eventually died a few days later. I freaked out and realized that a) my other two catfish might also die and b) the whole tank was exposed to whatever the dead fish had and I had no idea how to disinfect an entire tank. Luckily, the third catfish did not have any infectious diseases and the first two corydoras escaped unscathed.

2) "But the Fish Were Already Quarantined by the Seller"

Trust no one. Not even your friend swears that the fish he's giving you are disease-free. Not even that super reputable seller who already quarantines any fish she imports. It may sound overly cautious, but a) people lie and b) fish can get stressed from shipping and handling. Stress lowers a fish's immunity and can bring out diseases in normally healthy specimens, so it's better to be safe than sorry!

3) Don't Use a Hard-to-Clean Quarantine Tank

Don't quarantine fish in a planted aquarium or other setup that is difficult to clean. In my case, I had an empty planted nano tank and decided to quarantine a pregnant balloon molly in it since my quarantine tank was already occupied. Once the fry were born, I scooped them up into a breeder box that I put in my bigger main aquarium. Yeah, turns out the mama molly had columnaris and, via her infected fry, spread it to my entire community of fish. (╥_╥) To make matters worse, I didn't realize the mama molly was sick when she died.  So I put my replacement male molly in the nano tank without cleaning anything because, well, it's hard to disinfect live plants. Guess what the male molly died of?

How to make a quarantine tank using a Rubbermaid clear plastic storage tote box
Get a basic quarantine tank that only needs a filter, heater (for tropical fish), thermometer, and hiding spot.

Bottom line: make your quarantine system very easy to setup, disinfect, and tear down. My current quarantine system is super simple and consists of the following:
  • Clear plastic tub with a lid (good against jumpers and evaporation)
  • Internal filter
  • Polyfil stuffing (cheap, disposable filter media)
  • Heater (the adjustable temperature allows you to raise or lower the heat to best treat the illness)
  • Thermometer
  • Siphon (this one should only be used with the quarantine system)
  • Fake plant decor (for fish to hide in)

DIY quarantine tank for new aquarium fish using a clear plastic Sterlite tote storage box
For the clear plastic tub, I marked up the side with the number of gallons to help with accurate medication dosing. I also drilled holes in the lid for air and electrical cords to pass through.

I don't use cycled filter media because many times the medication I'm using is going to kill the beneficial bacteria anyways. I just cram the filter with polyfil stuffing for mechanical filtration and toss the polyfil afterwards to avoid future contamination. With an uncycled quarantine system, frequent water changes are necessary, but having a bare-bottom tub right next to the sink makes them fast and painless. Anyway, that's my take on a proper quarantine setup. Good luck and keep on swimming!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

New Series: 50 Ways to Kill Your Fish

When I got serious about the aquarium hobby two years ago, I did tons of research. I was determined to succeed and consumed books, websites, and YouTube videos on freshwater fish. Despite being armed to the gills with data, I was shocked to find myself making mistake after mistake. Some of them were newbie blunders, and others were more complex cases that even veterans deal with. None of the how-to guides had prepared me for the onslaught of trouble this hobby brings.

So what did I do wrong? Nothing. Honestly, studying can only take you so far; hands-on experience is where the true learning happens. And I've definitely had my fair share of both successes and failures. Rather than write an overly detailed technical manual on everything you need to do right, I figured it'd be funnier to hear stories about all the ways things can go wrong. Welcome to the "50 Ways to Kill Your Fish" Series!

I hope you'll enjoy this series of mishaps and miscalculations that I've run into along the way. If you want the quick and dirty version, here are the top takeaways that summarize what I've learned:

1) Patience is key

Don't. Rush. Things. Seriously, this hobby is all about waiting — waiting for the coast to be clear, waiting for the conditions to be just right, waiting for what you really want and not just settling. I didn't take this subtle hint to heart because I was so excited about owning fish asap. Trust me, after the third time you have to take down your tank because of disease, you will be more than happy to wait as long as it takes to have a safe and healthy aquarium.

2) Disaster WILL happen

If you're following this series, I'm already assuming that you're a researcher. You want to be prepared, prevent unnecessary fires, and avoid the failures of your peers. Sorry to burst your bubble, but we live in a fallen world where Murphy's Law reigns. No amount of research can save you from hardship. Maintaining proper care and a backup plan will of course go a long way, but I'm just saying, lower your expectations on having the perfect, bulletproof tank. Like, by a lot.

3) Don't believe everything you read

If you don't know something, just Google it, right? But sometimes the internet lies. >_< There is a lot of information online, both good and bad. Followers on one forum will be adamant about Method A, and then people on another website will insist on Method B. So who should you believe? The best advice I got from my local fish store was "Sometimes you just gotta try it." Living creatures are sooo complex and nothing is guaranteed. Listen to the rule of thumb, but take it with a grain of salt and be willing to change things up if it's not working for you.

(Speaking of which, I'm going to publicly state right now that I am not a fish expert or professional ichthyologist. Everything on this website is merely my opinion and personal experiences, so no need to burn me in the comments section if you disagree. Let's keep the dialogue helpful and respectful for the purposes of educating and encouraging others.)

4) Learn from your mistakes

This sounds weird, but keep an aquarium log or diary. I have an Excel spreadsheet with columns for recording water parameters, but I mostly use the "Notes" section. It's useful in remembering how I've treated certain diseases or symptoms in the past, but it's also a great reminder of how far I've come when I get discouraged or impatient with the hobby.

Hope these high-level tips are helpful and whet your appetite for the series to come. Good luck and keep on swimming!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Aquarium Journey: From Newbie to Addict to ?

Hello. My name is Anne, and I am a former aquarium addict. Oh my goodness, that sounds so terrible on paper. You're probably thinking of some kid's fish bowl with an upside-down lone goldfish dying in murky green waters. No no, what got me into aquariums was the vision of creating a living piece of artwork. Can you imagine having the top tank in your living room? O___O

ADA aquascape versus green algae tank
Jaw-dropping aquascape vs. algae-covered hot mess (Sources: Aquarium Info and Aquarium Care)

Here's the timeline of my descent into madness:

2015: The "My First Betta" Phase

My son was gifted a betta fish for his birthday, and I was determined to do all the right research and provide the best environment for my, er, his new pet. Unfortunately, that studying led me down the rabbit hole of all these other cool tankmates I could potentially keep with the betta... why have one fish when you could have 20?

My first aquarium for betta fish with gravel, silk plants, and Sponge Bob pineapple house
Checklist: tank, gravel, colorful decor, filter, heater, fish... we're ready for business!

2016: Full-Blown Obsession

When it was apparent our little starter tank would not be able to contain all the awesome, beautiful fish I wanted, it was time to get my own aquarium. I had spreadsheets full of data about fish sizes, food types, compatibility, etc. and I spent my free time perusing fish stores and hunting for the right species. And yet, I couldn't seem to keep them happy or healthy for long. The more I tinkered with my aquarium and its residents, the more problems and deaths I incurred. Why was my friend's algae-covered tank of GloFish doing so well, when I was extensively reading and doing everything right?

German blue ram in a community freshwater tank
My beautiful freshwater community tank with a German blue ram as the centerpiece

2017: Everything in Moderation

After the second time my tank crashed with disease, I decided to take a break from fish. I still have my original betta tank, now covered with live plants. But the community tank has been repurposed for my axolotl, a fully aquatic salamander that is super creepy cute. 2 years later, I'm still making mistakes and learning from them but that's ok. The difference now is that a) I'm no longer overly obsessive about fish and b) I've realized that the even most experienced fish keepers fail. I hope to cover some of the lessons I've learned thus far, but if you go into this hobby not expecting smooth sailing, that'll go a long way in saving your sanity. Good luck and keep on swimming!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Where Have I Been?

Anne (aka A Gamer's Wife) here. Wow, you would not believe all that I've been through since last year. Here's a few updates:

1) My husband is trying to get out of the video game industry

That's right, folks. After two decades of being a video game developer, first in art then as a designer, K has decided to quit his "dream job." Making video games is hard work, both for giant companies and indie start-ups, and in this season of his life, he wants to spend more time with his young kids and have more creative control over his work. K dreams of making comedy videos, creating YouTube tutorials for painting miniature figures, writing a novel, patenting his many ideas, and more.

So we'll see what direction God takes us. I'm currently back to working remotely for a marketing company as a technical writer, and my oldest kid has just started school (what?). I think because I've been writing so much for my job, it's actually gotten my own creative juices flowing. I'm wanting to blog again, and it doesn't feel like a chore. I think beforehand, I really focused on making content that I thought would attract the most readers, but it eventually burnt me out. Now I'm feeling the call to really speak what's going on in my life, what I'm really interested in and not necessarily the most popular clickbait-y subjects.

2) I'm really active on Instagram follow me there if you haven't already! I'm not hardcore into photography, but it's been fun doing the FMS Photo-a-day challenge and connecting with people through Insta. I mostly follow accounts about fish, art, Denver Broncos (my husband is a fan), and science facts.

A Gamer's Wife Instagram - best nine of 2016 collage

3) I no longer own fish

Okay, that's a partial truth. Background: in the year 2016, I went off the deep end in collecting and raising freshwater community fish. Like, borderline obsessive. And you know, it's surprisingly hard taking care of fish! I definitely learned a lot of lessons, which I'll probably be sharing here. After my main aquarium got wiped out by disease a second time, I decided to take a break and start over again. Now I own an axolotl (so creepy cute!) and I love him! I also have a planted nano tank with a blue betta fish from Petco. In my free time, I like watching YouTube videos on fish and pet husbandry, even though K will never let me get more pets (probably better for my sanity that way).

GFP leucistic axolotl and melanoid axolotl

Anyway, looking forward to spending more time with you on this website, being real, growing through life together. And I hope you'll join me too. Here's to the new A Gamer's Wife!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Beginner's Guide to Sewing a Superhero Cape for Toddlers

A Sewing Beginner's Guide to Making a Superman and Batman Cape for Toddlers

My husband K has begun gleefully introducing our two-year-old son Dexter to all things geek. You cannot imagine how disconcerting it was for me to hear a two-year-old Dexter suddenly chirp up in the car, "Mommy, Enterprise shooting the Reliant" (from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Uhhhh, what?

Anyway, DC comic book superheros have become another source of interest for Dexter, which is why I just had to make him his own Superman cape. The problem is that my sewing machine and I don't quite get along because I'm, uh, not so good with making exact measurements. Luckily, a cape doesn't have to fit perfectly, so there's a lot of room for fudge. Here are straightforward step-by-step instructions you can use to make your own:


  • Sewing supplies
    • Sewing machine
    • Fabric scissors
    • Measuring tape
    • Pencil or tailor's chalk
  • Fabric (I got regular 100% cotton from Walmart)
    • 2 yards of fabric for the cape (each yard can be a different color if you want to make a reversible cape)
    • fat quarter or small amount of scrap fabric for the logo 
  • All-purpose thread (matching the cape and logo colors)
  • 2 inches of sewable Velcro
  • Sewable fusible web, enough to encompass the logo (I recommend the purple Heat n Bond Lite stuff)
  • Plate, bowl, or other circular object with an 8" diameter
  • X-Acto knife
  • Ruler
  • Iron

Measuring and Cutting the Cape

Before starting, make sure to wash and dry the fabrics to preshrink them. You can iron them afterward if the fabrics came out very wrinkled. The following measurements were based on this article from How Does She?

1) Cut your cape fabric in half so that you have two halves that are about 31" in width.

Measuring and cutting a DIY Super Hero cape for toddlers - step 1

2) Place the two halves on top of each other and then fold them in half lengthwise so that the 31" width edges are at the top.

Measuring and cutting a DIY super hero cape for toddlers - step 2

3) On the right edge, make a mark 5 inches from the bottom. On the left edge, make a mark 11 inches from the bottom. Using the pencil or tailor's chalk, draw a straight line between the two marks. Cut the fabric about 0.5" above the line you just drew (this extra fabric is the seam allowance).

Measuring and cutting a DIY super hero cape for toddlers - step 3

This is what you should end up with. (I drew a black line just to make it more visible for you, but the pencil or chalk line should be fainter and will wash away.) If it helps, you can draw a second line 0.5" above your previous line and then cut along the second line.

Measuring and cutting a DIY super hero Batman cape for toddlers - step 3b

4) Take your 8" diameter plate and place it on the bottom right corner of the cape, at 4" from the bottom fold and 5.5" from the right edge. Trace a line using your pencil or chalk, and then cut the fabric 0.5" away from the line (leaving a seam allowance toward the bottom right corner).

 Measuring and cutting a DIY super hero Batman cape for toddlers - step 4

5) At this point, you can cut a straight line across the left edge (the bottom of the cape) if needed. You can also choose to round the corners of the top and bottom of the cape if you like (I only rounded the neckline corners).

 Measuring and cutting a DIY superhero Batman cape for toddlers - step 5

When you unfold the fabric, you'll have two identical cape-looking pieces of fabric!

Cutting and Attaching the Logo Applique

Now you can make your logo out of felt or even paint, but I wanted to make an actual fabric applique for that clean, professional look. And no, I had never made an applique before, so that means even you can do it! Here are some tips I took from Sew Like My Mom.

1) Find a logo that you want to copy (or make your own) and then print it out backwards at the actual size you want to use.

Reverse Superman logo for creating applique for DIY cape

2) Cut out a chunk of fusible web and place it on top of the printed logo so that the shiny, slick side is facing down and the paper side is facing up. In other words, you should be tracing the logo onto the paper side of the fusible web.

Afterwards, cut out a chunk of fabric big enough for the logo and follow the directions that come with the fusible web. Remember, you should be ironing the fusible web onto the wrong side of the pressed fabric.

Attaching the super hero logo patch - step 2

3) Since the Superman logo has some holes on the side, I used an X-Acto knife to make all my cuts. A metal ruler was helpful for those straight lines.

Attaching the superhero logo patch - step 3

4) Once you're done cutting out the applique, flip it over. That's the logo you'll be fusing to the cape.

Attaching the super hero logo patch - step 4

5) Peel off the shiny side of the fusible web and use your measuring tape to perfectly center the logo on the right side of one of the two cape pieces. (Put the other cape piece aside for now until after the applique steps have been completed.) Follow the fusible web instructions and iron the logo onto the cape piece.

Ironing on the super hero logo patch - step 5

6) Take out your sewing machine manual and set your machine to do a zigzag stitch that is 1/16" in width and makes 16 stitches per inch. I used a scrap piece of fabric to fiddle around with the size of my zigzag stitch until I got the machine adjusted correctly.

Adjusting the sewing machine for sewing appliques

7) As for actually sewing the applique, read these two tutorials on the basics of sewing appliques and going around curves. Key things to remember:
  • Line up the zigzag stitches with the outside edge of the applique fabric
  • Don't back stitch at the beginning or end of the stitching (see above links)
  • Go slowly and you'll be amazed at how perfectly it turns out

Sewing on the superhero logo patch - step 6

8) Once you're done, tie off the loose threads on the wrong side (aka the inside) of the cape.

Opposite side of fabric after sewing on superhero logo applique

Sewing and Finishing the Cape

1) Now that the applique is attached, lay the two cape pieces on top of each other with the right sides of the fabric facing each other. (In other words, the logo should be on the inside of cape fabric sandwich.) Pin the two cape pieces together.

Pinning together the two pieces of the super hero cape

2) Switch your sewing machine back to a regular straight stitch as recommended by your manual (don't leave it on the zigzag stitch). Sew the two cape pieces together using a 1/2" seam allowance (aka sew around the cape 1/2 an inch from the edge of the fabric). Leave a 2" opening at the bottom of the cape (see image below) so that you'll be able to turn the cape inside out at the end. Don't forget to back stitch at the beginning and end of the sewing.

Sewing together the Superman cape pieces with a 1/2" seam allowance

3) To prevent bumps and puckering, trim the corners, clip the valleys, and notch the mountains, This tutorial from Make It & Love It illustrates this step.

Trim the corners, clip the valleys, and notch the mountains when sewing a Superman cape

Trim the corners, clip the valleys, and notch the mountains when sewing a Superman cape

4) Using the 2" opening at the bottom, turn the cape inside out so that beautiful logo appears on the outside. Do a final ironing out of wrinkles and then hand sew the gap closed using the invisible ladder stitch.

Ironing and finishing the Superman cape

5) Cut a rectangle of Velcro off, and separate the hook and loop sides. Pin the two pieces on opposite sides of the cape's collar flaps and then try attaching the Velcro pieces together. If it works properly, the cape collar flaps should overlap slightly in the middle of the child's neck. Sew the Velcro pieces on using the sewing machine or by hand.

Velcro pieces for the Superman cape collar

Ta da, you're done! Get ready to be rewarded with your child's ear-to-ear smiles, joyful screams, and refusal to ever take off this one-of-kind gift. Hmm, maybe another trip to the fabric store is in order... ^_~

DIY sewing - toddler-sized Superman cape or Batman cape

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Survival Guide to Ich

(AKA How to Treat Ich or White Spot Disease in Freshwater Fish)

How to treat white spot disease in freshwater fish

Top Takeaways

  • Ich is one of the most common freshwater fish diseases. 
  • Ich comes from new fish and plants.
  • It takes 2 weeks to eradicate it.
  • Some of your fish may die anyway, depending on their immune system and how early you catch it.

What is Ich?

Freshwater ich, also known as ick or white spot disease, is one of the most common diseases in freshwater aquarium fish. It looks like little white spots or grains of salt covering your fish's body. Other symptoms include frayed fins and tail, respiratory distress, low appetite, and "itchy" skin (fish rubs against tank walls and ground).

What Causes Ich?

Your fish is infected with a parasitic protozoan called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. It goes through a multi-stage life cycle:
  1. The protozoan attaches to your fish, forms a white protective cyst, and begins feeding.
  2. Once it matures, it bursts through the cyst wall, falls to the ground, and divides into hundreds of new protozoans.
  3. The "baby protozoans" then swim around and attach to a new fish (or the same fish). *
* This stage #3 is where the medication can kill the free-swimming protozoans and end the cycle. Die, baby bugs, die!

School of freshwater marbled hatchet fish
These new hatchetfish were wild-caught and therefore came infected with parasites. I half-medicated them in quarantine but didn't complete treatment (oops), so they still carried the disease when they entered the community tank.

Will My Fish Die of Ich?

Maybe. Unfortunately, by the time you see spots, the fish has already had ich for some time. So it'll depend on the robustness of your fish's immunity system and how early you caught the disease. When my aquarium got ich because of new fish I purchased, 6 out of 7 of the new fish died within the first 5 days of treatment. The other 12 existing fish in the tank were fine and hardly showed any symptoms.

P.S. If you need to euthanize any fish, I prefer clove oil using this method. It's very gentle and quick.

Ich or white spot disease treatment for fish - increase heat and oxygen, turn off light, and use medication
The most effective ich treatment involves a combination of medication and increased heat. 

How Do I Treat Fish with Ich?

If one fish has ich, you have to treat the whole tank. Some people prefer gentler methods of increasing the heat only or adding aquarium salt. I prefer the "scorched earth" approach. We're gonna nuke these suckers to orbit.
  1. Raise the water temperature up to 80°F to 86°F, increasing a couple of degrees every hour. The heat does not kill the protozoans, but rather speeds up their life cycle. (Some coldwater fish cannot survive at very high temperatures, so make sure to research first.)
  2. Increase the oxygen level in the water by maximizing the filter's flow rate and lowering the water level. (Warmer water doesn't have as much oxygen.) An air stone or power head can also help.
  3. Take out the carbon filter material, shut off the UV sterilizer, and disable anything that will counteract the medication. Also, remove any invertebrates, since they're sensitive to medication. *
  4. Medicate the tank water using the appropriate amount of Seachem ParaGuard (1 mL per 2 gallons of water). This stuff is great because it doesn't stain your tank, won't kill the beneficial bacteria, and is safe for planted aquariums. **
  5. Continue dosing every day for the full 14 days, or else the parasite will come back and reinfect your fish. Keep the aquarium lights off because the medication is light-sensitive.
  6. Do a partial water change every 2 to 3 days to keep the water quality high. Remember to add more medication to the new water as needed.
  7. Once treatment is complete, you can use diluted bleach to disinfect anything outside the tank that may have touched the infected water (e.g., fish nets, gravel siphon).
* I put my shrimp in a quarantine tank and risked giving him a half dose of Paraguard every day. She did fine, but there's no guarantee.

** Scaleless fish like catfish and loaches can be more sensitive to medication, so Seachem recommends starting with a 1/4 to 1/2 dose and building up to a full dose over several days. I risked doing a full dose from day 1 with my cory catfish, and they did okay. They were more upset by the heat when the heater accidentally crept up to 89°F.

How Do I Treat an Empty Tank with Ich?

If there are no fish in your infected tank, the steps are much simpler. Increase the water temperature to 82°F to 92°F. Within 48 hours, the baby parasites will appear and then die without any available hosts. To play it safe, keep the tank water hot and empty for 4 to 7 days.

Albino cory catfish, German blue ram, and neon tetras in community tank
Healthy and unstressed fish are better equipped to fight off diseases. All of my existing fish survived ich, and some didn't even got a single spot.

How Do I Prevent Ich?

Quarantine all new fish for at least 2 weeks. I recommend using a temperature of 80°F to ensure the ich protozoans (and other similar diseases) will show up faster if they're there. Then medicate as needed. (Some people preemptively medicate all wild-caught fish since they're more prone to carry parasites.) Here is more information on how to set up a quarantine tankTake appropriate measures for new plants as well.

Stressed fish also tend to have lower immunity, so keep your aquarium clean, don't overstock your tank, and avoid fluctuations in water quality.

Backstory: I have always quarantined my fish without medication previously, but my new hatchetfish were wild-caught so I actually thought to add medication while they were in quarantine. Unfortunately I only kept it up for the first week and neglected to continue treatment for the full 14 days. The protozoans were temporarily suppressed, the hatchetfish looked fine, and therefore I introduced both fish and parasites to my community tank. The hatchetfish were the only casualties from the ich, since they were patient zero and probably still stressed from recent transport from South America.

Marble hatchet fish or marbled hatchet fish
One hatchetfish got treatment in time and survived ich. By day 9, all the cysts had disappeared but of course I continued treatment for the full 14 days. Now I have to decide whether to buy more hatchetfish or give him back to the fish store and get something else. All part of the learning experience!

Can Ich Come Back?

Contrary to rumors, ich does not just live in the water like the common cold, waiting to infect you when your immunity is low. Once eradicated, it will not come back unless:

  • You do not continue dosing for the full 2 weeks of treatment.
  • Something is decreasing the medication's effectiveness (e.g., carbon filter).
  • The water temperature is low and the ich life cycle hasn't completed (medication only affects the swimming baby protozoans).
  • It is transmitted through infected water back into your tank.
  • You bought more new fish or plants that were not properly quarantined and medicated for 2 weeks.

Congratulations! You are officially ich free. You survived, conquered, and learned a lesson or two along the way. Next time you see those white spots (hopefully not), you'll be a pro at annihilating these pesky parasites.

Ich in Freshwater Fish - Drs. Foster & Smith
Ich - The Aquarium Wiki

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Survival Guide to Betta Fish

(AKA What Do I Need to Know About Betta Fish Care?)

The Survival Guide to Betta Fish

Betta fish, also known as betta splendens or Siamese fighting fish, are incredibly popular with both first-time pet owners and and long-time fish lovers. While they're known for their vibrant colors, long flowing tails, and interesting personalities, most people don't know that bettas need more than a bowl to live in and pellets to eat. Follow this straightforward FAQ-style guide to owning a happy and healthy betta!

Question: What Do I Need for My Betta Fish?

Check out this shopping list of necessities for your betta fish:
  • Tank: Your betta fish tank size should be a minimum of 3 to 5 gallons. A simple rule of thumb for small freshwater fish is 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish, and bettas grow to about 2.5 inches long. Also, the aquarium needs a lid/hood because bettas are suicide jumpers. (FYI PetSmart carries their own brand called the Top Fin 5.5 Gallon Aquarium Starter Kit that comes with a lighted hood, filter, net, and thermometer.)
  • Decorations: Bettas like to have places to hide and explore, so provide aquarium decor and silk plants (nothing sharp that might rip fins). Live plants are great, but like any garden, they require time and care. (Petsmart is where I found more natural-looking artificial plants.)
  • Heater: If your room does not maintain a steady 75-82°F 24/7 all year round, you need a heater for your betta fish (rated for your tank size). Otherwise, he may become sluggish, stop eating, or become ill. Why doesn't my betta fish swim around much? Because he's cold. (((=_=)))
  • Thermometer: Sometimes heaters fail. How can you be sure? Get a super cheap thermometer.
  • Filter: Do betta fish need a filter? Yes please! Trust me - your tank will have clearer water for longer periods of time. When my starter kit filter failed, I switched to the terrific Aqueon QuietFlow filter (rated for my tank size) because of its adjustable nozzle and flow rate. 
  • Power Strip: Your tank is going to have 2 to 3 plugs and the nearest power source may not be super close, so get a long, multi-outlet power strip.
  • Net: Pretty self-explanatory, but it's nice to have one for transporting your betta or removing uneaten food.
  • Water Conditioner: Tap water contains chlorine which will kill your fish, so use Seachem Prime Water Conditioner (the aquarist's favorite choice) for all your water changes.
  • Gravel Vacuum or Siphon: This is single-handedly my favorite tool for fish keeping. No more dumping out the entire tank and splashing dirty fish waste everywhere during water changes. You need this Python siphon (rated for your tank size).
  • Empty Water Jug: You can buy a gallon of distilled water from your grocery store or get a larger water jug for bigger tanks.
  • Bucket: You'll need something to contain 3 to 5 gallons of dirty water from the aquarium.
  • Algae Scrapper: I personally like regular ol' sponges because they're easy to get into corners, but you also get magnetic or handled ones. Choose one based on if you have an acrylic vs. glass tank.
  • Food: Go for the Hikari Betta Bio-Gold pellets. It'll take your fish forever to finish a package, so there's no reason not to get the extra good, color-enhancing stuff. 
  • Medication: Don't wait until your betta fish gets sick to get meds because any delay may be too late. For your first aid kit, you should keep some aquarium salt and Seachem ParaGuard (good broad-spectrum stuff) on hand.

Butterfly betta fish living in tank with a heater and filter
Didn't know it took so much stuff to keep me alive, eh? 

Question: How Do I Set up a Betta Fish Tank?

  1. Once you have all your supplies, choose a good location that can support the weight of a full aquarium (10 to 12 pounds per gallon) and an electrical outlet near by. Do not let direct sunlight hit any part of your tank or else algae will aggressively take over.  
  2. Use plain water to rinse the tank and all the accessories (e.g., gravel, decorations, filter, heater, and thermometer). Don't use soap or cleaning agents because your fish can't, well, breathe soap.
  3. If you bought gravel, add 1 to 2 pounds of gravel for every gallon of tank water. Fill the aquarium 1/2 full of room temperature tap water.
  4. Install your heater, filter, and thermometer according to their instructions. (Don't turn them on yet.) Your tank hood should have cutout panels that will fit around the various instruments. 
    • Place the heater vertically and low in the tank or horizontally at the aquarium bottom so that it doesn't have to be turned off during water changes.
    • Betta fish hate fast currents so you may have to cover the intake and baffle the output (tutorial to come).
  5. Place the decorations in the tank to hide the heater and filter. Then fill the rest of the aquarium with water up to 1 to 2 inches from the top (so your betta fish can come to the water's surface for air). 
  6. Make sure to add the appropriate amount of water conditioner (also known as dechlorinator) into the tank. Now you can turn on all the equipment.
  7. Let everything (excluding the lights) run for a full day until the temperature stabilizes to 75-82°F. 

Do I Need to Cycle My Betta Fish Tank?

Cycling simply refers to the process in which a new tank grows beneficial bacteria that breakdowns toxic ammonia (from fish waste) into less harmful chemicals. Fish lovers are very passionate about making sure you only introduce new fish to mature, cycled aquariums, which can take 6 to 8 weeks or more. However, small tanks (less than 5 gallons) are notoriously hard to cycle because there's just not a lot of surface area to grow beneficial bacteria. Therefore, your job is to change the water at least once a week to make sure ammonia and other chemicals don't build up to harmful levels (since the bacteria aren't there to do it).

Acclimating a new betta fish in an fish tank with a heater, filter, thermometer, and aquarium decorations
New betta fish acclimating in a properly setup aquarium

Question: What Do I Do When I First Bring My Betta Fish Home?

These instructions are for acclimating your betta fish to a aquarium in which he is the first and/or only resident. If there are other fish already in the tank, quarantine the betta fish for 2 to 4 weeks first and then follow these steps.
  1. Turn off lights in the aquarium and surrounding area to minimize stress for the fish. 
  2. Open the betta fish's bag and throw out all but about 2 inches of water. (If the betta came in a cup, pour the fish and 2 inches of water into a quart-sized plastic bag.) Let the fish bag float at the top of the aquarium for 15 to 30 minutes to equalize the water temperature. It helps to clip the bag to the side of the tank to prevent accidental spillage.
  3. Add a small amount of the aquarium's water to the bag and let the fish get used to it for 10 minutes. Repeat this at least 3 more times until the bag holds mostly aquarium water. (One betta owner even says she takes 2 to 6 hours with this step.)
  4. When you're ready, use the fish net to move your betta from the bag into the aquarium. Avoid putting any pet store water into the tank because it may contain pathogens. 
And that's it! I usually wait a day before feeding my betta to give him time to get used to his new environment.

Question: How Do I Clean a Betta Fish Tank? 

The great thing about having a gravel vacuum or siphon is that you don't have to relocate your betta and decorations, dump out the whole tank, and put everything back together. Just follow these 5 easy steps (or less) for your weekly partial water changes:
  1. Turn off your filter if the output flow will splash too much during the water change. Turn off the heater if the water level will drop below its proper level of operation (that's why it's less hassle to mount them as low in the tank as possible).
  2. If algae is present, use the algae scrapper to scrub down the walls and decorations. Note: algae needs food and light, so I rarely need this step since no direct sunlight hits the tank, the hood light is on for less than 8 hours a day, and no uneaten food is allowed to remain.
  3. Use the gravel vacuum to suck up fish waste and food from the bottom of the tank. Put the tube (larger diameter end of the siphon) in the tank and the hose (smaller diameter end) in the bucket for dirty water. To start the vacuum, I use this very simple technique (no starter bulb needed), and then follow this tutorial to clean the gravel. While using the siphon, clean 1/3 to 1/2 of the gravel. Also only remove 10 to 25% of the tank water (don't want to shock your fish too much with new water).
  4. Fill the empty water jug with tap water at approximately the same temperature as the tank's current water (your hand is a good judge of temperature). Don't forget to add the water conditioner. Pour the new water into the aquarium, stopping 1 inch or more from the top of the tank.
  5. Rinse out the dirty water bucket and siphon, wipe the outside of the tank, and you're done!
Remember: Never use soap or household cleaning agents on the tank and its accessories. If you need to disinfect a tank of pathogens or remove stubborn algae, bleach is your friend.

Happy and healthy male betta fish making a bubble nest
Bubble nests are a good sign that your male betta fish is happy with his water quality and food

Question: How Do I Feed a Betta Fish?

A) How Much Do I Feed a Betta Fish?

Everyone warns you not to overfeed your betta fish, since these little piggies will happily eat themselves to death. Hikari Betta Bio-Gold packages give these exact instructions: For a betta with a 1.5-inch long body (not including the tail), feed three pellets and add 1 pellet per 1/4 inch of additional length. For my 2-inch long betta, that means he gets a total of 5 pellets each day. A properly fed betta fish will have a softly rounded body, so if your betta fish starts developing a beer gut, might be time to go on a diet. In fact, they can easily survive without food for several days (life is much harder in the wild), so no need to get a pet sitter if you're gone for the weekend.

B) How Often Should I Feed a Betta Fish? 

Once or twice a day is fine. During meal time, feed your fish one pellet at a time (float the pellet at the surface) and make sure each pellet is completely consumed (sometimes they'll trick you and spit it out a few seconds later). Remove any uneaten pellets afterwards. Also, fast your betta fish one day a week to prevent constipation.

C) What Should I Feed My Betta Fish?

Variety is the spice of life, so besides their staple of pellets, consider treating your betta once or twice a week to freeze-dried or frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, or tubifex worms.

P.S. When your betta first comes home, it may take 2 to 5 days for him to get used to new food (aka he may spit it out and refuse to eat it). Just keep trying each day and eventually hunger will win him over.

Crowntail betta fish and his tankmate, a zebra nerite snail
Betta fish hanging out with his tank mate, a zebra nerite snail

Question: Can Betta Fish Live with Other Fish?

Trust me, your betta will not be lonely. They are solitary and territorial by nature, so they will attack any other betta or betta-looking fish in the tank. Some bettas with a calmer disposition can successfully live in community tank, but personalities can be hard to tell when they're in the pet store cup so be prepared to yank out the bully if needed. For example, one of my bettas merrily attacked my peaceful neon tetras, cory catfish, and ghost shrimp (all listed as excellent betta fish tank mates), so he got to live out the rest of his days in his own private penthouse.

Finally, make sure your tank is big enough to house any tank mates. A great online tool is the AqAdvisor aquarium stocking calculator.

Crowntail betta fish with frayed tail from fin rot or tail biting
Crowntail betta fish with frayed tail from tail biting :(

Question: What Does a Healthy vs. Sick Betta Look Like?

A) What Should I Look for When Buying a Betta Fish?

A happy, healthy betta is active, alert, colorful, and reacts to stimulus. No frayed fins or ripped tail, no scales popping out like a pine cone, no eyes popped out, no spots or fungus on body, the gills look healthy, and so on.

B) Is My Betta Fish Sick? What's Wrong with My Betta?

A sick betta is sluggish, not hungry, acts funny, and/or looks abnormal in some way. Check out these great websites with lists of symptoms and pictures to diagnose your betta and get detailed info on treatment options. If your betta doesn't live by himself, you may need to setup his own quarantine tank/tub.

C) How Do I Humanely Euthanize a Betta Fish?

The fact of life is that not every betta can be saved despite your best efforts. Don't let him suffer more than necessary. Toilet flushing or freezing a fish can take a long time before death and lead to suffering. Decapitation or blunt trauma is swift and effective, but can be distasteful. Consider these options for euthanization, including my preferred method of using clove oil.

And there you go! Betta care from A to Z. If you have more questions, please comment below and I'll be happy to help.