Saturday, January 26, 2019

7 Ways to Stop Betta Fish Tail Biting

Is your betta fish incessantly biting his beautiful tail, like a little kid who thinks it’s funny to cut his own hair? Keep reading to find out what it looks like, why it happens, and some tips and tricks for stopping it.

My son really wanted a crowntail betta because of their spiky-looking frills, so we helped him pick out a gorgeous blue and red one from Petco that he named Darth Vader. Unfortunately, Darth Vader had a bad habit of biting his tail! One morning, we woke up to find that he had just happily sheared off the top half of his caudal fin.

Tail biting on a blue crowntail betta fish
Darth Vader's new "haircut"

Signs of Tail Biting

The reason why we knew it was tail biting and not some other problem is because it had a few telltale signs:
  • Missing chunks (often round) from fins or tail have very clean edges and no discoloration
  • Damage is usually all in one section (not evenly spread everywhere)
  • Damage happens suddenly within a few hours (sometimes catch them in the act)
Other reasons why your betta’s tail may be damaged is if it got caught on sharp decor, sucked up in the filter, or nipped by other tank mates. Thankfully, just because it’s damaged doesn’t mean it’ll automatically get infected and turn into fin rot. But if you see fin or tail deterioration that is ragged or tattered, fins or tail that look clamped, and wound edges that are black or red in coloration or have fuzzy growths – it’s likely fin rot (which I won't be covering in this article) so make sure to research treatment for it asap.

Example of fin rot, not tail biting (source)

Causes for Tail Biting

Unfortunately, I haven't seen a lot of research or studies about this behavior, so but there's been lots of speculation from hobbyists. Tail biting could be caused by:
  • Stress from their environment (e.g., filter flow too fast, kids tapping on glass)
  • Boredom
  • Discomfort from the weight of large fins or tail
  • Aggression because he thinks its tail is another betta
  • Hereditary issue
  • Just a bad habit (like people who bite their nails)

Ideas for Preventing Tail Biting

While there's no surefire way to stop the betta from destroying his tail since you can't constantly be at his side, here are some suggested methods for distracting, entertaining, and enriching your betta's life to keep his mind off his caudal fin. (Huge thank you to Twitter user @Nature_Grrrl for her help and suggestions that came from her working with animal behaviorist @JoannaBergerMSc.)
  • Offer toys like a betta leaf hammock or floating betta log
  • Provide short stints of flaring practice with a mirror
  • Add more plants, decor, or caves to explore
  • Change up the decor every time you do a water change to keep things interesting
  • Change up his diet, such as by giving live food like baby brine shrimp or blackworms to hunt
  • Provide enrichment by training him to follow a chopstick with food stuck at the end or to swim through the hoop end of your net, using a small pen light and dropping a piece food as positive reinforcement (like clicker training).
  • Try teaching more advanced tricks with the R2 Fish School Training Kit, which comes with an instruction manual and obstacle course.

Training a betta fish to swim through a hoop
Train your betta fish to swim through a hoop (source)

Treatment for Tail Biting

If your betta fish is strong and healthy, his tail should heal up fine on its own. Just make sure to keep the water quality very high by keeping on top of your water changes. Decrease any stress factors in his environment, such as by slowing the filter flow, hiding any reflections he flares at, heating the water to the proper temperature, and so forth.

For gentle treatments, some people like to add slime coat-enhancing products for faster healing, such as Seachem Stress Guard and API Stress Coat water conditioner which contains aloe. Others recommend using Indian almond leaves or catappa leaves for their reported antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. And finally, there's good ol' aquarium salt – just dose according to the manufacturer's instructions to help with your fish's osmoregulation and other benefits.

Blue, turquoise, and red crowntail betta fish in a community tank
Darth Vader finally left his tail alone once he got some roommates!

In the end, we ended up moving Darth Vader from his own solitary tank to a 20-gallon community tank with other fish to keep him distracted and entertained. He got along very well with his new roommates, but would still take the occasional chomp out of his tail when he remember it. Thankfully it occurred a lot less frequently than before, giving his body a chance to heal and regrow to its full glory. ğŸ˜

Question of the Day

Has your betta fish ever had a problem with tail biting? How did you stop it? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!

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