When I still worked at the pet store I got asked fairly frequently what the appeal of keeping betta fish was. For non-fish owners, fish can often feel like a daunting type of pet that you regularly clean after but don’t bond with. This, however, is an extremely pinhole view of keeping fish.
I know when we adopted our first fish Blub, within the first few weeks I started noticing that he would swim to the front of the tank every time he heard me speak. It didn’t matter if he was sleeping in his favourite spot or swimming around happily, the moment he heard me it was to the front of the tank he went!
Over the years of having our betta fish, we noticed it was actually fairly easy to bond with both of them. They were both extremely active, responsive and they actually got along with our cat Beau, who would sleep with them almost every night.
Although it’s easy to shrug off a betta’s interactions with humans by simply saying “well, they’re just responding to noise,” this, in fact, is not true.
Bettas are actually highly intelligent creatures who have been known to recognize their owners, learn tricks and bond with their humans and other animals.
CAN A BETTA DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN PEOPLE?
Yes, bettas are able to tell the difference between different people. Not only that, betta fish will always recognize the person who feeds them, making this one of the easiest ways to bond with your betta.
Due to this, betta fish may hide when they are not comfortable or don’t recognize a person or voice. After a few interactions the betta, your betta should begin getting used to you.
DO BETTAS HAVE A GOOD MEMORY?
Absolutely! Bettas are considered excellent at recalling memories and will recognize people who they have met weeks or months ago.
Bettas can also recognize changes to their tanks and will recall where objects were placed by using something called “featured cues.” This is a skill that humans also learn how to access, though for us this skill is usually developed by the age of 6.
DO BETTAS HAVE FEELINGS?
Shockingly, yes they do. Bettas have been studied for years by Dr. Culum Brown, who is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. His research has shown that betta fish understand how to co-operate with one another. On the flip side, bettas who do not co-operate or find themselves in tough or sticky situations have shown signs of reconciliation.
Although this is true, it is believed that bettas do not have a large range of emotions. It is believed that bettas feel excitement, pain, anger and fear.
WHAT KIND OF TRICKS CAN BETTAS LEARN?
Although I’m not a professional betta trainer, I have witnessed bettas learn how to jump through hoops, push objects around their tanks and our personal favourite “follow your finger around the tank.”
IS IT IMPORTANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR BETTA?
Absolutely! Just like most other living creatures, bettas enjoy the company of their humans. Although time spent with your betta fish is not going to end up in cuddling, bettas are extremely playful.
Bettas enjoy being in areas with activity, although I wouldn’t place them in an area that is too overstimulating. Rooms like offices, living rooms or bedrooms are good places to keep your betta.
It has also been said that bettas do better when spoken to, similar to goldfish. So, don’t feel silly if you’re someone who likes to decompress by talking to their fish… they love it!
Bettas who are left alone and not given enough stimulation will get bored and may, in turn, become lethargic. That being said, it’s always a good idea to give your betta lots of hiding spots, places to sleep and toys to play with. Some of my favourites include the Zoo Med Floating Log, Zoo Med Ceramic Log, Hygger Tree Trunk Ornament, Betta Fish Leaf Pad, Sponge Bob’s Pineapple House and Marina Decor Polyresin Cave.
It’s always a good idea to only put accessories that were made specifically with fish in mind as some plastics from children’s toys have harmful paints that may cause your betta to become ill.
SHOULD I EVER TAP ON A FISH TANK?
No, it is not a good idea to ever tap on your fish tank, especially if you are concerned that your betta is sick. Bettas can be fairly sensitive and tapping on the fish tank will stress out your betta and may cause them to begin to distrust you.
If you are hoping to interact with your betta fish, lightly place your finger on the fish tank and allow them to follow your finger as if it were prey. This is actually quite enjoyable and stimulating for betta fish and will help with the bonding process.
If you are ever concerned that your betta fish is ill or dead use your voice to check. A healthy and alert betta fish should make their way to the front of the tank upon hearing your voice. The only situation where this may not be true is if your betta is in a deep sleep. In this case, it’s a good idea to leave your betta fish for a bit
Although fish are often considered boring or unemotional pets, this is honestly just false information. Betta fish bond with their owners just as much as other pets do, however, they do show this bonding in a different way.
A betta fish who has bonded with their human will always swim to the front of their tank and should always be responsive. Bettas can also be trained and played with. The simplest way is to play with your betta fish is by gently placing your finger on the side of your betta fish’s tank and allowing them to follow your finger.
Most importantly, betta fish can differentiate between people and will know who feeds them. So, don’t be surprised if your betta is not responsive to every person who they meet as it may take time for them to become comfortable.
So, pet parents, I’m curious what are your betta fish’s favourite things to do? Have you trained them? Let me know in the comments below.