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Male vs Female Betta Fish: Appearance & Behavior Differences

Female betta fish are unfortunately a little rarer than male betta fish. In fact, many tropical fish pet stores don’t have any to sell at all. But why is that? Are females harder to keep or somehow less interesting?

As it turns out, there are some distinct differences between male vs female betta fish that you should understand if you want to try keeping them. Female betta fish offer a very different fishkeeping experience but are rarely talked about.

And of course, if you want to breed Siamese Fighting fish then you will have to have both sexes. So let’s take a moment to consider male versus female Bettas and their differences in appearance and behavior.

Appearance – Male vs Female Betta Fish

In this section, we discuss the main differences in appearance between male and female betta fish.

Male Betta Fish Appearance

male betta fish

Male Betta fish (Siamese Fighting fish) look very different from female Betta fish. They are what you usually think of when the word “betta” comes up. Wild-caught Betta males are slightly larger and brighter than females.

However, they have been bred in Thailand for centuries for long, flowing fins and punchy red and blue tones far stronger than wild males. They can live in aquariums as small as a 5-gallon tank because bettas normally live in ponds and shallow streams in the wild.

Betta male colors are also strongly diet-dependent. A diet rich in carotenoids, found in foods like shrimp and bloodworms, helps bring out the red and gold tones.

Many prepared Betta formulas like Omega One Betta Food also contain higher levels of both protein (including whole fish over simply fish meal) and carotenoid boosts for better color.

Omega One Betta Buffet 1.5mm Pellets, 1 oz
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  • INSTRUCTIONS: Feed 1-3 times daily, using only as...

Compared to female Betta fish, males are noticeably slimmer and slower to move thanks to those long fins. Considering how aggressive males can be in courting the slight handicap is an aid to uninterested females. So long as a frustrated male Siamese Fighting fish is too slow to catch females he can’t bully them too much.

Female Betta Appearance

female betta fish

Some aquarists may be entirely unfamiliar with how female Bettas look because the majority of fish sold in the trade are males!

Female Betta fish are almost always slightly more subdued in tone and lack the trailing fins of males. However, some modern color varieties produce female Betta fish with color patterns equally as brilliant as their partners.

Female Bettas are noticeably stouter as well compared to males. While it’s especially visible when she’s full of eggs females are thicker all around and not as long as full-grown males.

Behavior – Male vs Female Bettas

Male Betta fish are famously intolerant of one another. Since they have been selectively bred for not only color but aggression, they will flare gills, perform fin displays, and attempt to bite even their own reflection when visible.

Unlike most tropical fish, Male Betta fish don’t always back down due to exhaustion or surrender. He will continue giving chase until he can’t see the other male. Even if one male wins he may eventually die due to stress or infection.

Male Betta fish are also Bubble Nest builders. If you’ve ever owned a Betta then you’ve probably come across a small raft of bubbles along the glass edge or corner of an aquarium.

In the wild male Bettas find floating plants and debris to anchor their bubble nests to. Once completed, he then seeks out and coaxes females back to his love raft. Their territorial fights keep other males away from spots with the thickest aquatic weeds and gentlest current.

Female Betta fish have inherited the same aggressive genes passed down the line but don’t need to express them like males do. In fact, because female Betta fish tend to be more amiable and social, they can be kept together in Betta Sororities!

While there will always be some aggression to manage Betta Sororities almost always work out well. On the other hand, male Betta groups usually end with torn fins or dead males unless you make even larger allowances for space and provide plenty of breaks in line of sight and places for nest building.

Keeping Male and Female Bettas Together

Since Siamese Fighting fish are entirely bred in captivity nowadays it’s obvious they can be kept together. However there are challenges since males sometimes vent their hostility on potential mates.

An aquarium divider is the best way to accustom male and female Bettas to each other’s presence. You don’t need a very large breeding tank; even a 5-gallon tank can work so long as it is divided.

Since visual and hormonal signals pass through the barrier, the male will begin to build a bubble nest and the female ripens with eggs. This is best done without the overeager male harming her while they court.

If you prefer to let both fish swim freely then keeping three or more female Betta fish per male helps spread his attention out somewhat. The female Betta fish all get a break from his pursuit this way rather than a single female being continually hounded.

Once a clutch of eggs is laid male Bettas are devoted parents and he will spend his time around the nest, cleaning and aerating the eggs and young fry until they are ready to move out. However, he will chase away the female betta fish so be prepared to move her once spawning is completed.

Frequently Asked Questions About Setting Up a Betta Tank

How Long Do Bettas Live?

Bettas have a lifespan of around three years. Of course, that requires you to provide a proper tank size and water quality. This is why it’s so important to set up a 5-10 gallon tank that meets the needs of the fish. And why you should avoid lily vases or small bowls as choices for your betta’s home.

How Do You Care For a Betta?

Once you’ve finished setting up a betta tank and you’ve gone through the fun of selecting your fish, you’re ready to take care of them. And that doesn’t require as much work as you may think. You need to feed them a high-quality diet composed of a variety of proteins. This will keep them healthy and make sure their colors stay vibrant.

You’ll also want to perform routine checks on the aquarium’s water quality. It’s better to stay on top of your readings than wait for possible signs of illness to check if you have ammonia or nitrates building up. However, if you’re performing weekly water changes of 25%, you shouldn’t encounter too many problems.

And you’ll want to perform routine tank maintenance. This includes everything from changing the filter cartridges as needed (marking this on a calendar will help), replacing light bulbs, and scraping down the sides of the tank to keep them free of mold and algae.

Do Bettas Need Filters?

Regardless of whether or not you keep your betta in a community or a tank with live plants, it’s crucial to choose a filter appropriate for the size of the aquarium. Bettas are carnivores – and they’re not the cleanest eaters in the world. If you don’t include a filter when you set up a betta tank, you’ll quickly find yourself with a mess on your hand. Uneaten food will collect in the substrate, leading to a build-up of nitrogenous products in the water. And your fish will pay the price.

Do Bettas Need a Heater?

While you’ll probably bring home a captive-bred betta – with absolutely no memory of life in Thailand or Cambodia – it’s essential to include a heater when you set up a tank. They’re tropical species, and they’ve adapted to warmer water temperatures. More importantly, their health’s linked to that crucial range of 76-84F (24.4-28.8C).

When temperatures go higher, bettas end up with a faster metabolism. This means they’ll age faster than usual. And then you won’t see your fish live even three years due to the stress placed on their bodies.

On the other hand, if water temperatures go too low – something that can happen without a heater – metabolism slows down. You’ll see your betta turn sluggish. But rather than prolonging the aging process – as you might guess – it invites stress. And stressful conditions often lead to diseases. So, again, your fish will die sooner.

How Often Should You Feed a Betta?

One of the best aspects of keeping Betta splendens is its personality. They recognize their owners. And they also learn when it’s feeding time. But they’ll happily eat every morsel you offer them without a second thought. This can lead to overfeeding and complications with their health. You can’t rely on the fish to regulate their diet, so you need to do so for them.

Bettas don’t need more than two feedings a day. That allows their GI tract plenty of time to digest the food without worrying about bloating. And you only need to offer as much food as they can eat within THREE MINUTES. Any more, and you may end up with excess food creating waste in the system. Considering all the time you spent setting up the betta tank, you don’t want to cope with slipping water quality issues.

Do Bettas Sleep?

Bettas are one of those fish that lack lids on the eyes. So you’ll never see them close their eyes when they sleep. They still need to rest and regain their energy stores, though. And while it may seem like they’re always adrift in the water column, they DO sleep. They utilize their swim bladder to control their depth in the tank.

This allows them to hold still in the middle of the aquarium, sleeping happily.
Unfortunately, if they develop swim bladder disease from overfeeding, it can impair their ability to control their buoyancy. This is why it’s essential to regulate their feeding closely to keep these fish healthy.

Can Male and Female Bettas Live Together?

Obviously, you don’t want to mix two male betta fish. (At least, not unless you plan to set up a MASSIVE betta tank – complete with lots of foliage to hide the two from each other) But male and female bettas don’t share the same hatred for each other. Since female Betta fish don’t have the males’ bright colors, they don’t trigger the fighting instinct. This allows the two to share the same tank.

But there’s a catch: breeding. After a male and female Betta fish spawn, you’ll need to set up a betta tank so you can separate the pair. If they stay together while the eggs are developing, the male may attack the female. She’ll attempt to eat the eggs, and the male guards the bubble nest. It’s the only time you’ll see problems with a male and female sharing an aquarium.

Can Bettas Live With Other Fish?

Bettas are notorious for their anger issues. And since you may see fighting even between males and females, it’s natural to expect that you’d have to keep these vibrant fish on their own. But as long as you’re smart about your choices of tank mates, it’s safe to pair bettas up with other fish – or even freshwater frogs!

What Fish Can Live With Bettas?

When you start to think about setting up a community tank with a betta, you want to look at the other fish. Do they have a similar shape or flowing fins? Bettas will react to any fish that looks like them. And that goes for color, too. You may want to choose fish with more subdued shades or patterns to prevent triggering an attack.

Smaller fish, or fish with a long, streamlined shape, make excellent choices of tank mates. And if you find species that prefer to hang out in a large shoal, you’ll find yourself with a peaceful community. Bettas don’t usually summon enough energy to single out ONE member in a school for bullying. And shoals will tighten up and escape from one larger fish without a problem. This is why the smaller tetras, loaches, and corydoras do well with bettas.


Since females are sometimes hard to come by in the pet trade, the differences in male vs female Betta fish may not be as well known to some aquarists. Hopefully this brief breakdown will help you understand how to care for Bettas in their entirety and perhaps even try your hand at breeding them.

Male fish are more colorful but also more aggressive. Meanwhile, female betta fish are fairly peaceful. So peaceful that you can even keep other female betta fish together in a sorority. But keeping both male fish and female betta fish together is where things are the most interesting for aquarists.

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

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