Best Betta Fish Tank Mates: What Companions are Compatible?

Betta fish are infamous for their attitudes towards their own kind; there’s a reason that they’re often known as “Siamese Fighting Fish” in Europe. Two male bettas being kept together will inevitably end in aggression.

But that doesn’t mean to say your betta fish has to live alone…

Surprisingly, bettas can however be kept with other carefully chosen tropical fish. In this article we’ll discuss the best betta fish tank mates, and look at exactly which other fish are most compatible with bettas.

Pros & Cons of Tank Mates for Betta Fish

Before we dive into the full list of potential betta fish tank mates its worth taking a moment to consider if your fish even needs friends in the first place. After all, many fish keepers opt to keep a single betta on its own: why do such a thing?

Pros of Providing Tank Mates

Appearances: An aquarium with one solitary fish in it may not be the most visually-appealing display possible.

This is particularly so because most betta fish are quite shy, so may spend a fair amount of time hiding away from view. Including other fish therefore can create greater interest in your tank, ensuring there’s always something for you to watch.

Social Interaction: Betta fish are stunning creatures at the best of times, but giving them tank mates to interact with can add a whole new level of interest to your aquarium.

You’ll be able observe fascinating behavior as your betta fish gets familiar with the other animals in their environment.

Cons of Providing Tank Mates

Greater Risk to Your Betta Fish: The most noticeable thing about betta fish, besides their incredible colors, are their long, fragile fins. Sadly, it’s not just people who notice them; other fish can too.

More aggressive tank mates may nip at these fins, leading to stress or even physical damage for your betta.

Feeding Competition: These long fins can also mean that betta fish are quite weak swimmers when compared to other tropical fish.

When it comes to feeding time, there is a risk that other faster or more streamlined fish may beat your betta to the food, leading to your fish losing weight over time.

Larger Tank May Be Required: Single betta fish are often kept in quite small aquariums – often referred to as “nano tanks”. If you start adding tank mates to your betta fish tank, however, there may not be enough room.

Sure, the odd snail is unlikely to make much difference, but if you decide to add a handful of very active fish then you may need to upgrade to a larger tank. This, of course, adds to your expenses.

May Affect Betta Fish Health: If your betta fish is regularly harassed by other fish and misses out on their share of food, then there is a risk that their health may be affected.

If you notice that your betta is less active, that their colors aren’t as bright or that their fins have been damaged then you may need to separate them from their tank mates. Of course, this also assumes that you have a spare tank to bring into action at short notice.

More Maintenance Required: More fish means more mess. And more mess means more cleaning for you. If you’re regularly monitoring water chemistry in your betta fish tank then you’ll likely find that larger or more regular water changes become necessary as you add tank mates to the aquarium.

Do Betta Fish Get Lonely?

One of the most common questions when it comes to the best betta fish tank mates is whether betta fish actually even get lonely. The evidence seems to suggest that they don’t.

As we have seen above, there are actually far more cons of adding tank mates than their are pros.

Therefore, the most common reason for adding tank mates to your betta tank is simply that you want more fish, rather than that they will improve the life of your betta.

I would strongly advise, therefore, that you think carefully before you actually make the decision to start adding extra animals to your betta tank.

Considerations Before Adding Tank Mates to Your Betta Tank

Before you skip off down to your local aquarium store credit card in hand there are a number of elements that should be considered. Here are the most important questions to ask yourself:

Check That Your Betta Fish Tank is Large Enough

Overstocking an aquarium is associated with all manner of problems; from a lack of space, to problems with water chemistry and territorial disputes.

If you’re trying to decide on the best tank mates for your betta fish tank, the first thing you should be asking is whether your current aquarium is actually big enough for more inhabitants.

If your betta fish lives in a generously-sized tank then that should make your decision easier. If you’ve gone for a nano tank for your fish, it may be necessary to upgrade their aquarium before introducing tank mates.

Concentrate on Peaceful Community Fish

Betta fish can be easy targets for aggressive or territorial fish, and the end result is often unpleasant. If you opt to add extra fish to your betta fish tank then the best tank mates are likely to be peaceful tropical community fish, perfectly happy to let your betta carry on as normal.

Size can also be a consideration; broadly speaking small fish are likely to pose far less of a risk to your betta than larger creatures. This means that angelfish, cichlids and a whole host of other “standard” pet fish are really out of the question in a betta tank.

Ensure Suitable Hiding Places are Provided

One smart way to increase your odds of success when keeping betta fish is to include a variety of hiding places. In this way, your betta fish can escape from any tankmates that aren’t playing nice.

Consider adding extra plants, rocks and caves to your betta fish tank to give them the privacy they crave.

Avoid Colorful Fish With Long Fins

We all know that male betta fish can be aggressive towards one another, and may even fight to the death.

Sadly, betta fish aren’t always the smartest, and any fish that broadly resembles another betta may be mistaken for competition, with disastrous consequences.

When selecting tank mates for your betta fish it is generally best to avoid anything brightly colored or possessing long, flowing fins, as they could easily be mistaken for a competing betta.

Always Maintain a Back-Up Plan

In many cases, the tank mates outlined below will live out a long and healthy life with your betta fish, each individual living together in harmony. That said, there will always be a risk when housing different fish together.

One final consideration is therefore what you’ll do if you notice that one creature is getting harrased, or is being overly aggressive towards other tank mates?

In these cases you’ll probably want to pop them into a separate tank, or to divide up the existing tank to keep them separate. Either way, have a plan in mind (and the equipment at home) so that you can take rapid action if it is ever needed.

What are the Best Tank Mates for Betta Fish Tanks?

Now we’ve covered the basics of why you may or may not want to add tank mates to your betta tank, the next obvious question is which species are actually suitable?

Broadly speaking the best tank mates for betta fish tanks are either small, peaceful community fish, catfish which will stay away from your betta or a range of exciting invertebrates.

That said, the introduction of some invertebrates does come with the inherent risk that they could become dinner for your betta at any point in the future.

African Dwarf Frogs

African Dwarf Frogs photo

African dwarf frogs are possibly the most unexpected potential tank mate for your betta fish.

Growing to around 8 cm in length, these flattened frogs can certainly make an interesting addition to your tank. They serve as a real talking point for guests!

Unlike many other frogs kept as pets – such as poison dart frogs – these are fully aquatic and don’t need a land area to crawl out on. They will spend much of their lives swimming across the surface of the gravel, hunting for food.

Once in a while they will be seen swimming up to the surface to breathe.

The diet of African dwarf frogs is quite similar to that of betta fish, while they tend to leave bettas well alone as they swim about.

Amano Shrimps

Amano Shrimp photo

Sometimes going by their Latin name of Caridina multidentata, amano shrimps are translucent shrimps which may grow to 5-6cm – far too large to be potential prey for your betta fish.

Native to Japan and Taiwan, amano shrimps are not just fascinating pets in their own right, but can also help to keep your betta fish tank clean.

They will be seen gently picking away at any algae in the tank, or working their way across the gravel picking up waste food particles. For this reason they are often clumped into a group of aquarium pets known as “cleanup crews”.

Amano shrimps will also eat a range of other foods – both plants matter and meat. Any leftover bloodworms that your betta fish misses, for example, will be greedily accepted by your shrimps. Some of the easiest food types are vegetable matter like cucumber or spinach, or sinking pellets as sold for catfish.

Bristlenose Plecos

Bristlenose Pleco photo

No prizes for guessing that the bristlenose catfish has a unique appearance. Alongside the bony plates found all over their body – which can help to protect them from an overzealous betta fish – they also grow a peculiar assortment of bristles all over their heads as adults.

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This makes them quite unique-looking, and a fantastic tank mate for betta fish.

Another benefit of keeping bristlenose plecos is that these are some of the smallest plecos commonly available. In fact, this species tends to reach no more than 5” in length; considerably less than many more common catfish species.

All the same, 5” is not small, so if you’re considering a bristlenose then you’ll want to be sure your betta fish tank is large enough for them at maturity.

Like the amano shrimp, plecos are well-known for their willingness to eat algae off your aquarium glass. This can help to cut down your work, and helps to explain their other common name of “sucker fish”.

All the same, a properly-kept tank probably has very little in the way of algae for your bristlenose to eat, so it is a good idea to supplement their diet with sinking catfish pellets.

Cardinal Tetras

Cardinal Tetra photo

The cardinal tetra is a truly stunning species of tropical fish, with a vibrant blue and red striped body. Superficially these can initially resemble neon tetras.

Hailing from the fresh, tropical waters of South America, these are peaceful community fish which can add even more color and visual appeal to your betta fish tank.

Cardinal tetras tend to prefer shady, well-planted areas, so ensure that there is suitable cover in your betta fish tank before you consider introducing them. Unlike many of the fish on this list they’re also a naturally shoaling fish, so if you’re adding some to your betta tank then aim to buy at least 4 or 5 if they are to remain happy.

Cherry Shrimps

Cherry Shrimp photo

The cherry shrimp, Neocaridina davidi, hails from Taiwan just like the amano shrimp. In contrast to the pale elegance of the amano shrimp’s translucent body, cherry shrimps are more often a bright red/orange color.

The cherry shrimp is quite a small crustacean in general, with even large adults reaching only 3-4 cm in total. Red cherry shrimps are known for their peaceful manner and bright coloration, which can make them a cheerful addition to your betta fish tank.

Like most other shrimps, they appreciate a well-planted tank, where they can hide away to feel safe, and gently pick through the plants looking for strands of algae to eat.

Clown Plecos

The clown pleco has all the benefits of the aforementioned bristlenose pleco, but achieves an even more manageable maximum size of around 3-4”.

Another key difference between clown plecos and bristlenose plecos is their appearance. While the clown pleco may be missing the amazing bristles of their cousin, this is more than made up by their coloration. The typical clown pleco benefits from rings of black, white and orange right across its body, giving it a truly unique appearance.

The clown pleco likes to graze on rotting wood, so if you’re considering one as a tank mate for your betta fish then ensure you always have some driftwood present in the tank. All the same, adding a few algae wafers or sinking catfish pellets is also a good idea to keep your clown pleco in top condition.

Corydoras / Corydora Catfish

There are many different types of corydoras catfish that you may stumble across in your local aquarium shop, but they all have a few things in common. Firstly, they tend to be calm, peace-loving fish; hardly the sort of tank mate that is likely to be aggressive towards your betta fish.

Secondly, while the different species may vary in size, the most common types all remain very manageable in size, growing to around 2-5 cm in length as adults.

Thirdly corys will spend most of their time resting on the substrate of your betta tank, so won’t be bothering your betta fish which typically swims higher up in the water column.

In order to succeed with keeping your choice of corydora there are a few things you should bear in mind. Firstly, they require really good water quality, so be sure to only place them into a well-established tank.

Secondly, they can be quite shy, so appreciate plenty of places to hide away. Well-planted tanks tend to be particularly suitable for these cute little catfish.

Ember Tetras

Ember Tetra photo

They may be one of the smallest species of tetra encountered in most aquarium shops, but don’t let their diminutive size put you off. Hailing from South America, ember tetras derive their name from their bright orange/red coloration.

As these are shoaling fish aim to keep at least 4 or 5 together, at which point they’ll really add some color and motion to your betta fish tank. Even better, these tiny little tropical community fish only grow to a maximum size of around one inch long as adults, meaning that even a decent-sized shoal shouldn’t take up too much space in your aquarium.

If there is a downside to keeping ember tetras is that they can be slightly more challenging to look after than some of the other potential tank mates on this list. They tend to do best in a heavily-planted aquarium with slightly acidic, soft water. Your local aquarium shop will be able to test your water to see if it is suitable.

Ghost Shrimps

Ghost Shrimp photo

As the name suggests, ghost shrimps are almost entirely see-through. Whether this is an interesting novelty for your betta fish tank, or whether a virtually invisible crustacean seems like a waste of time is up to you!

Ghost shrimps grow to a healthy 1.5-3 inches in length, and will be seen throughout the daylight hours carefully picking up any uneaten food from around your betta fish tank.

If you pride yourself in a spotlessly clean aquarium then aim to supplement their diet with some sinking algae pellets from time to time.

Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin rasbora photo

Harlequin rasboras are, to many people’s minds, the best tank mate for betta fish of all. How come?

Of all the various tropical fish commonly encountered in the pet trade, it is the harlequin rasbora that naturally co-exists with betta fish in the wild. Talk about a match made in heaven!

Now, this should be a good enough reason for you to consider this species, but it certainly isn’t the only reason. While the colors of rasboras can be a little more “subtle” than your average betta fish or cardinal tetra, they’re certainly not what you’d call “boring” in appearance. Watch for gentle oranges, reds, pinks and blues depending on the lighting.

Harlequin rasboras typically swim in the upper part of the tank, meaning that combining these fish with some bottom-dwellers like corydoras can help to add interest throughout your tank.

The adults reach around 1.5-2” in length, and this is another shoaling species, meaning you should aim to keep at least 5 of these fish together if they are to remain happy.

Kuhli Loaches

One of my personal favorites, the kuhli loach is a long, thin fish from Southeast Asia. The thing that makes it so appealing to me are the colors – rings of black/brown interspersed with yellow/orange giving them a real “bumblebee” appearance.

Known sometimes as “eel loaches” thanks to their body shape, these are generally peaceful bottom-dwelling fish. Interestingly they do actually have spines which they can raise if they feel in danger; this helps them to avoid even a territorial betta fish.

Kuhli loaches are one of the bigger potential tank mates for your betta fish, growing to around 4” (12cm) as adults. They tend to enjoy burrowing in the tank substrate, so are particularly suitable if you use sand rather than gravel on the bottom of your betta tank.

Some fishkeepers report that kuhli loaches can be quite shy when kept alone, and may spend much of their time hiding away at the back of the tank or behind plants. It seems that keeping a number of these loaches together makes them feel more confident, and provides a better display.

Mystery Snails

Mystery Snail photo

Many fish keepers have a love/hate relationship with snails. On the upside snails can help to keep your tank clean, continually gnawing away on algae and waste materials. They also pose very little risk to your beloved betta fish; after all even the slowest swimming betta can escape from a snail in plenty of time!

On the downside, snails can reproduce at an astonishing rate. If you’re unlucky your minimalist betta fish tank can be taken over by dozens or even hundreds of baby snails.

Fortunately the mystery snail has something unique to offer the betta fish tank; not only do they not lay eggs in the aquarium water but you’ll also need both a male and a female if the eggs are to be fertile. This means that keeping a single mystery snail in your betta fish tank virtually guarantees no population explosion, and even a handful are unlikely to take over.

Growing to around 2 inches (5cm) in shell size, mystery snails therefore represent a low effort tank mate for your betta fish, with the added bonus of their cleaning duties. Just as good, mystery snails also boast a really attractive yellow shell which can be very visually appealing; especially when contrasted against bright green plant material or dark gravel.

Nerite Snails

Second only to mystery snails in terms of popularity, nerite snails are another potential tank mate for your betta fish. Nerite snails aren’t a single species of snail; instead they’re a group of similar gastropods. There are over 200 species known to science, and they’ve evolved to live in all sorts of environments, from clean fresh water through to saline pools.

In general nerite snails are about half the size of mystery snails; some inch or so across. So if they’re smaller than mystery snails then why consider keeping them with your betta fish?

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The answer is the appearance of these snails, which can be truly breathtaking. One of the best examples if the zebra nerite with it’s bright yellow and black stripes. Who wouldn’t find a handful of those adds something to their betta tank?

Even better, like mystery snails these little guys don’t tend to breed too quickly in captivity, as the youngsters require salty water if they are to thrive. Even if eggs are laid, therefore, you’re unlikely to be overrun with baby snails.

Oh, and if you wanted one final reason to consider nerite snails as a tank mate for your betta fish then they also don’t eat aquarium plants – so your carefully tended planted tank won’t get destroyed overnight.

Neon Tetras

Neon Tetra photo

Neon tetras are a close cousin on the cardinal tetra discussed earlier in this guide.

Superficially they have quite a similar appearance, though neons reach a much smaller adult size. Hailing from the tropical rivers of South America these tiny fish gleam under decent aquarium lights.

Like many other tetras, these are shoaling fish. Some authorities claim you should aim for at least 10 neons in a shoal, so be sure you have suitable space available in your betta fish tank.

Rummy Nose Tetras

Rummy Nose Tetra photo

There’s no nice way to say this – the rummy nose tetra looks rather like it’s accidentally swum into the side of their aquarium. While their bodies are a rich metallic silver, their heads in contrast are blood-red in color, looking like they’ve had some unfortunate accident!

Growing to around 2” long, they also have a black and white striped tail. They are peaceful fish that can thrive in a community-type setup.

That said, these are perhaps not the best choice for new betta fish keepers, as they have far more specialist requirements than many of the other tank mates on this list.

Please do your research thoroughly in advance, so you understand their water chemistry requirements; they tend to be far less forgiving of poor water quality than other entrants here.

Short-Finned Mollies

Mollies have always been a popular community fish, reaching a decent size as adults, while appearing in a bewildering array of different colors. They’re known to be peaceful so should get along fine with your betta fish, and can compliment almost any tank.

The crucial point here is to select only molly varieties that have short fins. Many classic mollies have luxurious fins that, while not as impressive as those of a male betta, may result in problems. Principally those with long fins may be misidentified as a competing betta by your own fish, at which point fights can occur.

Note that mollies are livebearers, and will breed routinely in a suitable captive environment.

While this can be tremendously enjoyable to experience, there is a risk that the handful of mollies you add to your betta fish tank could soon start to balloon out of control as ever more babies are produced. Only you can decide if this is a risk worth taking.

Silver Tip Tetras

If you’ve been looking at cardinal tetras, kuhli loaches and more then there is a risk that silver tip tetras might look a little “boring” to some people. After all, they aren’t clothed in bright reds, oranges and blues. Instead, the beauty of the Silvertip tetra is rather more subdued and subtle.

As the name suggests, this small fish has white tips to it’s fins, but the body color can be quite variable, from a pale yellow through to a rich, dark gold. Males tend to be more brightly colored than the more subdued females.

Growing to around 2” in length the silvertip tetra is naturally found in rivers in Brazil, though allegedly most specimens in the pet trade are now captive bred.

They are highly adaptable fish, and will get along in a betta fish tank quite well. They also thrive on the exact same diet as your betta, and will happily pick off all manner of livefood or frozen invertebrates.

White Cloud Mountain Minnows

White cloud mountain minnows are another small shoaling species of fish which can make an ideal tank mate for your betta fish. Growing to around 4 cm in length they are native to Southeast Asia, and benefit from a bright red base to their tail.

White cloud minnows are cheap to buy, and are very hardy indeed. While most experts recommend keeping them in tropical tanks, there are people who even successfully kept them as coldwater fish in the past.

Tips for Introducing Tank Mates to Your Betta Tank

When it comes to adding tankmates for your betta fish sadly things aren’t quite as simple as just throwing them in.

If you want your new “community” tank to stand the best possible chance of success then there are a few extra tips you should know…

Introduce Tank Mates Slowly

Don’t just go out and buy ten new fish to add to your betta fish tank. Sudden explosions in population are fraught with problems. For example, your betta fish will become outnumbered at the drop of a hat, and may struggle to find their place in the new community.

New fish can also pose a risk in terms of diseases or parasites; identifying the issue and catching it early is a lot easier when there are only a few fish involved.

Lastly, lots of new fish means much more waste. It can take time for the friendly bacteria in your betta fish tank to react to this new source of energy. In the meantime, water chemistry can vary wildly, causing further potential problems for your betta fish.

Unless you’re introducing shoaling fish (such as white cloud minnows) which really should be added as a group, the best bet is to introduce just one or two tankmates at a time. Leave them for a few weeks to get established, and then add more if this is your plan.

With betta fish tank mates, as in all of fish keeping, being patient and methodical is a lot more effective than a short, sharp shock.   

Allow Water Temperatures to Equalize

When you’re adding tank mates to your betta fish tank it’s important that the new inhabitants are given suitable time to acclimatize to their new surroundings. Simply tipping your new tank additions into the tank can lead to shock, as the water temperature in your tank is likely to be quite different to that in their bag.

A better bet is to gently float the bag of tank mates that you’ve bought in the aquarium. Over the course of some 30-60 minutes you will find that the heated aquarium water gently warms the water in the bag, until the water in both is of a similar temperature. Only at this point should you consider gently tipping the bag into your tank.

Invest Additional Time in Observation

Even the best tank mates for betta fish come with risk. Therefore you’ll want to invest additional time into watching your fish, at least for the first few weeks. Pay attention to any changes in the behavior or appearance of your betta fish, to ensure they’re handling the new introductions well.

If you are in any doubt as to the health of any of your creatures – whether this relates to your betta fish itself or the new additions – then consider moving the questionable party into a new tank so they can recuperate without bother.

Modify Your Feeding Regime

The addition of tank mates can mean more food is required. A lack of food may even increase competition in the tank, with the potential for more aggression.

Just as you learned how to feed your betta fish, now start experimenting once again with feeding volume and frequency, to ensure all the fish in your tank get their fill.

Note that betta fish can be slow swimmers, and can sometimes be shy around other fish, so pay particular attention to ensure your betta is getting their fair share.

Carry Out More Regular Water Tests

More tank mates can mean more waste going into the water. For the first few weeks after introduction this means that the water chemistry in your betta fish tank is likely to be all over the place.

This isn’t the time to go on vacation or get too busy at work. Instead, carry out regular, routine water tests to monitor the situation, taking appropriate action like water changes as necessary.

Photos c/o stevengoschLeigh Harries, Kuri112, brian.gratwicke, rmhowie,  Dawn Endico, Genista, stee, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Moto@Club4AG & berarma

Richard Adams

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