In the wild betta fish are found in slow-moving or still bodies of water such as rice paddies, streams and even in puddles during the wet season. As a result, betta fish are exposed to a wide range of different living prey to feed on; insect larvae, tiny shrimps and more.
This means that pet betta fish tend to do best on a diet that is high in protein – meaning meat.
This is in contrast to many other popular pet fish, which do well on a diet that is much higher in plant material. Fortunately, this requirement needn’t be as complicated as it sounds…
If you’re wondering what to feed your betta fish then this guide will show you everything you need to know. Let’s get started…
What Do Betta Fish Eat?
Betta fish will eat a wide variety of different foods in captivity. While it is tempting to take the “easy” route and to just provide dried fish flakes or pellets such diets can potential cause problems with deficiencies.
A better idea is to offer a varied diet for your fish, ensuring that your pet receives a broad range of different nutrients, vitamins and minerals. But what different foods will your betta fish eat?
Betta Fish Flakes & Pellets
Possibly the simplest and cheapest betta fish food is one of the many pre-made dried flakes or pellets. As noted earlier, betta fish require a higher proportion of protein in their diet than many other pet fish, so try to select a food that is designed specifically for betta fish.
You’ll notice from looking at your betta fish that their mouth is turned slightly upwards. This is an indication that betta fish have evolved to eat from the surface of the water, rather than picking food items off the base of their tank. Floating pellets can therefore be particularly welcome.
Bloodworms are the aquatic larvae of midges. As the common name suggests, these are not only worm-like in appearance but are also bright red. The red color comes from the high levels of haemoglobin found in their bodies. This adaptation allows bloodworms to live in poorly-oxygenated water where other creatures would struggle.
Bloodworms might not be the most appealing-sounding food for you to work with but many species of fish go crazy for them; betta fish included.
While hardcore fish keepers buy bags of live bloodworms from their local aquarium shop there are also a number of other ways to buy bloodworms. For example, an easier option is to purchase frozen bloodworms, which come condensed into little “cubes”. Simply take a cube out of the pack and drop into your betta fish tank.
It is also possible to purchase dried bloodworms or even bloodworm gel.
All of these options are suitable for betta fish, though you will often find that one particular variety appeals more to your fish. If in doubt, start out with live bloodworms, as their motion in the water tends to draw in betta fish like iron filings to a magnet.
Superficially tubifex can look rather like bloodworms; small, aquatic worms that wriggle and writhe in the water. In contrast to bloodworms, however, tubifex are more likely to be brown in color rather than bright red.
Sometimes known by the common name of “sludge worms” or “sewage worms” these invertebrates are found in stagnant water sources, where they may partially bury themselves in the sludge at the bottom.
While popular in the past some (unconfirmed) stories have emerged over the years about live tubifex potentially carrying diseases or parasites. As a result, they have become less popular than bloodworms. They are now typically fed as frozen food, which is believed by many fish keepers to eliminate the risk of disease transmission.
Daphnia are potentially the “cutest” type of food you can buy for your betta fish. In common parlance daphnia are often referred to as “water fleas”.
Fortunately, unlike the fleas your cat or dog might get, daphnia aren’t actually parasitic.
Instead, they get that odd name from their appearance; viewed through a magnifying lens these little crustaceans look surprisingly like tiny little fleas as they whizz around in the water.
Moina are daphnia’s less well-known cousin. In many ways moina can be thought of a smaller alternative to daphnia.
Like many of the invertebrates listed in this feeding guide they are surprisingly resilient in the wild, and are known to survive in water that is low in oxygen or high in salt; both of which can spell disaster for many other freshwater creatures.
Brine shrimps – sometimes known by their Latin name of Artemia – have numerous tiny legs which move in rhythmic waves. These legs allow them to swim around effortlessly, attracting the attention of betta fish.
Live brine shrimps can be bought, where they may reach an adult size of around 1 cm. This can make them rather more of a “meal” than smaller food items like daphnia.
Just as commonly, however, fish keepers purchase brine shrimp eggs and hatch them at home. These eggs typically come dried and washed, and the retailer may also have added some salt which is important for hatching.
Simply add a small amount to water and place the container somewhere bright and sunny. Within days you’ll see the little shrimps swimming around, ready for your betta fish.
If you opt to hatch your own brine shrimps at home be sure to carefully remove them from the hatchery with a net before placing them into your betta fish tank. This is in contrast to tipping the whole hatchery into your betta aquarium, where the salt water can cause issues.
These odd little shrimps are very pale in color and will normally be seen swimming upside down. They are commonly found in so-called “vernal pools” in the wild – seasonal pools of water that dry up at some times of the year.
Fairy shrimps survive this crazy lifestyle by laying eggs that withstand being dried out. Then, as the pool starts to refill the eggs hatch into living shrimps.
Fairy shrimps may be a less common source of food for betta fish but they have a distinct advantage over brine shrimps; they don’t need salt to hatch.
Keeping a tub of fairy shrimp eggs on hand can therefore be an easy and cheap way to provide your fish with live invertebrate prey with the minimum of effort. Simply follow the instructions provided when you buy your eggs.
Opossum shrimps are also known as Mysis. Opossum shrimps are so-called because of the brood pouch that the females possess, giving them the appearance of a marsupial with their pouch.
As with many other food items here it is possible to culture opossum shrimps if you have the space and patience, where some adults may reach 2-3 cm long.
In truth, most betta fish keepers don’t bother with that; they’re most commonly purchased in freeze-dried form, where the tiny shrimps can simply be scattered onto the surface of your betta fish tank.
The word “copepods” relates to a large group of aquatic arthropods. Copepods tend to be particularly popular with marine fish keepers, as once hatched they can not only represent a source of food, but also any uneaten copepods will help to “clean” the tank by consuming any waste materials found there.
Copepods are most commonly found in the ocean, where they are widespread. Like brine shrimps this means that eggs will typically require salt water to hatch effectively. This can create additional work for the betta fish keeper, and means that they must be carefully transferred to your betta fish tank to avoid polluting it with salt water.
Wingless Fruit Flies
Fruit flies are a popular food item for many keepers of reptiles and amphibians. To give you an example, I use them as a key food source for baby day geckos. However they can also be used when keeping betta fish.
If you’re like many people then the thought of trying to control flies is not an appealing one; after all how do you stop them flying off the moment you open the container?
The answer is that fruit flies have long been studied by scientists because they reproduce rapidly. This has allowed experts to identify all sorts of different genes in fruit flies, some of which control the wings.
These days it is possible to purchase flightless fruit flies; they simply crawl around but can’t fly off.
All you as the betta fish keeper need to do is to peel back one corner of the culture and tip a handful of flies into your betta fish tank. Note that fruit flies can be quite short-lived, but they are cheap and easy to buy, and some people even opt to culture fruit flies at home for a continual supply.
Crickets have become one of the most popular forms of livefood among exotic pet keepers. They are particularly popular among keepers of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates like tarantulas and praying mantis. They have a range of benefits, such as being easy to breed, cheap to buy and easy to source.
While adult crickets will typically be much too large for a betta fish to eat, smaller crickets can make an ideal dietary addition. The hatchlings – sometimes known as “pinheads” – can be bought from many pet shops and are easy to tip into the fish tank.
If you purchase some hatchling crickets for your betta fish a handy tip is to provide some vegetable matter for the crickets – slices of carrot or leafy greens like kale.
Baby crickets are particularly prone to dehydration – which can kill them. Providing some moisture-rich food in this way will prolong the lifespan of the crickets, helping to make your investment more worthwhile.
Bean weevils are tiny insects which, as the same suggests, will feed on dried beans. As a result they can be quite a pest in agricultural areas. For the fish hobbyist, though, they can represent yet another easy source of live food.
Simply purchase a tub from a specialist livefood supplier and tip some into your betta fish tank.
These are only rarely used in the fish hobby, so if you decide to try them your best bet is to look in reptile stores or to find a supplier online.
As with crickets, adult mealworms are too large for betta fish to eat. However smaller mealworms (or adult mealworms sliced into pieces) can be suitable.
Despite the name, mealworms aren’t actually worms at all; though they do share the same body shape. Instead, they’re the larvae of the flour beetle (Tenebrio).
This means that instead of being soft and squishy (and a little yucky) to touch, they’re actually waxy and firm. This can make them much more pleasant for more squeamish fish keepers to handle – when compared to something like bloodworm.
Another benefit of mealworms is that they can be very easy to breed – providing a non-stop supply of the baby worms. And, if you only want to buy a single tub of live mealworms, keeping them in the fridge will slow down their development rate so you have time to get through the tub before they turn into beetles.
Soft, juicy earthworms will often be accepted by betta fish. While some fish keepers opt to collect worms from their garden, there is a risk that such invertebrates could introduce disease into your aquarium.
As a result, it is generally a better idea to purchase commercially-bred earthworms, where you’ll also have the luxury of selecting suitably-small worms for your fish.
Live Vs. Dead Invertebrates for Betta Fish
Many of the best foods for betta fish are invertebrates of some form. Many of them can be purchased live from aquarium shops or exotic pet stores. Equally, many more are available in a wide range of different forms, including freeze dried and frozen. So what’s best?
Generally speaking there’s no massive difference between these different sources. Each fishkeeper has their own preference, and you’ll see lots of disagreements on discussion forums and social media.
On the one hand, feeding live invertebrates like daphnia to your betta fish can be quite fun to watch. You get to observe your pet in “hunting mode” picking off the food items as they pass by.
One could also argue that this is the most “natural” way to feed your betta fish – after all they’d be picking off midge larvae and suchlike in the wild.
On the other hand, these live invertebrates can be expensive to buy, and challenging to keep alive between feeding sessions. So, while some keepers do provide their betta fish with live prey from time-to-time, most end up opting for a “hybrid” approach where frozen or freeze dried foods make up the majority of their diet.
These preserved foods have a lot going for them, as they make your life so easy. A combination of betta fish pellets and frozen blocks of crustaceans can be a quick, easy and waste-free way to give your betta fish a varied and interesting diet.
Whatever option you choose, remember that variety is key in the diet of a healthy betta fish.
Can Betta Fish Eat Tropical Fish Flakes?
General-purpose tropical fish flakes are one of the most widely-available and cost-effective fish foods on the market. Thanks to the ease of sourcing tropical fish flakes, and the low cost of buying them, another common question is whether betta fish can eat these flakes?
Tropical fish flakes aren’t a bad food at all; they’re often rich in nutrients and will be happily accepted by your betta fish. At the same time, however, general purpose fish foods tend to be lower in protein than betta fish require, and tend to have a higher percentage of plant material in them.
Overall, betta fish can survive on these tropical fish mixes, but I would suggest this should only be a short term solution – such as when your local fish shop sells out of your normal food.
If you want your betta fish to live a long and healthy life then paying the little bit extra for specially-designed food is likely to be a worthy investment.
What About Other Foods?
When it comes to feeding betta fish some of the most common questions relate to whether they can eat certain “human” foods in captivity. Let’s therefore address the two most common questions asked:
Can Betta Fish Eat Bread?
I’m not sure where this “urban myth” originated but you’d be surprised how often people ask if betta fish can eat bread. My answer on this topic is “no”.
It might not kill your fish (in small doses) but it’ll hardly do them much good. Putting aside the fact that bread can swell in water, leading to digestive issues, it is also very low in nutrients.
It is important to remember that betta fish require a diet that is high in protein – not something that bread is known for. Therefore, I’d advise you not to feed bread to your betta fish, and instead to utilize all the various other options discussed in this article.
Can Betta Fish Eat Lettuce?
Betta fish can eat lettuce; it certainly isn’t toxic in small doses, and in the wild some betta fish may nibble at aquatic plants. That said, lettuce is unlikely to provide the level of protein that betta fish require.
As very much an occasional “treat” a little lettuce should be fine, but I would strongly advise against making it a part of their routine diet.
Feeding Tips for Betta Fish
By this point you’ve got a long list of potential betta fish foods. But feeding betta fish isn’t just about learning a long shopping list; you also need to feed your fish in the right way if they are to remain happy and healthy…
Regular, Small Meals
Large meals are best avoided for most fish. This is because there’s only so much food that your fish will eat in a finite period of time. After that point the uneaten food will start to decompose.
Rotting fish food is the enemy of the betta fish owner, as it negatively affects the water conditions, and can lead to sickly fish.
It is much better to feed little and often. Many betta fish owners feed their fish twice or even three times a day, giving them only what they’ll eat in 3-5 minutes at a time. Pay attention to anything left over, and reduce the volume of food you give in the future to find the “sweet spot”.
Use a Feeding Cone
If you choose to feed your betta fish some of the aquatic worms discussed above – such as bloodworms – there is a risk that the worms will quickly swim away and hide. Before long your betta fish has nothing to eat.
A great solution to this problem is a simple piece of aquarium kit known as a “feeding cone”. Feeding cones are essentially like a small sieve, which is placed at the surface of your tank.
The bloodworms are placed within, and it takes time for them to find their way through the many holes. As a result, your betta fish can swim nearby, picking them off one at a time as they make their escape.
Variety is Crucial
Feeding one single food is very tempting; it makes life easier and can be cheaper too. However it can also increase the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
A central rule for feeding betta fish is therefore to vary the foods they are provided.
By all means keep one or two “staple” foods on standby, but try to offer different invertebrate prey on a regular basis.
Floating Vs Sinking Betta Fish Food
Betta fish tend to prefer feeding from the surface of the water. Foods that sink down to the gravel tend to be rather less appealing for them. When selecting your betta fish foods, therefore, try to avoid food items that sink too quickly.
Clean Up Afterwards
Excess food can rot down in your betta fish aquarium, increasing the levels of harmful nitrates in the water. Rather like brushing your teeth after a meal, removing uneaten food from your betta tank will help to keep things fresh and clean.
If you have selected floating food items then this is simple to achieve; just scoop them out with a small fish net. Sinking foods will need to be removed using an aquarium vacuum.
Generally speaking aquatic livefoods like daphnia or brine shrimps should be safe to leave in the tank, while terrestrial foods like crickets and fruit flies will soon drown and so should be removed.
How Much Food Should I Give My Betta Fish?
Overfeeding betta fish is a major cause of concern. Not only can betta fish get overweight if fed too much, but any uneaten food can affect water chemistry. Feeding the right amount of food to your betta fish is therefore crucial for your success.
Generally speaking you’ll want to add a small amount of food to your betta fish tank and then leave your fish for 3-5 minutes. Then remove any uneaten food to prevent it fouling the water. This process can be repeated twice a day – typically morning and evening.
The important factor here is monitoring your fish at each feeding. If you find that all the food is hoovered up in moments then consider feeding more food next time, or introduce an additional feeding later in the day.
On the other hand, if food is always left at the end of five minutes then dial back the volume of food you’re providing. Over time you’ll find the “sweet spot” which ensures your fish has enough to eat, but your cleaning chores are minimal.
My Betta Fish Won’t Eat Anything – What Should I Do?
Generally speaking betta fish tend to have strong appetites, and will very rarely ignore their food. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, and some betta fish keepers end up tearing their hair out because their fish won’t eat.
If your betta fish is refusing their food then don’t despair; here are some handy tips to address the situation…
Check Tank Conditions
Like all tropical fish, betta fish require quite specialist conditions if they are to thrive in captivity. If a betta fish is provided with the wrong conditions then one common response can be refusing to eat.
I’ve listed the crucial steps to keeping betta fish here, but the three most common mistakes fish keepers make are:
Temperature: Ensure the water temperature in your betta fish tank is suitable. Water that is too cold can be particularly prone to slowing down the metabolism of your fish, putting them off their food.
Water Movement: Betta fish are quite weak swimmers thanks to their luxurious fins. If you’re using a filter that creates too much water flow then your betta fish may simply be unable to swim up and collect the food you’re providing.
Nitrogen Levels: Waste materials in the form of uneaten food or fish faeces can increase nitrogen levels in the tank. This, in turn, can cause stress for your fish. Buy yourself a simple aquarium water testing kit and ensure the conditions are optimal.
Check for Obvious Signs of Illness
A sick fish will often go off their food. High levels of nitrates, as discussed above, can be one cause of illness but there are many others.
Spend time watching your fish, looking for any signs of raised scales, torn fins, abscesses or parasites to satisfy yourself that your betta is in top condition.
Betta fish may be known for their fiery temperaments when kept together, but they can be surprisingly shy in the presence of other fish.
Some popular tropical fish like tiger barbs or angel fish may nip at the fins of betta fish.
This, in turn, may make them less likely to come up and feed. If in doubt try separating your betta fish from other tank mates, and watch whether their feeding response improves.
Offer a Wide Range of Food
Just like us, some fish have specific food preferences. Just because your betta fish refuses to eat one food item, doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t find something else appealing.
At the same time, feeding the same food but in a different format (frozen versus live bloodworms) can also yield a different feeding response. Don’t give up hope; keep on trying new foods until you find “the one” that makes all the difference for your fish.
Give Your Betta Some Privacy
Betta fish can be quite secretive by nature, and given the chance they will spend a good amount of time each day hiding away behind plants or other decor. Having your face squished up against the aquarium glass probably therefore isn’t going to do much for their sensibilities.
Instead, try giving your betta fish some privacy during feeding time. Add the food then leave them to it for a period of time. In many cases your fish will pluck up the courage to eat under these circumstances.
Try Different Times of the Day
Do you always feed your betta fish at the same time each day? If your betta fish won’t eat then it can be a good idea to try different times of the day, even breaking down their daily food intake into multiple small meals over a 24 hour period.
Feeding Too Much
Lastly, lets not forget that there can be quite a big difference between a betta fish not eating at all, and a betta fish eating less than you expect.
There is a chance that you’re worrying over nothing, and when you were looking the other way your fish ate all that they wanted. Once again, therefore, keep an eye on the condition of your fish.
If they seem to be maintaining their condition then you might just be worrying about nothing.
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