Have you noticed your betta fish flaring more than usual? Does it flare every time you come up to the tank? Does it flare at other fish in the tank?
Flaring is quite common amongst bettas. Usually, it’s a form of aggression, but it can occur due to excitement as well.
Surprisingly, occasional flaring is good for your betta’s health. Still, if they do it too often, their health can go downhill.
Why Is My Betta Fish Flaring?
There are a few different reasons why your betta may flare, and it may not be due to aggression.
A betta may flare their gills to appear threatening to defend their territory. They may flare their gills to attract a female. Or they may be flaring just to stretch their gills.
What Is Flaring?
To understand why your betta fish is flaring, you first need to know what flaring is. Flaring refers to a betta spreading its gill flaps so that they look bigger.
Check out this short video of a male betta flaring for the camera.
Most often, a betta will flare because they’re being aggressive. Bettas are very territorial by nature. So, when they feel their territory is being encroached upon, they will act to defend it.
We refer to bettas as “Siamese Fighting Fish”. This is because they will fight and kill each other when kept in the same aquarium.
Yet, bettas don’t usually go in for the kill right away. Before resorting to fighting, a betta will flare at its enemy to try and scare them off.
Attracting A Mate
If a male and female betta can see each other and are ready to mate, they may flare at each other. The male flares to attract a female. If she’s interested, he may flare back.
Stretching Their Gills
There are muscles around the gills that allow them to flare. It’s healthy for bettas to stretch those muscles.
Whether your betta is truly stretching is up for debate. Still, bettas will often flare for no reason at all, so it’s a good assumption.
Do Female Bettas Flare?
Yes! All bettas will flare, regardless of gender. Yet, females tend to be less aggressive than males, so they generally flare less often.
Females are most likely to flare at a mating partner or other female bettas with whom they share a tank.
What If A Betta Flares At Its Owner?
It’s not common for a betta to flare at its owner once it gets to know them. Fish are smart animals and they begin to recognize their caretakers after a while. They are active fish that enjoy the interaction. Some caretakers even teach their bettas tricks.
Because of this, it’s likely that your betta will only flare when you first bring it home. When they are new, they don’t recognize you or any of their surroundings.
They become stressed, and they see you as a threat. Simply give your betta space for a few days until they’ve had a chance to settle in.
For one thing, bettas are not able to see as well as we do. Their eyes are set on the sides of their heads. They mostly see colors and vague figures, as well as feel vibrations.
So, when you come up to their tank, they may only know that a very large predator is coming up to their tank. Eventually, they should recognize your large body and lose their fear.
Your Betta Doesn’t Like You Cleaning Its Tank
Your betta may also take to flaring at you while you’re cleaning its tank. It doesn’t recognize hands or gravel vacuums, so it perceives those as a threat.
Your betta will see these objects like a large predator, so they may choose to hide. Still, some bettas will flare at these perceived threats, and they may even nip at your hands.
Your Betta Anticipates Food
Sometimes, a betta may flare when its caretaker comes to its tank because it anticipates food. This is an uncommon reason for flaring as most bettas won’t do it. Yet, if you notice your betta flares every time you come with food, this is probably the reason.
My Betta Is Flaring Too Much — How Do I Stop It?
Although flaring is natural for bettas, it can be bad for their health if they do it too often. Flaring too much causes them stress. Stress leads to a compromised immune system which can lead to illness, disease, and death.
Have you had your betta for several weeks and it’s still flaring? There’s probably something wrong. You should observe your betta to try and find out what’s causing it stress.
Your Betta Can See Its Reflection
If your betta can see its reflection in the adquarium glass, it will become stressed out. Fish can’t recognize their own reflections, so your betta will think it’s another betta.
As such, they will become territorial, treating the reflection as an intruder. In extreme cases, your betta may even begin to attack the reflection which can give it head trauma.
Reduce Lighting In The Betta Tank
If your betta can see its reflection in the glass, it’s probably because the lighting is too bright. Try dimming the aquarium lights, or the lights in the room. You may even need to move the aquarium to a part of the house that doesn’t receive as much light.
You can also give floating lights a try. This is a unique problem solver that adds a nice effect to your tank. The lights float and bob on the water, so the light bounces around the tank. This means that reflections change and will be less likely to stress out your betta.
You can even try adding plants to diffuse the light hitting the tank. Any type of plant would be helpful for this, but floating plants work best. Floating plants fill the surface area at the top of the tank. They prevent light from penetrating the surface of the water.
If this doesn’t work, you can add decorations to the sides of the tank. Pet stores sell decorative backgrounds that you can stick on the sides of the tank. You can apply these to the sides and back of the tank to reduce glare. Just leave the front pane of glass open so that you can still see your fish.
Its Tankmates Are Stressing It Out
If you house your betta with critters that it sees as a threat, it will flare at them. Because aquariums are small, there isn’t much room to hide. So, this flaring usually escalated to fighting which can result in injury and even death.
If the intruder is smaller, your betta will likely kill it, and that will be that. But, if you house your betta with a larger fish, your betta might end up on the losing side.
It is possible to house your betta with other tankmates, but you have to be careful with who you choose.
Here are some animals that are generally safe to house with bettas:
- Large Shrimp
- Otocinclus Catfish
*Some of the larger-sized platys and tetras may pick on your betta.
Here are some animals you should avoid housing with bettas:
- Other Bettas!
- African Dwarf Frogs
- Most Barbs
Not Enough Places To Hide
It’s possible that it’s not the species of tankmate that’s stressing out your betta. It could be the aquarium setup. Bettas generally get along well with other species. But, they need space to swim and hide.
If you overcrowd the tank, your betta will become stressed. They will also become aggressive if they don’t have enough places to hide.
Make sure you have at least a 10-gallon aquarium before you house any tankmates with your betta. Also, make sure that you have plenty of plants and decorations for your betta to hide in.
Is Flaring Ever Okay?
Occasional flaring is not only normal but actually healthy for your betta fish. Flaring for a few minutes a day stimulates your betta’s metabolism and can boost its immune system.
You should never keep a mirror inside your betta’s aquarium. Yet, it’s good to hold a mirror up to the tank for a few minutes every day. This will encourage your betta to flare to stimulate its immune system.
Daily flaring can prevent your betta from getting bored as well. Bettas are intelligent and interactive fish that need stimulation.
Just remember, too much flaring is bad and can cause the opposite effect.
If your betta is flaring, it’s most likely because it’s unhappy with something happening in or around the betta tank. But don’t worry, flaring is normal amongst bettas, and it’s rarely something to worry about.