The delightful betta fish, also known as “Siamese fighting fish,” are usually kept as pets because of their stunning colors and long trailing fins. One of the typical betta behaviors you may have noticed is when a betta puffs out their gills and fins to make themselves look bigger. This behavior is called flaring, and it’s one of the techniques they use to frighten off another rival fish. Bettas will also flare at their owners and even their reflections!
Your betta is most likely flaring at its reflection in the aquarium glass, but flaring can also be a sign that your betta is excited. Wild bettas flare to ward off enemies (and your betta’s reflection in this case looks like an enemy), but it is also a physical reaction like a stretch.
While flaring is pretty normal in the wild, bettas will usually hide rather than fight. Pet bettas are often unable to hide from anything they consider a potential threat, so they will end up flaring a lot to scare off these ‘threats.’ That’s why they are often flaring at you and their reflections.
Too much flaring can be detrimental to your betta’s health, so you should find ways to cut down on the things that may be causing your betta to flare excessively.
I’ll run through some ways you can make your betta’s tank more appealing for them and reduce the amount they flare at you.
Why Does My Betta Flare At Me?
In the wild, male bettas will live solitary lives. When they come in contact with another male betta on their territory, they flare to scare off this potential threat. If the threat doesn’t go away, and they cannot hide, they will dart in to attack. It’s not for nothing that bettas are also known as ‘Siamese fighting fish! While some people fight these fish against each other, this is a form of animal cruelty. Flaring and fighting behavior is very stressful and can cause tears and holes to your betta’s fins and generally lower their life expectancy.
I’ll be talking mainly about male betta fish, as these are the ones most people keep as pets. However, female bettas will also flare at each other and any threats. In general, female bettas are not as aggressive as males and will usually flare less often. Any tips on cutting down excessive flaring and improving tank habitat to keep your male betta from being stressed will also apply to female betta fish.
If you keep female bettas in a large enough tank, you may be able to keep a small number of them together. Keep an eye to make sure there’s no fin-nipping or other aggressive behavior.
Your male betta might not have any tank mates it sees as enemies, but it will still flare at anything it considers a threat. Flaring is the betta’s natural defensive behavior, and potential threats to your betta seem to include his reflection and you. Especially if they are new and adjusting to their tank, bettas will flare a lot to make themselves look more intimidating. Once a betta has settled into its new environment, the excessive flaring may return to normal levels.
There are several ways you can cut down on excessive flaring and make your betta happier in the long term. We’ll look at why your betta flares at you, stress flaring and how you can adjust your betta’s tank set up to keep him healthier.
Bear in mind; bettas do flare naturally from time to time without any threats around. Think of it as your betta just giving himself a good stretch. You can even use these moments when your fish flares to give a quick check for any potential health issues like fin tears or white spot (also called ich).
What Should I Do If My Betta Flares At Me
While bettas flare as a defensive posture as an instinctive threat display, bettas will flare at their owners because they have not learned to recognize them yet.
A fish in a new tank or environment will flare excessively until they settle into their new home. Because they do not have the same sight capabilities as humans, the unexpected sight of a looming human face may also trigger this response. As the fish becomes used to you and its new home, this behavior should settle down.
Bettas are curious fish, and although he will signal aggression at your presence, your betta will likely stop flaring so much once he becomes used to you. To keep your betta from flaring at you, use slow, careful motions. When cleaning the tank, avoid removing your fish from his tank to do full water changes as this is very stressful for your fish. A better option is to carefully remove some of the water and clean the gravel with a gravel cleaner before replacing the lost water with clean, treated tank water.
Handle your betta as little as possible when cleaning or rearranging tanks. As your fish gets used to the routine of cleaning and learns to recognize the aquarium gravel vacuum, it will flare less.
Can Bettas Recognize Their Owners
Bettas will usually learn to recognize their owners, to the point they will do a little ‘feed dance’ if they see you approaching. Once a betta recognizes their owner and associates you with food, they will often swim right up to the surface of the glass to wait for their food. Some betta owners report fish even jumping to get food out of their hand. Though they may occasionally still flare at you, bettas will flare less once they realize you are not a threat but a source of food.
Do Bettas Flare When They Are Happy
If a betta is constantly flaring, this is not a sign they are happy and content in their tank. Bettas are usually kept alone as they are territorial fish. However, flaring can be a sign of excitement, which is why some bettas will flare at feeding time.
Betta fish will have different personalities, so keep an eye on your fish’s habits and behavior patterns.
Bettas can get bored, so some betta owners play with their fish by stimulating their flare response with a mirror. This play is fine when done only a few times a week and is not constant. Some betta owners but their fish toys to help stave off-tank boredom. If your tank is well set up for a betta, they should get the necessary stimulation and exercise by exploring their aquarium habitat.
How To Stop Betta Fish From Flaring
There are several ways make a betta more comfortable in their tank. One obvious solution is to cut down the number of times he sees his reflection. If a fish is kept in a bright tank in a darkened room, they will constantly see its reflection and flare at it. If they do this too often, they will weaken their system; their colors will fade, they will become more lethargic, and die sooner. Some betta owners have even had issues where a betta flared so much, they were too stressed to eat.
Girl Talks Fish has put together this short, helpful video on hacking your betta’s tank to hide your betta’s reflection. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzzJPHS0UfI
Some useful tips for cutting down tank reflections:
- Don’t run tank lighting for more than 8 hours a day
- Don’t keep tank lights on in a dark room
- Plant up the tank with either real or artificial plants
- Replace shiny backgrounds with matter backgrounds.
Bettas flare naturally as part of their normal behavior. They will flare to appear intimidating to other bettas, enemies, and other threats, including their owner. Once they have settled into a well-appointed tank and have learned to recognize you, they should flare less often. Too much flaring can be bad for your betta, causing micro-tears and holes in their fins, raising their stress, and affecting their eating patterns. You can cut down on excessive flaring by planting their tank, cutting down on reflections caused by lighting, and keeping them alone or with a suitable tank mate, such as Kuhli loaches or cory catfish.