If you walk into the fish department of a pet store these days, you’ll often find a display of many small containers each featuring a vibrant betta inside. These are most often male Veil Tail bettas, with long flowing fins who may be busy flaring at their neighbors or blowing a small bubble nest in their cup. Every now and then females will pop up in pet stores, but it is much less common as they do not fall into the typical stereotype that many consumers consider as the beloved “betta.” So how do you tell the difference between male and female bettas? Can I keep male bettas and female bettas together?
Male vs Female Betta Fish Differences
In most cases, determining the gender of a betta fish is simple, but they might appear identical enough to make a decision difficult. The following traits should assist you in determining the gender of your betta. It’s important to remember that immature fish may not show sexual distinctions. Rather than relying on a single characteristic to figure out betta fish gender, you can compare mature specimens of the same species and color and assess many criteria.
A male betta is generally characterized by his long flowing fins which over centuries have been bred to be quite spectacular and great in length. The male will often flare with his gills as an aggressive act towards other fish or activity outside of his tank. His body is often longer and bigger than a female.
Male bettas are aggressive towards each other fish. It is best to keep them secluded from other fish on a regular basis and stick with tank mates such as snails. Male bettas often do not do well in community tanks because their long fins become the victim of nipping from other fish, as well as prevent bettas from being able to swim fast enough for a quick getaway. Also due to their fins, it’s important to monitor the current in any tank to make sure it does not cause them too much effort or discomfort to maneuver through their environment.
A female betta is usually smaller than a male both in body and with shorter finnage. Females will be just as bright and vibrant in coloration as males. An ovipositor is the main indicator that a betta is a female. The ovipositor is a small white egg tube that protrudes from the underside of her body. In some cases, it has been reported that young males have ovipositors although this is much less common.
Although often overlooked by some when purchasing bettas, females can be a real delight. They are often spunky and have even more personality than males. With their shorter fins, females will zip around their tank and are not as bothered by the water current. Female bettas can be just as aggressive as the males at times though, so it’s still important to monitor them if they are placed with other fish.
They can be housed alone or with other female bettas in groups of three (3) or more. They will naturally form a pecking order and that is why keeping just two female bettas together usually does not have great results. Some people have had success keeping female bettas in community tanks of non-aggressive fish with plenty of room and hiding places.
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Can I Keep Males and Females Together?
Unless you are spawning them, the answer is usually NO. The male will normally chase, flare at, and pick on any females in his territory, sometimes harassing them so much they never come out of hiding. If bettas find themselves together, one or both of them has either fighting or mating in mind, and the resulting damage can be devastating.
Yes, some males are so mellow they ignore the females in their shared community. For a while, it may look like you’ve found a peaceful balance. But I’ve found that nine times out of ten, the male will eventually discover his hidden Barracuda and start wreaking havoc on the females. And if the male is SO peaceful that he never chases around the females, then you can be assured they will notice his weakness and start giving him hell! You’ll go to bed one night patting yourself on the back for “proving” they can be successfully kept together, and wake up to shredded tuna.
It is human nature to assume your male betta is lonely living by himself and to be tempted to get him a female companion. There you go thinking like a human again. Bettas are designed by nature to stake out a territory and defend it against intruders, and any other fish in its vicinity will be perceived as a potential mate or a threat.
It’s just better not to take chances. Don’t keep your males and females together unless you are spawning them, and make sure you keep an eye on things. Females can sometimes be kept peacefully together in community tanks, and both male and female bettas do very well in community situations with most other species of fish.