When I first saw my betta fish flaring at me, I was terrified. I didn’t know if I had done something wrong or if the fish was actually suffering. As time passed, I learned more about this phenomenon. Luckily, in most cases, there is no reason to be worried.
Betta fish usually flare at their owners when they perceive them as a danger. This can happen when the owner approaches the fish’s tank or taps on it with its fingers. However, in some cases, the betta merely flares at its reflection or reacts to a recent water change.
As we move forward, I will elaborate on why some betta fish may flare at their owners. Then, I will list some useful tips to deal with that issue. Moreover, I will discuss why this may happen after a water change and how to prevent it.
Why Is My Betta Fish Flaring Up At Me?
When bettas flare, they make themselves look larger and more threatening. Their gills puff up, and the pectoral fins extend. As you may have guessed, flaring is an aggressive response.
Male bettas will flare at fish they perceive as enemies. You see this in tanks with multiple males; they will fight for territory and the right to mate with female bettas. But before the conflict begins, they may flare at each other.
In the wild, flaring prevents violence. The bettas have plenty of room so the weaker fish can retreat. In an aquarium, flaring bettas are more likely to fight one another because retreating isn’t an option.
If you’re accustomed to bettas flaring at one another, but you don’t understand why the fish have started flaring at you, these are some of the common causes:
1. Your Betta Is New To Its Tank
Bettas are naturally territorial. But the attribute is heightened when a betta enters a new tank. Because the fish is not accustomed to the environment, it will either hide or lash out at any entity it perceives as a threat.
That includes you, the owner. This behavior will persist until the creature grows accustomed to the tank. That usually takes up to two weeks.
2. Your Betta Perceives You As A Danger
Bettas do not see the same way as humans. To be more specific, they cannot see you with the same clarity that you see them. They may perceive some of your actions as hostile.
That includes reaching into their tank and either cleaning or rearranging the plants and decorations. They will flare at you, or your fingers, to scare you away.
3. The Betta Flares At Its Reflection
This should be reiterated. Bettas are highly territorial, especially males. They will fight other male bettas to the death. As such, if a male betta sees its reflection in the glass walls of the tank, it may confuse that reflection for another fish and flare at it.
An aquarist on the other side of the aquarium may erroneously assume that the betta is flaring at them. The obvious solution is to change your position. If the betta follows you, it was flaring at you. But if it maintains its position in the tank, it was flaring at its reflection.
4. Your Betta Fish Is Looking For Your Attention
Some bettas will flare at an aquarist because they want attention. Others will flare their gills because they want to impress you. This behavior is typically associated with aggression. However, fish can flare at a person in excitement. It isn’t always a bad thing.
5. The Betta Fish Is Exercising
Are you sure the betta is flaring at you? Or is it simply stretching? Flaring has its downsides. It can induce stress in fish. But bettas can also flare out of boredom or as a means of exercise.
Keep this in mind before you panic. For all you know, the betta coincidentally stretched and flared as you appeared.
What Do I Do If My Betta Flares At Me?
Flaring seems harmless, but it can actually generate stress in fish. Compare flaring to a workout in humans. An hour of exercise will benefit your body.
But if you keep exercising for several hours, the exhaustion could do more harm than good. Bettas are the same. Continuous flaring is terrible for them. Fortunately, there are ways to stop the creatures from flaring, including:
1. Allow Your Betta To Adapt Properly
If the betta is new to the tank, and the flaring is caused by the anxiety and stress of the transition, give the betta some time. Once it grows accustomed to the new tank, the anxiety will fade, and the flaring will stop.
To make the transition smooth, keep the betta in a well-maintained tank with the correct parameters. I also recommend that you avoid overcrowding. Don’t add more than one male betta to the tank.
Bettas typically require a pH of 6.8 to 7.5 and a temperature ranging from 76 to 85 degrees F. Also, the ammonia and nitrites should be kept at 0 ppm, while nitrates are below 20 ppm.
To measure the pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, I use the API Water Test Kit (link to Amazon). That bundle lasts for hundreds of measures, making it pretty cost-effective. Within five minutes, you’ll know if something went wrong with your water.
2. Visit Your Betta Less Frequently
Minimize your presence around the tank. If the betta is new, it may flare at you because it doesn’t know you. Once it grows accustomed to you, the flaring will stop. However, you cannot expedite this process by spending more time around the tank.
The resulting stress could do lasting harm to the betta. Give the fish space. You can come around if you have basic maintenance tasks to perform.
You can also look in on your fish from time to time. But you shouldn’t pester them by unnecessarily hanging around the tank for several minutes or hours. Give the creatures a moment to find their footing.
3. Clean Your Tank More Gently
Be gentle. Yes, the betta perceives you as a threat, and it keeps flaring at you whenever you push your hand into the aquarium. But the betta’s response should not stop you from cleaning the tank.
Just proceed carefully. Do not remove the betta. Instead, you can vacuum the gravel. If you have to move objects around, do this gently. Eventually, curiosity will drive the betta to approach your hands. Over time, it will stop perceiving you as a threat.
4. Reduce The Reflection
Reflections will form if you place a brightly lit tank in a dark room. The solution is to adjust the lighting until the reflections disappear. Sometimes, it is necessary to move the tank.
In other cases, removing the shiny objects in the background is enough to eliminate the reflections. Some aquarists have resolved this issue by using adhesive paper to cover three sides of the aquarium, leaving the front pane open.
Is A Flaring Betta Always A Problem?
It should be noted that some bettas flare because they want to. Fish have individual personalities. You cannot predict the character you will get until your fish arrives. Some bettas will continue to flare regardless of what you do.
If the betta in question is happy and healthy, you don’t have to fret over the flaring. Flaring should only concern you when you observe apparent signs of stress, including faded colors, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
But those symptoms can manifest because of poor water quality and diseases. Ask a professional to study your betta’s symptoms and the tank’s conditions before you blame the creature’s symptoms on flaring.
Why Is My Betta Flaring Its Gills After A Water Change?
Bettas tend to flare their gills after a water change due to abrupt modifications in their water chemistry. That usually happens when replacing too much water at once. The parameters most affected are usually the temperature, pH, and oxygen concentrations.
Flaring is an aggressive response. However, it doesn’t always manifest as a result of a perceived threat. Bettas will also flare in response to stress and environmental changes.
You see this in bettas that are new to a tank. Because you just threw them into a new environment, they will flare at you and their tankmates because of the stress caused by the transition until they grow accustomed to the aquarium.
Water changes are ordinarily benign. They improve the conditions in a tank by cutting the concentration of toxins, ejecting parasites, and removing pollutants. They can also raise the oxygen content.
In that regard, they are a good thing, but only if you use them in moderation. At the end of the day, a water change creates change. It alters the chemistry of the water. Usually, those alterations are too small to matter.
But if the water changes are not only large but frequent, they will produce significant alterations. Those alterations will induce stress in the bettas. Flaring is one of the symptoms you may notice.
If your bettas are flaring after a small water change, the quality of the water is to blame. A water change can harm an aquarium. For instance, if you add hot water, the bettas won’t appreciate the temperature spike.
You can expect the same results if the water you added has toxins like chlorine, lead, copper, and the like. In such cases, flaring will be the least of your concerns. You will observe gasping, loss of appetite, inactivity, etc.
Generally, I recommend conducting small water changes. As a rule of thumb, replace 10 to 20 percent every seven to ten days. I also suggest making those changes gently. Try not to relocate your decorations. That will confuse your betta and possibly stress it even more.
Do Bettas Get attached To Their Owners?
Bettas are fun pets because they respond to the attention that aquarists give them. As far as your relationship with these fish is concerned, this is what you should know:
1. Betta Fish Can Interact With Humans
First of all, you can engage directly with bettas, more or less. Male bettas hate other male bettas. But they will thrive in a tank with female bettas or even male fish from other species.
They need stimulation. The boredom that comes from isolation could make them sick, or at the very least, lethargic. They will happily interact with the people outside the tank.
If you walk around the room, they will watch you. If you approach, they will rise to the top of the tank to get a closer look. They have more intelligence than people realize.
2. Bettas Can Remember People
Bettas have great memories. Besides noticing changes in the tank, they will remember people they met weeks or months ago. In other words, a betta can recognize its owner, mainly because the owner is the one person that feeds the fish regularly.
3. Bettas Can Bond With Their Owners
It would be an exaggeration to say that bettas can love their owners. That being said, a betta can create a bond with an aquarist, especially if that aquarist plays with their betta on occasion. You can play with a betta by moving your finger along the glass walls and encouraging the fish to follow it.
You may also try placing a floating ball on the surface and moving it while the betta swims around, experimenting with mirror toys, and so much more. Like any other land animal, these activities will enhance a betta’s attachment to its owner.
If you found this article helpful, these may also interest you:
- Is My Betta Fish Dying? (Typical Signs & Solutions)
- Betta Fish Stays In The Corner Of The Tank: Reasons & Solutions
- Can Betta Fish Eat Tropical Flakes? (With Alternatives)
- Do Bettas Prefer Long Or Tall Tanks? (With Recommendations)
- How Many Betta Fish in a Tank? (Males & Females in 1-75 Gallons)
When a betta fish flares at you, it doesn’t always mean it wants to attack you. In general, they flare as a response to perceived threats. In most cases, those threats are harmless. In some cases, those threats can be dangerous or even fatal.
Bettas also flare when their water chemistry changes abruptly. Their gills will flare when you change too much water at once or if the water you added has toxins like chlorine, lead, copper, and the like.