These are not your typical tiny bubbles in the wine. Nor are the little opalescent orbs collecting on the surface of your betta’s tank a sign that you need to clean house. No, these little bubbles that can gather in large numbers are something that your betta has made. Made, no less, on purpose. These sometimes small, sometimes large groups of bubbles are a normal part of a healthy betta’s life. Consider seeing them a good thing as it can mean that you are doing a good job keeping your betta happy and healthy.
How Bubble Nests Are Built
If you’ve had your betta for a while, you may have noticed that it occasionally comes up to the surface to gulp air. This behavior may seem strange, but it is normal for bettas’ because they are labyrinth fish. That means that they have an organ called the labyrinth that allows them to supplement some of their oxygen intakes by breathing in regular air, rather than processing it through their gills.
The labyrinth works by having air forced into it and through its small, maze-like compartments made of lamellae (thin, boney plates covered with thin membrane). Oxygen passes through the membrane and gets absorbed into the body. However, male bettas don’t just use this organ to breathe, they also use it for bubble nests.
The Building of the Nest
Male betta fish use the labyrinth to take in the air and blow out bubbles. Then, the use their saliva to make the coating that keeps the bubbles from popping when making these nests. The saliva also strengthens the nests and keeps them from breaking apart.
Some bettas will make these nests even if you are hovering right near the tank. If you get the chance to stand nearby and watch them make their nests, you can hear their nest-building activities. Generally, the whole nest-building event is a busy and quite frantic one that makes for an interesting thing to watch.
If you get the chance to stand nearby while they make their nests, you can hear their nest-building activities.
Why Bettas Blow Bubbles
In the Wild
Male betta fish don’t have a lot to work with in terms of trying to get some lady-betta tail. Aside from their fly disco suits, they use superior bubble nest-building skills. I mean who wouldn’t be attracted to a well-designed bubble nest?
As with many different types of animals, males are responsible for the betta bubble nest construction. If there is a female betta nearby, sometimes she will come over to lend a hand… erm, fin. Typically in nature, the male betta fish would look for some floating debris on the water’s surface to start collecting, and clustering the bubbles under that will make up its nest.
In Your Home
The male betta fish have been seen to start making their bubble nests if there is a sudden change in their environment. Things like sudden changes in their water temperature or if there is a quick rise or fall in barometric pressure. In the wild, betta fish have been seen to start construction if the normal rainfall pattern starts to fluctuate. Sometimes if you add or take away your betta’s aquarium accessories or substrate, that change is enough to cause bubble nest-building activity.
The general understanding of the male’s need to constantly build bubble nests is that it is a response to their natural urge to mate. Instinctively speaking, mating and corresponding reproduction is the topmost priority of any animal. If your betta doesn’t seem that interested in building bubble nests then… I know a few people like that too. In general though, betta fish make their nests out of instinct rather than as an expression of how “happy” they are.
Does there have to be a lady present?
Something pretty interesting to learn is that male betta fish can start building these nests even while there is no female betta present anywhere nearby. These nests can vary widely in size and thickness. If in nature, the male betta has a large-sized stake in the surrounding territory, he may end up building a larger size nest. Betta’s personalities can play a significant role in how large and thick the completed bubble nest will be. Different bettas can sometimes build very different sized nests.
Can Female Bettas Build Bubble Nests?
While female bettas do have the labyrinth that male fish use to make bubble nests, they do not build them on their own. If housed with a male betta for breeding, a female may occasionally assist with bubble nest building, but will never make one if housed alone.
If you have a female betta that seems to be producing a nest, it could mean one of two things. First, if it seems to be a well-developed, purposeful bubble nest, you probably don’t have a female betta fish. Chances are you’ve accidentally picked up a short-finned male betta. Whoops!
On the other hand, if the nest looks rather small or there are simply bubbles scattered about the tank it probably isn’t a bubble nest at all. Female betta fish get much of the oxygen from breathing surface air, especially in more stagnant tanks. So these bubbles may be a result of some air escaping from the mouth of your fish and unintentionally gathering at the surface.
Either way, your female is not building the kind of bubble nest intended for breeding.
More Bubbles=Happier Betta?
Not really. Some bettas will build nests for utterly no reason, while others will hardly build nests at all. Others never seem to not be busy building nests. Some will only start their construction when spawning has begun. One thing that’s important to understand is that if your betta never builds nests, or does so very infrequently, it is not necessarily because your betta is unhappy or unhealthy.
You don’t need to go and immediately worry that there is something wrong because your fish doesn’t have a bubble nest building drive. It’s a good idea to check things like water parameters and temperature just in case though. Bottom line is that betta fish are weird when it comes to why they build their bubble nests.
Additionally, there are times when you may see only a few sporadically floating bubbles on the water’s surface. Betta’s don’t always keep to their perfect bubble nest blueprints. If you see this behavior, do not jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with your betta. Having only a few bubbles at the surface could mean that the betta has only just started making the nest.
If the bubbles are floating all around the top of the aquarium un-grouped, it could mean that the betta broke the nest apart by swimming through it. If you start to worry that this behavior means that your betta is sick, when really there is nothing wrong, you may incorrectly decide to start your betta on medication. You don’t want to treat your betta for something it doesn’t have. Interestingly enough, sick betta fish will often still blow bubbles.
Betta fish, bubble nests, and breeding
Aside from spontaneously providing your betta with something to do, betta fish can build nests for an actual purpose! After spawning, the eggs will drop only to be caught by the mouth of the male betta fish. The male betta will then gently transport the egg up and secure it into the nest of saliva-coated bubbles.
Baby betta fish (known as “fry”) will start to hatch from their eggs in one or two days.
Once all of the eggs are collected and placed in their appropriate positions in the nest, the male betta will watch nearby ready to chase away any intruders. Occasionally an egg will fall from its place among the bubbles and the male will chase after it; grabbing it once again to be more firmly secured with the rest. If there are no intruders seen and the nest is free from falling eggs, the male betta fish will attend to bubble nest maintenance.
Baby betta fish (known as “fry”) will start to hatch from their eggs in one or two days. The fry will stay close to the bubble nest for the next two weeks or so. Occasionally there will be a fry that wanders too far away from the nest. The male betta will keep a close eye on the new fry and carry them back to the nest if they explore too far.