We know you love your fishy friend, so when your betta buddy’s bright, beautiful colors start to change or fade, it can be really scary. After all, if the fish turns white or black, or morphs into some other color combination entirely, that can’t be good, can it?
Do betta fish change color? That may seem like a strange question, but it’s actually not such a weird thing to ask. And it has a short answer: yes, betta fish do change color. But why?
There are a few reasons why your betta fish might change colors, and while some are good and harmless, others are not.
So, what causes color changes in betta fish? What can you do to prevent your fish from changing color? And can you improve or enhance your betta’s colors? To get the answers to these questions and get the full lowdown on why betta fish color change really occurs, read this guide!
Does stress make my betta fish change color?
Yes, stress is one of the primary causes of color changes in betta fish. Just as people change colors under stressful situations, like turning white as a ghost when shocked or sporting a bright red face while angry, your betta fish reacts in a very similar way. When put in stressful situations, these fish can experience temporary color changes.
You may also notice your betta fish is displaying stripes. Those aren’t cool markings your betta buddy naturally developed; instead, they’re a sign your fish is suffering from stress.
“Stress stripes” run horizontally along the betta’s body and shouldn’t be confused with breeding stripes that run vertically. Stress stripes extend from the fish’s gills to its tail and can be red, black, white, or a combination of these colors. Usually, female bettas are more likely to display stress stripes than males.
If you see that your betta fish has stress stripes, it’s a good indication that your pet is suffering some degree of stress, so something in its environment needs to change.
What causes stress in bettas?
More often than not, the cause of your fish’s stress is unsuitable water conditions.
Bettas are highly sensitive to water temperature, so make sure these fish’s tanks are kept between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water is too warm or too cool, your betta buddy will be stressed. Ideally, you should have an aquarium thermometer that gives you accurate temperature readings, and you should check it every day.
If the temperature is too cool, it may be that your tank heater is faulty and needs replacing. Similarly, if the water is too warm, the heater’s thermostat might have failed, and you’ll need to buy a new heating unit for your betta tank.
Betta fish need a water pH of between 6.5 and 7.5 and a water hardness of 3 to 5 dKH, so make it a part of your weekly tank maintenance routine to check the water parameters of your betta’s tank using an aquarium water testing kit.
Bettas are especially sensitive to toxins in the water. Check that ammonia and nitrite levels are zero and nitrate levels are below 20 ppm. You’ll need to carry out a partial water change of around 30 percent every week.
You’ll also need to rinse the filter media in old tank water to remove the sludge that would otherwise clog the filter sponges and prevent efficient circulation around the tank and through the unit. Periodically, you’ll need to change the media according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
When you get your betta fish home, you may notice it doesn’t look exactly like it did in the fish store, and that can be a good thing!
Conditions in pet stores are generally not ideal. Bettas are often kept in small, boxy display tanks with little to no decoration or company to stimulate the fish’s natural curiosity. The betta fish kept in these low-quality conditions are usually pretty inactive and can appear bored and miserable. That kind of environment can cause very high levels of stress to the fish.
This applies even more so to fish that are bought online, especially if the betta was shipped long-distance to get to you. Imagine how stressful it is for a fish to be taken from the aquarium in which he was bred, placed in a small plastic bag, and shipped by road or air to a totally new and unfamiliar environment. No wonder the poor fish gets stressed out!
Then, you come along, buy the betta, and take it home. Once the fish has settled into its beautiful new tank in your home — maybe with a few peaceful tank mates for company, some plants to rest on, a few toys, and perfect water conditions — the betta’s color will likely change.
Your new fishy friend will suddenly become lively, curious, and full of life, and its colors may become deeper and more vibrant, too. In that case, a change in your betta’s color is a good thing.
Does illness make my betta fish change color?
When a betta fish is sick, its vibrant colors might fade and appear washed-out.
Some fish diseases, like fungal and bacterial infections, can make your betta’s colors much paler than usual. So, if your betta starts to look pale, that can be a sign that all is not well; you’ll need to be on the lookout for other signs of illness in your finned friend, too.
Illnesses that may alter your betta’s colors include:
- Fin rot: Fin rot is a bacterial disease that can cause your betta’s fins to turn white. Look for fins that appear frayed or torn, especially at the ends. Prompt action is required to treat the condition and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the betta’s body. If not treated quickly, fin rot can cause permanent damage to your betta’s beautiful fins and tail.
- White spot disease: White spot disease is also commonly called ich (or ick). The condition is caused by an aquatic parasite that attacks the fish’s skin, appearing as a rash of tiny white spots like grains of salt. Your poor itchy fish will often flick its body against the substrate and other objects within the tank.
- Columnaris: Columnaris is a fungal infection that causes frayed fins, ulcers, and white spotting on the fish’s body. The fish might also begin to turn white and develop a fluffy appearance.
Thankfully, all the conditions mentioned above are treatable with medication that can be added to the tank water. Ask an expert at your local fish store for more information about the best course of action to care for your sick betta fish.
Does age make my betta fish change color?
Just like your hair turns gray as you enter your senior years, your betta’s color fades as it gets older.
Captive betta fish usually have a life expectancy of between two and five years. Some fish begin to lose their color vibrancy quite early, whereas others don’t seem to dull at all. Just as with people, whether your betta loses its color as it ages really depends on the individual fish’s genetics.
Marble bettas are notorious for changing colors throughout their lifetimes. They were created by accident through selective breeding and have dark patches on a white or pinkish-colored body or vice-versa. The very first marble bettas were always black and white, but now these lovely fish come in pretty much every color you can imagine.
Marbling is caused by a genetic quirk referred to as the “jumping gene.” Jumping genes can move from one of the betta’s chromosomes to a different location on another chromosome. However, the jumping gene’s location in its new location is only temporary. This means the change in genetic expression is temporary, too, which is why marbled bettas typically change color.
Their habit of changing colors is something that makes marbled bettas incredibly popular and sought after. After all, you might have a black and white fish one day but a red and green one the following week — how cool is that?
Contrary to popular urban myth, there’s no evidence to show that marbled bettas are any less healthy or more prone to disease than regular betta fish.
Betta fish can change color as they reach sexual maturity. Who knew? Well, we did, and now, so do you.
If you decide to buy a very young betta fish, there’s a good chance it will change color as it becomes sexually mature. Usually, the betta’s color will either darken or become brighter.
However, unless you buy your fish online or deliberately look for a very young betta, most of the fish you see in pet stores are fully mature and have their adult colors. That’s largely because bettas can breed well before they’re fully grown. So, it’s pretty unlikely your betta will change color because it hasn’t reached fish puberty.
Can injury make my betta fish change color?
Maybe your betta fish was injured in transit, or perhaps it bumped into something in its new home while acclimating to its new surroundings. No matter how it happened, your betta fish might change color if it’s been injured.
Part of the natural healing process can cause the affected body part to grow back a different color. Often, the flesh and scales around an old injury are darker or lighter than the rest of the fish’s body.
That’s not necessarily a cause for concern as long as everything else is okay and the injured area is not reddened, ulcerated, or fails to heal. Those signs can indicate a bacterial infection, and you should treat your fish with suitable antibacterial medication.
Why is my betta fish turning black?
It’s not unusual for a betta fish to become darker in color as it matures. In some cases, the betta’s naturally bright colors morph completely into almost black. That’s not generally a cause for concern and is merely part of the fish’s natural aging process.
Marbled bettas, for example, commonly change from bright colors to black, so if you have a marble fish, don’t worry. Other fish species, including goldfish, can also change color completely from bright orange to white to black and bronze simply because they are getting older.
However, to be on the safe side, we recommend you check the water quality and temperature in your betta fish’s tank and look out for other signs that could indicate a health or stress problem for your fish.
How to make your betta’s colors brighter
Assuming your betta fish is healthy and free from disease, the water conditions, and tank temperature are suitable, and it lives in an enriched environment, you can sometimes boost your fish’s colors through its diet.
Feeding your fish a color-enhancing diet can produce dramatic results in a relatively short time.
Betta fish are omnivores, although the majority of their natural diet consists of meaty foods. So, by feeding your betta a high-protein diet, you can replicate what he eats in the wild environment. Feeding your betta a diet that’s rich in meaty proteins such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, krill, and the like is the best way to bring out your pet’s natural beauty and helps prevent color loss.
Bettas love live food, especially bloodworms and mosquito larvae. However, unless you have a very good supplier, we advise against offering live foods to your betta. Unfortunately, many parasites and bacteria find their way into fish tanks with contaminated live foods. Instead, feed your betta frozen meats and color-enhancing betta flakes. If you have space and time to devote to the project, you might want to raise your own brine shrimp in a home hatchery.
Betta fish can and do change colors for many reasons. However, one of the most common reasons betta’s lose color and vibrancy is stress.
Poor conditions in tanks or incorrect water temperature are the primary causes of stress in bettas, so always check the tank temperature, water parameters, and water quality before you do anything else. Bettas also change color as they age and in response to illness. And if you’re the proud owner of a marble betta, you can expect plenty of color changes throughout its lifetime.