Betta fish are an extremely popular pet, and each one has its own unique personality. Not many fish can be trained to perform tricks, but a betta can! Bettas become bored if kept alone in their tank, and they do love toys to keep them amused. In fact, the more interaction there is between you and your pet, the happier and healthier he will be. Many fish stores sell betta exercise mirrors, and you may have been considering buying one.
But do betta fish enjoy exercise mirrors, and should you provide one for your pet?
In this article, we take a look at betta fish and mirrors to find out whether a mirror is a good idea for your pet.
Male bettas are the ones that are a popular choice as pets, largely because of their bright colors and spectacular, flowing finnage. However, you can only keep one male betta in your aquarium, as these fish are highly territorial and will attack any other betta that enters their patch. It’s the betta’s legendary aggression that earned the fish its common name, The Siamese Fighting Fish.
You can trigger that instinctual behavior by showing your betta his reflection in a mirror. But is that a good idea?
If you show your betta his reflection in a mirror, he will immediately become more animated, and he’ll most likely “flare.”
What is “flaring?”
When a male betta sees another male in his territory, he will flare his gills and fins in a demonstration of aggression that makes the fish appear to be bigger than he really is. Usually, one of the fish backs down. However, if it’s a stalemate situation, a fight may ensue, sometimes until one of the fish dies.
Interestingly, a wild betta will actively avoid such confrontations and is more likely to hide away than pick a fight. However, during the dry season, it’s not uncommon for two fish to become trapped in a small puddle. For that reason, bettas have evolved to be extremely capable jumpers, and that ability enables the fish to move from small bodies of water where they could be challenged or endangered by another betta, simply leaping to safety.
Sometimes, bettas flare for no apparent reason, as if they were just having a stretch, and it’s thought that the behavior is simply that.
Female bettas also flare at each other. That behavior is often seen in betta sororities when a pecking order is being established and usually disappears once the hierarchy has been sorted out.
Why does your betta flare at you?
You may notice that your betta flares at you when you’re carrying out maintenance in his tank or approaching the aquarium to feed your fish. That flaring is a sign of stress. Maybe your fish sees you as a giant predator, and that puts him on the defensive. Or perhaps he’s just excited because he knows it’s feeding time. Flaring certainly doesn’t mean that your pet hates you or is displaying aggression toward you.
Make sure that you only use gentle, slow movements so that you don’t frighten your betta, especially when you’re vacuuming his tank or carrying out water changes. You should find that your pet will get used to the activity around him, and the flaring will gradually become less frequent or intense.
So, flaring is quite stressful for your pet, and too much of it can shorten the lifespan of a betta fish. That being said, a small amount of flaring can be beneficial for your betta, which is why betta exercise mirrors are quite popular.
Why use a mirror?
As long as you do it in moderation, there are a few benefits to using a mirror with your betta fish.
Encourages natural behavior
Bettas are naturally fighting fish. That’s what they do! A wild betta spends his days hunting for food, chasing other males out of his territory, or looking for a mate. Captive fish don’t have any of those distractions, and they do become bored. Boredom leads to stress, and that’s a very bad thing for your fish. So, short periods of excitement and distraction are good for your pet, and that’s where a mirror comes in handy.
If you show your fish his reflection in a mirror, he will immediately think that a rival has entered his precious territory. Your fish will chase the perceived intruder away for a while, and once the mirror is removed, your pet will assume he’s won the battle.
As we’ve already mentioned, fighting is a natural thing for a betta fish to want to do. However, you must never put two bettas together just to make them fight. That’s cruel, as the fish can’t escape each other, and one of them is bound to get hurt. If you use a mirror, you take away the risk of injury. Once your betta has “defeated” his imaginary rival, you can remove the mirror, and your fish will live to fight another day, satisfied that he’s vanquished his challenger!
Peace in the tank
There are quite a few fish species that make good tankmates for bettas, and the aquarium is usually a harmonious environment for all the residents. However, if a betta doesn’t get enough exercise or stimulation, he can become hostile toward his friends. An exercise mirror can be a great tool that helps to relieve much of that pent up frustration, ensuring that your betta is less hostile toward his tankmates and restoring harmony to the community.
As previously mentioned, bettas can become bored in captivity, especially if they don’t have any tankmates to keep them company. You could consider introducing a few ladies to the mix, but even a betta sorority can present its own set of problems.
An exercise mirror can be a great way of relieving your fish’s boredom. After seeing his reflection and chasing off the intruder, your pet will immediately begin patrolling his aquarium to make sure that the rival has gone. That can encourage a lazy betta to take more exercise and also prevents him from being bored.
Bettas can suffer from constipation, especially if you overfeed them. Flaring can actually help to relieve the condition, partly by flexing the fish’s internal muscles and partly by triggering the creature’s fight or flight hormones. In fact, you will often see a betta emptying his bowels while he is flaring.
That being said, it’s much better not to overfeed your pet in the first place. Check out the article at this link for expert, detailed information on how and what to feed your betta fish.
Bubble nest building
Male bettas build bubble nests as part of their spawning behavior, regardless of whether there’s a female fish present in the tank.
If you show your betta his reflection in an exercise mirror, you will stimulate your fish’s spawning instincts, and he will most likely start building a bubble nest. If there’s a female present in the tank, the male will be more likely to show an interest in spawning if he thinks he has competition from another male.
Betta owners love to take photos of their pet and to get the best pictures of your betta in his prime, and you want to see him flaring. So, showing your fish his reflection if an exercise mirror is a great way of producing the perfect pose for a great shot!
How long is too long?
When using your betta’s exercise mirror, you should be careful not to overdo it. Although mirrors are great for betta exercise, we don’t recommend that you encourage your pet to flare for more than five minutes per session. Aim for little and often when it comes to using a mirror for betta exercise. So, you could use your fish’s betta exercise mirror each day for 30 seconds or so or choose to show your pet his reflection for five minutes, perhaps twice a week.
However, every fish is an individual, and it’s up to you to watch your betta so that you make sure that he’s not becoming too upset and stressed. Never encourage your fish to attack his reflection to the point that he becomes exhausted or manic.
As we’ve mentioned, it’s not healthy for your betta to be constantly stressed, so you shouldn’t use his mirror too often. However, there can be mirrors everywhere that you can’t see, but your betta can! Inside the aquarium, the interior surfaces of the glass tank can act as mirrors, reflecting his image right back at him. So, if you notice your fish flaring, apparently at nothing, that could mean that he has spotted himself in a reflection inside his tank.
You can place pieces of card or fabric against the outside of the aquarium glass to prevent the reflections that are upsetting your betta. Alternatively, you can place tall plants against the tank sides and back to cut out reflections and glare.
Of course, there are plenty of other toys that you can offer your pet as an alternative to his exercise mirror. A floating ball is a very popular toy that bettas love! Simply drop a ping pong ball into the tank and watch your betta push the ball around on the surface of the water!
Hollow floating logs make a perfect hiding place and toy for your betta. These toys are made from resin and float just below the water surface, creating a cave that your fish can hide in.
Betta fish need lots of stimulation and interest to keep them happy and healthy. Flaring is part of a betta’s natural behavior, and, for that reason, it’s important that your pet gets to regularly indulge in small amounts of flaring. However, it’s important not to overdo it, as aggression and flaring are also forms of stress, which can be harmful to your fish if he’s stressed out too often and for too long.
We recommend that you use a betta exercise mirror with your betta for 30 seconds or so several times a week. That will give your pet some exercise, keep boredom at bay, and will enable your fish to show his natural instinctive behaviors.