Did you arrive home from work or school to find your beloved betta buddy had leaped out of his tank, apparently to commit suicide?
Well, if you did, you’re not alone. Tragically, many betta fish end up dead on the living room carpet, having jumped right out of their aquarium. So, why do betta fish commit suicide? And what can you do to prevent your fishy friend from doing the unthinkable and ending it all?
Read this article to discover the fascinating truth behind betta suicides and learn how to keep your pet safe.
Can Betta Fish Jump?
So, how did your pet fish get out of his aquarium in the first place?
Although some species of labyrinth breathers can climb trees, such as the Climbing Perch, your betta can’t do that. It’s highly unlikely that one of your pet’s tank mates pushed him overboard, and fish don’t generally throw their companions out of the tank, even if they don’t get along.
The fact is that your betta fish can jump! Who knew? Indeed, betta fish can and do jump, albeit only managing to leap a couple of inches out of the water.
But why have bettas evolved to jump?
Wild Betta Jumping Behavior
In their wild environment in Thailand, bettas or Siamese Fighting fish inhabit still or stagnant waters, including ditches, rice paddies, and swamps.
Throughout the year, the environment changes, depending on the season. In the summer months, when there’s little rainfall, some of the betta’s habitat dries up, or ammonia levels in the water become dangerously high.
When that happens, the fish literally move on into a fresh body of water by leaping into the air. If they’re fortunate, the bettas end up in another puddle or stream. Sometimes the fish keep on moving until they find a larger body of water where there’s more food, less competition for territory, and more potential mates.
Bettas can even survive on dry land for a very short period by breathing through their labyrinth organ, as long as their gills and body stay moist.
Also, bettas jump out of the water to snatch insects from the water surface and emergent aquatic plants.
How High Can A Betta Fish Jump?
Betta fish are not especially lively fish or spectacular jumpers. Generally, a betta fish can only jump a few inches out of the water, but that can be enough to send your pet sailing right out of his tank and into danger.
Bettas are intelligent fish that can learn to perform simple tricks. Some owners have even taught their pets to jump through small hoops for a food reward or take a treat from their fingertip. Check out this video clip to see a pet betta fish jumping! That’s not cruel since bettas have evolved to be natural jumpers. Encouraging your pet to jump is a good way of exercising your pet and preventing boredom.
Generally, Plakat bettas are the best jumpers. Plakats are most closely related to wild bettas, and their powerful, stocky bodies and short, broad fins make jumping relatively easy for them. Usually, fancy varieties of bettas that have extravagant, flowing finnage find jumping much more difficult, largely due to the weight of their tail.
Why Do Betta Fish Jump Out Of Their Tank?
But in the captive environment, a betta fish will never be short of water, as he lives in an aquarium, and he will have a ready supply of food.
So, why would a betta fish feel the need to jump out of his tank?
There are several reasons why a pet betta fish would jump out of an aquarium.
Poor Water Conditions
Perhaps the main reason for your betta fish to jump out of his tank is poor water quality and bad water parameters. Just like in the wild environment, if no fresh water is put into your betta’s habitat, the levels of ammonia will quickly accumulate, poisoning your fish. So, to escape the toxic tank, your betta might do what comes naturally and jump out of the foul water in search of a safer pond.
Similarly, if the water temperature in the tank is way too low, gets uncomfortably high, or the pH level is unsuitable, perhaps due to heater failure, your betta fish might do what comes naturally to him and jump out of the tank in search of a more suitable habitat.
Overcrowding Or Tank Too Small
Bettas are highly territorial fish that need a patch to patrol and claim as their own. In the wild, a betta can have a territory in bodies of water that are several feet square. So, if you put your pet in a vase or a fishbowl, he’s going to feel pretty cramped and short of space. The bottom line is that spacious betta fish tanks are the way to go.
So, how big should a perfect betta tank be?
Ideally, your betta fish needs a tank of at least 5 gallons.
However, a larger tank is always better. Many beginner betta fish owners assume that a smaller tank means less maintenance, but the opposite is true. A larger tank contains more water, so the organic waste products that the inhabitants produce are more diluted than in a very small tank. Hence, the water quality tends to be better.
Also, a larger tank has a greater surface area, so the gaseous exchange process is more efficient. That means that the water in the tank will contain more dissolved oxygen. Bettas need lots of oxygen to thrive, so a well-oxygenated tank is crucial for their wellbeing.
Unsuitable Tank Mates
Bettas are highly territorial fish that can become very aggressive if they think a competitor is invading their territory. That’s why you can never keep two male bettas in the same aquarium.
That said, some bettas are quite social fish that need a little bit of company to prevent them from becoming frustrated and bored. The best tank mates for bettas are small, peaceful fish that won’t nip the betta’s fins or hassle him. You can also include snails and shrimp in your betta’s aquarium. These peaceful invertebrates can be quite helpful, as they will graze on algae and general detritus on the bottom of the tank.
However, if you keep large, active fish in the same tank as your betta, you’re asking for trouble. If aggressive fish bully your betta, he may jump out of the tank in an attempt to escape and find safety.
Sometimes, if a betta is a new addition to the household, he might not be accustomed to someone cleaning out his tank. The appearance of a huge hand or aquarium vacuum right in front of him could be enough to scare your fish into jumping out of the tank.
However, under those circumstances, you’ll be around to scoop up the escapee and return him to safety before any permanent damage is done.
Wild betta fish are primarily carnivorous, preying on insect larvae and water-bound insects. Bettas also leap out of the water to snatch insects from above the water, as you can see in this video clip.
In the captive environment, bettas still have that same hunting instinct. Therefore, if a fly or some other kind of small insect lands above the waterline, for example, on the plants in your pet’s tank, don’t be surprised if your betta jumps out of the water to try to grab a meal.
Now, that’s fine unless your pet misjudges his jump and ends up tumbling over the side of the aquarium and onto your living room floor or countertop.
How To Prevent Your Betta From Committing Suicide
Now you know that your betta fish is more than capable of jumping, potentially to his death, it’s up to you as a responsible owner to take action to keep your pet safe.
Fortunately, there are some effortless ways to prevent your fish from jumping out of the tank and accidentally committing suicide.
Put A Lid On It!
Yes, it sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many hobbyists don’t have a lid on their tank.
Many modern fish tank designs don’t include a lid or any form of cover. You might have seen aquariums with hanging lights over the top that don’t have a lid. Although they look very smart, that kind of aquarium is a potential death trap for a feisty betta fish. Of course, vases and bowls don’t have lids. But these containers are not suitable for bettas anyway.
So, always keep your betta in a proper tank with a tightly fitting lid or cover slide to prevent any escape attempts.
Maintain Your Aquarium Correctly
Betta fish are very sensitive to poor water quality. If the water in your fish’s tank is loaded with ammonia and nitrates, your fish will certainly suffer, and he may even attempt to escape by jumping out.
So, every week, you must vacuum the substrate to remove fish waste, dead leaves, and uneaten fish food. If you leave that kind of organic matter in the tank, it will begin to rot, producing chemicals that will pollute the water and poison your betta.
Also, you’ll need to carry out weekly partial water changes, replacing up to 20% of the water in the tank with clean, dechlorinated water. Once a month, you’ll need to rinse the filter media in old tank water to remove sludge and keep the filter system working efficiently. In line with the filter manufacturer’s guidelines, replace the filter media periodically when required.
Give Your Betta Space!
Your betta fish needs space to move around and form a territory in his tank, just as he would if he lived in the wild. So, the smallest tank you should use for a betta fish is 5 gallons, although 10 gallons is much better, especially if you want to keep a community of fish.
Night And Day
Just like you and me, betta fish need to know when it’s nighttime and when it’s daytime. If your betta can’t distinguish between the two, he won’t know when to eat and be active and when he should sleep.
So, you’ll need a lighting unit that comes on for at least eight hours at some point during each day. My tanks have simple timers fixed to the lighting units so that I don’t need to worry about remembering or being around to manually switch the lights on and off for my fish. It doesn’t really matter what time the lights are on, as long as your betta gets a clear night and day scenario.
If the tank has too much light, your betta won’t get enough rest, and he will get stressed. Stress can lead to abnormal behaviors, even causing your betta to try to escape from his tank and end up committing suicide.
Betta Fish Suicide – How To Save Your Fish
Thanks to their labyrinth organ, bettas can actually breathe atmospheric air when they need to. However, your betta won’t last for long if he ends up out of his tank, simply because his body and gills will dry out.
So, how long can your betta survive out of the water?
Generally, a betta out of water can live for only up to ten minutes. After that, death is pretty much a certainty.
How To Treat A Stranded Betta
If you discover your fish out of his tank, you should immediately put him back into the aquarium.
Don’t be surprised if your pet simply lays on the bottom of the tank at first. As the betta’s gills become rehydrated, he should start to breathe again.
It’s a good idea to add aquarium salt to the tank and treat the water with API Stress Coat. That helps to repair the fish’s slime coat that may have been damaged by handling your betta as you rescued him. Also, the betta’s slime coat may have dried out, depending on how long he was out of the water.
Betta fish can and do jump out of their aquarium sometimes, usually because something in their environment triggers that behavior. Perhaps the water has become toxic to your fish, maybe your betta spotted a potential meal above the waterline, or an aggressive tank mate might have chased your betta fish, and your fishy friend jumped out of the aquarium to try to escape his pursuer.
You can prevent your betta fish from committing suicide by checking that all is well in his environment and by putting a lid or cover slide on his tank.
Can your betta fish jump? Tell us about your pet’s acrobatic exploits in the comments box below!