Betta Fish Yawning

Is My Betta Fish Yawning? What To Do When You See This Behavior

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Did you see your betta fish appearing to yawn? Well, we know that betta fish do sleep, but do bettas yawn, and if not, what on earth was your fish doing?

Read this article to find out.

Do Betta Fish Yawn?

Bettas are not known to yawn in the same way that people and other mammals do. 

However, there are a few times when you might see your fish appearing to be yawning. Mostly, that behavior is not a cause for concern, but there are times when “yawning” can indicate a serious problem that you need to address.

Let’s find out more!

Labyrinth Breathing

Betta fish are labyrinth breathers.

What does that mean?

Labyrinth fish are more correctly called Anabantoidei and are an order of ray-finned freshwater fishes that includes gouramis. There are 137 species of labyrinth fishes, and bettas fall within this group.

All the fish in this group possess a labyrinth organ, a kind of lung that enables the fish to breathe atmospheric air. Bettas are not born with a fully-formed labyrinth organ. That physiological feature develops as the fish matures.

The Labyrinth Organ

When your betta swims to the water surface and takes a gulp of air, that air passes into the labyrinth organ. The oxygen contained in the air is then absorbed into the fish’s bloodstream.

Inside the labyrinth organ, there are many cavities or tiny compartments formed by thin bony plate-like structures called lamellae. The lamellae are covered with fine membranous tissue that facilitates the passage of oxygen into tiny blood vessels, which then carry the oxygen throughout the fish’s vital organs and body tissues.

Fish Out Of Water

Remarkably, if a labyrinth fish ends up in a shallow puddle or even out of the water altogether, it can survive for a short while by breathing via its labyrinth organ. Some fish can even crawl across the wet ground to find a body of water, and there’s even a fish called the Climbing perch that can climb trees!

Labyrinth fish, including bettas, actually need to breathe atmospheric air, as they can’t obtain all the oxygen they need from the water. That’s because the fish’s gills simply don’t function efficiently enough to fulfill their oxygen requirements. So, the fish must top up its oxygen supplies from the air by breathing through its labyrinth organ.

Water Temperature

For the labyrinth organ to function correctly and remain healthy, the ambient air temperature in the room where you keep your betta tank must be as close as possible to the water temperature in your betta’s aquarium.

Yawning?

So, if you see your betta heading to the water surface and appearing to yawn, he’s actually breathing through his labyrinth organ. That’s a perfectly normal betta behavior in bettas and generally indicates that your fish is feeling happy and you’re a good betta dad or betta mommy.

Bubble Nesting

Betta fish are also bubble nest builders. Male bettas literally blow bubbles that accumulate under leaves or in a tank corner at the water surface. Although the nest is designed for spawning, it’s common for male bettas to build nests, even if there isn’t a female betta present in the tank. 

Blowing bubbles is just a boy betta thing! In fact, nest building is a perfectly natural behavior that’s generally just a sign that your betta is feeling good. Sometimes, changes in water temperature, altered barometric pressure, or the addition of a new tank mate can also trigger bubble nesting.

So, if you notice your betta yawning at the water surface, it could simply be that he’s blowing bubbles to create a bubble nest.

Gill Flushing

Sometimes bettas open their mouths really wide like a bass, pulling oxygenated water through the gills for a few seconds. There are a couple of reasons for that associated with water quality issues in the tank.

Low Oxygen Levels

As mentioned above, bettas cannot obtain all the oxygen they need from their aquarium water. So, they use their labyrinth organ for breathing atmospheric air by regularly visiting the water surface and taking gulps of air.

Plants

For that reason, it’s a good idea to boost oxygen levels in the water. You can do that by using lots of living plants. Plants produce oxygen and take up carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, helping to oxygenate the water. Plants also absorb nitrates from the water, helping to keep the tank safe for your betta. They also offer shelter, provide a good place for a bubble nest, and flat-leaf species of plants make an excellent betta hammock.

Upscale Your Betta Tank

The addition of an air stone can also help to add oxygen to the water. The bubbles that the air stone produces agitate the water surface, helping to draw more oxygen into the water. However, bettas don’t enjoy too much water movement, so your fish might get stressed by an air stone.

A large, long tank has a much greater surface area than a bowl or small, tall aquarium. A large surface area provides for a much better gaseous exchange so that the tank will be more oxygen-rich than a small setup.

Since bettas with long flowing finnage are often weak swimmers, they are happiest in a long, shallow tank where it’s easier for the fish to get to the surface to feed and breathe. So, you might need to consider getting a new tank for your pet if his current home is small and doesn’t offer much surface area. The minimum tank size for a betta is 5 gallons, so if your pet’s aquarium is smaller than that, you might need to upsize!

Dirty Water

It’s an urban myth that bettas don’t need a filter in their tank. All fish tanks should have a filtration system. 

Filters circulate the water around the fish’s tank, drawing the water through various filter media that remove solid waste from the water. The media also provides a home for colonies of beneficial bacteria that “eat” the waste. Without a filter, the ammonia that the fish produce stays in the water, gradually accumulating until your fish get sick and eventually dies.

If the water is dirty and full of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, you will see your betta’s respiration rate increasing. The gills will also appear red and inflamed, as the harmful chemicals in the water burn the sensitive tissues within the gills. Gill damage makes it difficult for your betta to breathe and, eventually, he will suffocate.

Clean The Tank!

Your first course of action must be to test the water in the betta’s tank using a proper aquarium water testing kit. 

Ideally, the levels of ammonia and nitrite must be at zero. Levels of nitrates should be below 20ppm (parts per million). If you discover that ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate levels are too high, you need to clean your tank immediately!

Use an aquarium vacuum to remove accumulations of fish waste, leftover food, and decomposing plant debris from underneath decorations, in the tank corners, and deep in the substrate. That prevents the organic waste from rotting and poisoning the water.

At the same time, carry out partial water changes of up to 30%, replacing the dirty water with dechlorinated tap water. After the water change, test the water again. If toxin levels are still too high, repeat the water changes a few hours later and repeat the process until the water in the aquarium is clean and within acceptable parameters.

Filter Maintenance

Filters require regular maintenance to keep them working efficiently. 

You can’t just set and forget your filtration system! Over time, the filter media gets clogged with sludge, which stops the pump from circulating the water through the tank. So, eventually, the system stops working properly, and the tank becomes contaminated.

So, once a month or so, you’ll need to remove the media from the filter box and rinse it thoroughly in old tank water. Every once in a while, in line with the filter system manufacturer’s guidelines, you’ll need to replace the filter media completely.

Overcrowding

Cramming too many fish into a tank can lead to many problems, including poor water quality.

Bettas are highly territorial fish that can become very aggressive and stressed if they feel that their patch is overcrowded. For that reason, you should not keep too many tank mates with your betta fish, even if they are peaceful species.

Also, overcrowding leads to increased levels of waste that will put a strain on the filter, potentially overloading it and leading to dirty water.

So, when it comes to bettas, less is definitely more. After all, your beautiful betta buddy is always the star of the show in any tank! 

Talking Betta!

Although that sounds crazy, bettas are intelligent fish that can learn to recognize their owners. They also know when it’s feeding time, coming to the front of the tank when you approach.

Observe your betta closely, and you might notice him appearing to yawn. Many betta owners report seeing that behavior when they go to their pet’s tank to feed him or even for a training session. So, if you see your betta dropping his jaw as you go up to his tank, he could simply be begging for food or saying “hi” in betta speak!

Final Thoughts

So, betta fish don’t actually yawn because they’re tired. 

However, bettas can “yawn” if the water quality is poor or if the oxygen levels in the tank are too low. Test the tank water, and take the necessary action to clean the tank and boost the oxygen levels as described above.

If your betta appears to be yawning and everything else about your pet’s behavior is normal, it’s more likely that he’s simply breathing at the water surface through his labyrinth organ, building a bubble nest, or anticipating food.

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