You will undoubtedly have heard that you can’t keep two male betta fish together in the same tank. That’s true. Male bettas will fight if kept together, often to the death. But what about female betta fish?
You may have heard the term “betta sorority.” A betta sorority is simply a popular name for a group of female betta fish, living together in one tank. So, can a group of female betta fish be kept together safely, and what will happen if you introduce a male betta into the same environment?
In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of keeping a betta sorority, and we also answer some of the most commonly asked questions about keeping female bettas in a group.
First of all, how do you tell the difference between a female and a male betta?
Spot the difference!
Male and female betta fish look very similar when they’re young. That’s because the fish’s body hasn’t developed enough to show bettas’ sexual characteristics.
It usually takes around two months for a betta’s gender to become clear. Male bettas usually have long dorsal, ventral, and caudal fins, with the caudal (tail) fin extending to two or three times the fish’s body height. Female bettas typically have much shorter fins, and the ventral fin often resembles a hair comb.
Although fin length is a reliable indicator of gender in older betta fish, you should combine that with these other characteristics before you can be sure of the sex of your fish:
Male bettas are usually much more brightly colored than females. Female bettas tend to be pretty dull in color, especially on their bodies. If the fish has bright green, red, and blue fins, there’s a good chance that your fish is male.
Note that female bettas become more intensely colored when they are stressed.
Female betta fish have a tiny white spot on their underside, close to the ventral fin near the fish’s head. That spot is the fish’s ovipositor and is used during the egg-laying process. The ovipositor can be difficult to spot in very young fish, but as the fish becomes older, the white spot becomes larger and easier to recognize.
However, you should note that some very young male bettas may develop a “false egg spot” that’s used as a form of protection against other, more aggressive males. The false egg spot and will eventually vanish as the fish matures.
If you compare male and female betta body shapes, you’ll notice subtle differences. Female bettas tend to have short, thick bodies, whereas males tend to be longer and thinner.
Try placing a mirror beside the tank and watch your betta’s behavior. A male betta will flare his gills if he sees what he perceives to be another male in the tank with him. A male betta fish will become obsessed with another male and will keep up the attack. Once you’ve observed your betta’s behavior, remove the mirror so that you don’t stress your fish.
Females can also be aggressive but usually not to the same degree as males. So, although a female betta will often flare to show her dominance, the behavior has less determination, and things soon calm down.
Both male and female bettas have a membrane beneath the gills that is a different color than the fish’s body. The beard is usually black or brown in color, with males having larger beards than females. The female betta’s beard is often only visible when her gills are closed, whereas the male’s beard is more obvious, even when his gills are open.
Finally, male bettas are the ones who construct a bubble nest in the tank prior to mating. So, if your fish is building a nest, it’s definitely a male.
Can a betta sorority really work?
There are conflicting opinions on whether a betta fish sorority really works. Some fish keepers state that two bettas should never share the same tank, except for breeding purposes. However, others have kept communities that include a small group of female bettas without any problems at all.
In general, female bettas can live together harmoniously, once the pecking order has been sorted out. However, you should make sure that the tank you use for your bettas is big enough to allow them sufficient space. The minimum number of fish in your betta sorority should be four or five. Like their male counterparts, female bettas are territorial, and minor squabbles can break out while the hierarchy is figured out among the sorority members.
When choosing your sorority, choose a range of various colors. Some fish keepers have found that female bettas that look very similar tend to be more aggressive toward one another than fish of a different color.
The key to a successful betta sorority is providing the fish with the correct water and tank conditions and keeping stress to a minimum.
As previously mentioned, you must ensure that your tank is big enough for your betta sorority. The minimum tank size that you can use for a betta setup is ten gallons. Ideally, you should choose a bigger tank than that, preferably 20 to 30 gallons. The larger the tank, the more space the fish will have to hide and stay out of each other’s way.
When choosing a tank for your bettas, always go for a long tank, rather than a tall one. That’s because bettas are surface breathers, and they feed at the surface too, so a long, shallow tank will make a less stressful environment for the fish.
When you’re populating your tank with decorations and plants, be sure to provide plenty of vegetation where the fish can shelter. You should also add a few caves and other hiding places. Each girl in the sorority will choose her own territory, so the more plants, pots, caves, or driftwood that you add will help to block the vision between fish, giving everyone sufficient space in which to chill-out.
Betta fish need a temperature of 780 Fahrenheit to thrive. If the temperature moves too far away from the ideal, your fish will become stressed. Stress can compromise the bettas’ immune system, allowing bacteria to attack the fish, potentially causing conditions such as fin rot, white spot, and dropsy.
You’ll need a thermometer for the tank so that you can keep an eye on the water temperature. Always put the thermometer at the end of the tank that’s furthest from the heater. That enables you to make sure that the water is heated evenly throughout the habitat, reducing the likelihood of temperature fluctuations and cold spots that could shock your fish.
Fish waste and decomposing plant matter cause harmful substances, such as ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates to build up in the water. To keep the water clean, you’ll need to install an efficient filtration system in your betta tank.
When choosing a filtration system for your tank, go for one that produces a gentle flowrate. Betta fish are not the strongest of swimmers, and a flowrate that’s too powerful can cause them problems.
Whatever filter system you decide to use, you must be prepared to carry out 25% water changes every week to help keep ammonia levels under control.
Introducing female bettas into a sorority
Once you’ve perfected your aquarium setup, it’s time to introduce your betta sorority. The best way to do this is to introduce all the female bettas at the same time, which helps to reduce territorial disputes.
If you already have other fish in your tank, allow the female bettas’ bubble bags to float beside each other so that they can see their new tankmates. That also reduces the likelihood of temperature shock by allowing the water in the bubble bag to equalize with that of the tank.
After ten minutes or so, release each betta into the tank. Watch the sisterhood carefully for signs of aggression. Hopefully, the fish will all settle down within a short space of time. However, if there is a weak female who falls victim to bullying from a stronger fish, you may need to remove the aggressor to ensure that others don’t become stressed. Try to introduce the betta to the sorority an hour or so later. If she persists in attacking her tankmates, the aggressive betta may need to be kept in a separate tank.
When to call it quits …
Although a betta sorority can work very well, some simply don’t. If, after one week, your female bettas are still showing aggression, you will need to concede defeat and dismantle the sisterhood.
You can do that by separating the girls across your other tanks or passing them on to fishkeeping friends in your network.
What to feed your betta sorority
Betta fish are primarily carnivorous, although some of their diet does include plant matter and certain forms of algae. So, your bettas should be fed a high-protein diet, together with freeze-dried and frozen insect larvae.
You can also include live food in the bettas’ diet, such as bloodworms and brine shrimp, although you must make sure that you buy live food from a reputable supplier. Never source live food from nature. You could inadvertently introduce disease or parasites into your tank.
New arrivals to the tank are bound to be stressed at first and may not have much of an appetite. Be careful not to overfeed your betta sorority. Waste food will fall to the bottom of the tank, where it will decompose, polluting the water as it does so.
Also, betta’s stomachs are only about the same size as their eyes. Overfeeding your betta can cause a condition called “bloat” that could kill your fish.
To read an in-depth article on how to choose the best diet for your betta, check out this link.
Why you shouldn’t have a betta sorority
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that some aquarists warn against keeping a betta sorority. So, why shouldn’t you keep female bettas together in a community?
Although your betta sorority might never overtly attack each other or flare, submission is another form of excessive stress.
Prominent horizontal stripes along the side of your betta are signs that the fish is stressed. However, stress stripes can be very difficult to see in some bettas, depending on their color. For example, stress stripes are usually clearly visible on red and black bettas but they are almost impossible to see on yellow or white fish.
Other signs of stress that you should watch out for include rapid breathing, hiding away for long periods, darting around the tank, poor appetite, and clamped fins.
The rapid spread of sickness and disease
When any species of fish is kept under highly stressful conditions, their immune systems are compromised. In a betta sorority, sicknesses can spread extremely rapidly and can take out an entire tank community in extreme cases.
Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions that people ask when considering setting up a betta sorority.
If you don’t find the information you need, shoot us a question in the comment box below, and we’ll do our best to help you.
Q: How many bettas make up a sorority?
A: Ideally, a betta sorority should have four to five fish but not more than ten if your tank is large enough.
Q: Can a male betta fish live with a sorority of female bettas?
A: Yes, in theory, you can keep one male betta with a sorority of females. However, you should keep a close watch on the community to make sure that the male does not become aggressive with any of his lady friends. It’s also a good idea to have a quarantine tank on standby just in case things go wrong, and you have to remove the male.
Q: Could a female betta kill a male?
A: A female betta will not generally attack and kill a male. Usually, the two will get along peacefully, although you may see a little aggressive behavior by the male if mating occurs.
Q: Are female bettas as aggressive as males?
A: Usually, female betta fish are nowhere near as aggressive as the male of the species. Females tend to be content with chasing away other fish that stray into their territory, rather than nipping fins.
Q: Can a female betta flare?
A: Flaring their gills is an aggressive gesture that you’ll see most often in male betta fish. However, female bettas do occasionally flare to show their dominance, usually when establishing a pecking order in the sorority.
Other suitable tankmates for your betta fish
If a betta sorority didn’t work for you, you could try introducing a few other species to the community to provide some company for your male betta.
Peaceful, community fish, such as shrimp, Corydoras catfish, guppies, African dwarf frogs, and small varieties of tetras all make suitable tankmates for male and female betta fish and can help to keep the environment tidy by eating leftover food scraps and plant matter. However, for the ultimate tank cleaning crew, you’ll need to introduce a few Amano shrimp to the tank.
All the above-named species are known to get along fine with male bettas, and all of them make entertaining and interesting additions to your display tank.
Although it is possible to have a relatively peaceful betta sorority, and your females can share a tank with a male betta, you may experience problems if you have a particularly aggressive female among the sisterhood.
Remember, whilst you can keep four or five female bettas together, you must never keep more than one male in the same tank, as they will certainly fight, often to the death.