Believe it or not, one of the most popular questions that is asked regarding betta fish is along the lines of “do betta fish change colors?” To many people, the question may sound kind of strange or even a bit absurd. But in all actuality, it’s a really good question! It’s a good question because, in fact, they can change colors. Well they can change colors for different reasons anyway. And as you may have already guessed, that is going to be the topic of this article.
The most common of all reasons the betta fish can and do change colors is due to stress. Don’t worry, there are actually other more positive reasons why bettas change their color. I do want to get some of the bad reasons out first. This is mostly because if you see a betta fish that is going through a color change, you’re going to want to know whether or not you need to take special care of that fish.
So… Can Betta Fish Change Color?
Have you ever been told that you look red with rage, or white as a ghost? These are common reactions that your own personal body has when responding to stressful environments or situations. Betta fish are incredibly similar in that regard. When bettas get stressed, they can end up losing some of their coloring temporarily or get a condition called “stress stripes” or “racing stripes”. These are not “cool” things for your betta fishy to have.
There are actually quite a few people out there that purchase betta fish because of these stress stripes or so-called racing stripes, thinking that they are neat features built-in to these bettas. Stress stripes appear running horizontally on a betta fish generally from gill to tail and are red, black, white or a mixed combination. Please note that if you do see that your betta fish has these stress stripes, it’s a good indication that your betta is suffering some degree of stress and something in his aquatic environment needs to change. More often than not, that has to do with overall water condition or temperature. Check to make sure that the temperature in the aquarium is between 78 and 80°F and that the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are within acceptable limits. It blows me away how many people do not have aquarium water test kits. Please, for the love of all that is finely finned and funky, at least take a look at test kits when you are next at the store! When in complete doubt though, change the water regularly.
People that have had betta fish before may have noticed that when they pickup their brand-new betta from the pet store, in a few days there fish no longer looks like it did when they first picked it up. There is generally a lot more color and depth to color in their new fishy friend when it has had time to acclimate to its new home surroundings. While I don’t want to be one to condemn all pet stores in general, it is common that betta fish store shelves in small see-through containers do undergo a certain (terrible) level of stress.
That’s why when you bring your Betta fish home and put him in his brand-new aquarium that is at least 2 ½ gallons, and heated to between 78 and 80°F, and give him time to acclimate to his new surroundings… You end up finding a stress-free and happy fish full of color and life. He didn’t so much like living in that tiny little tub on the shelf, surrounded by other betta fish that he could see, in water that hadn’t been changed in who knows how long. Like I said before, I don’t really mean to slam major retailers or pet stores, and don’t mean to group all of them up into one, but too many are the times that I’ve seen really poorly kept betta fish living on shelves in cups and it’s easy to place blame. Moving on…
Sick Pale Betta, Or Simply Pale Betta?
Betta fish can change color when they’re sick! While finding a sick betta is never a good thing, knowing that they can change colors – actually they get pale they don’t quite change colors – can really help you out in identifying the current health of your fish. Bacterial and fungal infections are some of the associated illnesses that can cause your betta to go pale. Depending on the exact condition and illness of your fish, there are many different symptoms and signs that your betta can exhibit. So, don’t go relying on its color, or lack thereof, in determining exactly what is going on wrong with your poor fishy.
Just like with people, bettas can go gray with age. Well not quite literally gray, but a loss of color as your fish ages is common. So if you walk in and see that your betta looks a little gray in the gills, it might not mean he’s sick. You might have to take into consideration the overall age of your “long in tooth” fishy. Interestingly enough, not all bettas seem to really lose their color much as they grow older. I have one that I’m looking at right now that I know is around the six year mark and he is just as bright and vibrant as he was when I picked him up off the shelf in a pet store all those years ago. Although, I might be a little biased.
Betta or Aquatic Chameleon?
Some betta fish have what is known a marble coloration to them. These types of betta fish are notorious for changing colors. Sometimes changing betta colors many different times throughout their life. These marbled bettas have a really interesting gene mutation known as the “jumping gene”. What’s interesting about this gene is that it has the ability to move between the betta’s chromosomes. Because of this, you might end up seeing color pattern that changes constantly throughout the betta’s life.
One thing that’s important to know, that there’s actually a lot of controversy over, is that marbled bettas can be, and are, just as healthy as their non-marbled relatives. There is as of yet no direct correlation of increased illnesses or ailments with betta fish that are marbled as compared to your everyday run-of-the-mill betta fish. Anybody that tells you otherwise is full of doo-doo.
In any event, some of these jumping gene marble fish can start out completely turquoise in color one day and end up looking like the Star-Spangled Banner the next. Well actually this transformation generally takes well over a few weeks to complete. But you get the idea. All this to say that if you leave home for a while and know that your fish was a certain color when you left, when you get back and find a completely different looking betta fish in your aquarium… Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that something terrible happened to your and somebody is just trying to make up for what you think was lost and subsequently replaced.
One other reason the purdy betta fish may change colors is when they go through a sort of betta fish puberty. If you picked up a particularly young betta fish that hasn’t really reached maturity yet, the odds are good that your betta will, at the very least, darken in color. Betta fish generally reach full sexual maturity quite a bit before they are actually completely full-grown in size. So, it will be kind of uncommon that you would find a betta fish in a pet store that hasn’t gone to that color transformation due to maturity, but it can happen and that’s why bring it up. Uncommon because most of the fish that you can find in your every day pet store are well past that pubescent stage of their life.
Betta Call Me Roy G. Biv
So to wrap everything up, betta fish can and do change colors. They do so for a variety of reasons. If you notice that your betta fish looks more pale than not, you might spend some time closely observing your fish to see that he is not, in fact, sick or simply stressed out. If you notice that your betta fish is completely different colors than he was when you picked him up from the store, or his coloration is vastly different than he was only two weeks ago, you might have yourself a marble betta fish. For the majority of the cases though, as long as you provide your betta fish with enough room to swim around and the proper warm temperatures to thrive in, there shouldn’t be too much color change in a happy and healthy betta fishy. I guess I should have said in an “average happy and healthy betta fish”. In retrospect, I’m not sure exactly what defines average though. Every single betta fish I’ve ever seen is different and unique in his/her own way. Especially in personality types. But it seems now I’m rambling and I think you get the idea!