do betta fish have teeth?

Do Betta Fish Have Teeth? Will They Bite?

If you’re thinking of adding betta fish to your aquarium, you might be asking yourself, “Do betta fish have teeth? And do they bite?”

Those are both reasonable questions to ask, especially if you have a community tank. After all, bettas, or Siamese Fighting Fish as the species is also commonly known, do come with a reputation for being among the toughest fish on the block.

So, let’s find out!

Do betta fish have teeth?

In a word, yes, bettas do have teeth, albeit very tiny ones.

The betta fish is primarily a surface feeder. Look closely at a betta and you’ll notice that his mouth is upturned, making the fish perfectly designed for catching prey that’s floating or swimming on or close to the surface of the water.

If you look closely at a betta fish under a microscope or through a magnifying glass, you’ll notice that his mouth is full of tiny, white teeth. Take a photo of your betta with an iPhone, and then blow-up the picture. You should be able to see your fish’s teeth.

What are a betta’s teeth used for?

Feeding

The main function of the betta’s teeth is for eating and breaking down large pieces of food to aid digestion.

Captive bettas will thrive on a varied diet that includes pellet food, live food, and frozen insect larvae. You may also notice your betta nibbling on fresh plants and algae that you have growing in your tank. 

In the wild, the betta is also omnivorous, enjoying a diet of insects, insect larvae, and plant material. 

In the betta’s natural home, Asia, there is a wide variety of flying bugs that provide a very diverse food supply for bettas and other fish species. The larvae of species, such as midges, mosquitos, and bloodworms need water in which to lay and hatch their eggs. These creatures provide the betta with a readily available, staple diet that’s high in both protein and water content, both of which are vital for the fish’s health.

The betta is an ambush predator, lurking beneath the surface of the water until an insect alights or swims across the water above him. The betta’s teeth enable him to grab and keep hold of his prey, preventing an airborne escape attempt.

The wild betta’s diet is also rich in fiber that’s derived from the exoskeletons of insects and plant fiber. Fiber is essential to prevent the fish from becoming constipated, which is a common cause of mortality in household bettas. That’s why it’s essential to include some live food, such as daphnia or bloodworm in your captive betta’s diet.

Defense

A secondary use for the betta’s teeth is for defense.

Bettas are also known as Siamese Fighting Fish and with good reason. Bettas are fiercely territorial and will fight to defend their patch, often to the death. During a battle, the betta uses his teeth to nip at aggressors or intruders into his territory.

That’s why you should never put two male bettas in the same tank.

Wild betta territory

Bettas come from Asia where they live and breed in river basins and rice paddies. A wild betta’s natural territory is around three feet square, considerably larger than most captive bettas are given. 

Wild bettas live in relatively shallow water that is thick with vegetation. During the dry season, the streams can evaporate, leaving a network of small puddles. Unlike other species of tropical fish, bettas can survive in this environment for a short time thanks to their “labyrinth,” or breathing organ. The labyrinth enables the betta to extract oxygen from the air that the fish breathes through its upturned mouth. 

When the water level gets too low, or if the betta finds himself challenged by a rival sharing the same puddle, he uses his talent for jumping to leap to a larger body of water. So, in his natural environment, the betta has little use for his teeth as a weapon, and they are almost exclusively used for catching food and eating.

Bettas as community fish

Bettas make pretty good community fish. However, you do need to choose your betta’s companions wisely and make sure that there’s plenty of room in the habitat for everyone. To avoid potential arguments and confrontations, always add a betta to an established community, not the other way around.

To thrive, betta fish need five gallons of water for their habitat. However, some fish need more than five gallons to themselves, without the addition of a betta. As a general rule of thumb, each inch of fish requires at least one gallon of water, although as far as bettas are concerned, the more space they have to themselves, the better.

Bettas typically inhabit the upper area of the tank, as they are primarily surface feeders. So, choose midwater species or bottom-dwellers as companions for your betta for a harmonious mix and to prevent potential squabbles over territory.

NEVER put more than one male betta in the same tank! Males are highly territorial and they will fight. However, a small sorority of five or six female bettas makes a good choice for a community that includes a male betta, as do small tetras, Corydoras, shrimp, and ornamental snails. 

Avoid introducing species that are brightly colored or have long, flowing tails and fins, as that could provoke an attack by a male betta. Also, don’t introduce aggressive species, such as barbs, or you could be asking for trouble.

Do betta fish bite people?

Although betta fish have teeth, they don’t generally bite people, unless yours is a particularly aggressive specimen!

Even if your betta does take a nibble on your hand, human skin is more than strong enough to prevent the fish from inflicting any damage. Most bettas are not aggressive towards humans. So, if your fish does “bite” you, he’s probably just being curious, rather than vicious.

Why would your betta fish bite you?

There are several reasons why bettas bite people. 

First of all, bettas are naturally curious and may bite you just to see whether you are edible. So, rather like a puppy, your betta uses his mouth to explore and see what’s what if something strange appears in his territory.

Sometimes, a betta might bite because he views your approaching hand as a threat and reacts defensively by nipping you. 

Finally, bettas are always on the look-out for food. If you put food on your finger to feed your betta fish, he may nip your finger accidentally in his haste to grab a meal.

Bottom line: if you put your hand into your betta’s tank, prepare to be nipped.

How strong is a betta’s bite?

Pound for pound, the betta’s bite is more powerful than that of a great white shark! That’s pretty impressive, but bettas only use their teeth for feeding or defending their patch. Also, the betta’s jaw is tiny, and it’s certainly not strong enough to break your skin. 

So, if you put your hands into the tank when cleaning it, you needn’t worry; a betta is not a piranha, and he won’t take a chunk out of your finger out of malice!

Is a betta’s bite painful?

No, a betta’s bite is not painful to a human. As previously mentioned, the betta’s mouth is too small to inflict a bite that hurts, unless you are another male betta!

So, if your betta does give you a “love bite,” it’ll feel more like a tickle than a pinch, and it definitely won’t hurt. If you’re curious and you want to find out just how it feels to be bitten by your betta fish, try putting a little bit of food on your fingertip and let your betta grab it. Just make sure that your hands are clean and grease-free, or you could risk introducing harmful bacteria into your fish tank.

Why does my betta fish bite and not let go?

Sometimes, your betta fish might bite you and not let go. Don’t panic! Your fish is not attacking you, it’s because his jaw is stuck. That’s why you really shouldn’t encourage your betta to bite you. If your fishy friend gets his jaw stuck open and can’t let go, he could injure himself.

Do betta fish bite during spawning?

If you have female bettas in your tank as well as a male, and your tank conditions are right, you may witness spawning behavior. Bettas can be quite aggressive when spawning, and it’s not uncommon for them to bite each other.

Biting during spawning usually happens when one of the pair of bettas isn’t quite ready to mate. Biting during spawning isn’t restricted to males; female bettas can bite too. If the biting is restricted to small nips and causes no damage to either fish, don’t worry. That usually means that the fish aren’t quite ready to mate.

However, sometimes, biting when spawning can be very aggressive and injuries do occur. If you notice damage to your bettas’ tail or fins, you must separate the bettas immediately. It may be that the two fish just don’t get along, and mating between them will never be successful. 

If the recipient of the bite reacts by darting away and trying to avoid the aggressor, that’s a sure sign that the fish need to be split up.

Final thoughts

Betta fish do have teeth. The teeth are used primarily for catching and eating insects and insect larvae that settle on the surface of the water. 

A betta’s teeth are also used in an aggressive defense of their territory. Sometimes, spawning bettas will nip each other as part of the mating process. However, if you notice overtly aggressive behavior, you must separate the fish right away to avoid serious injury.

Although you may be tempted to put your fingers into your betta’s tank to see if he nips you, it’s not advisable to do that. You could introduce bacteria or other contaminants into the water, which could harm your fish.

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