Enrichment is one of the most essential requirements for your betta’s tank. Plants and other fun tank decorations are usually the first things people think of, but some betta owners insist that their fish enjoy music!
Some even say that their bettas will dance to certain songs! Over the years, I’ve heard several aquarists swear by music as a form of enrichment for their fish, but is there any real benefit to it?
Betta Fish and Music
While some anecdotal evidence shows betta fish enjoy music, most signs point to them not liking it.
In fact, it can even be very stressful for your betta. Even your most relaxing playlist has the potential to impact them negatively.
To understand why, we need to know how fish experience sound.
Fish and Sound
Fish do not interpret sound the same way that humans do. Your bettas have a sense of hearing, but they also interpret sound through vibrations.
Bettas use a lateral line of receptors along their sides to sense sound waves and changes in pressure to help them move through their environment. Because of this, loud music will stress your betta and can have a disorienting effect on them.
This does not mean all sound is harmful or unpleasant for your betta. There is plenty of natural noise in the wild, from flowing water to rainfall. But, the loud sound and sudden noises of aggressive music can be stressful.
One of the best things you can do for any aquarium is to make it as much like your fish’s natural habitat as possible. Your betta is unlikely to appreciate a sweet lullaby of heavy metal as much as the sound of gently flowing water.
Understanding how sound functions in water is key to comprehending why betta fish can be so affected by music.
Sound in Water
Sound will be experienced differently in water than in the air humans live in because of how sound travels. Sound moves by vibrating molecules, so the denser the molecules it travels through, the more efficiently it can travel.
Air is much less dense than water, so sound that isn’t very loud to humans on land can be significantly louder when traveling through water. Also, because your betta is surrounded by water, these excessive sound vibrations are more of a whole body experience for them.
What About Gentle Music?
By now, we can be confident that loud, aggressive music will not win over your betta. But what about more gentle music? Some types of music that we consider mild may still be stressful for fish. Songs with loud, abrupt use of drums or heavy bass can cause strong vibrations in your betta tank.
Some pet owners feel that softer music, like light jazz, is better for their fish at lower volumes. They would still get the benefit of having music without the heavy vibrations that would stress their fish. There is only anecdotal evidence that bettas enjoy this kind of music, but at the very least, gentle music at a low volume should not harm your fish.
Can Betta Fish Dance?
Some fish keepers claim that they have noticed their fish dancing while music is playing. I don’t mean an elaborate salsa, but gently swaying side to side.
While we know that bettas are intelligent, they cannot understand the rhythm of the music. Any type of music will simply sound like random noises to them.
That said, there is no harm in viewing this behavior as dancing. If your betta is reacting calmly, then at the very least, the music you are playing isn’t bothering them.
It is worth noting that if your betta fish swims erratically and aggressively after you start playing music, it is a good sign they are stressed. If that happens, you should lower the volume or turn off whatever you were playing.
There is no definitive evidence to support that bettas enjoy music. While soft music played at a lower volume may be tolerable for your betta, it will just be tolerable at best.
They will not be able to interpret the music as anything other than random noises. There is also no concrete evidence that bettas put their enjoyment of music on display by dancing.
On the other hand, playing your music too loudly can have severe effects on your betta. Harsh vibrations from aggressive music can disorient them and cause high-stress levels.
Fish display stress in several ways, such as swimming erratically, sudden aggressive behavior towards tankmates, and attempting to jump out of their fish tank. None of these behaviors are enjoyable for betta fish.
Always remember that the closer your betta’s environment is to its natural environment, the happier and healthier it will be.