Can guppies make good tankmates for betta fish?
There’s no doubt that a school of brightly colored guppies flitting around your tank makes a beautiful display that’s the perfect complement to your betta’s spectacular looks. But are guppies and bettas a marriage made in heaven or a potential nightmare?
On the face of it, guppies are peaceful fish that should get along fine with your betta, unless he’s especially aggressive. However, there are lots of considerations to take into account, not just temperament.
Let’s find out more in our in-depth guide to keeping guppies with your betta fish.
What are guppies?
Guppies are a great species for the beginner fish-keeper to have in their tank.
Guppies are tropical freshwater fish that originate from South America and are members of the Poeciliidae family. There are almost 300 species of guppy, but the one that you’ll see in many hobbyists’ fish tanks is the Poecilia reticulata, or Common Guppy.
Guppies are also known as “Millions fish,” due to their incredibly fast breeding rate, and “rainbow fish,” because of the wonderfully diverse range of colors that you can find. As well as making popular pet fish, guppies have played an important role in freshwaters in Asia, where they have been used to control malaria-carrying mosquitos.
Guppies typically live from one to three years, given the right tank conditions.
What do guppies look like?
Guppies come in myriad different colors and sizes, and many have diversely shaped tails too.
Male guppies are easily identifiable by their colorful tails, stripes, splashes, and spots.
Females are generally larger-bodied with smaller tails and less flashy colors. Male guppies measure between 0.6 and 1.4 inches in length, whereas females are around 1.2 to 2.4 inches long.
Guppies have iridophores. That is, cells without color but which reflect light, creating a beautiful iridescent effect. Some male guppies are solid-colored, while others have patterned bodies.
Body patterns in male guppies:
- Snakeskin: chain-link patterns and rosettes
- Cobra: rosettes with vertical barring
- Tuxedo: back and front half in two different colors
Tail Patterns and Colors:
Male guppies have gloriously colored tails that ripple as they swim, creating a stunning effect.
- Lace: fine, web-like pattern
- Grass: tiny dots that resemble grass
- Mosaic: interconnected, irregular spots
- Leopard: spots resembling leopard spots
The Tail Shapes:
If your guppies breed, you could finish up with a whole new variety!
Guppy and betta behavior
Guppies are peaceful fish that make a great addition to any community tank. These little dynamos are almost hyperactive, continually darting around the tank. Guppies are prolific breeders, and you will often notice the males pursuing the females, wiggling their fins in an attempt to win a mate.
Guppies mostly inhabit the midwaters of the tank, occasionally venturing upward, whereas your betta lives mainly at the surface or upper area of the setup. Betta fish are fiercely territorial, so the fact that guppies generally gravitate to a different area of the tank makes for a harmonious relationship.
That said, if you have a particularly aggressive betta fish, you may find that he regards any fish with a flashy, brightly colored appearance as a threat. So, the brightly colored, flowing tails of the male guppies could trigger your betta to attack them.
Male and female bettas get along fine with female guppies who are much duller than their male counterparts and lack their extravagant tail.
So, what about female bettas and guppies?
Female bettas tend not to have the males’ aggressive streak and are generally peaceable. However, male guppies do mistake female bettas for guppies. And that can lead to disquiet in the tank if the bettas take offense to being the object of the guppies’ attentions.
Female bettas and female guppies get along fine together unless you happen to have a particularly aggressive female betta.
What to do if things go wrong
No matter what precautions you take, there’s no real surefire way of telling how your betta will react when you introduce new fish to your collection.
Always quarantine new fish for at least a week before putting them into your main tank. A quarantine tank is simply a small tank that has the same water conditions and planting as your main display tank.
The idea of quarantine is to allow the fish to settle down while you watch them and see if they show any signs of sickness. If any fish so fall sick, you can treat them in the quarantine tank, rather than risking introducing disease to your existing community.
The quarantine tank can also be used in an emergency if your betta and guppies start fighting. Alternatively, you could place a glass or plastic tank divider into your main tank to separate the fish. Sometimes, things do settle down after a few days into a peaceful, harmonious relationship, and you can then remove the divider.
Guppy and betta habitat and tank conditions
Guppies are susceptible to stress, so providing them with ideal tank conditions is vital for a healthy community.
First of all, you must have a tank that’s large enough to accommodate your betta and a small school of guppies comfortably. Overstocking your tank is a sure way of stressing your fish, potentially leading to disease and even mortality. As a rule of thumb, your tank should be at least 10 gallons, preferably larger.
It’s recommended that you allow one gallon of water per fish in your tank. However, if you are housing guppies as well as a betta, it’s advisable to provide them with a bit more room than that. So, you could have a 10-gallon tank for one male betta and three guppies. With every additional five gallons, you could add three more guppies.
When buying guppies, you want to have one male for every two females. Male guppies can become extremely attentive to their females when breeding, so it’s best to have more ladies than boys to prevent the girls from becoming stressed by the males’ attentions.
Although guppies don’t tend to leap out of the water, bettas can and do jump. Jumping from puddle to puddle is a natural behavior that bettas use in the wild during the dry season, enabling them to change location in search of food, new territory, or a mate.
For that reason, always choose a tank with a lid or cover the top with fine-gauge wire to prevent escape attempts.
Water temperature and pH
Guppies do best in water that’s kept between 750 and 820 Fahrenheit. Bettas need a water temperature of 780, which is fine for guppies too.
Place the heater at one end of the tank close to the pump so that the heat is distributed evenly throughout the tank. Your thermometer needs to be at the opposite end of the tank, enabling you to check that the water is a consistent temperature throughout.
Guppies can tolerate a wide range of water conditions, although the ideal pH for them is between 7.0 and 7.2. Betta fish need a pH level of 7.0 to thrive and remain healthy. So, both species are compatible in that regard.
Both bettas and guppies need clean water, ideally with an ammonia level of 0ppm (parts per million), a nitrite level of 0ppm, and a nitrate level of a maximum 20ppm, preferably less. You’ll need to get yourself a testing kit so that you can monitor the pH levels in your tank.
Betta fish don’t tolerate fast-flowing currents in their tank, so choose a filter that can be adjusted to a low flowrate.
Remember to carry out partial water changes of around 25% every week to keep your tank water free-from nitrates and ammonia.
Tank decoration and planting
Guppies enjoy a well-planted tank with lots of rocks, substrate, and live plants. Choose a black substrate that will show-off the bright colors of your betta and guppies, as well as highlighting the bright green of your collection of live plants.
Be sure to include hiding places for your fish. Bettas do like to hide away sometimes, especially if they’re stressed by being moved to a new tank or the introduction of new tankmates. However, guppies generally stay out in the open unless feeling stressed or sickly.
Feeding your guppies and betta
Like bettas, guppies are omnivores, feeding on both animal and plant matter, including algae. Both species enjoy freeze-dried foods, such as mosquito larvae and bloodworms, as well as species-specific foods.
Choose a fish food that is high in protein and contains minimal fillers. You can check that by looking at the list of ingredients on the packaging. Look for a high-quality guppy food that has proteins, including meat products, listed first.
You should feed your fish once or twice a day, every day bar one. A fasting day is important, as that enables your fish to thoroughly digest any food that may be left in their digestive tract, helping to prevent problems such as bloating, swim bladder issues, and constipation.
Offer your fish only enough food to be cleared in a minute or so. Any uneaten food should be removed from the tank so that it doesn’t decompose and release harmful chemicals into the water.
Can you breed guppies?
Guppies readily breed if tank conditions are good, and they have plenty to eat.
Guppies are ovoviviparous. That means that the female fish grow eggs inside their bodies. The baby fish inside the eggs use the egg sac for nourishment. Once the egg sac has been absorbed, the female guppy gives birth to live fry. As birth becomes imminent, you can sometimes see the tiny fry moving around inside their mother.
The gestation period for guppies is typically between 21 and 30 days. Once the fry arrives, a few may survive, although most will probably become lunch for the other occupants in your tank, including your betta!
You can give the fry their best chance of surviving until they become too big to be eaten by providing them with lots of dense plant cover at the bottom of your tank in which the babies can take shelter.
What diseases affect guppies and bettas?
Guppies and bettas are generally reasonably healthy, although there are a few diseases that can affect both.
Both species have long, flowing tails. Although that’s one of the most appealing features of guppies and bettas, their appealing plumage can make them vulnerable to fungal infections.
Ich, pronounced “ick,” is a common disease that affects both guppies and bettas, usually following periods of stress. That’s why the disease is so common in newly purchased fish or when new specimens are introduced into an existing community. Stress lowers the fish’s immune system, leaving the animal vulnerable to attack by the Ich parasite.
Ich is more commonly known as “white spot disease,” thanks to the characteristic tiny white dots that appear over the fins, tail, and bodies of infected fish. Also, you’ll see affected fish flicking or rubbing their bodies on the tank floor, plants, and decorations in an attempt to relieve the itching that is caused by the condition.
Ich is a protozoan disease that’s caused by the parasite, ichthyophthiriasis multifiliis. Fortunately, ich is easy to cure, simply by using a suitable soluble medication that you add to your tank. You can buy ich treatments at all good pet and aquarium stores. With the correct treatment, ich usually clears up within a week or so.
Guppies and bettas are often affected by a condition called fin rot.
You might notice that your fish’s tail appears to have been torn. However, unless you’ve witnessed your fish nipping each other, it’s most likely that your fish has fin rot.
Fin rot is caused by certain types of gram-negative bacteria, including pseudomonas fluorescens, Aeromonas, and Vibrio. All these organisms attack the membranes of the fish’s fins, leaving them torn and ragged. Affected animals are then left susceptible to secondary fungal diseases.
The primary source of fin rot is the conditions in the fish’s living environment. Overgrowth of bacteria is more common in habitats where the water quality is very poor. Overfeeding your fish can contribute to poor water quality.
Also, overcrowding can cause stress, leading to a higher risk of disease. Fighting and living with aggressive tankmates cause stress, which can, in turn, lower the fish’s immune system, making them susceptible to contracting diseases, such as fin rot.
Although you can buy medication that will treat fin rot, the best way to prevent the disease from affecting your fish is to keep the tank clean, maintain the water quality, and ensure that there’s plenty of space for each fish.
So, provided that your male betta is not too aggressive, you can add some guppies to your community tank environment. Guppies and bettas share similar preferences for water and tank conditions, and they eat a similar diet.
If your betta shows signs of aggression towards the guppies, you may need to remove one or other of the parties, using your quarantine tank to keep them separate. Alternatively, you could use a glass or plastic tank divider to keep the warring factions apart until peace returns to your tank.