Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Betta Vases

As you are all aware by now, every now and again I see something that disgusts me and I get on a high horse about it. Here’s another one for your innocent eyes. If you disagree with my opinion, that’s great! But I am entitled to my opinion as well.

A few years ago, I went to the mall with my family and saw a kiosk there with these wonderful plants growing in a jar of water with brightly colored marbles in the bottom. I thought these were beautiful and was even more awed by their beauty when, to my delight, I spotted a fish swimming around in this water. I stopped to talk to the clerk at this kiosk and ask her about these fish.

The fish, I was informed, was a betta splendens (commonly referred to as the betta, or Siamese Fighting Fish). Bettas, I was told, live in stagnant water in the wild and do not need the special air pump and air stones that other types of fish require to stay alive. They breathe air from the surface of the water. She then told me, that this vase was a complete ecosystem. The betta would live by eating the roots of the plant, the plant would grow stronger because it would absorb the betta’s waste materials and they would thrive and grown without any intervention from me, so long as I replaced the evaporated water with bottled spring water.

I didn’t buy one of these vases at this time, my children were very young then and I could just see the vase getting knocked over, plant and fish both ending up dead and a child needing to go to the hospital with glass stuck in a foot.

I remained fascinated with the beauty of these vases, though, and never failed to stop and look at them when I walked past the kiosk in the mall.

A few years later, two years ago in fact, a dear friend brought me a wonderful gift for Christmas. It was a vase, with a bright blue betta swimming around in it, and directions for placing a plant in the vase and how to care for it. She advised me to feed the fish, regardless of the insistence that this was a complete ecosystem. She was intelligent enough to make these vases herself and found out from the staff at the pet store where the fish were purchased, that bettas are true carnivores, needing no plant material in their diets whatsoever.

Another vase was brought over at that time as well, but the friend it was intended for asked me to keep it for her, for fear that her younger children would kill the fish. It was agreed and I left these fish in the care of my wonderful husband for nearly a year. He insisted that placing a plant in these vases was cruel, and so we left the plants out and stuck with the fish and enjoyed them.

This past Halloween, we lost Odin. There was no explanation for it. He didn’t stop eating, no rhyme or reason at all. I bought another blue betta to replace Odin, and so Thor came into our lives. Because I fell in love with Thor at the store, I decided I would care for him myself and he began to reside on top of our entertainment center, out of direct sunlight, but where it stays relatively warm. The other fish, Loki, remained in the basement.

A few months later, I found my new friend, a red betta with black beneath his scales. He was quickly dubbed, Tiu and settled into a small vase on top of the fireplace mantle. The very day that I brought Tiu home, Loki began to sulk at the bottom of his bowl. We couldn’t figure out why, we followed a fairly strict regimen of weekly water changes, but Loki would only come up to eat.

It was then that I began doing some actual homework on these fish, which I have developed such a fondness for. Let me share what I have discovered with you:

Betta splendens is a tropical fish, needing water temperatures between 74 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why Thor was doing so well where he was placed, because the water stayed warm. In the basement, the temperatures sometimes drop to the low 40’s in the winter here. It was far too cold in the basement for Loki to stay healthy and happy. We moved Loki upstairs. I began doing more homework as I searched for a purple fish for my friend, who had decided that she was ready to keep a betta, but Loki was simply too old to consider moving to a new location.

I discovered that purple bettas are rare, that breeders that sell these fish charge anywhere from 25-200$ a piece, a far cry from the three dollars and change you might see at your local pet store. Pet store bettas are fine and equally beautiful to breeder bettas, so long as you watch for a healthy specimen that is active, and is paying attention to you when you walk up to the shelf. Another sign of a healthy fish is weather the male is blowing bubbles on the surface water of the cup that he is being kept in. The bubbles are the betta’s nest. The male builds the nest for the females to lay their eggs in. In other words, a horny fish is a healthy fish.

Further reading turned up some more information on betta vases. In summary, these vases are cruel to the fish. The water temperatures in these vases are often far too cold for the fish to survive happily. Bettas benefit from filtration as much as other fish do, though they can live in disgusting environments that does not mean that these situations are best for them. Bettas are tropical fish and this vase needs to be kept in a warm place if you insist upon having it. A betta is best kept in a tank with a water filter and a heater to keep the temperature steady.

Bettas are carnivorous fish. They do not eat the roots of the peace lily in the vase. Most fish in these vases, sold as ecosystems, die within five weeks. It takes about five or six weeks for a betta to starve to death in one of these contraptions. That’s a long time to suffer.

The peace lily does not absorb the ammonia from the water, which is produced by the fish, as advertised. Regular water changes, happening at least once a week, in these vases is a key to the health of the fish and the plant otherwise both will die.

If you have one of these vases, please consider spending a few extra dollars on a small tank for your fish. All-glass makes a wonderful starter system called a “Minibow” in two and a half and five-gallon versions. The cost is right around thirty dollars, (U.S.) for the smaller system and such a system is great for a single betta.

In conclusion, the betta splendens (betta, Siamese fighting fish) is one of the most beautiful aquatic species in the world. They are a hardy fish that will put up with a lot of our mistakes and are a great fish for those who are looking to keep a freshwater aquarium. Their colors encompass the whole of the rainbow, and yes, they are a great accent to any décor, but keep in mind that these are animals. They are not just decorations to make your house look more interesting. They are pets and with having pets comes responsibility. Be a responsible person and add to the beauty of your décor by having an aquarium for your betta and a few other compatible fish.

Sources/Credits: – Bob Fenner and the WWM crew are amazing folks who take time out of their day to answer the questions of innumerable hobbyists around the world. Their dedication to the aquatic friends they love so much contributed to the writing of this essay. – The site owner of Bettas R Us is a betta breeder. Her article on the cruelty of these vases opened my eyes. I hope that my essay opened yours as well. If you have one of these delightful wet pets, visit her site. She has so many resources available to the new betta owner, that it is simply indispensable.