In stores, you can find a big variety of foods, from pellets to frozen and live foods. If you have been looking in to choosing a good food for your betta, you might wonder what they actually eat in the wild. To make sure we feed our betta fish good food, it’s best we take a look at what bettas eat in the wild.
What do betta fish eat in the wild?
Wild betta fish are fully carnivorous. This means their diet is based fully out of small invertebrates and insects. Their most common prey animals are water-bound larvae, such as mosquito larvae, zooplankton and crustceans but will take anything they can swallow.
Some common creatures wild bettas eat
- Mosquito larvae
Mosquitos are one of the most common insects living in the tropicals and are very common in Southeastern-Asia. The habitat where bettas live are the ideal circumstances for mosquitoes to lay their eggs: shallow pools without much current and lots of organic materials. After the raining season, females will start laying eggs. During these months, bettas can feast on a lot of mosquito larvae swimming at the surface. Because mosquito larvae appear in different sizes, they serve as food for younger fry and adult fish.
Zooplankton are very small, <2 mm big plankton species. They are minuscule organisms, living in salt and freshwater who eat other phytoplanktons. Due to their size, they make great food for small betta fry who can’t get the big prey animals.
Crustaceans are a taxon of species such as crabs, lobsters and shrimp. Bettas will eat these small, in fresh water living creatures. A great example commonly used as betta food are brine shrimp (Artemia salina). Although they don’t live in the natural habitat of wild betta fish, there are a lot of species similar that do. Daphnia are crustaceans too.
Bettas are top-water feeders so they mostly hunt at the water surface. When flies fall down in the water and move, there’s a big chance a betta will take it from the surface. I sometimes even feed fruit flies as a treat for my wild bettas.
Of course these are just a part of what the diet of wild betta fish looks like. And mostly, bettas will take whatever is alive and fits in their mouth.
What does betta fry eat in the wild?
When just hatched, bettas will feed for a couple of days from their yolk sack. Only after a few days when they start swimming themselves and leave their father, they start hunting. Just like the adults, betta fry will basically take on anything alive and small enough.
Wild betta fry eat a variety of small organisms such as infusiora and small zooplanktons. These are mostly very common in the wild habitats due to the ideal environment with low water-levels, and no current. The bottom, which is made of organic materials, provides food and shelter for the prey animals.
Once bigger, they start taking on bigger prey and switch to things like small worm species (e.g. tubifex) and other larvae. Betta fry is also solitary and doesn’t school up to hunt.
Betta fry in the wild grows slower and becomes sexually mature at an age of around 4-5 months. To really develop the colouring and size of an adult, it can take up to 8 months.
Do bettas eat each other?
Yes, they do. Adult betta fish won’t hesitate to take on a fellow-betta, if it fits in their mouth. An adult betta can only get fry that’s smaller than a few millimeters and will leave bigger fry, as well as each other alone.
However, most fry will be too fast and other bettas will only be a very small proportion of their diet. If you have a big betta and you place nano fish with it, it can perfectly be your betta will eat some occasionally. I don’t recommend feeding feeder fish or other fry to your betta however and recommend sticking to live foods.
What to feed your betta fish
There are a lot of food types on the market, and when starting to look for what’s best for your betta fish this might be somewhat confusing. A lot of bad information is out there and betta fish can be quite picky.
Here are the foods I recommend and that are fed most often to bettas.
Live foods are great to get your betta excited and condition them. When feeding live foods, there is a very big chance your betta will take it, even if he hasn’t eaten anything for days/weeks. It’s also great to condition your fish for spawning or recover them from a disease. It also stimulates natural behaviour and your bettas will actually need to do something for their food.
The reason I put them first is that they’re exactly what betta fish eat in the wild. It’s the best way to replicate their diet in the wild. I personally prefer live foods and love seeing my wild betta fish hunt them.
However, getting your hands on different kinds of live foods can be hard. If you live in Europe like me, there will probably be a lot of stores closeby. Or catch them yourself like I do. If you live in the US or elsewhere, it might not be as easy to buy.
If you can’t buy them, there’s a good chance you can catch some of it yourself. The most common and easy to find are mosquito larvae. This only works in the summer though. Place a tub outside, add water and some organic material. After a couple of days to some weeks, there will be a lot of larvae, ready for the taking.
Another great food you can probably culture yourself are daphnia or water fleas. The way to culture them is similar to mosquito larvae. Put a tub outside with some organic material and place it in direct sunlight. The goal here is to grow algae.
After a couple of weeks your water should be green. This is the moment to put in your starter culture. You might be able to catch them in dirty pools or stream with a fine net, or buy them. If your tub is full of algae your daphnia will produce light-speed fast and in a week you will have multiple times more fleas.
These are some of the easiest foods to get and culture, but there are many more live foods you can feed such as micro worms, enchantress and bloodworms. Your bettas will certainly like some live foods once in a while and it’s great to give some variation to the classic dried or frozen foods.
Dried foods are the most fed type of foods to aquarium fish. They are easy to feed, relatively cheap and you can buy them everywhere. However, you will need to make sure you choose the right foods, since not all dried foods are the same.
Pellets for betta fish
- The ingrediënts in pellets
These are the most important things when picking food. Like stated above, betta fish are 100% carnivorous. This means that you should look for pellets with very high protein content. Pellets with too much fillers or plant-based ingredients will cause your betta getting digesting problems. This is the reason things like pleco tabs, goldfish food and other universal types aren’t the best choice to feed your betta fish.
- The size of betta pellets
The ideal size of fish pellets is 1-3 mm. If you feed pellets too big bettas can have a hard time swallowing them and, in extreme cases, your fish might choke. If you buy specialized betta pellets however the size will mostly be ideal already.
- Floating or not?
The best is to feed floating pellets. As cited above, all bettas have mouths pointed above and are optimized to feed off the water surface. And so, floating pellets will relate more to their natural hunting behaviour than sinking pellets.
Flakes for betta fish
Another commonly fed dried food is flake food. Although there are less specialized betta flakes then there are pellets. Flakes can cause more pollution by uneaten food and are often less rich in proteins than pellets, and contain more artificial clouration. Bettas can be extra picky towards them. This is why I would recommend choosing pellets above flakes.
However, there are some reasonable flakes, but you should be extra careful when picking a type you want to feed.
Where to buy dried foods
Most regular aquarium stores have a variety of fish food available. However, these it’s best to search for specialized pellets. Most reputable and trustworthy stores will have some specialized betta foods available. These will be the best choice since they are made specifically for the needs of your betta.
If you want to buy online, I recommend Aquarium Co-op. They have a couple of different pellet kinds specifically for betta fish.
Frozen foods are great for betta fish. Frozen food is essentially just live foods frozen in and so you can know for sure you are getting high protein foods, without looking at tables and ingrediënts. Although there are differences in quality of frozen foods too.
Another advantage is that the organisms are frozen right after processing. While with live foods you can have loss in nutrients because they need to stay in the package for days before being fed.
There is a big variety of frozen foods available on the market. With frozen foods it’s even more important to feed a varied diet. Frozen foods exist of only one kind of food. This means the nutrients gotten from one feeding session have more of some ingredients, and less of others.
- Mosquito larvae
Mosquito larvae come in two varieties. The white mosquito larvae and black mosquito larvae. Both are similar and can be fed together. White mosquito larvae are more like glass worms and can be seen through much easier. I also found these float more than black mosquito larvae.
Bloodworms or often called red mosquito larvae, since they are larvae from midge flies (non-stinging mosquitos). Bloodworms can be easily distinguished by their deep red colour. But an often made mistake is calling these larvae the same as Glycera, who are also called bloodworms. Glycera however only occurs in salt water and can get over 15 inches and have a venomous bite!
These mosquito larvae originally live on the bottom of pools among the habitat of wild betta fish and form a part of their diet. These are less suitable to feed often since they have a lot of iron and proteins in them, but almost no other nutrients. Because bloodworms have a harder exo-skeleton and when feeding too often it can cause constipation.
Don’t confuse tubifex with bloodworms. Actually, tubifex are real worms and bloodworms aren’t. Tubifex are black-red, long and slim worms who will clamp on to each other forming a ball. Tubifex can be a bigger risk for diseases or parasites since they live in polluted riols and rivers. However, when you buy tubifex worms these are almost always cleaned and bred in a clean environment.
Once frozen, the risk getting diseases will also decrease.The disadvantage of frozen tubifex is that they tend to break down into pieces faster.
One of the more common and used live foods in your aquarium are brine shrimp, or scientifically Artemia salina. Apart from feeding and breeding the artemia babies for your bettas the adult fish are often fed often too. Adults can get up to 10mm and are mostly sold frozen. They’re great to feed and contain lots of useful nutritions and proteins.
You can find them in most stores, but raising them yourself is possible too.
What to feed your betta fry
Feeding your betta fry is harder than feeding adults, since they will only eat live foods until they have grown bigger.
Infusoria are great to feed just swimming betta fry. Infusoria are similar to zooplankton and are very small organisms living on organic materials. In a healthy aquarium there will always be some Infusoria, but not so many because of the lack of food and fish who eat them.
To get enough infusoria to feed your fry, you will need to culture them.
This is not hard to do at all. The only things you need are some vegetables/ other organic materials, a jar and aquarium water.
Fill the jar with aquarium water and add the organic material. Obviously, the more organic materials and water you add the more Infusoria you will get. You can also use pond water or water from a tub in your garden, although the risk of bringing diseases in is bigger.
Place it on a place that receives enough light and doesn’t close the lid. It can smell so you might need to put it somewhere you don’t come often. After one to two weeks you should be able to see small creatures swim. This is the moment to harvest them. I find they are attracted to light, so just darken your room and place a bright light at the bottom of your tank. After a couple of mins, they will gather at this place. Just get a pipet and suck up most of them, et voilà, fresh food for your fry.
- Vinegar eels
Vinegar eels can be fed to small fry and are a good variety or alternative to infusoria. Vinegar eels are very small eels of around 1-2 mm big. They feed on apple particles and live in a mix of vinegar and water. They are great to feed along with BBS, but smaller and bigger fry will not see them.
- Baby brine shrimp
Baby brine shrimp are the most used food for fish fry and are great in terms of nutrients and proteins. They have everything to make your fry grow quickly and are relatively easy to culture. You can feed them to fry after a week or so, after feeding vinegar eels or infusoria for a while. You can feed BBS until your fry is almost full-grown. After your fry has grown to an inch or so, I advise starting to feed other foods such as tubifex and grindal worms.
Tubifex are great to feed to older fry. You might need to cut them into pieces with scissors to make them easy to eat for your fry. Don’t feed tubifex too often and variate with other foods like BBS, grindal worms and mosquito larvae.n.
Variety is key
As stated a couple times above, variety is the most important thing when it comes to food. Especially with natural foods (frozen and live) who only have certain nutrients in them. If you only feed one kind this can cause your betta to have a lack of certain nutrients, and eventually can become sick.
If you feed high-quality dry pellets, you can mostly stick to one type since it will have everything your betta needs. However, I still recommend to variate somewhat in the nutrients your fish gets and add some extras to the diet.
How to choose the best quality foods
When it comes to food, you really shouldn’t cheap out. The price is mostly a good indication for the quality of your food. Cheap foods will have more fluff in them such as fillers who are bad for bettas. They will also contain more preservatives and artificial colouration. Even if it’s food specifically for betta fish it’s always recommended to check up the ingrediënts and additives first.
Some of the dried foods I recommend as high-quality foods are Hikari Betta pellets and Ocean Nutrition betta pellets. They are available at Aquarium Co-Op and Amazon.
Betta fish are fully carnivorous in the wild and should be fed with a variety of meat-based foods for them to thrive. Best foods are live and frozen, but high quality pellets are great too. The key is to feed a variety of a couple of different foods, to make sure your betta receives all the nutrients it needs. Choose high-quality foods and don’t cheap, since cheap foods don’t have the nutrients your betta needs.