The Beta, or Siamese Fighting Fish, is a remarkably beautiful fish that is just as remarkably hardy. A beautiful, well-kept Beta on your desktop can bring a sense of serenity to your day and give you a break when things get stressful. But is it possible to keep a living creature happy in a small setup on your desk? I believe it is.
A few years ago, there was a big fad of keeping Betas in glass vases with a plant growing out of the top. I will be the first to say that this is a terrible way to keep a Beta. In fact, my first Beta was one I rescued from just such a situation. "Fred" belonged to a coworker who believed that this arrangement set up a perfect microcosm. Therefore, he never changed the water, so poor Fred was forced to swim around in a seething, cloudy soup until I took him over and changed his surroundings. After many months of neglect, Fred came through like a trooper and thrived for many years as my desktop pet.
I kept Betas around the office happily and successfully for several years after that, and here is how I did it.
First, be sure that the container you pick for your Beta is at least a gallon. There are a lot of pretty and interesting containers you can get in this size. One of my favorites is a glass apothecary jar with a glass lid. Just be sure it is not an air-tight glass lid. If it has a rubber seal, remove it!
In addition to the jar, you will need aquarium gravel, marbles, and or glass discs. Put a thin layer of one of these (or a combination) over the bottom of the jar. Don't put too much. You don't want to consume valuable swimming space with gravel.
For ornamentation get one nice plastic plant. A small, sturdy one is good as Betas actually like to lie on them to rest! Also, provide your Beta with a hiding place. You can buy a little castle or cave, but I have found that a dark glass vitamin bottle is even better. In dark green, blue, or brown, it looks pretty, and all of my Betas have really seemed to enjoy hiding in these.
You can provide aeration with a small pump and airstone, but this is not absolutely necessary. Betas breath through a system known as a labyrinth lung. They go to the surface, inhale a bubble of air, and consume that until it is gone, then they go back to the surface and get another one. Many people who keep Betas feel that an airstone is essential, but I have not found this to be true.
Other things you will need are: a small net, a bottle of dechlorinator, a container of Beta food, and you may need a small vacuum hose, depending on how you choose to clean your setup. (Note: Dechlorinator is very important. Without it, your Beta will die rapidly and painfully. )
Before you get your Beta, prepare your setup. Rinse the container, the gravel and the plant very thoroughly with clean water. Never use any soap or detergent on anything your Beta will come in contact with. Spread a thin layer of gravel over the bottom of your setup. You could also use marbles or glass discs or just add a few marbles or glass discs to the gravel as decoration. Anchor the plant and add the hide-out. Select a good spot for your Beta, in indirect light, where you can see and enjoy him. Add water and dechlorinator. Then, just let the setup sit for a few days. This will give the water a chance to settle and get to room temperature.
Now it is time to go choose your Beta. Whenever I choose a Beta, I watch for the ones that are the most lively and active and seem to want to interact with me. These are the ones that flare and spread their gills a lot and seem to look you right in the eye. Select four to six of these and set their little jars side by side. Watch how they interact with each other and with you. Examine them for any injuries or sores. Eliminate the ones that are not quite as feisty or that have any imperfections. When you have made your choice, you are ready to take him to your office and introduce him to his new home.
Once there, set his cup beside his new setup for at least 15 minutes to allow the water in the cup to become room temperature. Once this time has passed, just open the cup and ease it into the water so that your Beta can swim out into his new home. You now have an office pet that will bring you moments of joy during your workday and a chance for snippets of relaxation and connection. All in exchange for very little care.
You will want to feed your pet once a day. Just give him a very small pinch of Beta food. He doesn't need a lot, and if you overfeed, you will find yourself having to clean his setup more often. You should only have to do a water change once every 4 days or so.
You may find it very handy, as I do, to have two complete setups for your Beta. That way, when it is time for cleaning, you can just transfer the Beta from one setup to the other. Completely clean the setup you have just removed the Beta from to rinse out droppings and neglected bits of food. Rinse the gravel very lightly with lukewarm water so as to preserve the beneficial bacteria that grow on the gravel. Add water, add dechlorinator, and set the container aside. Three or four days later, when it is time to change again, just transfer the Beta again.
Alternately, you can just change half of the water in the one setup every four days or so. To do this, you would use the vacuum hose. If you use the vacuum hose, you will need to have a bucket to run the water into. In an office setting, storing a vacuum hose and a bucket can be a problem.
Of course, you could just carry your setup into the kitchen or bathroom and pour off half the water. The only problem with this is you run the risk of pouring your Beta out with the water, and you can't get your gravel as clean.
So for me, I just find it easier at the office to keep two setups, one behind the other. They don't take up much room, and they simplify cleaning time. Just put your Beta in the one that is already set up, and clean and prepare the other one. This has the advantage of letting the water sit for several days so that it is the right temperature when you put the Beta in.
On weekends, if your office does not become extremely hot or cold, your Beta will be fine without you. Just feed him last thing before you leave and first thing on Monday. If your office does get really hot or cold, you may need to take him home with you on weekends. In this case, keep a quart jar ready to use for transport. A peanut butter jar is ideal for this. It is large, clear, unbreakable, and watertight with the lid screwed on. Fill it about 2/3rds full of water from the setup. This will leave room for air. You can pop it into a tote bag and carry your Beta home. Be sure to go straight home and take the lid off so your Beta can breathe. He will be fine in this temporary home for the weekend.