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Do you have a betta fish in a fish tank? If so, then you’ve probably noticed that they sometimes make betta bubble nests. But why do they do it? And what does it mean if your betta builds a bubble nest? Keep reading to find out!
Introduction To Betta Fish
Betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish, are some of the most popular fish in the freshwater tropical fish hobby. The most common species of this fish, scientifically known as Betta splendens, originates from Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Today, these fish are regarded as a nano species, being successfully kept in 5 gallon and up aquariums. Bettas are very hardy, but need a constant water temperature between 78-80° F with more acidic water conditions. They are also more susceptible to fin rot due to their long, trailing fins.
Male betta fish are much more ornate than their female counterparts, coming in nearly every color and pattern imaginable; some variations even change colors over time, like the koi betta fish! In contrast, females have much simpler color combinations and shorter fins. Contrary to popular belief though, both male and female betta fish are just as aggressive as one another and do best in species-only or solitary aquarium setups.
Still, betta fish have been selectively bred in the aquarium hobby for centuries for their best colors, shapes, and sizes and are popular among aquarists at all levels. However, some of their natural behaviors have followed them into captivity, such as their unique bubble nest building ability.
What Is A Betta Bubble Nest?
If you’ve never kept a labyrinth fish before, you won’t know what a bubble nest is or what it looks like. You might not even realize your betta fish is making bubble nests and might mistake them for an equipment malfunction or poor water quality. When in fact, a bubble nest is usually a sure sign that your fish is very happy!
Before understanding why bettas make bubble nests, you need to be able to identify them. Bubble nests are tight clusters of small bubbles that are usually connected to the side of the aquarium glass or live floating plants and come in all shapes and sizes. These bubble nests take on a white, foamy appearance at the water’s surface which can be concerning to unknowing hobbyists.
It should be noted that some bettas don’t build bubble nests at all. In fact, some wild species, like the Krabi mouth-brooding betta (Betta simplex), raise their young inside their mouths. However, Betta splendens, the most popular betta species to keep, do create bubble nests when they’re ready to reproduce, making these foamy creations a common sight for beginner and advanced hobbyists alike.
Why Is Your Fish Making A Nest?
In order to understand why betta fish make bubble nests, the natural habitat of betta fish needs to be considered. These fish come from hot, shallow, and stagnant water that is often cut off from influxes of nutrients and oxygen. This lack of oxygen especially has caused betta fish to develop a labyrinth organ.
The labyrinth organ is a lung-like structure that allows betta fish to breathe atmospheric air from the surface of the water. This makes survival possible when dissolved oxygen levels are low due to warm temperatures or lack of water flow. In the aquarium setting, it has been found that bettas will still exhibit this behavior even if oxygen levels are adequate.
However, bubble nests are made most often when male betta fish are ready to spawn. This is typically a good indicator that all environmental needs have been met and the fish is happy. However, some male fish will never make a bubble nest while others may make one every other week. If your male betta fish isn’t making a bubble nest on his own, then it is possible to transfer bubble nests between tanks.
Once ready, the male betta will create a nest using a mix of oxygen and saliva. This nest will usually be situated against the glass of the aquarium or in a highly foliated area away from strong currents; these nests are very delicate and can easily be broken apart by overly strong water currents or other disruptions on the surface of the water!
To help your betta fish successfully build a nest, it’s recommended to keep ambient air more humid than usual; some hobbyists place a plastic film over the cover of their betta tank to increase humidity levels. Tannins from organics and decomposing leaves, such as those from Indian almond leaves, may also help your fish keep its nest together.
These leaves can be added to your aquarium to help promote a natural habitat for bettas, shrimp, and other soft-water loving fish. Betta breeders can use these leaves to help encourage breeding behavior.
Once the betta bubble nest has been built, it’s time for the spawning process to begin.
Male betta fish will build bubble nests when they’re ready to spawn. Sometimes, a female betta needs to be introduced first in order to trigger this response. In this case, the male betta fish will build a bubble nest in the 24 hours following the introduction of a female. If the female is not ready, then she may destroy the nest and the process will need to be restarted.
During this time, the male will flash the female with a captivating dance and bold flaring (video reference). Eventually, the two will embrace with the male fertilizing eggs as the female releases them. The fertilized eggs will start to sink until the male carefully transfers them up into the bubble nest; the female may help during this process, though she is more likely to eat them than to help.
Most female betta fish lay about 50 eggs at one time, though some have been known to lay close to 500.
Do Females make this?
For the most part, only male betta fish create bubble nests once they’re ready to mate. While rare, it’s not unheard of for female betta fish to create nests of their own.
The process is the same, just without a male. The female betta will create a bubble nest out of saliva and oxygen, drop the unfertilized eggs, and place them into the nest.
Have a short-finned male betta variety, like a plakat? Some short-finned male bettas have been mistaken for females, leading unknowing hobbyists to believe that their female fish has just built a nest. Though this is a matter of misidentification, female betta fish really do make their own nests sometimes!
How To Take Care
There are a few reasons why betta fish are popular to keep and breed. One, they’re beautiful fish that don’t require a lot of maintenance. Two, they’re one of the easiest species to breed because the male fish do all the work!
Male betta fish make, protect, and care for their bubble nests until the fry have hatched. There are a few behaviors that male betta fish adopt to make sure that their bubble nest is as successful as it can be.
Male Fish Behaviors
When your male betta fish starts bubble nest building, it will take all of his attention. This is how these fish manage to make relatively large nests within a day!
Once the bubble nest has been completed, the male will stay under the nest waiting for a potential mate. If a female betta fish enters his territory, then she will become the main focus. The male betta will then display his best colors and finnage while flaring his gills. During this courting, the male will chase and nip at the female, which can become deadly in overly aggressive situations.
After mating, the male will spend the next day picking up and placing fertilized eggs in the bubbles. For the next few days, the male betta fish will ensure the health and safety of the nest. He will continue to stay underneath the bubbles, chasing away potential predators, including female bettas.
At the same time, he will fan the nest to keep oxygen and nutrients flowing over the eggs. He will also eat and remove any abnormal or mold-infected eggs that could potentially harm the other eggs in the bubble nest. The male betta fish will also eat any leftover unfertilized eggs.
Once the eggs hatch, the male will return to being a regular betta fish. At this point, the fry becomes viable food and the male should be returned back to his normal betta tank. The fry should be given small foods, like baby brine shrimp, until they’re ready to accept adult foods.
Being so close to the surface of the water also helps the fry mature as they have direct access to oxygen rich air.
Should You Remove It?
For the most part, it won’t matter to your betta fish if you accidentally or purposefully destroy its nest. These nests regularly get disrupted in the wild and need to be rebuilt. If your fish is determined, then it will simply build another nest when it’s ready.
Just because your male betta fish builds a bubble nest doesn’t mean you’ll have 50 baby betta fish swimming around your tank! Remember, a female needs to spawn with the male to deposit fertilized eggs. As long as there’s no potential mate, your male betta fish’s bubble nest will not result in baby bettas.
But what if you don’t like how betta fish bubble nests look? Is it okay to remove them?
Male betta fish can become especially territorial during these times, so it may be beneficial to remove the nest if keeping your betta in a community tank where other fish and invertebrates could be injured.
It is also believed that bubble nest building provides enrichment to bettas. Though there are better ways to keep your betta fish entertained, giving your fish a new project to work on in the form of building another nest is encouraged from time to time.
What Happens If You Destroy It?
Nothing will happen if you destroy your betta’s bubble nest. Your fish won’t hate you or get stressed out. Betta fish can be quite resilient and determined if they need to be and will quickly rebuild their nest if they’re ready.
For most hobbyists, bubble nests get in the way of performing regular tank maintenance. During water changes and substrate vacuuming, it can be very difficult to avoid a bubble nest and it will usually end up partially or fully destroyed.
In this case, it is much more important that the fish receives proper care than for the bubble nest to be preserved. As mentioned before, the fish will quickly rebuild the nest if it’s ready to breed. However, special care should be given to fertilized nests. Disrupting a fertilized betta bubble nest can lead to the loss of the entire brood.
Do They Go Away On Their Own?
In general, there’s no reason to worry about a vacant bubble nest. It will likely dissipate on its own in a few days after being built. However, some betta fish will constantly maintain their bubble nests, adding new bubbles whenever they seem to thin out.
Male betta fish are great parents. They keep their nests clean and oxygenated. But what happens if the nest sits empty for too long?
In these cases, it’s recommended to regularly check the nest for signs of mold or other fungi that could be growing. Though this is unlikely to happen, it may be safer to remove the nest and start over new after a certain point to prevent contamination.
Betta fish are some of the most interesting fish when it comes to their mating rituals. When they’re ready, males will build a bubble nest to store fertilized eggs from female bettas. However, a betta fish bubble nest is also a good sign of water quality, a quality diet, and an overall happy and healthy betta fish!
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.