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Are you considering starting a betta sorority? If so, there are a few things you need to know before taking the plunge. In this post, we’ll take a look at what to look for when setting up your betta sorority and how to care for these beautiful fish. So dive in and learn more!
What Is A Betta Sorority?
A betta sorority is a term used in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby for when multiple betta fish are kept together in the same tank. This mostly comprises of smaller, less color female bettas usually of the Betta splendens species. These setups have become increasingly popular over the years, and here’s why.
To start, there is a huge misconception about the true care requirements of betta fish as a whole. Too often, these fish are kept in tight spaces with no heater or filtration. Some beginner hobbyists see female betta fish as smaller and more docile than males, meaning that they can be kept in even smaller tanks with other fish.
This simply isn’t true and hobbyists are fighting for overall better betta care. However, these bare minimum care requirements continue to be pushed to their limits with a new fad, female betta sororities.
Female betta sororities are not all bad though, and many experienced hobbyists have been very successful at raising beautiful tanks with dozens of female bettas. The trick is knowing the ins and outs of betta behavior, providing more than adequate aquarium care, and being able to monitor and quickly resolve any issues that arise.
How Many Betta Fish Are In A Sorority?
Two’s a couple, three’s a crowd, but when does a group of female betta fish turn into a sorority?
In general, a sorority contains about four to five female bettas. In these cases, more fish equals fewer chances of aggression, which leads some hobbyists to having a sorority tank with dozens of bettas!
Why is five female betta fish the magic number for a successful sorority tank?
If you’ve ever kept a school of tropical fish before, then you might have noticed some interesting behaviors in terms of group dynamics. When dealing with small schools, the fish tend to lose track of each other. This results in one or two fish straying off to create their own school. Female bettas share this same behavior and might pair off given the chance.
However, a worse case is that your bettas pair off into small, aggressive groups. This is when the odd-one-out becomes the target of aggression from the rest of the group, possibly due to size, color, or another unknown factor.
To help keep female bettas from pairing off, it’s recommended to add a decently large group all at once. This will prevent larger and more aggressive individuals from claiming too much territory in the tank before the other ones have the chance.
One of the biggest debates in the freshwater aquarium hobby is about female betta fish sororities.
One side believes that they are doomed from the very beginning and that even a very successful betta sorority tank will eventually take a turn for the worst1. The other side believes that these fish can live unproblematically together as long as some basic conditions are met. Depending on who you are talking to, a betta fish sorority can either be one of the most exciting tank setups to have or a money sink that will prove to be a failure.
We personally believe that betta fish sororities can be successful as long as care requirements and tank conditions are met. Even though betta fish might be considered the perfect fish for beginners, keeping them in sororities is an entirely different story and should only be attempted by experts to avoid unnecessary fish deaths.
Before setting up a betta sorority tank, it’s important to understand the truth about female betta aggression.
Do Female Bettas Fight?
Yes, female bettas fight. Betta splendens are territorial and aggressive as a species, regardless of male or female. These fish form tight territories in the wild that they will defend to the death if need be.
In the aquarium hobby, it’s often said that female betta fish are much more peaceful than their male counterparts. For the most part, this is on a fish-to-fish basis and females have been known to be just as aggressive as males.
However, there is some truth to female betta fish being more peaceful than male betta fish as they can be kept together in large groups. As we’ll see, it is likely that you’ll run into one or two problematic individuals, though.
Setting Up A Female Tank
Setting up a betta sorority aquarium is not very different from setting up an aquarium for a single betta fish. The main difference comes from acclimating the fish to the aquarium setting and to each other.
Tank size is very important for keeping a successful betta sorority tank. While bettas can be kept in a small tank under 5 gallons on their own, a sorority should be given plenty of space.
Not only does more space allow for better water quality, but aggression can also be spread out across the tank. A bigger tank means that each female can have the respective space that won’t make her feel threatened.
Some hobbyists have successfully kept a betta sorority in a 10 gallon. We do not recommend this unless the fish has previously been held together for extended periods of time. Instead, five female bettas can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium, preferably a longer tank that allows for more horizontal swimming space.
A classic 20 gallon aquarium in its 30 inch long variant. A very popular aquarium.
Even then, a 20 gallon tank is small for a betta sorority and limits the number of tank mates that can be kept with them, which will become a crucial aspect later on.
Betta fish are very tolerant of poor water conditions on their own but a sorority needs pristine water quality and a planned out tank setup. The best-looking female betta tank setups have a sand substrate, dim lighting, and are heavily planted.
A sand substrate isn’t necessary and female bettas will happily live on a gravel substrate. However, gravel has been known to tug at long fins and collect detritus. Injured fins can quickly turn into fin rot while sitting fish waste can lead to water quality problems. Both situations are not ideal and can lead to a system crash.
Betta fish come from the acidic, tannin-stained waters of Southeast Asia. When organics leak into the water, they change the color of the water and add certain benefits to the surrounding ecosystem, such as a bolstered immune system in fish.
This tannin-stained water can be replicated by adding dried leaves, such as Indian almond leaves. There are several ways to introduce tannins into the system, be it through a tannin extract, a leaf litter substrate, or a singular leaf every few months. The darkness of the water will encourage fish to come out into the open and make them feel more comfortable overall.
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.
In addition to tannins, heavy foliage and the use of driftwood and rocks will encourage your fish to display their natural, nonaggressive behaviors. Remember, betta fish are territorial animals that like to setup a space of their own. Providing them with several carefully placed structures throughout the tank will help keep them away from each other. Floating plants can also add extra coverage and a source of food.
Filtration should be appropriately sized for the tank and the given bioload. The same nano problem of an overly strong water current is possible, though a larger tank helps diffuse a direct current. Still, the filtration may need to be baffled or creatively angled as to not push the fish around.
Betta fish show their best colors when given a high-quality diet, correct tank conditions, and water parameters are met. A stressed-out betta will quickly lose its color and might even develop stress stripes, which appear as dark horizontal lines across the sides of your fish.
Incorrect water conditions are the fastest way to stress out a betta fish. Even though these fish have adapted to live in some of the most unforgiving ecosystems in the world, they are still sensitive to fluctuating parameters and improper care.
To keep your betta fish happy and healthy, these water parameters must be met in addition to 0 ppm ammonia and nitrite:
- Nitrate: <20 ppm
- Water temperature: 78-80° F
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- KH: 3-5 dKH
Most betta fish have been born and raised within the aquarium hobby and are kept in neutral pH aquariums. If adding tannin-releasing organics to the fish tank, the pH will naturally drop due to chemical changes. This change in pH will not affect fish as long as changes are made over time and not all at once.
There is also some discussion about whether or not betta fish need heaters. Male and female bettas are tropical fish that need warm temperatures to live. Cold and fluctuating temperatures can cause your fish to go into shock and subsequently die. Even if the room temperature is close to that of the preferred one for bettas, small yet constant fluctuations can also stress out your fish.
For this reason, it’s always recommended to use an aquarium heater when keeping betta fish. A tropical water temperature will also allow for more tank mate pairings.
Managing Aggression In A Female Tank
The setup is easy. Maintaining peace among a group of female betta fish all together in the same tank is hard.
The betta sorority tank controversy stems from the unknown levels of aggression that these fish are capable of on an individual basis. Every fish is different. However, hobbyists have picked up a few trips and tricks to lessen aggression as much as possible.
These methods include social acclimation, good choice of tank mates, removal of bullies, and picking related bettas.
We’ve all floated our bags of fish in our tanks and waited patiently for a 2-hour drip acclimation to finish, but most hobbyists don’t bother to practice social acclimation. Adding new fish to a tank is stressful for both the hobbyist and the fish, especially when you’re adding several aggressive fish all at once.
Luckily, there are ways to minimize the chances of your female bettas from attacking each other at first glance. There are a couple of ways to approach social acclimation for female betta fish:
- Quarantine the fish in adjacent tanks. Make sure that the fish are able to see each other through the sides of the glass. This is a safe way to introduce fish to each other without any chance of either getting hurt. However, this method is limited in how many fish you can keep side by side.
- Keep pairs of fish together for short periods of time. Another option is to do trial runs of compatibility. This means keeping two or three bettas together in a smaller, more controlled tank and managing aggression as it arises.
Though these methods are not foolproof, they give a good idea as to how your bettas will react in each other’s company.
The Right Tank Mates
It’s strongly encouraged to keep tank mates in a female betta sorority tank, so think about potential stocking when picking out a minimum tank size. A bigger aquarium will always be better, especially when picking tank mates for female bettas tank mates.
Female bettas do best with active schooling fish. This might seem like a contradiction as solitary betta fish community tanks are usually recommended for slower, peaceful species. However, the logic behind keeping active schooling species makes a lot of sense.
These fish will serve as a distraction to prevent the female bettas from going after each other. Instead, the idea is that they take more interest in the other species around them. In return, the schooling fish have safety in numbers and can quickly evade an aggressive female betta if need be.
Not only will schooling fish distract your fish, but they also bring even more color and excitement to the aquarium. It’s recommended to steer clear of more aggressive and brightly colored species as this can create even greater competition. Female bettas are extremely colorful on their own, but carefully picked schooling fish can be added to create contrast and interest.
Some possible female betta sorority mates are:
Keep in mind that there is always the chance for a tank mate to be killed in the process. However, keeping your fish fed and providing enough hiding places in the tank should greatly increase the chances of long-term survival.
Female bettas may also be kept with snails and shrimp, which are beneficial cleanup crew members for the system. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for snails and shrimp to be eaten by female bettas, so expect to lose one or two in the process.
Removal Of Bullies And The Bullied
Once all fish have successfully been added to the aquarium, the real work begins. This work consists of keeping a happy and healthy betta sorority free of drama. This is definitely harder than it might sound in the beginning!
One of the best ways to avoid future problems is by socially acclimating your fish to one another. However, aggression can still happen between fish that have known each other for years and it’s important to know what to do should that happen.
If aggression is observed, remove the aggressive betta. Make sure that the bullied betta is safe and on its way to making a full recovery. This might mean also removing the bullied betta and placing it in quarantine until it’s able to hold its own in the tank; even if the other female bettas are initially aggressive, they may start to pick on a weakened betta.
Removal of the bullies and the bullied is what makes betta fish sororities so difficult to keep: you may need the space to be able to quickly rehouse and recover bullies and bullied fish. Not many hobbyists have the spare room to have standby systems set up for just this problem.
Once the bully has been removed, the other female bettas may need to sort out their hierarchy again. This may result in additional fin-nipping and chasing as they decide who’s at the top of the group.
This is the most difficult step towards setting up a betta sorority and isn’t entirely necessary to make things work. If possible, always buy related betta fish or ones that have already been in the same tank for extended periods of time.
Related bettas are much more likely to get along than picking up random ones from several different stores. The best chance of getting related bettas is by going through a betta breeder directly. However, this might take more time than some hobbyists are willing to wait and can be much more expensive than buying from a commercial pet store.
In addition, related bettas will usually be limited in color as they share the same genes. Buying separate bettas allows the hobbyist to handpick their sorority, which is much more aesthetically preferable.
Even if these bettas are related, it’s highly recommended to socially acclimate them to one another to prevent possible future aggressive behavior.
Aggression can be common in betta sororities, but there are ways to mitigate it. By managing the requirements for joining a sorority and providing bigger tanks, you can create an environment where your bettas are more likely to thrive. If you’re looking for a low-risk option when adding new bettas to your collection, consider breeders as a source – they typically have the lowest rates of aggression among their fish. Have you had success with a betta sorority? Leave us a comment below and let’s chat about it!
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.