Betta Fish Flaring Causes: Why Betta Fish Flare And Is It Good For Them?

What is betta flaring all about?

If you have a betta fish, you’re sure to see him sometimes flaring, maybe at a tankmate, or simply at his own reflection.

But what is betta flaring? Is it good or bad for your fish? Should you encourage or discourage flaring?

Let’s find out.

Betta Fish Flaring

betta fish flaring

Why do betta fish flare their gills?

All of the different varieties of betta fish flare in captivity and the behavior is common to both sexes, too.

Flaring is used by betta fish to make themselves appear larger and more threatening to rivals. When your betta flares, he puffs up his gill flaps and extends his pectoral fins as a gesture toward the perceived intruder.

To restate: A betta fish flare is when the fish extends the gill plates out; it’s not when they spread their many fins.

Is Flaring Good Or Bad For Betta Fish?

Flaring is an aggressive response that can be stressful for your fish and potentially very bad for its health.

Too much flaring can stress your betta, weaken his immune system, and leave him susceptible to disease caused by parasites and bacteria.

However, a small amount of flaring is good as it encourages natural behavior in your betta and acts as a kind of workout for him. As long as your betta fish doesn’t flare constantly, and the behavior only happens infrequently, that’s fine.

Angry Betta Fish

Stress is bad news for your betta, as it weakens his immune system.

A weakened fish is vulnerable to attack by the bacteria and parasites that live in the tank. Bacterial infections will make your fish sick and could even kill him.

If possible, try to limit your betta’s flaring to no more than 20 minutes total each week. Any more than that and your pet will become overly stressed.

Ensure your betta fish tank has everything necessary to keep him happy.

The best fish tanks should allow plenty of space for your fish, including room for accessories and decorations.

Benefits Of Betta Flaring

Although excessive flaring is very detrimental to your betta fish’s health, a moderate amount can be quite good for him.

Here are some of the positives of betta flaring.

1. Boredom Relief

Betta fish are curious, intelligent creatures, and they do become bored without suitable distractions in their environment.

Many betta owners provide toys for their fish, including:

  • Hollow floating logs
  • Resting platforms
  • Aquarium caves
  • Floating ping-pong balls

See all the options on Amazon here.

Mirrors are also commonly used by many betta owners as a form of interactive boredom-breaker.

You hold the mirror up so that your fish can see his reflection. After a few moments, your pet will start to flare at his reflection, mistaking himself for an intruder in his territory.

This is fine to do, as long as you limit the mirror play to a minute or two once a week or so to mimic your fish’s natural behavior and provide him with some exercise.

Keep mirror play to a minimum and never leave the mirror in the tank or up against the glass.

2. Exercise

Bettas can be lazy fish.

In captivity, especially in a small tank, your betta may spend all its time resting or simply floating around, waiting to be fed. Idle bettas quickly get fat, which can lead to health problems.

That’s why you should provide your pet with plenty of entertainment in the form of interesting decorations and caves to explore in his tank.

Flaring is used by your betta as a form of exercise, stretching, keeping his muscles toned, and helping to keep his circulation moving, which is vital for good digestion and overall health.

So, flaring is actually a kind of fish Pilates or Yoga!

3. Natural Flaring Behavior

When bettas are excited by a healthy form of external stimuli, such as feeding time or the introduction of a new betta toy to the tank, they will often flare.

However, it varies between individuals, depending on the fish’s personality, and is not generally a cause for concern unless the flaring is excessive.

Why Do Betta Fish Flare?

Your betta fish flares for a number of reasons, and we’ve got them all listed here for you.

Remember, your fish may be flaring for multiple reasons, rather than a single reason, so you may have to watch and see what they’re responding to and when!

1. Territorial Defense

In the wild, betta fish live in slow, stagnant waters, rice paddies, and even puddles.

During the dry season, when the water levels fall, food and mates become scarce, and a male betta does everything he can to protect his patch.

These plucky little fish are not called Siamese Fighting Fish for no reason!

Male betta fish are highly territorial, aggressively defending their adopted territory from all comers, fighting to the death if necessary.

Bettas display aggression by flaring to create the illusion that they’re much larger than they really are. That behavior is designed to prevent a full-on fight.

One of the combatants generally backs down and withdraws before either party gets injured. However, in cases where the fish are equally matched and times are hard, things can get serious, and fatalities do occur.

You should never keep two male betta fish in the same tank because there’s nowhere for the weaker party to escape, and injuries or death will almost certainly result.

2. Spawning

If you decide to keep a sorority of bettas with your male, you may see them flaring at each other.

Unless they fish nip one another, flaring is not a cause for concern and usually indicates a kind of fish flirting behavior. Often, if the male betta has constructed a bubble nest in his tank, following each other and flaring can indicate that spawning is imminent.

Observe the fish carefully in case things get out of hand, and you need to separate the parties.

3. Flaring At His Reflection

what does it mean when betta fish flare their gills
A very common cause of betta fish flaring is reflections within the tank.

As you’ll learn later in this guide, betta fish don’t have great eyesight, and when your pet sees a brightly colored image moving right in front of him, he mistakes himself for another fish!

Constantly flaring at his reflection is very stressful for your betta fish.

So, you need to take steps to reduce reflections in your betta fish’s tank.

It’s also best not to leave the popular floating mirrors in the tank full time.

4. Reducing Tank Reflections

First, you need to work out what’s causing the reflections.

If it’s down to the location of the tank, you’ll need to move it. However, the solution to the problem could be as simple as moving a table lamp or adjusting the lighting within the aquarium.

Covering the glass is another simple, practical way of removing reflections. Cover up the sides of the aquarium, leaving just the front viewing pane clear.

To do that, use adhesive fish tank-specific paper.

Alternatively, you can use any thick, pale-colored paper. However, don’t use shiny or brightly colored paper, as that will irritate your betta and could make the flaring worse.

Alternatively, you could use fabric, which can be easier to fit around the sides of the tank.

Betta Flaring At Me – Why?

Many bettas flare at their owners. But why?

Well, there are several reasons for your pet’s seemingly bizarre behavior.

1. New Home

It’s very common for a betta fish to flare at his owner when he first arrives in his new home.

For a territorial fish such as a betta, finding himself in a brand-new location is a stressful, disorienting experience.

While your new pet is finding his way around his new tank, he will be wary and suspicious of any movement in and around the aquarium. So, you should allow your fish to settle in in peace.

Resist the temptation to fuss over your betta, even if you have his best interests at heart, and give him some space!

Once your betta feels secure and at home, he should stop flaring at you.

2. Fear

Until your betta gets used to you carrying out tank maintenance, cleaning, etc., he will probably view your hands and the aquarium vacuum cleaner as huge predators, invading his territory. So, don’t be surprised if your pet flares at you initially.

Once he has become accustomed to your weekly presence in and around his tank, your betta will most likely be more curious than alarmed.

Also, if you add a filter after a period without one, this could also cause your fish to flare out of fear. Make sure you buy a filter recommended for betta fish tanks to help avoid this response.

3. A Different Point Of View

Your betta fish’s vision doesn’t work in the same way that yours does.

Rather than seeing clearly defined images, fish see mainly color and movement. Also, your betta can detect vibrations through the water, perhaps caused by your movement around the room or by a loud sound system near his tank.

When your pet is spooked by your movement, he’ll probably flare at you.

Eventually, your betta will become accustomed to your presence. Simply go about your usual routine, avoid making any sudden movements, or making loud noises close to the tank, and your curious pet will soon stop flaring.

Do Female Bettas Flare?

female betta flaring

It’s not just male betta fish that flare – female bettas flare too sometimes, but why?

Female bettas are only semi-aggressive and generally flare more for stimulation and exercise. For that reason, you can keep a sorority of female bettas with a relatively low risk that they will fight.

Females are not as flashy to look at as male bettas, but they can still make a pretty display, and if you want to try breeding your pets, you could add a male betta to the mix.

Betta Fish Flaring Gills

Flaring in male betta fish is almost always a sign of territorial aggression and is designed to intimidate another fish into backing down before things get physical.

Although a moderate amount of flaring can be quite beneficial to your betta in that it allows him to behave naturally and provides him with some exercise, remember that too much flaring is stressful.

Follow the guidance in this article to prevent your betta buddy from flaring too much, and you can look forward to enjoying a healthy, happy pet for many years to come.

Lastly, something else you’ll likely be interested in – Glofish and Glofish tanks – they’re a fish that glows!


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