Did You Know That Betta Fish Breathe Air?

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Here are answers to the questions regarding why and how the Betta fish breathe air

This is one of the faschinations that people have with Betta fish. They can breathe from the surface and it is amazing to see.

How can Betta fish breathe oxygen directly?

Fish do have gills that allow them to take oxygen directly from the water.

When they gasp for air on the surface, the water quality is usually so bad that there is a risk of suffocation. The fighting fish also breathes with gills, but – with a number of related species – it is able to get oxygen directly from the air via an additional organ, the labyrinth. 

The so-called labyrinth fish (which include the paradise fish, the first tropical aquarium fish introduced many aquariums around the world) breathe the atmospheric air through a labyrinth-like organ in the gill cavity. 

They can also colonize bodies of water that are densely populated by their food – mosquito larvae and worms – but are so poor in oxygen that other fish can no longer exist. Labyrinth fish need extra breathing and die if they are denied access to the water surface.

A confined living space with oxygen-poor water is a completely normal environment for the Siamese fighting fish, while they do not feel at all comfortable in a large aquarium. But isn’t it cruelty to animals if you keep the animals in such a way that they always see their opponent, that they live in constant stress, in the greatest excitement and fury?

The breeding experience proves the opposite:

  • Fighting fish that are kept in isolation and have no opportunity for excitement wither. Their fins do not grow to the optimum size, their colors remain cloudy, and they die earlier than their conspecifics exposed to stress. 
  • Daily biliary exercises are necessary for fighting fish. It only really lives when it can impress a fellow of its own, when its brilliant colors glow and its magnificent fins show themselves in their full size.
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Betta fish breathing

How often does a Betta fish take a breath?

Fighting fish only occasionally take air from the surface of the water – basically, like other fish, they breathe through their gills. If your Betta fish constantly breathes surface air, then you should urgently check your water to see whether it is free of toxic pollutants, as this could cause it to “take a breath” so often.

Otherwise you have to make sure that your aquarium is well covered so that the air between the surface of the water and the cover is just as warm as the water (approx. 26 degrees). Otherwise a Betta fish will catch a cold very quickly and die.

If that’s all right, then it might be that your fighting fish just likes to breathe surface air. No rule without exception. Betta fish inhale air on the surface more than 3-4 times a day. Depending on how big they are or what they do (reproduction, courtship,…) this can be more than once a minute.    

Betta fish breathing air

How come young Betta fish struggle to breathe oxygen on the surface?  

Like macropods, Betta fish are labyrinths. Say they have a labyrinth organ with which they breathe. This is a very interesting organ and makes the fish very fascinating. Only young fish have gill breathing. Later on it turns into labyrinth breathing. 

On occasion, young Betta fish end up suffocating in the first few weeks because they don’t understand that they now have to take in air on the surface and can no longer breathe with their gills. This is why adult specimens can survive in stagnant, oxygen-poor water. Young fish, on the other hand, need exercise in the water and a lot of oxygen.

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