I remember the first time I saw a properly set up betta tank at a friend’s house. He had a fine tank with nice, clean water, several air stones, and a single happy male betta.
His betta fish looked so happy compared to other bettas I had seen! I asked him “Do betta fish need a bubbler?” He filled me in on what exactly bubblers were and how important they were for betta owners, and the rest is history!
If, like me, you have questions about how air bubblers function and just why they may be useful in your betta’s tank, read on to find out!
What Is A Bubbler?
To answer the question “Do betta fish need a bubbler?”. Let’s start with learning what a bubbler is.
Often regarded as synonymous with the more valve-based air pumps, as the name suggests bubblers creates bubbles of air which disturb the water’s surface to promote gas exchange.
Strictly speaking, they don’t act to move things out of the water as much as generate water movement from the surface to the bottom of the aquarium with air via airline tubing which in turn provides oxygenation for your Siamese fighting fish.
Contrary to popular belief the bubbles themselves don’t provide additional oxygen to the aquarium, but rather the gas exchange caused by disturbance.
The surface movement from the bubbler comes from the additional gas exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen molecules, thereby moving more oxygen inside the betta aquarium with bubbles.
Do Betta Fish Need A Bubbler?
Provided that there is enough water flow and adequate space in your tank, your betta fish may not require a bubbler. Smaller betta tanks, or those without much water flow will likely need a bubbler or some other form of aeration to pull oxygen back into the tank’s water supply.
Keeping a close eye on conditions within the tank, along with regular water changes every few days is the best way to ensure that your water remains oxygenated.
NOTEIf you have betta tanks with lots of other fish and bettas, you will likely need some form of pump to generate fine bubbles.
Water Temperature and Oxygen
As tropical fish species, bettas love warm water temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, the warmer the water the less dissolved oxygen naturally present within it. This is where a bubbler or air pumps with airline tubing can come in handy to produce bubbles and create more oxygenated water.
If you notice that your bettas aquarium doesn’t consistently have warm water, you may need to consider the use of a heater. Using a thermometer placed in the betta tank can be a great way to keep track of this!
Are Bubbles Bad for Betta Fish?
While bubbles themselves will not likely harm your betta, they can disturb them to the point of making life difficult. Make sure that the bubbler isn’t set too high, or it may break the bubble nest present in the tank during breeding, cause your betta to swim irregularly, and ruin their important sleep cycle.
TIPIf you notice that your fish is struggling to swim against the additional water flow added by a bubbler, it’s a good sign to turn things down a bit! When your bubbler is set appropriately, you may see your betta play in the bubbles.
The Labyrinth Organ and Labyrinth Fish
Bettas are labyrinth breathers. They are referred to as anabantoidei or labyrinth fish, thanks to the presence of a specially adapted labyrinth organ. Unlike other fish that can only absorb oxygen from water, bettas use this labyrinth organ to breathe gaseous air and live off of oxygen present above the tank water!
This labyrinth organ was evolved by betta fish for the express purpose of surviving for periods of upwards of 6-8 hours at a time on the dry land during periods of drought.
In their native lands of Thailand and Malaysia, dry seasons can mean that bettas need to jump from one body of water to another in order to survive, something that these labyrinth breathers shouldn’t need to do if your tank water is properly oxygenated!
Can Betta Fish Live Without a Filter or Air Pumps?
While your betta can potentially survive without any air pumps provided there’s enough oxygen in the tank water, it will still need a water filter.
A filter is an integral part of any healthy betta fish aquarium setup because they allow the system to remove harmful waste materials and prevent the buildup of ammonia, harmful bacteria and nitrates after you feed.
If the beneficial bacteria in your tank become overwhelmed by a sudden onrush of waste or decaying matter, your bettas may rapidly decline into toxic shock, noted by burning around the gills and altered behavior such as irregular swimming and trying to breathe via their labyrinth organ at the surface.
Bubbles won’t help with this, but a good filter and maintenance will!
How to Tell If You Need a Bubbler or Air Pumps in Your Betta Tanks
While there are a few instances where you don’t need a bubbler such as if your tank water volume is large enough for your betta fish and if there’s enough movement in the tank water to allow them to breathe air, there are some cases where one may be needed to increase the dissolved oxygen in the tank.
If your betta fish is actively moving towards the water surface and attempting to use its labyrinth organ to breathe oxygen from atmospheric air, it’s a clear indicator that your fish does not have enough oxygen!
A Few Things To Consider:
- Betta Size and Number – The larger in size and more fishes you have in one tank, the more oxygen you need in the tank. The worst possible thing for your other fish is to be overcrowded, especially for male bettas. Not only does this mean that they won’t have enough swimming space, but toxic matter will accumulate rapidly, and there will likely be inadequate oxygen meaning a bubbler may be necessary for your fish to breathe.
- Tank Size – Betta fish require a minimum of 5 gallons for one fish, with an additional gallon per inch of fish added after that. While a single betta may look cute when placed in a small tank, it may need a larger tank with lots of room to swim to feel at home.
- Movement – When looking at your aquariums, notice if the surface seems still. Lack of surface movement indicates that there is not a strong current throughout the tank, and that your betta fish need air pumps creating air bubbles to create properly oxygenated water in the tank.
NOTEWhile larger aquariums will naturally have more dissolved oxygen in it, if the water appears still it may still require having more water circulation measures employed such as an air stone and air pump.
Can Bettas Live in a Bowl without an Air Pump?
Do betta fish tanks require an air pump? If the fish bowl is appropriately sized for your betta and has proper water flow, it can absolutely be a good home. Just be sure you know how big a betta can grow, so you know if the fishbowl is the right size for your pet.
A water filter typically provides some form of disturbance with smaller bubbles than a normal bubbler, allowing for oxygenation of the water in the fish tank.
If you notice that the air quality is low, it likely means that your fish bowl will need an air pump if it doesn’t already due to size. If you want to try using a filter, you should look into sponge filters. Sponge filters can provide bio filtration and water circulation to your tank without breaking the bank.
How Do I Know If My Fish Tank Has No Oxygen?
If you know that your tank is too small, has too many fish, and lacks sufficient water flow, it likely does not have sufficient oxygen levels.
Home testing kits are available that can tell you in more certain terms whether you need to add oxygen through an air pump, but if you see the telltale signs such as floating sediments and excess algae it’s a good idea to get more water flow going ASAP!
NOTEUsing a kit for an ammonia test is a simple but important part of regular betta fish tank upkeep.
The longer you leave your fish without the proper amount of water flow, the more likely it is that you’ll see long term effects to their health and well being.
While a few hours without the right amount of air can be acceptable, their brains, respiratory and digestive functions, organs and tissues will all see long lasting damage.
How Many Hours Can Betta Fish Live Without an Air Pump?
Assuming that the fish tanks meet the above requirements and need a valve-based air pump for more oxygen, you will begin to see the effects in as little as 12 hours. After 48 hours without all the oxygen it needs to survive, the betta will likely suffocate and die.
If you’re worried about the air pump turning off during a power outage, you should consider using a battery powered air pump.
How Do I Know If My Betta Fish Need More Oxygen?
The unfortunate part of keeping fish is that they’re poor communicators! Therefore it becomes critical that we as aquarists keep a close eye on them and their living conditions to make sure that our bettas stay happy and healthy.
Signs That Your Betta Needs More Oxygen:
- Gill Movement – If your fish’s gills are moving more rapidly than normal, or not at all, it is likely struggling to get enough oxygen. A healthy betta fish breathes at a normal fairly slow rate and seeing something that is out of the norm such as increased gill movement is a sign that it’s getting less oxygen than it needs, or that it’s been hit with some harmful bacteria or virus.
- Activity – Slow moving, lethargic fish are struggling in some way and may need an air pump in the fish tank. While this can also be a sign of disease, parasitic infection, and generally low water quality, seeing a change in the activity level of your fish is a good sign something is wrong.
- Gasping for air – When there is insufficient oxygen in the water of your tank, your aquarium fish may begin to look like it’s gasping for air. They do this at the water surface typically, you’ll notice that they frequently swim to the surface in an effort to take in enough air than they can’t get inside of the tank itself. This frantic movement is a serious sign that they don’t have enough oxygen, and steps should be taken immediately and that an air pump is necessary.
How Can I Oxygenate My Water Without An Air Pump?
While an air pump will certainly help to bring more oxygen into the tank from the top of the aquarium, there are several other ways to aerate the water without one.
For instance, if you’re trying to preserve the calm water aesthetic of your tank without too many air bubbles disturbing the water, you may want to consider one of these alternatives over a traditional air pump for your betta.
- Live Plants – Aquatic plants such as java ferns naturally produce oxygen when they take in CO2 and respire. They can be a beautiful way to add some extra breathable air into your aquariums, on the other hand it should be noted that aquatic plants alone cannot produce enough oxygenation for a still tank.
- Aerating Ornaments – Certain ornaments that you can find in pet stores are hooked up to their own form of air bubblers, and will provide aeration to your betta tank. These can be a more aesthetically pleasing way to introduce additional air when compared to the normal tube-shaped air bubblers you may find to make air bubbles.
What Is An Air Stone?
Similar to a bubbler ornament, an air stone functions in conjunction with an air pump to produce aeration via tiny bubbles, albeit dissipated over a larger surface area in a more quiet manner. These tiny bubbles can disturb your fish much less than some more aggressive air bubblers and may be a good option for calmer bettas.
Watch the video below to know more about air stones…
For new fish keepers setting up a tank for bettas can seem like a daunting task at first, it doesn’t have to be!
An air pump or bubbler making small bubbles can be a great tool in trying to ensure that your betta has enough air to breathe, ensuring their long-term health and happiness.
If you notice that there isn’t enough water movement in your tank, bubbles may be the solution!
Feel Free To Share
Did that answer the question “Do betta fish need a bubbler?”. I hope that you’ve found today’s article on the benefits of bubbles informative and useful! For another interesting betta article, find out if they can see in the dark.
As always, feel free to share this information with any of your friends or other fish keepers out there, and I wish you the best of luck on your aquarium adventures.
(1) “Betta tank” by Dee West (Formerly deedoucette) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(2) “_” by aspecticide is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
(3) “Dalek the Betta Fish” by brownpau is licensed under CC BY 2.0