Do Betta Fish Need Oxygen Pump and Why?

We use air pumps in the aquarium hobby to provide air movement into the water column of the fish tank. This creates bubbles from the bottom of the tank through an air hose. We commonly connect it to air stone or a decoration. The bubbles promote water to flow around the fish tank. The bubbles also break through the water’s surface causing agitation essential for gas exchange to occur. Oxygen comes in while carbon dioxide escapes. That is how oxygen enters the water column.

So, do betta fish need oxygen pump?

Here is the answer: A betta fish doesn’t need an air pump to survive. Bettas have evolved in such a way that they can survive without an air pump. It may be confusing for a beginner in the betta fish pet hobby because most local fish stores will advise that an oxygen pump is a critical piece of equipment when starting a fish tank.

Let us discuss this to clear any confusion.

How can a betta fish survive with no oxygen pump?

Betta fish originated in the Mekong Basin of Thailand in Southeast Asia. From there the betta has spread throughout the region. The climate of this region is tropical and has a dry season and a wet season. During the hot summer season, water levels drop significantly. Betta fish have evolved to survive small amounts of water with little oxygen content. 

They have a specialized “labyrinth organ” which allows them to absorb oxygen directly from the air they gulp from the water’s surface. This neat evolutionary trait has allowed betta fish to survive small amounts of water during the hot summer months of the dry season. As long as they do not fully dry up and remain moist, they will survive.

What is a labyrinth organ and how does it work?

A betta is a labyrinth fish. The betta has a special labyrinth organ that allows the betta to breathe by gulping air from the surface of the water. The gulped air goes into the labyrinth organ for oxygen absorption to take place. Within the labyrinth organ, there are many cavities of maze-like compartments. They consist of thin bony plates called lamellae. Lined up with very thin membranes, Lamellae will come into contact with blood vessels. Oxygen can pass through these linings because they are thin. Blood absorbs oxygen through the membranes and carries it throughout the betta fish’s body.

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A betta can stay alive for quite a while in little or even no water as long it remains moist. Bettas have also learned to hop from one puddle to another in search of nice water conditions and more water to survive. This is where the pervasive myth came from that a betta fish can survive in small amounts of water in a small container. Betta fish only do this to survive. As a good pet owner, you should let your betta fish thrive.

Betta fish aren’t born with a fully functioning labyrinth organ. As small betta fry which is the term for baby fish, bettas can use their gills fully to get oxygen from the water. As the betta fish matures, the labyrinth organ develops. This probably coincides with the betta fish’s needs. When the labyrinth organ becomes adequately developed the betta fish can start using this organ and will depend on it more than it would its gills.

Betta fish need to use this labyrinth organ to fulfill its oxygen requirements. It can use its gills partially to absorb oxygen from the water but it needs to use its labyrinth organ. Bettas do not have enough gill function to fully supply their oxygen requirements so they need their labyrinth organs too. This is the reason you should make sure that your betta has access to the water surface so it can gulp air.

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Is it normal that my male betta fish is gulping air to make lots of bubbles?

Male bettas will make bubble nests in the wild when they are ready to breed. They do this to attract female bettas who are passing by. Though highly territorial, these fish will come together just to breed. It is normal for a male betta fish to make a bubble nest in its tank even when there are no females around. Bubble nest making is a good sign that your male betta fish is happy, healthy, and comfortable in its territory.

Gulping air and blowing it with saliva makes bubble nests so it sticks together on the surface of the water. This is where the bettas attach the eggs right after spawning. It is interesting to note that it is the male betta fish that takes care and protects the eggs after spawning.

Do Betta Fish Need Oxygen Pump

I already bought an air pump for my betta fish. What can I do with it now?

Do not feel as though you wasted your well-earned money. You can still use the air pump. Sponge filters are the best filters to use for betta fish. It requires an air pump to function. The air comes in through the sponge filter by connecting an air hose from the air pump. The air forces water to pass through the sponge filter. This provides mechanical filtration for your betta fish tank!

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Another amazing detail regarding this filter is that the sponge has a huge surface area for the proliferation of good bacteria. These good bacteria provide biological filtration by breaking down harmful substances. Ammonia is lethal to fish. Good thing is that Nitrosomonas bacteria will use ammonia and convert it into less toxic nitrites. Nitrobacter then breaks this down into nitrates which is far less toxic to fish. Nitrates may decrease by doing regular partial water changes.

Sponge filters are great filter options for betta fish because the flow output is gentle. Betta fish do not appreciate high current and flow which will blow them around the fish tank. Being whipped around by the current will exhaust your betta fish causing stress and eventually death. Choose sponge filters compatible with the size of your fish tank.

Betta fish do not need an air pump to survive. They have evolved remarkably well in the wild and have developed a labyrinth organ to let them absorb oxygen directly from the air they gulp from the water’s surface. Always make sure your betta fish has access to the surface of the water for it to fully use the labyrinth organ.