In my years in the hobby I have had several fish that helped me learn the right way to keep fish and aquariums. Unfortunately, at the start there was one betta who helped me learn all the wrongs ways to do it. His name was Spiro. I want to take a moment to highlight his incredible, brief life and appreciate him here.
(To not get in trouble here, I’m going to refer to a store as Walmo but I think it’s fairly clear what I refer to.)
Spiro came from a Walmo. To those who study and are passionate about fish, this is the first bad sign. While I don’t want to get too into my opinions and feelings on the issue, the particular Walmo where I found him did not have any other live fish, so it seemed to me there was no required knowledgeable fish person there to care for the bettas. They were on a shelf in cups, as is common practice and never once did I see an employee feeding them or nearby to ask questions or anything of the sort. I stopped in regularly for quite a while and slowly all but two of the bettas were sold off. The remaining two continued to have water that looked dirtier and dirtier, with visible excrement building up in their cups.
Finally, I felt I had researched bettas enough and I bought a 1 gallon tank. It was the first betta I was going to keep since I was a child, and since I decided this was a hobby I wanted to seriously pursue. I have touched in a previous post, why I ended up choosing a 1 gallon. (It was what got me thinking and made me want to move a spotlight on this particular betta.) Basically the situation was this; I was in a college dorm and thought to change the water I would have to have a tank I could carry full of water, down the hall to the communal bathroom and back. It had to fit on the small desk in my room, the only furniture of mine that fit in the space besides my actual bed (it was one of the ‘freshman only’ pathetically cramped and small dorms). I lived in a remote place where there were no “pet” stores. The nearest Walmo was a little over half an hour drive and short of ordering things online, which was not something I’d ever really thought of, Walmo was it.
On a side note that is why I’m not necessarily against Walmo selling fish. Whoa don’t stab me yet fish lovers. I DO feel that if they are going to sell fish they need to adhere to ethical standards of keeping and selling them and need to have a required fish keeper on staff that is knowledgeable. Like all places that sell fish I think they need to cut out some of the unethical fish products that they sell alongside the fish and they need to provide correct information to all buyers. That would be the dream anyway. I say I’m not totally against them selling just because there are Walmos everywhere. And I know what it’s like to fall in love with a hobby and not have accessible resources to get involved. This is a hobby that will only survive if it continues to grow and gain participants. I want every person interested to be able to get their hands on aquarium supplies and fish, BUT like in any pet retailer I don’t it should be at the cost of the health and happiness of the fish. I do think it’s a bit ridiculous that a store that sells no other animals and is not a “pet store” would sell a pet with no special conditions, just like they were another nonliving item. I have even heard stories that they don’t so much as feed the fish in the store, much less change their water. They just put them out and they either are bought or they die (or expire perhaps is how they think of it in grocery terms). That is just what I’ve heard of course, I have no personal proof other than what I’ve seen. To think fish are given a fate to either starve to death, or die from burning in their own ammonia if not sold is quite sad. I did notice that the water never seemed clearer or changed and looked progressively worse as I visited my local Walmo. There were sick fish and an occasional dead fish. I don’t know what happened to those as one day they were just gone.
Another side note, don’t dump food in fish cups at your Walmo after reading this. I will get into it more later but excessive feeding without water changes will kill them quicker with more ammonia being produced than starvation will. Both are cruel and it does no better.
ANYWAY back on topic, this is where I went wrong with Spiro. I went to Walmo and he was one of two bettas left. This means they had been there the longest and were the last survivors. The quality of their water was therefore extremely bad. He was a veil tail, the most common and as far as I know, easiest to breed tail type. He was a bright, clean red with just a little iridescence to his scales. He was on the left and on the right was a pale orangey male veil tail. I was drawn to his bright color and after nearly crying because I felt leaving the last betta there alone was a death sentence, I brought Spiro home and named him, after a dragon video game character.
Spiro ate a little for me and I waited a couple days then took him to my college and set him up in his new one gallon. I had black rocks as the substance and a few live plants (though they died shortly after he did). To begin with Spiro seemed extremely happy. He swam laps around, seemingly thoroughly enjoying being out of his small cup. He looked at everything and every time I would open my laptop on my desk he seemed to take it as a threat. He would flare up and do his little war dance until he ran me off. He built a decent bubble nest and overall seemed quite content, if not grumpy.
Another short side note: I have heard a superstition that red colored bettas are more aggressive. Thoughts?
The main thing I did wrong was that I did 100% water changes every freakin day. I did this because some extremists I found online while trying to learn reputable information wrote that 1 gallons were extremely cruel and a betta would die if not changed every day. Looking back I should’ve seen it as extremist considering he’d survived weeks in a tiny cup at Walmo. But I had just come back from crashing an awful, awful goldfish tank in the worst way and was determined to follow the internet and learn the secrets of serious fish keeping.
As I’ve said in earlier posts there’s a couple of reasons why those water changes killed Spiro. After being in terrible water that built up high ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels (all the bad stuff from fish breathing and pooping in the water) for a long time, going to completely fresh water every single day was no doubt too much of a shock for poor Spiro. Also he went from being ignored in a small cup to being in a tank with a light and a person and being moved around and taken in an out for water changes constantly and it no doubt mentally stressed him out. Also, doing so frequent changes meant it was hard to match the temperature and other water parameters, which was more fluctuation than he’d probably ever had. All and all it was just too much. He got tightly clamped fins and became lethargic, then within the week died.
I was devastated. I felt the internet had let me down, and I had let him down, and that even with trying my best to research, there was no way for the average person to get into the hobby successfully without some professional help or experience. I, of course, later found all the other articles explaining shock and stress with other theories of way too little water changes and never 100%. With such a small tank, I ended up developing my own method of keeping a 1 gallon and tried again with a new fish that I’ve had for years now. I may someday detail exactly how I did the water changes and kept my second betta alive in a 1 gallon. However, Spiro never got to see my new method. He taught me what information was false by paying the ultimate price.
It is of course, largely my fault, I could’ve always done more research. However, it is also due to the fact there aren’t enough openly available knowledgeable sources on betta care. Most places are focused on bigger, more expensive fish. Others are so dead set against small tanks that there’s no information on HOW to make small tanks work. They think they can stop people from buying them by putting out no information so that people are on their own and their fish die, like mine did. Others are extremists who post without knowledge because they pick up opinions around the internet and try and stand up for the fish so much that it does more harm than good.
It is hard to know what sources to trust and what not too when the internet is so vast and so many opinions are contradictory. As I said, I lived in a place where there were no other fish keepers or pet stores (not that pet stores are always incredibly knowledgeable). I had to choose a side and stick with it and hope that was the side with correct information. I thought better to do too many water changes than not enough. I didn’t know how delicate a balance it was. I chose my side and learned the hard way that it was wrong so next time I could choose right.
Spiro was a beautiful fish with a bold, fearless personality that survived longer than any fish can be expected to. I like to think he enjoyed his slightly larger tank in the time he was there and I am glad in a way that he passed so quickly and didn’t suffer too long. I will always be grateful for the fish that taught me my first tough lessons about this hobby. He was unforgettable.
In the end, there are times in every fish keeper’s life when they’ve made mistakes and fish have paid the price. Even with good intentions and effort, misinformation and mistakes happen. That is why I think it is so important to create this resource of proper information that can be accessible BEFORE someone else makes the same bad decisions I did.
Spiro certainly made a difference in the way I keep fish and helped my future fish lead better lives. I hope that he continues to live on with his story helping other fish live better lives with more knowledgeable keepers as well. Swim in peace Spiro.
Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my current betta)