Keeping betta rubra: tank specs, product recommendations, what has worked for me

I’ve been keeping betta rubra for *checks watch* exactly 7 months as of this July 31st. Here’s one of the first videos I took of my bonded pair, Morticia and Gomez Addams, at the end of January.

I’m going to devote an entire post–maybe a series of posts–to this pair specifically because they demonstrate some of the most interesting behaviour I’ve observed in my fish room so far. But this post has a much narrower scope because I want to answer questions that I had when I was first trying to set up a space for these fish: what kind of tank set-up will make these fish happy? And, while I know that there are of course many things I could do differently, or better, I like to think that I have succeeded.

If I hit all the talking points that I have planned out in my head, I’ll cover aquarium volume and dimensions, the basic equipment, substrates, plants, water parameters, nutrients and additives, food, and *wince* a rough idea of how much it costs me financially* to maintain this species. For the moment I’m going to hold off on discussing tank mates, compatible or otherwise, but I will cover the subject in another post.

PSA: My product recommendations are just that–recommendations of products and shops that I like. No one has asked me to recommend their shop or product, and I’m not receiving any kind of financial compensation, kick-backs, perks, etc.

* you could absolutely do all of this more cheaply than I have, I am just attached to some of the products I’ll mention here and am too neurotic to risk cheaper alternatives.

Living Stuff

Where I Bought My Fish

With a few exceptions, I have purchased all of my fish from Betta Go here in the Greater Toronto Area. They are an online fish store that specializes in wild bettas, especially the larger complexes. In January, they received their shipment of wild caught betta rubra from their overseas source, and that is when I purchased Gomez and Morticia.

Some perks about this shop: they provide same-day local delivery within the Greater Toronto Area, and also sell starter food cultures. I truthfully credit these guys for my early success in this hobby. Thanks, Betta Go. ๐Ÿ™‚

Where I Bought My Plants

Truthfully I’ve sort of lost track of all the different plants I have crammed into this set-up since I first established it, but I’m reasonably confident that I purchased all of the plants from The Planted Aquarium. Like Betta Go, they offer local delivery throughout the GTA, as well as other great shipping options for Ontario residents.

Here’s a quick breakdown of most of the different plant species in this aquarium:

And there is one plant species in here I know I actually received from AquascapeRoom: the dwarf sagittaria subulata (aka the tall grass), which isn’t listed on their site right now. When I bought the original plant bundle back in October of 2020 for a different tank, it retailed for about $5.99.

That is an important point to note about this tank: many of the plants that are featured in this set-up were propagated from older parent plants that I purchased previously for other projects. (Oof, that is too much alliteration.)

Tank Specs

(Pardon the glare in the first photo. One of these days, I’ll invest in an actual camera that isn’t embedded in a smartphone.)

Water Conditions

You can read the short version of their water conditions over here. I keep my betta rubra in half-distilled, half-tap water. I don’t have an RO/DI unit (yet), and so purchase bottles of distilled water from Walmart for under $1 per gallon. It still adds up, so yes, I’m researching the most affordable RO/DI unit I can find that can be installed inside a condo.

I do weekly 10% water changes when there are fry in this tank, and bi-weekly when the pair are on their own.

The Basics: Aquarium, Lid, Light, Filter, and Heater

Seapora 10 gallon with black frame

My pair began their stay with me in a ~5 gallon Fluval Spec, which is where they first spawned and produced the F1 rubra I’m currently rehoming now. I ultimately opted to remove them to two separate 10 gallon tanks, but for a variety of reasons I’ll write about later they are now housed together again and I don’t plan on separating them.

The tank is a standard framed 10 gallon built by Seapora. I purchased it from AngelFins.Ca for $31 in February, but checking the page on their website now I can see that the price has gone up to $33. Please note that I’m well aware of the various $1 per gallon sales/deals that many big box pet stores put on, and I’m delighted that option exists for many fish keepers. I just prefer to buy my supplies from privately owned fish stores where possible. (The selection is often better in my opinion.)

Aquarium Masters Glass Canopy (20″ x 10″)

A tightly-fitting lid, or some other means of preventing your betta rubra from jumping straight for the heavens (and sadly reaching them), is non-negotiable with this species. They are incredible jumpers who will find their way through the tiniest of gaps available. I make judicious use of both plastic wrap and clear plastic packing tape in addition to the lid I’m recommending here.

The Aquarium Masters glass canopy fits all standard 10 gallon framed aquariums, so if you’ve only got access to Aqueon brand aquariums, it should still get the job done. Again, I bought this lid from AngelFins.Ca for $26.95 in February at the same time as I bought the 10 gallon aquarium, and again it looks like the price has gone up $2 to $28.95. A comparable lid on Amazon is selling for a whopping $91–which is absurd, support your local fish stores! *hops down off soap box*

The lid is made of two separate pieces of glass connected by a plastic hinge to aid opening and closing the tank for whatever reason. It also comes with a plastic splash guard that should be affixed to the glass; otherwise the lid will leave about a 2 inch gap at the back of your tank where just about any fish can make a bid for freedom. It’s still quite soft plastic, though, and you can use a pair of scissors to cut out little openings for air tubing and heater cables. The adhesive handle that affixes to the glass to facilitate opening and closing the lid is so-so, and I found that I had to reinforce it with plastic packing tape once the adhesive began to lose its efficacy.

One important thing to note: the plastic splash guard component of Aquarium Masters lids does not always completely cover the back end of the aquarium. My lazy aquarist’s hack for bridging this gap was to fold several layers of plastic packing tape over on itself, and tape it over the gaps.

Okay, it’s not going to win any beauty contests, but you know what it will do? Keep your betta rubra from leaping to their deaths for no reason, which is one of their preferred past times. *finger guns*

Nicrew ClassicLED Plus Planted Aquarium Light (18″ – 24″)

I’ve actually got two Nicrew lights, one for both of my currently running 10 gallon aquariums, and while they are both purportedly the exact same model of the exact same light, the one I’ve got sitting on top of my betta rubra pair’s tank has many much nicer gadgets. Both the white and blue spectrum LED lights can have their vibrancy dialled up or down, which greatly helps with controlling the development of algae in this tank. (There’s always a little bit, that doesn’t bother me.) I also find that the top of this light does not get nearly as warm to the touch as the older model. A win for everyone!

This light retails on right now for $47.99, which is exactly what I paid for it when I bought it in April. Frankly, I’ve bought several different aquarium lights over the past year, at least two of which were considerably more expensive than this one, and I still think you’ll be hard pressed to find an aquarium light that is better than this one. Nicrew: the NoFrills of planted aquarium lights.*

* please laugh at my joke, Canadian aquarists.


My filtration system for my betta rubra 10 gallon has a few different component parts, so I’ll address them individually.

Fdit Double Head Biochemical Sponge Foam Filter

Across all my tanks I use a combination of HOB (‘hang on back’) and sponge filters, and there are pros and cons to both filtration styles when it comes to fish like wild bettas and parosphromenus species. For my 10 gallon betta rubra set-up, I’ve opted for a sponge filter that includes two small compartments beneath the sponges to accommodate additional filter media.

(The above picture comes directly from the product listing. When I purchased it in October 2020 it was retailing for $21.89, and is currently listed for $29.59.)

Yes, this is a pretty large sponge filter to stick inside a standard 10 gallon aquarium, and a filter that has the capacity to provide adequate filtration to 25+ gallon aquariums maybe seems like overkill. But please bear in mind that my little 10 gallon home, while normally only home to a single pair of betta rubra, also has to accommodate the presence of fry that will cohabitate with their parents until they are large enough to be moved to my 20 gallon grow-out tank. This filter is a workhorse, and I have very few complaints about it.

Pawfly MA-60 Air Pump + gang valve

If you want to run a sponge filter, or multiple sponge filters, you’re going to need an air pump to do it. This air pump is purportedly designed only to run one sponge filter within one 10 gallon aquarium, but I have mine connected to another sponge filter in my other 10 gallon through a 4-way gang valve, and it is powerful enough to manage filtration in both tanks. I’ve found it to be very quiet, but I will say that if it tips over sideways, you will hear an alarmingly loud rumbling noise as it vibrates.

This air pump comes with airline tubing, a check valve to prevent water from backing up into the pump itself (not a good development!!), as well as an air stone that I have used in hospital/quarantine containers and to provide additional aeration for developing fry.

Power House BASIC S-Size biological filter media

Betta rubra are incredibly tolerant of different water conditions, but if you want yours to thrive and spawn for you (and I hope that you do!), you need to give them soft water with low pH and low general/carbonate hardness. There are lots of water additives on the market that require you to dose your aquarium on a schedule to keep the pH within a specific range, but the most reliable means I’ve found to maintain a stable low pH is through the substrate and biological filter media.

Since essentially all of my tanks house fish that need low pH, I use this filter media in all of them. In my 10 gallon betta rubra tank, I filled both the additional filter media compartments with this stuff once, and haven’t touched it since.

I bought a 1L bag of this stuff from Betta Go for $23; given the tangible impact it has had on maintaining the stability of my aquarium pH, I’d say the price point is more than a bargain.

ADA Aqua Soil – Malaya substrate

Beyond the cost of purchasing the fish, this substrate was the most expensive single-transaction purchase required for setting up this tank. ADA is a premium brand for people who are way more into hardcore aquascaping and aquatic plant care/maintenance than I am, but when it comes to substrates that are designed to gradually lower aquarium pH, I’ve yet to see anything else on the market that compares.

(I am looking, too. At $70.99 for 9 litres before tax and shipping from AngelFins, this stuff is not cheap, and I am not Mrs. Moneybags.)

I initially bought this stuff for my licorice gourami tank, which requires an even lower pH than my betta rubra. What I had left over I mixed together with some harder grit sand and leftover Amazonia aqua soil (which I use for wabi kusa), and then created a deep substrate layer. I really do swear by this part of the set-up process: my substrate layer is a few inches deep, and while that takes up real estate in the tank, it provides lots of room for plant root growth and, in combination with the use of the Power House filter media, keeps the pH in my tanks low and stable.

Eheim Jager TruTemp Fully Submersible 50W Heater

I use 2 or 3 different brands of aquarium heater, and in truth this one really isn’t my favourite, but it did come highly recommended in terms of its longevity and reliability. Ask me again in 3 years which of my existing heaters is the MVP, maybe I’ll change my mind.

I keep this one set at 27C/82F. While I’ve seen several other write-ups about betta rubra preferring cooler water temperatures, I noticed that my pair seemed very lethargic when I kept their tank closer to 23 or 24C. I’ve since come to the conclusion that consistency and stability with most parameters is way more important than just chasing the numbers.

That’s all on the tank specs, which is quite exciting! I’ve got two broad categories left to cover: nutrients and aquarium additives, and feeding. Then I get to press the ‘publish’ button and stop obsessively editing my words over and over again.

Additives and Nutrients

A little bit of all of this stuff makes its way into my betta rubra set-up. …honestly, I use just about all of this in all of my tanks.

From left to right:

  • Thrive C All In One Liquid Fertilizer For Low Tech Tanks (500ml) ($24.99)
    • I bought this from AquascapeRoom originally, but it doesn’t appear to be listed in their catalogue anymore. I dose twice weekly.
  • ADA Green Brightly Neutral K, a potassium supplement for plants, dosed twice weekly ($25.99)
  • Seachem products, prices will vary:
    • Nourish, a comprehensive nutritional supplement for fish in the home aquarium. I dose this a couple times a week.
    • Pristine, another strain of beneficial bacteria that can thrive in lower pH environments, added with every water change.
    • Stability, the old go-to beneficial bacteria that gets added with every water change.
    • Prime, the stinkiest but most effective water conditioner from concentrate on the market. I dose with each water change, as I’m adding part tap-water.
  • Culture – Live PNS Bacteria Aquatic Inoculant, from Tannin Aquatics ($24USD)
    • This is the one of two products I will shell out additional money for to import from the US (Nurture, another live BNS bacteria inoculant designed for biome care, also a Tannin Aquatics product). The bacteria is capable of photosynthesis, which is super cool! I add this twice a week, and less than the recommended dose because I don’t want to run out of it too quickly.
    • Tannin Aquatics are also my go-to source for a wide variety of botanicals, such as Indian almond leaves, seed pods, etc.
  • Brightwell Aquatics – Blackwater, a water conditioner that adds both humic and fulvic acid to the water to help recreate the environment experienced by betta rubra in their natural habitat. I add five or six drops daily.

Live Food (Glorious Food) Cultures

1-7 days oldparamecium
1-4 wks oldmicroworms
baby grindal worms (near the very centre of the culture)
1 month and onwardsgrindal worms and white worms
this is my best guess regarding what age I begin feeding my rubra different foods.

Betta rubra can be trained to accept dried or frozen foods, but I maintain live grindal and white worm cultures that I feed from daily.

(This grosses my husband out, but come on–they’re just worms!)

I struggled to sustain my cultures when I first started them, and so if that was your experience in the past, don’t feel bad and don’t give up! Lots of guidance online advises to keep them in organic potting soil and to feed grindal and white worm cultures with fish food, but that never seemed to be enough to help mine thrive. The game changer for me was watching Gianne of Inglorious Bettas’ excellent video where she demonstrates how she sets up and maintains her cultures.

My main takeaways from her video:

  • Feed the worms cat food
  • Use coconut fibre substrate instead of organic potting soil. Gianne recommended Zoo Med, and that’s what I’ve been using for months now. (I also use it in my terrariums!)
  • Plug the air holes you cut into the top of your tupperware containers with filter floss to prevent pest infestation

The biggest obstacle to feeding live food can be obtaining the starter cultures in the first place, which I totally get. I’m extremely lucky that Betta Go offers live food cultures and same-day local delivery, so they are my go-to resource, but there are other Canadian fish stores that you can choose from too.

StoreCultures Sold
Betta Gogrindal worms
white worms
black worms
ShrimpFever*black worms
tubifex worms
grindal worms
white worms
Aquarists Across Canadagrindal worms
* their cultures are out of stock as of 7/30/21, but they are very responsive via social media if you want to reach out to them with questions

That brings me (I believe) to the end of this, my first detailed breakdown of how I maintain a home aquarium for these beautiful wild fish. It is a bit funny; normally when I’m asked by non-hobbyists about how much work goes into what I do, I tend to shrug it off and insist that it isn’t that much different from caring for any other animal. Writing everything down like this puts the work I have done right in front of me–I can’t deny that this is a lot! And yet it still doesn’t feel like work.

I firmly believe that anyone who cares about the health and well-being of any animal is far less likely to view the effort they put into nurturing those lives as anything other than tremendously rewarding, and a real source of joy.

Happy fish-keeping. โ™ก

Categories: B. Rubra, Fish Health & Wellness, Fishkeeping, Genus: Betta, Raising Fry, Tank Specs

Tags: , , , ,

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