It happened again today. Two girls approached me at the register, and asked if the Betta fish are meant to be kept together. I said no, and assumed that the girls were asking as customers if they could get two of the fish. But then one of the girls informed me that two of the fish were in the same cup on the shelf. My stomach sank. I walked straight off the register with them to see what they meant.
The Betta fish are kept in cups on the shelf, stocked next to each other. The girls directed me to two cups: one cup full of water but no fish, and another cup … with one blue male, and one red male. They were as far away from each other as they could be in the small cup, which isn’t saying much. At first I was relieved that they were alive, and not fighting, but then we saw it. There were long red and blue fins on the bottom of the cup, just … laying there. The fish had pulled them out of each other’s bodies.
I picked up both cups after thanking the girls, and race walked over to the pet care department. Removing the lids, I fished one of the Betta out with a small net, and separated the poor fish. I’m surprised both were still alive, but I was furious. This isn’t the first time this has happened; kids who clearly have nothing better to do have been known to dump one Betta in with another when no one is around just to see them fight. Weekends are our busiest days, and I’m sure doing so without notice was fairly easy for them. I’ll never understand how they can do it, though.
Why do Betta fish always fight one another? Male Betta are notoriously territorial: that plant is his plant, that rock belongs to him. That aquarium ornament? That is his, too. Betta live solitary lives in the natural world, excluding the times that they mate. And when they fight, it isn’t lighthearted – they will fight until the other fish gives up, gets injured, or until they get injured. The two males in the cup must have thrown in the towel before either of them was killed. Males are just as hostile toward other flashy fish. If it is colorful and has flashy fins, a male Betta will most likely pick a fight with it.
You can tell when a male Betta is being aggressive by his physical behavior. Males flare their gills and fins out when they even see another Betta. If you have a Betta fish, try holding up a small mirror to his tank, and you’ll see it in action. There is no need to force two males to fight each other to experience how beautiful they are. I owned several Bettas throughout college, and they are wonderful, hardy fish. It baffles me that kids can just walk into a pet store and dump them in a cup together for entertainment.
I like to imagine that, somewhere down the line, those troublemakers will all be reincarnated as Betta fish. And if you ever see kids doing this at a pet store, please let an associate know. It is animal cruelty, even if it is something as small as a fish.