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Do Betta Fish like Mirrors? Science-Based Facts & FAQ

Sarah Psaradelis

By Sarah Psaradelis

betta looking at the mirror

The betta or Siamese fighter fish is a fish that is known for its beauty and aggressive temperament towards its kind. These fish are popular for small aquariums and look great in planted aquarium setups.

One thing that this fish is known for is their lack of tolerance towards each other once they mature, and males especially are known for being the most aggressive and dominating than females.

With endless color varieties and fin types, the betta fish is indeed one of the most common tropical fish to own. One thing that many betta fish keepers wish to improve or introduce into their betta’s life is entertainment, which is where all the buzz for betta fish and mirrors started.

So, what do mirrors have to offer your betta fish in terms of enrichment and entertainment and do they like them? It is not 100% clear and it’s possible for bettas to not like mirrors due to the stress it can cause, but there are some benefits to using a mirror with your betta that we will discuss in this article.

Flaring In Bettas Explained

Flaring is a way for betta fish to describe how these fish puff out and extend the gills on the side of their head. They will also straighten their fins and Betta fish flare to make themselves appear larger and it is used between betta fish and in some cases, other types of fish.

Betta fish usually flare when they see another betta fish, and this dominant and aggressive behavior develops once the fish becomes mature. There is a misconception that it is only male bettas who flare, however, this is not true. Both male and female betta fish can flare, and it is used for the same reasons.

It is a more common behavior for male bettas to flare, and it is more noticeable since males will straighten their long fins to make them stand upright in the water.

betta fish
Image Credit: Pixabay

Mirrors and Betta Fish

Flaring is thought to have some benefit to help encourage betta fish to stretch their fins and poop if they are constipated. This has led many betta fish keepers to use mirrors as a form of exercise for their betta fish because when a betta fish sees their reflection, they will flare like they would at another betta fish.

However, there is a possibility that mirrors can stress them out, and it is unlikely that betta fish enjoy looking in the mirror.

Since betta fish can easily get stressed if they see another betta fish in the same aquarium as them, especially in the case of male bettas, they might not like mirrors or find enjoyment in the activity. Keep in mind that bettas are unable to determine that it is their reflection and not another betta fish, so they will think that their territory is being invaded which can cause them to become defensive.

You may notice that your betta fish looks more alert and livelier by swimming around more after flaring in the mirror, but this is only because they are defending their territory and trying to see if the other fish is going to come back, and not necessarily because they enjoy it.

Why Don’t Some Betta Fish Like Mirrors?

There is a possibility that the mirrors can benefit a betta fish if it is used appropriately, and for a short time only. It is not a good idea to keep a mirror in your betta fish’s aquarium for longer than 5 minutes to prevent any unnecessary stress. Not all betta fish will like mirrors, and it is perfectly normal for some betta fish to not flare in the mirror and act uninterested.

While you can let your betta fish flare in a mirror every day, it is best to limit it to three or four times a week instead. Mirrors are not an essential item for bettas, nor are they necessary for every betta.

If you find that your betta fish does not flare into the mirror, there are some possible reasons aside from your betta fish not liking the mirror.

Reasons Bettas May Not Like Mirrors:
  • Your betta fish cannot see into the mirror because the view is obstructed
  • Your betta fish realizes the fish staring back is not a threat
  • Your betta fish does not easily feel threatened
  • Your betta fish is blind or has difficulty seeing
  • Your betta fish is feeling scared of the reflection

If you find that your betta fish goes into hiding and looks fearful after flaring into the mirror, it is best to stop the activity altogether as it is causing them unnecessary stress, and they do not like it.

sick betta fish
Image Credit: yin8003211, Pixabay

Pros and Cons of Betta Fish Mirrors

There are various pros and cons to allowing your betta fish to have “mirror time”.

  • Flaring helps stretch their fins and flex their muscles
  • Form of exercise for bettas
  • Can keep them entertained for a short period
  • Help to keep them active and encourage them to swim around
  • Can make them feel a sense of achievement as if they defended their territory from another betta
  • Forcing your betta to flare can be stressful
  • They may feel defensive and intimidated by the reflection
  • May make your betta fish scared and hide due to a perceived threat

Can Bettas See Themselves In The Mirror? Is It Good for Them?

When a betta fish flares into a mirror, it looks as if the reflection in the mirror is flaring back at them. Since your betta fish won’t know the difference between their reflection and another betta fish since bettas do not understand the concept of mirrors, they will assume they need to become defensive of their territory. This is not typically a fun experience for bettas, which is why they usually do not like mirrors.

However, bettas will generally encounter other bettas in the wild, so flaring occasionally is something that can be healthy for bettas and even beneficial. Male betta fish should never be housed together, so allowing them to flare safely into a mirror instead of putting them with another betta fish that they will fight is the better and safer option.

betta fish in aquarium
Image Credit: yin8003211, Pixabay

Final Thoughts

Finding ways to keep your betta fish entertained while getting a form of exercise can be achieved by letting them look in a small mirror from their aquarium now and then. A betta fish will get most of their enrichment and entertainment from having a spacious and heavily planted aquarium with good water quality, so mirrors should be given to bettas occasionally to prevent them from getting stressed.

Although flaring can be good for your betta’s muscles, not all betta fish require a mirror, and they might not respond to their reflection at all.

Featured Image Credit: Daykiney, Shutterstock

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