A betta fish losing its color can be due to many factors. This loss of pigment is always concerning, but you can prevent it.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- What Causes Betta Fish To Lose Their Color?
- Can You Help Improve Your Betta’s Colors?
- Why Do Bettas Turn White Or Black?
The beautiful hues and elegant fins of Betta splendens, known simply as Bettas or Siamese fighting fish, have made it popular among fish owners. In some countries like Singapore, they even have their own pageant where Bettas with the best color patterns are shown off.
The different colors displayed by the Betta is due to special cells on its skin called chromatophores that have different cells or pigments (iridophores) that catch light in a special way to reflect or absorb different hues and colors.
A betta fish’s color and fan-like fins is definitely its crowning glory so it’s worrisome if they become dull or muted. However, prevention is definitely easy as it is only a matter of giving your Betta a very good home that is well maintained and keeping it happy and healthy.
Understanding Betta Fish Color
The different colors and patterns of Betta fish are due to genetics and have been expertly manipulated by breeders to produce unique looks. The mechanism behind it involves how much pigment cells or iridophores are in the different layers of the Betta’s skin. There are four skin layers: the iridescent layer which has special cells that reflect light a certain way making their skin seem metallic; the black layer which has melanin; the red layer, and the yellow layer.
All Bettas have melanin as their “base” color which is a dark pigment that makes their colors appear richer. Less melanin in the black layer produces lighter or less richly colored Bettas. The top layer or the iridescent layer is rich with blue or green hues. Lighter-colored Bettas have fewer pigments on the top layers, allowing the yellow in the bottom layer to show.
Patterns, hues, and coloration are dictated by the amount of pigments and their combinations on these different layers.
What Causes Pigment Loss In Betta Fish?
Discoloration in Bettas is often due to poor environmental conditions that start to affect its health or cause it some stress.
Studies show that the mechanism that controls the amount of light reflecting or light-absorbing cells in the chromatophores of the different layers of skin of Betta fish are affected by the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response in the body. When Bettas are stressed or sick, their nervous system can become compromised thereby affecting the vividness of their colors as they spend their energy on trying to fight the illness.
📚 Read More >> Stressed Betta Fish? Here’s How To Help
Poor tank conditions
Contrary to popular belief, Betta fish are not as easy to care for as most pet stores advertise. They actually need more specialized care than a lot of owners realize. They require ample space to move around in and a tank with lots of stimulation to alleviate boredom. They will definitely not thrive in those cups you often see them in and need at least 5-gallon tanks. Because of this, improper tank conditions and poor care are the most common cause of stress that leads to different health conditions such as infections in Bettas that can manifest as pigment loss.
Make sure the correct temperature, pH level, and water quality are met in your Betta’s tank. Regularly check your filter to make sure the waste in the tank doesn’t build up and perform regular partial water changes to help maintain the water quality. Make sure your instruments to monitor your aquarium are accurate and are working properly.
Bettas are specifically sensitive to temperature so make sure your tank is heated properly as needed and that your water temperature is stable. Since Bettas originate from tropical environments, they need warmer water temperatures at about 75-80°F with the optimum range at 78-80°F.
Wrong tank conditions can stress your Betta fish and lead to different health conditions that may affect their color. If you notice your pet fish losing some color then it’s good to check your water quality parameters and address any problems.
If you need to make any corrections to your water parameters, always make sure to do so gradually so as not to stress your fish out further.
Poor environmental conditions are the most common cause of stress in fish. Especially if you have sudden changes in water quality parameters that can shock their systems and weaken them, making them more susceptible to different illnesses. Poor water quality can also lead to infections due to bacterial growth in the water that can stress out your Betta and contribute to loss of pigmentation on their skin.
Chronic stress in Betta fish can manifest as pigment loss as their health becomes affected. Make sure everything in your Betta’s tank is in order to keep it stress-free.
Some things you should consider are: the correct tank size with ample hiding places so your Betta fish will not feel too exposed; the proper temperature which is on the warmer side; and any aggressive tank mates that can cause your Betta some stress from fighting.
Bettas naturally lose their color as they age. A well-cared for Betta fish should live up to 5 years but their colors can start to fade a bit as early as 2 years of age. Make sure you keep your Betta stress fee by giving it a good home with the correct tank conditions and feeding it a good diet so that you keep its colors vivid for a longer time.
As Bettas recover from injuries such as fin rot or fin nips, their skin can take on a lighter or darker coloration. This is usually part of the natural healing process. As long as you provide the proper tank conditions for your Betta, along with a good diet, then it should recover well.
Certain diseases, especially those caused by a bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infection, often cause discoloration such as white spots, flecks, or “fluff” on the skin of Betta fish. If you notice these spots, immediately check the water quality of your tank, especially the level of toxins such as ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite as well as the water temperature. Temperatures that are too high promote bacterial growth. You may have to isolate the affected fish as well to help it recover and prevent the spread of the disease.
Ich is a parasitic infection (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) that causes white spots on the body, gills, or fins of fish that look like salt or sugar granules. You may also notice your betta rubbing itself against the rocks, plants, or gravel in your tank in an attempt to get rid of the parasite. This can cause sore spots or small wounds on its body. Other symptoms include lethargy and loss of appetite.
Ich is highly contagious and treatment should be done immediately starting with isolation of the affected fish and then gradual disinfection and treatment. Heat, salt, and ich medication are the recommended treatment. Gradually increase the temperature of your quarantine tank a degree per day until a maximum of 86°F. Add aquarium salt (one teaspoon per 5 gallons) and perform a partial water change per day (25%). Alternatively, a store-bought ich medication can be used. Follow the instructions on the pack.
The heat and salt will create an environment harsh enough to eliminate the parasite. Aquarium salt also helps fish recover from sickness a bit faster. Your main tank should be thoroughly cleaned as well. Taking out the host or affected fish will help accelerate the die off of the parasite in the water.
Prevent the occurrence of ich by keeping a well-maintained tank with the proper water conditions and by disinfecting or cleaning anything new you add to your tank. If your Betta fish is under stress or is already quite old, it can be more susceptible to the parasite that causes ich.
Cotton wool disease or columnaris caused by an infection of the bacteria, Flavobacterium columnare is a common disease in Bettas caused by poor water quality. Fluffy white spots on the body of your Betta, especially around the gills and mouth are symptoms of columnaris. Some develop into sores or ulcers and may have mucus excretions as well. Frayed fins can also be a sign but this should be distinguished from fin rot. Left untreated, it can cause a black or brown discoloration on your Betta and can become quite serious and hard to treat at its advanced stages.
Aquarium water will always have bacteria in them but certain conditions can cause the overgrowth of one type that can affect your fish. Betta fish under stress are more susceptible to infections due to lowered immune systems. Poor water quality is caused by overstocking, a faulty filter, and incorrect water parameters (high temperatures can promote the growth of bacteria).
Make sure you perform regular water changes and maintain good water quality to prevent the build-up of waste in your tank. Make sure any new additions are also quarantined before introducing them into your tank.
Keep your Betta’s immune system strong so it will not be easily infected by bacteria or other parasites by making sure it is free from stress. Stress can come from aggressive tank mates, sudden water quality changes, and poor diet.
Quarantine your affected Betta fish and check other tank inhabitants that may be infected. Lower the temperature of your tank gradually to lessen bacterial growth and treat your fish with medication or aquarium salt. Add 1 teaspoon of aquarium salt per 5 gallons of water and an additional antibiotic if needed. Perform daily partial water changes (25%) to slowly get rid of the bacteria.
If you notice your Betta’s discoloration starting from its fins then it may have fin rot which is also caused by poor water conditions that lead to some sort of infection and or necrosis (tissue death). Watch out for frayed or damaged fins as well. Treatment of fin rot is the same as for a bacterial infection and should be administered immediately to prevent the rot from developing into the rest of the body.
Fin nips from an injury or a fight can sometimes develop into fin rot if the tank water is dirty and if your Betta fish’s immune system is low, making it susceptible to infection.
Anchor worms are a rare parasite wherein white small worms grow on the body of your Betta fish. This can be accompanied by lethargy, sores, rubbing behavior, and breathing difficulties. Though extremely rare, the best prevention is still a well-maintained tank and strict quarantine for any new tank additions. Treating anchor worms can be tedious as you will have to manually pull out the worms from your Betta’s body with a tweezer.
Why Is My Betta Fish Turning Black?
Bettas naturally lose their vivid colors as they age where the colors of their skin can become darker or muted. If your Betta is not showing any signs of illness or stress (lethargy, loss of appetite, excessive hiding) then this loss of color is probably natural. Always double-check your water quality parameters, in any case, to make sure that the discoloration is not caused by environmental factors. This also allows you to address any stressors before they become too problematic.
Watch out for stress stripes as well which are stripes of a different color that develop on a Betta fish’s body. These are more obvious in female Bettas.
Why Is My Betta Fish Turning White?
White discoloration on Betta fish is always a cause for concern as this is usually caused by an underlying illness or infection. The white color can be in the form of flecks, spots, patches, or a loss of color on the fins. This can be due to different factors, most of which are listed above (ich, bacterial infection, or fin rot). These are often easy to prevent by proper aquarium maintenance at the correct conditions for your Betta to keep it stress-free.
Treatment often involves quarantine and the use of aquarium salts for disinfection and to help your pet fish recover. The root cause should be addressed at once to prevent any further progression of the underlying illness.
5 Tips For Improving Your Betta’s Color
1. Get the correct tank size
The correct tank size (at least 5 gallons) will ensure that your Betta thrives and keep it stress-free. Bigger tanks are also easier to maintain in terms of cleanliness. Bettas are actually quite curious and intelligent fish so keeping them in big tanks with lots of places to hide in and explore will alleviate boredom that can sometimes lead to depression. If you have a community tank then getting a big tank will prevent any territorial and space issues between your fish.
2. Maintain a stable and proper temperature range
Keeping a stable temperature at the correct range for Bettas is a must (75-80°F). Make sure you have a good heater and an accurate thermometer so you can monitor the water well. Any sudden changes in temperature or other water quality parameters can stress out your Betta fish and lead to conditions that cause discoloration.
3. Keep the tank water clean
It should go without saying that clean water equates to healthy fish. Make sure your filter is working properly so that your water can be kept clean. A good filter is also essential for a Betta tank since these fish are kept in warmer temperatures that can accelerate the growth of bacteria. Always monitor the level of toxins in your water which can adversely affect your Betta’s health at high levels.
4. Give your Betta a proper diet including color enhancing food
Betta fish are carnivorous so giving them a diet rich in protein such as small worms and brine shrimp ensures they get the correct nutrition they need to be healthy. Certain foods like brine shrimp are rich in pigments that can enhance your Betta’s color. Other color-enhancing foods include salmon (in small amounts and frequency) and daphnia. High-quality pellets and freeze-dried food available in pet stores will also help keep your Betta’s color vivid.
5. Keep your Betta stress free
Make sure your Betta fish is free from other factors that can stress it out such as aggressive tank mates or a poorly kept tank. Stress can cause your Betta’s immune system to deteriorate making it more susceptible to diseases that cause discoloration of its skin.
There is a study that shows that rearing male Betta fish in blue aquarium backgrounds increased their overall health (better feeding behavior, metabolic activity, growth, and etc.). It has been shown that aquarium backgrounds have some effect on the neural and hormonal responses of fish. Another report shows that white light or other forms of light can also affect the color of Betta fish.
Can Betta fish regain color?
Yes, if your Betta is young and the color change was caused by an illness then it is still possible for your fish to regain its color as long as the underlying conditions are addressed promptly. Though in the case of an injury, the skin can sometimes become darker upon recovery. Certain Bettas with the marble gene can naturally change their color and pattern through time.
Older bettas naturally lose their bright colors as they age so as long as they are healthy, this should be nothing to worry about.
Why is my Betta fish losing its color?
Color or pigment loss in Bettas are usually due to stress, an illness, or some form of underlying condition that causes it to become sick. It can be an infection due to parasites or bacteria.
However, if your Betta is well taken care of then the color loss is due to its maturity or age. Bettas naturally lose some vividness in their colors once they age.
Why is my Betta fish face turning white?
A white discoloration in Bettas is usually due to a number of infections such as ich or columnaris. Ich looks like white specks of salt or sand on the body of your betta and bacterial infections such as columnaris are usually white, fuzzy, growths on the gills or fins of your Betta. Treatment involves quarantine, aquarium salt, and/or an antibiotic and disinfecting your tank.
Why is my Betta fish turning black?
Betta fish that are older usually turn darker or have more muted coloration. Sometimes, they can also turn black. This is a natural occurrence and is nothing to worry about especially if your Betta is otherwise healthy or has no other symptoms. Sometimes injuries on your betta can recover with a darker color than the rest of its body.
Discoloration in Bettas is usually due to an environmental factor that causes stress or an underlying illness. The best prevention is to keep your Betta’s tank in good shape with the proper water quality parameters to help keep it healthy and happy. A healthy Betta fish will more effectively ward off any diseases that cause discoloration. If your Betta is a bit older, then it can naturally darken or have more muted/dull colors as it ages.
Overview articles on bettas:
Siamese fighting fish
Betta Fish: The Beautiful, and Very Popular, Siamese Fighting Fish
Betta Fish Care
Scientific studies on Bettas and their color:
Chromatophores and color revelation in the blue variant of the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens)
Cellular Basis of Metallic Iridescence in the Siamese Fighting Fish, Betta splendens
Blue aquarium background is appropriate for rearing male Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens)