Betta Fish Rubbing On Plants

Do you have a betta fish? If so, you may have noticed that your fish sometimes rubs on plants. This can be quite interesting to watch, and it’s also something that many people wonder about. 

This is also referred to as flashing. If this happens now and then there is no reason for concern. Fish, like humans, get itchy sometimes.

On the other hand, if this happens excessively, it shows discomfort and stress which can be attributed to a number of reasons. Especially when this is coupled with other strange behavior.

In this article, we will explore the most common reasons why your betta fish is rubbing on plants.

Exploring and searching for food

A fish might rub trying on a plant or a rock to scrape some food. Maybe it wants to nibble on some algae. Or it may just be going around looking for food. Or it may be your fish’s personality to play and explore. Remember an odd behavior is alarming only if it is excessive.


A fish might be stressed from other fish and be trying to find a place to hide. This might happen if you have a bully, or you just have too many fish for your tank size. This often happens in fish that are new to an already populated tank. They feel insecure and try to hide. Hopefully, this behavior does not last long. Beware that if the tank is too small fish will get stressed and try to hide.

Wrong water parameters

If you get such behavior in a new tank you probably have not cycled it correctly. Please test the water parameters. High ammonia and nitrite can cause such behavior. See our article on cycling a fish tank here.

Overdosing with water conditioner products might also cause chemical stress. As will the presence of chlorine. Sudden changes in water pH are not tolerated well.

Try some water changes and clean the gravel. If you do not have any other signs like marks and spots on their bodies then it was probably the water.


Fish can be very sensitive to chemicals. Even air fresheners or chemicals from cleaning products used in proximity to the tank can stress them. 

Beware that our hands leave traces of dirt, soap, cremes, perfumes, and lots more on things we touch. A tank is a closed system and fish can be very sensitive.

Parasites and Diseases

A common and more dangerous reason for rubbing themselves is the presence of parasites. They might scratch themselves on the substrate or swim erratically trying to produce friction on their bodies.

Parasites usually get introduced into a tank by new fish. Prevent contamination by using a quarantine tank.

In the early stages of contamination, you will not see any marks on their bodies, but eventually, as the parasites grow and multiply you will see them.

Quarantine the sick fish, do some partial water changes, clean the substrate, and see how it goes. You may need to use medication. Consult an expert. Parasites grow fast. Don’t wait.

Below are some of the most common aquarium parasites and diseases 


Ich or Ichthyophthirius multifiliis is the most common aquarium parasite. It spreads fast and can be lethal if not treated. It is also called white spot disease since you can see white spots on the body. The parasite gets under the skin. As they get bigger, the skin gets tiny pumps that look like white spots.

Skin damage can lead to bacterial infections. Damage to the gills makes breathing difficult.

First quarantine the sick fish, to prevent the parasite from spreading to other fish. Use medicines and do regular water changes to remove loose parasites in the water and on the substrate. Gradually elevate the temperature to 30 degrees to speed up the parasite’s life cycle.

Velvet disease

This disease is caused by dinoflagellate parasites. It is also called gold-dust disease. In the first stages of the disease, you see the fish flashing. As the parasites grow, the body of the fish starts to show golden spots. The color may vary from golden to greenish to brownish. It also affects the gills making breathing hard.

With proper medicines, you can get rid of it. The sooner you start treatment the better prognosis you will have.


Flukes are parasites that will grow in the fish’s gills. They are parasitic flatworms that reach 1 to 2 mm in length. They attach themselves with hooks on the body. They make openings for secondary bacterial infections. Fish will suffer from oxygen starvation. It is a serious disease that can be treated with medicines.


Also known as cottonmouth, columnaris is a disease caused by bacteria. The mouth, skin and gills of the fish display a cotton-like white substance that resembles fungus. The infection is caused by the Gram-negative, aerobic, rod-shaped bacterium Flavobacterium columnare. This bacteria is quite common and will not overgrow in normal healthy fish. Usually, a stressor has compromised the fish’s immune system and has allowed the bacteria to grow. Identify the root cause and do water changes. In more severe cases ask your vet for antibiotics.


There might be so many reasons why your fish is rubbing on plants and not all of them are alarming. Observe your fish, understand his habits and normal behavior and you will be able to spot early on any signs of discomfort and take the necessary measures to fix it. 

If you want to learn more about Betta’s behavior, advice, and tips, please visit our collection of Betta Tips Articles.

About the author

Hi, I am Alex.
My passion is aquariums. I am especially drawn to betta fish. I love experimenting, learning, researching, and writing about them.

You can find the articles I wrote here

Leave a Comment