5 Reasons Your Betta Fish Is Staying At The Top Of The Tank

As a Betta owner, seeing your fish at the top of the tank isn’t an unusual occurrence. However, if they start staying there for extended periods, it might be a cause for concern.

Bettas or Siamese fighting fish may stay at the top of an aquarium for a variety of reasons. Not all of them are bad, but some may be concerning.

image by Peak (CC BY 3.0)

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at:

  • Main reasons why your betta might stay at the surface of the aquarium
  • How to know why your betta is staying at the top of the tank
  • When to become concerned about your betta’s behavior

Let’s get into it.

Top Reasons Why Bettas Stay at the Top of the Tank

The main reasons why bettas stay at the top of the tank include:

  • They’re sick
  • They’re cold
  • They’re sleeping
  • They’re waiting for food
  • They’re making or have made a bubble nest

Finally, it may be a sign that the water contains insufficient oxygen, and that the betta is breathing mainly atmospheric oxygen. Let’s take a closer look at the signs of the above mentioned reasons.

Image by Sergey Ayukov (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Signs that a Betta Fish is Asleep

According to veterinarian Claudine Sievert, bettas sleep up to 14 hours a day. They mainly sleep at night, but also take naps during the day. Here’s how to tell if your betta is napping:

  • Their color is paler than usual.
  • They get into their usual sleeping position, which differs from fish to fish. 
  • The mouth and gills will move much slower than usual.

Note – not all Siamese fighting fish will sleep at the top of the tank. Some will sleep at the bottom. It’s important to observe your betta fish, so you can know how and where they usually sleep. This way, if your betta deviates from this behavior, you know something is wrong.

Signs that a Betta is Cold

Bettas are tropical fish that need temperatures of 78-80°F. This means they need a tank with a heater.

Betta fish can only survive in water with a temperature of under 78°F for short periods. They may live for up to six months, but usually die much sooner than that. 

If your betta is too cold, it will show these signs:

  • It won’t move much, generally just hanging at the top of the tank. 
  • It sleeps most of the time, either at the top or the bottom of the tank.
  • It’s coloration will be paler than usual.
  • It doesn’t eat much. Since the betta isn’t moving about like normal, and cold water slows down its digestion, it has a greatly reduced appetite. 
  • If you have a heater, the betta will stay close to the heater.

Make sure you have an aquarium thermometer to monitor water temperatures. It’s good to have an extra heater available in case the first heater stops working.

Image by Gourami Watcher (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Signs a Betta is Waiting for Food

Bettas are intelligent fish. They learn quickly that if you walk up to their tanks, you’re probably going to feed them.

If your betta typically goes to the top soon after you walk up to the tank, the betta is probably expecting food. It may seem to dance at the water surface, twisting and turning, but many bettas will just wait at the surface, often with their heads pointed up, trying to give you a hint.

Try to stay in the room where the betta’s aquarium is often, so your betta fish gets used to you being around without feeding it. This way, he won’t always associate your presence with food, and might move around more.

Bettas and Bubble Nests

If you go to your betta’s tank and see a patch of bubbly foam on the surface, with your male betta directly underneath it, he has made a bubble nest

When preparing the nest, males spend a lot of time at the surface, coating air bubble with saliva and adding them to the nest. Once the nest is finished, the pair will spawn, and the male will tend the eggs and fry in the nest.

Male bettas instinctively build bubble nests, even without a female present. The presence of bubble nests is a good sign that the betta is healthy.

Bubble nests break apart easily, so there may be several small patches of bubbles. Bubble nests vary greatly in size and shape, depending on the betta.

Signs of a Sick Betta

If your betta fish is ill, it may lay at the bottom of the tank, or stay right at the top. If you think your betta may be ill, look for other signs of sickness. These include:

  • Gasping for air
  • Bulging abdomen
  • Lying on one side
  • Torn or damaged fins
  • White fuzz on the body or fins
  • Pop-eyes, or eyes bulging out more than usual
  • Keeping the fins clamped to the sides of the body
  • Raised scales, sometimes making the betta look like a pinecone

If your betta shows any additional signs of illness, check out our betta illness guide to help you figure out what’s wrong, and how to help.

So, Why Do Bettas Stay at the Top of the Tank?

Betta fish generally stay at the top of the tank because they’re sleeping, the water is too cold, they’re waiting to be fed, they’re making a bubble nest, or they’re sick. They may also be suffering from oxygen deprivation and breathing atmospheric oxygen.

Be sure to observe your betta every day to find out his or her normal behavior. Any deviation can let you know if something is wrong. Bettas tend to visit the surface often, so unless your betta fish spends most of its time at the top of the tank, you have littel to worry about. 

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

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