Betta Channoides – A.K.A. Snakehead Betta

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When I first heard of the Snakehead Betta many years ago, I immediately assumed they were another example of an aggressive, territorial fighter fish. I couldn’t have been more wrong! The Snakehead Betta, also known as the Betta Channoides, is a shy, reclusive creature that is much more likely to flee than fight when confronted by other fish.

In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate the Snakehead Betta for its beauty and serene nature. These fish are a perfect choice for the novice aquarist and make a great addition to any community tank. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Betta Channoides and find out everything there is to know about these gentle giants!


Common Name (species)

Betta Channoides, Snakehead Betta




Borneo, Kalimantan Timur


Completely Carnivorous

Care Level



Active, social, alert


Somewhat territorial, but can coexist under ideal conditions

Tank Level


Minimum Tank Size

15 Gallons

Temperature Range

74 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit

Water Hardness

gH 18 – 100 ppm

pH Range

4.0 – 6.6

Filtration/Flow Rate



Paternal mouthbrooder


Most fish of similar size and temperament

OK, for Planted Tanks?

Good with most plants

What Do Snakehead Bettas Look Like?

To first understand the difference between a Snakehead and other Bettas, you need to know what a “Snakehead Betta” actually is. The scientific name for this fish is Betta channoides, and it is a member of the gourami family, much like its cousin, the Betta splendens. The key difference between the two is that the Snakehead Betta hasn’t been selectively bred for the long fins, color, and aggression common in B. splendens.

This gives the Snakehead Betta a very different appearance from its more popular cousin. They are typically orange with black and white accents. The shade of orange can best be described as “burnt,” and is most pronounced on the fins. The body is a more muted orange, with black and white bands running vertically along the sides.

In terms of length, an adult Betta channoides will usually only grow to be about 2 inches long. This, coupled with having shorter fins than the betta splendens, can make them look like tinier fish. However, don’t let their size fool you: these guys are voracious eaters and will quickly outgrow most aquariums!

How Long Do Snakehead Betta Fish Live?

You can expect your snakehead betta to spend between 2 to 5 happy years with you with proper love, care, and attention.

betta channoides
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As with all animals, there are always exceptions to the rule. In some rare cases, bettas have been known to live as long as 8 years in captivity. However, this is definitely the exception rather than the rule.

The vast majority of snakehead bettas will live between 2 to 4 years. If your fish is on the older end of this spectrum, you may start to notice some changes in their appearance and behavior. They may become less active, their colors may fade, and they may even stop eating.

If you notice any of these changes, it’s important to take your betta to the vet as soon as possible. These could be signs of a serious illness; the sooner you catch it, the better.

Water Parameter Requirements

Now that we know what a snakehead betta looks like and how long they can live, let’s talk about their water parameter requirements.

Warm, Stable Water Temperature

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that bettas are tropical fish. This means that they need warm water reminiscent of their natural habitat to thrive. The ideal temperature range for a snakehead betta is between 74 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

aquarium temperature

If the water in your tank is too cold, your betta will become sluggish and may even stop eating. In extreme cases, prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to death. On the other hand, if the water in your tank is too warm, your betta will start gasping for air. Hot water doesn’t hold as much oxygen as cold water, so your pet will start swimming close to the water surface for air.

Evidently, it’s very important to ensure that your tank’s water temperature is stable. Large swings in temperature can stress your fish out and make them more susceptible to disease.

Pristine Water Conditions

Okay, pristine might sound like a little bit of a stretch – but keeping your water clean is incredibly important for the health of your snakeheads. These may be beginner species, but slight changes in ammonia and nitrite concentrations can still wreak havoc on their health! Stressed fish are also more susceptible to disease.

To keep your water clean and your snakeheads healthy, you should be doing regular water changes of at least 20%. If you can, aim for 30% to 50%! This may seem like a lot, but it’s really the best way to keep your fish happy and healthy.

You can also consider investing in a reverse osmosis unit to remove impurities from your water before putting it in the tank. This is yet another way to keep your water as clean as possible for your beloved bettas.

Acidic Water

test strips

Snakehead bettas come from acidic waters in Southeast Asia. As a result, they prefer water with a pH between 4.0 and 6.6. These are significantly lower values than what is found in most tap water, so you’ll probably need to use a water conditioner to lower the pH of your tank water.

Natural peat and Indian almond leaves are two great options for lowering the pH of your water. These plant-based substances leach tannic acid into the water, which lowers the pH and makes the water more acidic.

You can also use a chemical pH adjuster, but be very careful with these as they can be very dangerous if not used correctly. We recommend using a natural solution like peat or Indian almond leaves whenever possible.

Temperament and Tankmates

This may sound like an oxymoron, but hear us out – though they may be dominant fish, snakehead bettas are widely considered peaceful species! In fact, they are often kept with other bettas and gouramis in community tanks.

aquarium fishes

Of course, this doesn’t mean they can be kept with other fish. Snakehead bettas are territorial and may become aggressive if they feel their territory is being threatened. As a result, it’s important to choose tankmates that are non-aggressive and not likely to start any trouble.

Some fish species that make good tankmates for snakehead bettas include:

  • Corydoras catfish
  • Kuhli loaches
  • Harlequin rasboras
  • Otocinclus catfish
  • Glowlight tetras
  • Bristlenose plecos

Generally speaking, you should avoid keeping snakehead bettas with colorful fish or those that have long fins. These are both triggers for aggression in many fish species, and snakehead bettas are no exception.

What Do Snakehead Bettas Eat?

As carnivores, snakehead fish subsist on a diet of meat-based food in the wild, such as mosquito larvae, small crustaceans, and insects. In captivity, they can be a little bit more finicky, but there is still a good variety of meat, frozen food, and dry foods available that they will happily eat.

Fish Food

Pellets and flakes are the most common type of dry food available for fish, and they can be a great option for snakehead bettas. Look for a high-quality pellet or flake food designed for carnivores, and ensure it does not contain any plant matter.

You can also offer your snakehead betta live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods as a secondary food source. Things like baby brine shrimp and daphnia are usually a big hit and are a great way to add some variety to your betta’s diet.

Common Health Issues

Beginner fish owner or not, it’s important to be aware of the most common health issues that can affect your snakehead betta. This way, you’ll be adequately prepared to help your beautiful fish should they ever fall ill. Here are some of the most common health problems that snakehead bettas experience:

Health Issue

Symptoms or Causes

Suggested Action

Fish Fungus

Causes: Commonly seen in captive fish that are kept in poor water conditions, fish fungus is a type of infection that affects the skin and fins.

Symptoms: The most common symptom of fish fungus is white or gray patches on the skin and fins. In severe cases, the infection can cause ulcers and open wounds.

Fish fungus is relatively easy to treat and can be effectively treated with a wide variety of anti-fungal medications. The most common one is formalin, but many safe and effective options are also available that are designed specifically for fish.

Parasitic Infections

Causes: Parasitic infections are usually caused by protozoans or worms, and they are typically introduced to the tank via infected fish or contaminated aquarium equipment.

Symptoms: Common symptoms of a parasitic infection include abnormal behavior, lethargy, weight loss, and uneven scales. The infection can cause ulcers, open wounds, and fin rot in severe cases.

Place affected fish in a separate tank and treat them with a wide variety of anti-parasitic medications. Most chemicals for fish are safe and effective, but always follow the instructions on the package carefully to avoid harming your fish.

Bacterial Infections

Causes: Bacterial infections typically take hold when a fish is weak or stressed. Poor water conditions can also contribute to the development of a bacterial infection.

Symptoms: The most common symptom of a bacterial infection is red or inflamed skin. The infection can cause ulcers, open wounds, and fin rot in severe cases.

Bacterial infections are best treated with a wide variety of antibiotics. Most chemicals for fish are safe and effective, but always follow the instructions on the package carefully to avoid harming your fish.

Health Issue

Symptoms or Causes

Ich is a very common disease that’s caused by an aquatic protozoan parasite. 
Fish infected with Ich develop a sprinkling of tiny white spots on their fins, gill covers, and bodies. They also flash against the gravel and other solid objects in the aquarium.

Suggested Action

Raise the water temperature to 82o F for three days. Use an OTC  White Spot Disease medication to treat the tank.

Health Issue


Symptoms or Causes

Flukes is the term used to describe various types of external fish parasites. These macroparasites can often be seen with the naked eye attached to the fish’s skin or gills.

Suggested Action

Treat the fish tank with an OTC antiparasitic medication.

Health Issue

Fungal infections

Symptoms or Causes

White fluffy growths on the fish’s body, mouth, and head.

Suggested Action

Quarantine infected fish, and treat with an antifungal medication.

Health Issue

Bacterial infections

Symptoms or Causes

Sores and ulcers on the body and head, ragged, bloody fins.

Suggested Action

Treat the tank with OTC antibacterial treatment.

Breeding Your Snakehead Betta

If you have several adult fish and you’re interested in breeding them, it’s important to know that snakeheads are a mouthbrooding species. Channoides males will keep fertilized eggs in their mouths throughout the incubation period, making this a markedly different process than other common methods of betta breeding.

  1. The first step is setting up a specialized tank to breed your fish. This tank should be at least 10 gallons in size and have plenty of plants and hiding places. Once the tank is set up, you’ll need to choose a pair of healthy adult fish to breed. The female should be larger than the male, and both fish should be free of any health problems.
  2. Once you’ve chosen your breeding pair, it’s time to introduce them to the tank. The male will usually take the lead in this process, and he will chase the female around until she is ready to spawn. When the female is ready, she will allow the male to catch her. The two fish will then embrace and release their gametes into the water.
  3. After the fish have spawned, the male will scoop up the fertilized eggs into his mouth and he will incubate them for the next three to four weeks. During this time, it’s important to maintain clean water conditions and to feed the fish live foods.
  4. Once the fry are born, they will be free-swimming and ready to fend for themselves. At this juncture, you should feed them a diet of live foods and finely ground flake food. This will ensure that they develop at an optimal growth rate and stay healthy.

Snakehead Betta Fish Tank Requirements

Now that you know everything there is to know about these amazing fish, it’s time to start setting up your tank! Here are the tank requirements for keeping a healthy snakehead betta:

Well-Chosen Decor

Fish Tank Plants Decor

In the wild, snakehead bettas hide among the roots of trees and marginal plant roots. As such, providing plenty of shade spots and hiding places in your aquarium is a good idea. Driftwood, clay plant pots, and plants are all good choices, but even something simple, like different lengths of piping can provide some additional cover.

Just make sure that any objects you put in the tank are safe for fish and that they won’t fall and break the glass. Snakehead bettas are also known to be excellent jumpers, so having an extra cover or lid for your tank is always a good idea.


Depending on the size of your aquarium, an air-powered sponge filter is usually sufficient to provide adequate filtration. If you have a larger tank, you might need to opt for a canister filter or a hang-on-back filter. Just make sure that the flow rate isn’t too strong, as snakehead bettas prefer still or slow-moving water.

In addition, you should also ensure that your filtration method of choice comes with biological media. You can encourage the growth of microbe colonies that will help to break down waste and keep your water quality high.

Ample Space

dark blue LED Lights with a goldfish
Image Source:

You may have heard that snakehead bettas are accustomed to shallow forest streams. While this is true, it’s important to note that they still need plenty of space to swim. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for an aquarium that is at least 10 gallons in size. If you have a pair of snakehead bettas, you should increase the tank size to 20 gallons.

Of course, the larger the tank, the better. Not only will a larger tank provide your fish with more space to swim, but it will also give you more room to include a variety of different decorations and hiding places. A good depth will also make it less likely that your fish will jump out of the tank. Shallow water tends to be more turbulent, which can stress your fish.

Product Recommendations For Snakehead Betta Tanks

Ready to start setting up your very own snakehead betta tank? Here are a few product recommendations to get you started:

  • Aqueon Aquarium Kit: This complete aquarium kit comes with everything you need to get started, including a filter, a heater, and an LED light. It also includes a fish food sample and water conditioner.
  • Fluval Aquarium Filter: This powerful canister filter is ideal for larger tanks. It comes with a variety of different media, so you can customize it to meet the needs of your fish.
  • Hikari Betta Bio-Gold Pellets: These high-quality pellets are a great choice for snakehead bettas. They’re made with nutritious ingredients that will help to keep your fish healthy and active.

Once you’ve gathered everything you need, you can start setting up your tank!

Setting Up A Snakehead Betta Tank

The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the location for your tank. Finding a spot that is out of direct sunlight and away from any drafts or heat sources is important. Once you’ve found the perfect spot, you can start setting up your tank.

If you’re using a new tank, you’ll need to cycle it before adding any fish. This process can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, so patience is important. You can cycle your tank by adding a small amount of fish food to the water and letting it decompose.

You can also add live plants to your tank, which will help to cycle the water and provide your fish with some additional hiding places. Once your tank is cycled, you can start adding your snakehead betta fish.

betta channoides tank
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When adding your fish to the tank, it’s important to do so slowly. Start by floating the bag that your fish came in on top of the water. Then, open the bag and allow a small amount of water to enter. After about 15 minutes, you can release your fish into the tank.

There you have it! Your very own snakehead betta tank! Once your fish is acclimated to its new home, you can start adding some decorations. It’s important to provide your fish with plenty of hiding places, as they tend to be shy.

The Takeaway

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of what’s involved in keeping snakehead bettas as pets. These fish are unique and make for a fun and rewarding addition to any home.

If you’re thinking about adding a snakehead betta to your tank, be sure to do your research and purchase everything you need in advance. With a little bit of planning, you can create the perfect home for your new pet. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Wanda is a second-generation aquarist from the sunny tropics of Malaysia. She has been helping her father with his freshwater tanks since she was a toddler, and has fallen in love with the hobby ever since. A perpetual nomad, Wanda does her best to integrate fish-keeping with her lifestyle, and has taken care of fish in three different continents. She loves how it provides a nice break from the hustle and bustle of life.

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