Thanks to hundreds of years of selective breeding, betta fish are now one of the most popular fish in the United States, due in no small part to their vibrant colors. Royal blue and poppy red are the most common, but some species have flowing fins with cream-and-brown dappling or spikey fins with a metallic sheen.
Aging, health issues and genetic variations can all cause these brilliant colors to fade, leaving a betta fish looking pale. Here are some of the most common reasons for a betta fish to turn white, along with tips for restoring a betta’s color or preventing the color change in the first place.
A betta fish losing color typically occurs for five main reasons: health issues, aging, high levels of stress, genetic variations, and injuries.
Reasons why your betta fish may be turning white
Columnaris, fin rot, anchor worms, and ich are the four most common health issues associated with color changes in bettas and other aquarium fish.
Columnaris is a bacterial infection that causes white spots to form on a betta fish’s body. The most common symptom of the infection is fuzzy white spots near the gills and mouth. Once these spots develop, the betta’s scales begin to fall off, allowing you to see the muscles where some of those scales used to be.
Although columnaris can develop under even the best of conditions, it’s more common in betta fish living under high levels of stress. Weak genes and poor water conditions also contribute to the development of columnaris. Because betta fish are so popular, they’re bred extensively, leading to genetic changes that can make them more susceptible to certain diseases.
Columnaris, caused by Flavobacterium columnare, comes in two forms. One form is fatal within 24 hours, while the other can be treated if you notice the symptoms early enough. Be on the lookout for fuzzy white spots, missing scales, frayed fins, and ulcers on your betta.
If your fish has the treatable form of columnaris, isolate it from your other fish immediately. Treat the infection with a bath of water mixed with freshwater aquarium salt. Use 1 tablespoon of salt for every 5 gallons of water and mix thoroughly. Your veterinarian may also recommend a medication to kill the bacteria without harming your betta.
Like columnaris, fin rot is a bacterial infection that causes a betta to lose much of its color. The loss of color is just the first stage of the disease process. Eventually, you’ll see the fin begin to rot away, which may affect your betta’s swimming ability. If you notice your betta fish turning black, this may also be a sign of fin rot.
Fin rot usually develops when an aquarium is too crowded, when the water isn’t filtered correctly, or when a betta is overstressed. It may also occur if another fish in the tank bites the betta’s fin, transferring bacteria from one fish to the other.
If you notice signs of fin rot, isolate your betta right away to prevent the infection from spreading to other inhabitants of the tank. Isolating the betta can also help it recover from high levels of stress. Next, treat the fin rot with phenoxyethanol, methylene blue, or another approved treatment.
While your betta is recovering, check the water in its tank to make sure it’s at the right parameters for temperature, nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia. If the environment isn’t suitable for a betta, purchase a new filter or use products designed to achieve the desired living conditions. For example, you may need to use ammonia remover to adjust the tank’s ammonia level. Before returning your betta to its tank, do a full water change.
Anchor worms (Lernaea) are crustaceans that embed themselves into the skin of a host fish. Once the anchor worms are attached, you’ll start to see white spots on your betta. You may also notice ulcers or sores, indicating that your betta has a parasitic infection.
One way to prevent anchor worms from affecting your betta is to be careful about what type of plants and fish you add to your aquarium. Living organisms can bring anchor worms with them, putting any of the fish in your aquarium at risk.
Treating Anchor Worms
If you notice anchor worms attached to your betta, the first step is to move your betta to its own tank. This prevents the worms from spreading to other fish. The easiest way to remove the worms is to pull them off the skin of your betta. Although this is an effective treatment method, not every betta owner feels comfortable doing this, especially if the worms are firmly embedded in the fish’s skin.
Another option is to bathe your betta in potassium permanganate. This substance kills young anchor worms that haven’t embedded themselves in the betta’s skin. Adding aquarium salt to the tank also kills anchor worms, making it an effective treatment method.
Ich (White Spot Disease)
Whether you have a marble betta or a crowntail, you need to be on the lookout for ich, also known as white spot disease. Ich, formally known as Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, is a type of parasite that causes white spots to form on betta fish. These dots look like little granules of salt or sugar, and they may appear anywhere on a betta’s body, including the gills or the fins.
Even if you don’t see the white spots, you may discover your betta has ich if it starts rubbing its body against the objects in its tank. Infected bettas do this because ich is uncomfortable and they’re trying to relieve their discomfort, much like humans scratch to relieve the itch of poison ivy. Other symptoms of ich include lethargy and refusing to eat.
Ich is more likely to develop in older betta fish, stressed-out bettas, and betta fish that live in poor water conditions. To treat the condition effectively, you need to know that it progresses through three stages. During the feeding stage, you can see the parasite on your betta. The tomont stage is when the parasite falls of the fish, attaches to gravel and other objects, and starts reproducing. Finally, the theront stage is when the parasite detaches from objects and swims through the water in the aquarium.
You can only treat ich effectively during the theront stage, which is when it isn’t attached to anything in the tank. Ich and other parasites do best in cold water, so the first step is to increase the temperature in the tank for at least 10 days. The target temperature range is 81 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, use a medication containing formalin and malachite green to kill the ich. To remove as much ich as possible from the tank, cycle up to 50% of the water each day. Make sure you use the ich medicine for as long as directed. Otherwise, it may leave some of the ich behind, allowing the infection to spread all over again.
In some cases, betta fish turn white because they’ve sustained some type of injury. Common injuries include bites from aggressive tank mates, wounds caused by the tank filter, and cuts or punctures caused by swimming into a sharp rock or other object. Bettas may even injure themselves by jumping out of the tank.
Just like gray hair is associated with aging in humans, whitening is associated with aging in betta fish. You can’t stop the betta aging process, but you can slow down the loss of color by making sure your betta has a clean environment.
Some betta fish lose their color because they’re stressed out. One of the main causes of stress in betta fish is poor living conditions. You need to monitor the tank’s water quality and other aspects of your betta’s environment regularly to make sure you’re not causing any undue stress. Your betta may also experience high levels of stress if it lives in the same tank as an aggressive fish. In this case, you may be able to prevent color loss by moving the betta to its own tank.
Some betta fish have genetic variations that make them more susceptible to color loss. These variations may also put them at a greater risk of contracting bacterial or parasitic infections, leading to color loss. If your betta has one of these variations, there’s nothing you can do to change it.
How Can I Restore My Betta Fish Color?
There are two main ways to restore the color of a betta fish: change the tank environment and adjust the betta’s diet.
In aquarium lingo, a substrate is the substance you put on the bottom of the tank. If your betta fish is losing its color or showing other signs of stress, consider changing the substrate in your aquarium. Gravel is the easiest to maintain, but it may not be the best choice for your fish. If you use sand, be sure to rake it regularly.
Adding lights to your aquarium can highlight your betta’s vibrant colors and make them stand out more against the backdrop of the tank. Bettas tend to thrive under LED aquarium lights and fluorescent lights.
Make Diet Adjustments
If you’ve been giving your betta bloodworm, try switching to brine shrimp. Bloodworm doesn’t have the same nutritional profile as brine shrimp, so your betta’s color loss may be due to a lack of nutrients and not something more serious.
How Can I Prevent My Betta Fish From Turning White?
The best way to keep your betta fish looking vibrant is to prevent it from losing its color in the first place. Here are three things to try.
Adjust the Environment
Just like any other fish, bettas do best under specific environmental conditions. It’s important to check the tank regularly to make sure the water is the right temperature and has the right concentration of minerals and other substances. If it’s not, making adjustments can prevent color loss.
Make Dietary Changes
When you bring home a new betta fish, feed it high-quality food right from the beginning. Choose something with a solid nutritional profile that’s formulated specifically to meet a betta’s needs. For best results, feed multiple types of food to ensure that your betta gets the right nutrients. If you currently feed flakes only, try adjusting your betta’s diet to also include pellets.
Keep Your Betta Fish Looking Vibrant
Now that you know the main causes of color loss in bettas, do you feel more confident about caring for your fish? Tell us about it in the comments. Following the advice in this article can help you keep your betta looking vibrant for as long as possible.