I admit that when my kids were guided into making a betta in a vase craft as part of a class on aquatic ecosystems, I was pretty stoked.
It’s essentially what it sounds like, this “betta in a vase” business. The kids put clean glass marbles in the bottom of a one-gallon vase. They cut a clear plastic cup (yikes, I know, but bear with me) to fit into the top of the vase, and cut another hole in the bottom of the cup. They filled the vase with aquarium water, leaving room at the top so that the betta could have air. They rinsed the dirt off of a small spider plant and put it in the cup, guiding some of its roots to hang through the hole. They put in the betta and the plant and boom! Betta in a vase.
It seemed like a great little green set-up. You feed the fish daily, change its water weekly, and between times, the plant is nourished by the water, and the fish enjoys playing hide-and-seek in its roots. What a great example of an organic ecosystem!
And yet… small animals make me nervous. They’re so fragile, and the sense of responsibility that I have over them crushes me. Therefore, I did what I always do when I’m not feeling emotionally level: I researched.
It turns out that once again, my continuous base level of minor suspicion was well justified. This great-looking ecosystem is actually a very poorly functioning one.
A good ecosystem has a lot of components, and thus some margin of error–not an infinite margin, which is why many of our real ecosystems are also failing, but more of a margin than an ecosystem that consists of two living things, full stop. And a vase? It’s just too small of an ecosystem to function in this way.
Yes, plants do some work in cleaning water, but it’s certainly not an equal exchange–one plant does not adequately clean the waste of one fish, so even a weekly water change isn’t sufficient to keep a betta’s habitat maintained. You’d have to change the water in that one-gallon vase practically daily, and that would be too stressful for the fish, not to mention a hell of a lot of work.
And about that one-gallon vase… it turns out that although bettas *can* live in a small space, they don’t like it. It’s boring, and it doesn’t give them room to exercise or play. Also, bettas prefer a warmer water temperature than you’ll likely have in a vase. All the avid betta keepers that I researched recommend at least 5 gallons of water for each betta, in a tank that includes a low-suction filter (bettas can’t swim against the current of a strong filter) and a heater.
So, feeling like a total monster, I bought a 10-gallon tank with filter and heater, 10 pounds of gravel, and two live plants (and if you wonder what I spend my blogging earnings on, this is it), and manually divided it into two five-gallon enclosures. It was a wad of money that I did NOT intend to drop when I signed my kids up for a single-morning class on aquatic ecosystems, but if that’s the price of taking good care of our pets, then so be it.