Betta Diseases – Ich (Ichthyophthirius)

If you have noticed small white spots on your betta’s fins or body, you may have the warm weather of Florida to blame. Ichthyophthirius, also known as ick or ich, is one of the many betta diseases which attacks stressed fish, and is commonly found on fish which were grown in fresh water ponds.

Ich is a protozoan disease that attacks a fish’s immune system when it is lowered by cold temperatures or unhealthy tank conditions. Since most pet bettas are produced in ponds in Florida, it rears its ugly head in pet stores in the spring. It probably exists in all tanks, and lies dormant until bettas come stressed, or a new fish is added to the aquarium.

As betta diseases go, this is a particularly nasty one to battle due to its relative immunity to treatment. A young protozoan ich notices a betta (food supply) and bores into its skin. It begins to feed, until it reaches a large size, causing a small white spot to appear on the skin or fin.

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When you see the white spot, that is a sign that the bacteria is in a feeding stage. When it becomes fully grown, it covers itself in an impenetrable cyst, and jettisons from the betta’s body, where it drifts along the tank’s currents until it adheres itself to a plant, a bit of gravel or a rock. The tomant stage, inside the cyst, divides again and again, producing approximately one thousand offspring.

When these thousand or so bacteria become too big for their protective cyst, they break out to find more fish to feed on, and it is only at this stage in the ich life cycle where they are susceptible to chemicals.

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Formalin or copper sulfate needs to be kept at high levels in the aquarium for an extended period of time to be available when the cysts hatch. The tank temperature should also be raised slightly to shorten the bacterium’s development time and give a much needed boost to your betta’s immune system.

With few exceptions, proper tank care erases the possibility of betta diseases. Simple preparation and maintenance must be followed. All fish are different, so do not assume because you had others, you will understand how best to care for your betta. Make sure you follow an informative and complete betta care manual.


by Elizabeth Christopher