Can Bettas Recognize Their Owners?

Can Bettas Recognize Their Owners

Betta fish are popular as pet fish due to their unique color combination and fin shape. It is also very easy to care for them. So if you have a betta fish and are wondering if you could build some real connection with it, the first question that comes to your mind is, “Does my fish even recognize me?”.

Betta can recognize their owners. They are capable of recognizing their owner’s face and voice.

In this article, I will try to answer all your questions and provide scientific data and research on this topic.

What About The Myths?

It wouldn’t be a big surprise to me if you have heard that fish are incapable of keeping a long-term memory. This popular myth is spread throughout places, thanks to movies like ‘Finding Nemo’ where Dory made an honest confession that he cannot even keep his memory for more than 3 seconds!

Everything is fishy in our relationship with fish. For a long time, it was thought that fish could not hold memory, conduct critical thinking, or recognize faces. However, this is not the case. Fish can recall facts for months, even years, and can interpret space assessment faster than us, Humans!

Culum Brown of Australia’s Macquire University, who is also an assistant editor of The Fish Biology magazine, says-

“We forget how clever fish are when we think of fish as wild species. However, all of the fish on the globe originated at the same time as humans.”

Culum Brown, Macquire University, Australia

 We unintentionally underestimate fish cognitive ability because they exist in a totally different environment than we do.

What Does Science Say?

In mammals, there’s an outer part of the brain called the Neocortex. The neocortex along with the Fusiform gyrus, controls the visual processing part, cognitive functions, abstract thinking, and problem-solving. But vertebrates like Fish do not have Neocortex in their brains. So it was long assumed by scientists that fish are unable to do these tasks.

But recognizing a human face doesn’t necessarily need a sophisticated brain, and fish do not process a human face as a human does. When we recognize a person, it’s not only the information about the identity of the person but also other information like gender, age, health. But fish do not process information in this way. They just learn a complex pattern-discrimination task.

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Can Bettas Recognize Their Owners

What Do Researchers Say?

After finding out the fact that fish do not have Neocortex in their brains, scientists thought that fish could not do high functioning tasks. But research in the past few decades has proven that fish can understand mazes, judge space, recognize faces, and can interact socially.

A Marie Curie research fellow in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, DR Cait Newsport said:

“It is incredibly difficult to distinguish a vast variety of individual faces because they all have the same characteristics. It was thought that only primates with massive and complicated brains could complete this mission. So we asked if animals with smaller brains and no genetic need to remember faces could do so.”

Dr Cait Newsport, Department of Zoology, Oxford University

The study found out that fishes can discriminate one face from 44 other new faces, having an impressive visual discriminating ability.

  • Researchers taught goldfish to press a button in exchange for a reward in a 1994 report. It demonstrated their ability to keep track of time, read, and recall information.
  • According to Phil Gee of Plymouth University, fish have an outstanding anticipatory capacity. Biologists showed that fish had fair cognitive ability in a 2014 study. According to the study’s author, Alexander Vail, the experiment shows that a small brain would not preclude fish from having the cognitive ability. Their impressive intellect arose before humans.
  • Another study tried to investigate whether fish can recognize fellow individuals of the same species. The study proves the ability of Ambon damselfish to identify fish they have seen previously. The study found out that the UV face patterns of the fish helped them to identify individuals.
  • Time-Place learning: it’s a method that proves that your Betta fish recognizes you. Research has found out that fish understand where and when they’ll be fed, and also, by whom. Scientists have fed some fishes at one end of the pool in the morning and another end in the evening. The fish picked up the pattern and waited at the right place for their meal.
  • Pavlovian learning: Like dogs and many other vertebrates, fish are also capable of Pavlovian learning. It’s a process where an animal learns to associate to a stimulus, like food or the color of your outfit.
  • Numerical ability: A research has shown that fish can remember several dots. About 91% of fish could recognize a higher number of dots proving they have decent enough memory to recognize things.
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How Betta Fish Recognizes You?

Despite having a weak vision, Betta can recognize you every time you show up in front of the aquarium. It’s because they have a strong sense of vibration.

They can process the vibration of your words and even your steps when they hit the surface of the aquarium. It’s also proven that the fish act normal in front of the person who feeds them every day. But every time a different person shows up, it freaks them out. They tend to swim away from the front of the aquarium and try to hide.

Ways To Make Your Betta Fish Recognize You

Betta fishes have a good reputation for building good interactions and keeping memories. They may not show their love and affection like other pets, but they will show a clear interest in you.

They can remember people even if they show up after several weeks. They can almost certainly recall the shape of the tank and plants when you move them. So, by giving your betta fish more time, you can reinforce your relationship with it.

Here’s how you can bond with your betta fish by playing with them:

  • Make it follow your fingertip: Place your fingertip simply against the tank. Initially place it where the fish is, once you draw its attention, slowly move your fingertip along with the glass. It may take a few days to make it understand what you’re trying to do. But once it starts following, try to move your finger in different patterns.
  • Play with a Ball: Drop a ping pong ball or a floating little plastic ball on the surface of the water and roll it around the aquarium. Then withdraw your hand from the tank and encourage your betta fish to climb up. It can pass around the ball for a few seconds, attempting to determine if it is toxic to it. Move the ball around as the fish plays with it. And that’s how you can interact with your betta fish.
  • Placing toys: There are several kinds of toys available in pet shops. Some toys can prove to be disturbing for your fish. Don’t place toys that’ll scare your fish off. Instead, go for toys that won’t be stressful for your Betta.
  • Decorating the tank: Betta fish definitely loves the vibrant colors. In this case, put some notes of different shapes, of different colors and stick them on the outside of the aquarium. You can also use shiny objects and metallic ornaments as they will work as a stimulus and spark the interest of your fish.
  • Making your finger a Target: This is an interesting game to play. Sprinkle some floating food on the water’s surface with your finger. If you keep your finger on the food, it will eventually touch your finger. Repeat this activity until it begins to touch your finger before you eat.
  • Making use of fish teaching kits: You’ll be shocked by how easily Betta fish respond to training kits. Betta fish owners have used kits to do tricks like swimming through hoops, jumping out of the water, pushing a ball around the tank, and more.
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Find Out If Your Betta Recognizes You Or Not

This part is really important. You have to understand if you’re being able to build a connection with your betta fish. Some points will make it clear:

  • The fish will show up at the top of the water surface once you stand in front of the tank.
  • It’ll try to move around the tank and stand still in the front of the aquarium.
  • It will never freak out if you put your finger over the water.


The fact that many people think fish don’t have emotions and don’t recognize their owners, demotivates people to have pet fish. But anyone who has a Betta fish knows that that is not the case.

So, building a real connection with your Betta fish can prove to be really entertaining for both you and your fish. And it’ll keep your fish energetic and free from depression and stress.

Once you start interacting with your fish, who knows, you may share the extra pieces of cookies you’ve stolen from the kitchen!

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Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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