Hello Tucker :)...
That is kind of an interesting question, one that (I am sure) all betta owners have asked themselves at one time or another:
"To flare or NOT to flare, that is the question".
Since I do not have scientific evidence of the impact of flaring activity on a betta's life span, I can only go by what I 'think', 'feel' and have observed. Keep in mind that there is no set way to handle bettas. Each betta breeder swears by her/his method. All of us have tried no less than 500 ways of doing the same thing. Sometimes to go right back to doing it the same way we did it the first time LOL. We try, we wait, we see, we experience success or failure (vini, vici and diei LOL), we go back to the drawing board and then we try again. This philosophy of "trial and error" (also known as "crash and burn repeatedly" LOL) is pretty much what drives our hobby. That is why, if you look up any topic on the net, you will find no less than 2 zillions opinions and ways of doing things (some in clear contradiction of each another). Who's right? Who's wrong? Well, that is a simple question: Everyone knows I AM ALWAYS RIGHT (hehehehehehe... Especially Mr. 181 LOL). Just pulling your leg. I would never pretend to be right all the time, or even half of the time. What I do know is that I have been doing this for quite sometime and that I do better at it than many ;).
So now here is my way of looking at things when it comes to deciding on letting the bettas see each other (and flare) or not. Below are some of the arguments that fuel my decision to let them see each other:
- bettas are social beings. Time and time again I have observed bettas becoming very lethargic and "depressed" (sulking) when isolated. They need interaction. My feeling is that (logically) they come from rice paddies, hence smaller bodies of water. It is likely that quite a few bettas (considering how quickly they spawn and multiply) share the same puddle, so it is likely that they do interact with each other quite a bit in the wild.
- social interaction seems to be beneficial to betta's health: I once wrote an article about this phenomenon which was published in the FLARE magazine. In it I shared how I was able to heal 'sickly' bettas by providing them a more 'social' interactive environment. Bettas went from not eating, to a full recovery (note: this is not the solution for all betta diseases, if it was noone would never have a sick fish)
- a betta that flares is a betta that is more active. Being active has been linked by an experiment with longetivity. A betta lived to be 7 years old by having a)- a very large tank and b)- being gently encouraged to swim around every day (they chased him with a net around the tank, but gently, to make him swim). Hence if active bettas live longer and if flaring activity makes the betta more active, then flaring may help the betta live longer (logical, no?).
- bettas are not stupid. No, really. If you put two jars with a male each right next to each other, the males will see each other and usually this will result in a lot of displaying/flaring (at first). However I have yet to see a betta drop dead from the excitement. These are FIGHTING fish guys, they are BUILT for that. And they know when to stop. If they get tired, they rest. This is clearly obvious if you watch the bettacam. At times the bettas just lay there doing what bettas do best: NAPPING. Then they resume the playing and flaring. So they know when they need to tone it down and rest. Also after a few days the bettas get used to each other and not much flaring can then be observed.
- is flaring stressful for bettas? I believe that not all stimuli are stressful, if so swing dancer would all drop dead LOL. If the flaring is combined with great fear, than yes it is stressful. For example, spawning bettas is very stressful for the female, for she is actually being attacked and quite scared. Bettas that are separated by a partition figure out quite fast that they are not in reach of each other's jaws and it is more "for show" then for "killing" that they display. I do not believe it stresses them as much as being isolated and lonely does.
- bettas simply look "happier" when allowed to see their kind. Think about it: Would YOU like to be in solitary confinement for the rest of your life? :(((
Now let us look at a few of the downsides to this system:
- bettas will jump. if you do not cover your jars bettas will be more likely to jump out if excited by the presence of a female of male near them. But that is easy to solve: ALWAYS COVER THE JARS! Duh!
- Halfmoon males are likely to blow their tail if allowed to flare. These guys are high maintenance! Their super heavy tails tear very easily. Usually it ends up tearing at some point of time regardless of what you do, but extra flaring will speed up the process. :( So beware!
- Planning to show your males? Then, better not let them flare all the time! Breeders who send males to the show circuit will 'train' the...