You ever get something for free that ends up being stupidly expensive? Behold, my story of getting Zorro, the betta fish.

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How I got a free betta

Jimmy Bagels requires certain types of kibble to help with his digestion so I typically have to go to a local pet store to get it instead of just picking it up at Wegman’s. At this particular pet store, they had those sad-looking betta cups in the back of the store. Wandering over (because why? Who can say!) I saw they had one cup with a tag that said “free – adopt me!” with a bored black betta fish. The employees said he’d been there for over a year so they wanted to get him to a good home.

Far be it from me to pass up a deal, right? So I picked up a few things like a temporary tiny tank and food plus the aforementioned dog food and drove away. On my way home the only thing I could think of was:

  1. How the hell was I going to explain this to Steve?
  2. I have absolutely no idea about betta fish care and don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.

Steve was, needless to say, surprised and skeptical but, bless him, gives me a lot of leeway for my spur-of-the-moment ideas.

Since it was his turn to name a pet, he picked “Zorro.” And thus, Zorro became the newest addition to the household.

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He’s SUPER hard to photograph since he’s so dark and fast

A little bit about Zorro

Zorro is a male betta and I’m fairly sure is a dragonscale crowntail. His coloring is black with blood-red fins and slightly blue/gunmetal gray scales.

Zorro is an incredibly chill betta and has tolerated a number of changes to his tank, including additional fish, snails, plants, and substrate. Though I think that he misses his purple silk plant, he’s seemed pretty happy with the live aquarium plants I’ve since added (more on that later). He’s rarely aggressive unless he’s in front of the betta mirror and always greets me every morning.

What I bought for my betta:

Funny how a free fish ends up costing hundreds of dollars.

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This is the first iteration of his tank when it was just him and some snails. I’ve since upgraded to a 29-gallon with live plants and a bunch of other fish but I’ll do a separate post on that later.

The Aquarium Essentials

  • Top FinĀ® Essentials Aquarium Starter Kit – Zorro lives in a 10-gallon aquarium and this kit gets you mostly everything you’ll need to get started, though I’ve added a few tweaks with timers and thermostats to ensure nothing goes wonky. I think that when I’m ready to upgrade (if ever) I’ll look for one of their tank sales or hit up Goodwill, though I worry about the seals in used aquariums.
  • hygger Bucket-Free Aquarium Water Change Kit – Spend ALL the money getting this or the name brand Python one if you want an aquarium because it will save your life. I spilled SO much water before having this and refilling the tank was a pain in the ass. Now it’s way easier! Two tips:
    • A lot of people worry about the amount of water wasted because you need to turn on your tap to get the suction going. I’ve found I can shut my tap off once the water starts to come into the sink from the tube as the suction has reached its peak.
    • You’ll most likely have an issue finding the right spigot hook-up and both Home Depot and Lowe’s won’t work. I even went to a plumbing supply store that had NO idea what to do with me. As a final straw, I bought this adapter set and actually got things to work right! Start with this set before venturing into your local hardware store.
  • MICRODRY Quick Dry Memory Foam Luxury Framed Bath Mat Rug – This sits on the floor in front of the aquarium. It’s way plushy and is actually a problem when I want to open my cabinet doors but is easily moved and I think is worth the trade-off for having something that can retain a lot of water should something go horribly wrong.
  • Aquapapa Bio Sponge Filter – Found out about this on Reddit: Using this foam instead of the charcoal filters saves SO much money and effort. I cut out a few pieces and stuffed them in my filter pump then tossed the included filter once it was used up.
  • Senzeal 4PCS Pre-Filter Foam Sponge Roll – Goes over the bottom of the filter, the part that sucks water up. It’s good for fish that have delicate fins like bettas.
  • GE, 15119 24-Hour Indoor Basic Timer – Controls the overhead lights to ensure they go on at 8 am and turn off at 7:30 pm.
  • Inkbird Heating ThermostatĀ Timer – SO ESSENTIAL. I still use the included aquarium heater which can, and has, jump(ed) to 95 degrees Fahrenheit even though it’s supposed to shut off at 78. Prior to getting this, there were multiple instances where I had to put a gallon bag of ice in the water to cool it down before Zorro boiled alive. This timer does require a little fine-tuning but this video made it really easy to do.
  • API Freshwater Master Test Kit – Absolutely essential, especially in the beginning when you need to ensure the water is okay. I started a google spreadsheet for tracking these while the tank was cycling.
  • Omega One Betta Buffet Flakes Fish Food
  • Zoo Med Betta Dial-A-Treat – He likes the Daphina the best and gets treats after every tank cleaning.
  • American Craftsā„¢ Poster Shopā„¢ Space Poster Board – I’m just putting this here for completion. I got this poster board because I thought it would be a cool background to have but you can barely see it with all the plants. So, yes I bought this but probably wouldn’t recommend it as a background for an aquarium that holds a fish who needs lots of stuff to swim through.

Aquarium Decor

Aquarium Maintenance and Care

Miscellaneous Aquarium Purchases that are totally worth it

  • Mystery snails – Since bettas are the friendliest fish around, I decided to get him a few companions that can’t be bothered with his shenanigans. To be fair, Z-Man has been really chill around both. I have a giant blue snail who thinks the tank is his and a teeny beige snail who likes to hide and pretend to be MIA. Their names are Colin Robinson and Colin Robinson (which is why I call the fish “Z-Man” [I know it’s supposed to be C-Man]. If you don’t watch “What We Do in the Shadows” then don’t worry, the double-usage of the name is intentional.)
  • Hikari Tropical Algae Wafers for Plecostomus & Algae Eaters – For the snails. One wafer a week.
  • Zoo Med Betta Exercise Mirror – This goes in once in a while if I think he needs a little stimulation but I rarely keep it in the tank longer than 2-3 minutes.