White Spots on Betta Fish – Identifying the Ich Parasite


White Spots on Betta Fish - Identifying the Ich Parasite

If you have noticed some white spots on your betta fish and they are making you worry, this post will help you understand the white spot disease known as Ich and how to identify this parasitic disease over other illnesses such as fungal infections.

Ichthyophthirius multifiliis is a parasitic infection that causes white spots on the skin of betta fish and other freshwater aquarium fish. The white spots are caused by the ich parasite burying beneath the skin of its host causing raised, light-reflective bumps to appear.

To avoid this common problem for hobbyists and commercial pet store owners alike, it is important to identify ich symptoms before it becomes too late!

Make sure to check out our Betta Fish Care Guide And Species Overview.

Why Does My Betta Fish Have White Spots

If your betta has white spots, it’s most likely ich. But white spots can also be caused by a fungal infection or even just normal fish food that has settled on your betta, and white spots appear.

Ich is very easily identified as the white spot will look like little grains of salt attached to the betta’s gills fins or body. These white spots are actually the white ich parasites moving around under the betta’s skin, which looks like white spots.

These white spots will appear on your fish either one by one or in small clusters and are easily visible to the naked eye. If you see white dots that look similar to grains of salt all over your fish, then there’s a good chance you have white ich on your hands.

What Is White Spot

White spot disease is caused by a protozoan parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, more commonly known as Ich. This parasite has a very low host specificity, and most freshwater most fish species are susceptible to it.

The parasite resides in the gills, fins, and skin of the host fish. It buries itself beneath the epidermis (top layer of skin) during the feeding stage (the trophont), where it is protected and free to feed off the host fish’s skin cells.

White Spots On Betta
A mild to moderate white spot infection on a betta fish

During the early stages of infection, the trophont constantly rotates and pushes the skin cells around it, causing the skin to become slightly raised and reflective to light. Each raised bump appears as a small white dot that can be difficult to see with the naked eye and looks like a grain of salt under magnification.

The ich parasite is considered to be a true endoparasite because it lives inside of its host and will basically eat the affected betta alive and although this is not usually a cause of death, left untreated, ich will eventually kill its host through damage caused by the initial burying into the skin, or when the parasite bursts out from the skin on reaching maturity.

Because the ich parasite can also affect the gills of its chosen host, it may cause serious damage and reduce your betta’s ability to breathe, so it is important to recognize the early stages of this parasite.

How To Spot The Early Signs Of Ich In Your Betta

If you have an infected fish, it is vital to remove them from the tank immediately. The life cycle of this parasite is quite short, but the reproductive cycle of the ich protozoan is swift. Most protozoans will multiply by splitting into two, however, the ich parasite can divide into hundreds of new organisms in one cycle.

When ich infects the gills, usually there are no signs of illness to the fish’s body to make a diagnosis. Instead, you will need to look for behavioral signs and other symptoms in your betta.

Some of the main signs and symptoms of an ich infection are:

Many fish diseases, whether through bacterial infection or a parasitic infection, will have similar symptoms, but it helps first diagnose that an illness is present.

Identifying and treating white spot on your betta fish

Because ich can multiply so quickly and is highly contagious, you must remove any sick fish from the main tank and into a hospital tank where the parasite can be isolated, preventing other infections, and you can focus your treatment on this tank.

The quarantine tank will need perfect water conditions with all parameters within their suggested ranges as this will give your sick betta(s) a fighting chance of survival.

You will need to follow strict quarantine guidelines to avoid any possible cross-contamination, and you will need to seek a commercially available medication as soon as possible.

The damage caused by later-stage white spot infection can easily kill your fish, and it isn’t unheard of for a tank to be completely wiped out.

Ich Or Ick – What Is The Difference

While researching white spot (ich), you may have also come across articles that refer to ick infections. This can be confusing, but all 3 names are interchangeable and refer to the Ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite.

People will often refer to white spot as ‘ich’ for short or ‘ick’ because it sounds like ‘ich,’ making it easier to remember.

White Fuzz On Betta Fish – Is It Ich

Before going any further, it is important to understand that there are many common betta fish diseases and illnesses. Some can look similar to white spot, such as fungal infections, white cottony growths, and bacterial infections.

Although white spot will often appear to be white fuzz on betta fish, you should always try your best to get a closer look at the infection before using any medication or treatment. This is because it can sometimes look very similar to a fungal infection, which will more likely present as a fuzzy white patch on betta fish and will not respond well if treated with ich treatments.

If a white fuzz is more likely to be a fungal infection, it may be treated with a salt bath and/or copper sulfate treatment, which is better suited for fungal infections than white spot treatments.

This means that it’s important to try your best to get a closer look at the infection before applying any medication or treatment, and a strong magnifying glass is perfect for this.

How To Treat White Spot On Betta Fish

To treat white spot disease on your betta, it helps to understand the lifecycle of ich. This means knowing how long each stage lasts and what medications are needed at which time; otherwise, all of your hard work will be for nothing.

The white spot parasite has 3 main life stages, which are listed below:

  1. The trophont stage – During the initial stage of infection, the trophont invades its host and buries beneath the thin layer of skin on its body or can infect the gills. During this stage, white spots begin to appear.
  2. The tomont stage – The parasite matures and breaks out of the host fish, quickly covering itself in a gelatinous cyst that helps it stick to surfaces. During this stage, it divides quickly, creating hundreds of new parasites in each cyst.
  3. The tomite stage – The newly born parasites eat their way out of the cyst and swim around, quickly finding a new host to infect. During this stage, the tomite cannot live very long without a host fish.

Throughout most of the ich parasites lifecycle, it is buried beneath the fish’s skin or is protected by the gelatinous cyst that is secreted and is fairly well protected from chemical treatments.

During the tomite stage, the parasite breaks free from the cyst and enters the free-swimming stage looking for a new host, and when free swimming, the parasite has no protection around it and will be most vulnerable to chemical treatments.

Raise The Water Temperature Before Treatment

Water temperature can have a dramatic effect on the speed of the ich parasite’s life cycle. Colder temperatures will slow the overall lifecycle down to around 10-14 days, whereas warm aquarium water will help the parasite’s lifecycle complete within 3-5 days.

check your aquarium temperature
Raising the water temperature will speed up the lifecycle of the ich parasite, whereas lowering the temperature will slow it down.

This information alone will help you when treating your tank with chemicals because you are more likely to catch the parasite in its unprotected (free-swimming stage) during the shorter lifecycle. Turn up the temperature only when ready to start treatment otherwise, you will help the parasite take hold more quickly.

If you want to delay the onset of ich, and buy yourself some time, turn down the temperature.

Ich Treatments

There are many suitable treatments available for white spot which are listed below:

  • Malachite Green.
  • Methylene Blue.
  • Copper Sulfate.
  • Salt Baths.

You need to follow all directions given on your chosen product, and it is often advised to continue regular treatments, often over 5-14 days. You should treat the tank every day to effectively catch the parasite at its most vulnerable stage, and you will need to monitor your betta fish for signs of improvement.

You will also need to keep an eye on your betta because skin trauma caused by the parasites can lead to secondary infection and death.

Treating ich can be difficult, especially if left until the later stages of infection, but it is never impossible and often responds well once treatment has begun. Remember that white spot is more likely to respond well when caught early on before it has had the time to become a more severe infection.

Aquarium Salt Treatment

Some aquarists choose to add an aquarium salt mix to their tank or bathe their betta directly in a salt bath for less severe infections. This can be effective, but you must follow instructions to the letter so as not to harm the affected fish by using too much salt.

Overdosing on salt can cause burns to the gills of your betta fish which may cause further breathing problems.

You can find the medication mentioned above in most fish stores, and it may be wise to speak to your local store for the most up-to-date advice.

Preventing Ich In Your Aquarium

White spot can be devastating to your entire tank, so if you can prevent ich in the first place, that will be the best course of action to take, so how can you prevent ich from invading your betta tank?

Aquarium Parasites
A close-up view of a fish parasites mouth and teeth which it will latch onto the host with and bury beneath the surface.

One of the main causes of ich infections is down to infected fish entering your tank. When you buy new fish, they have generally been housed with many other fish, which in turn have been around much more fish.

Many illnesses and diseases will originate at the pet shop and are not necessarily their fault as they don’t know exactly what their new fish stock has been in contact with.

These parasites are microscopic and can easily bind to most surfaces, so washing your hands and nets, for instance, can limit the transfer from one tank to another.

Conclusion

There are many common illnesses among betta fish, such as Fin Rot, Tail Rot, Velvet, and Fungal Infections, however, Ich can escalate quite quickly and cause catastrophic damage. It can easily spread through the tank affecting other tank-mates in a matter of days, so you will ideally need to quarantine any new additions for the first few days if possible.

Prevention is always better than using treatments, and there is always the risk of fatalities if ich does take hold in your tank.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sources
University Of Florida – WHITE SPOT INFECTIONS IN FISH
Wikipedia – Ichthyophthirius multifiliis
Science Direct – Flagellate Parasites of Fish

Jon O'Connell

I have kept both marine and freshwater fish and set up almost 100 aquariums. Happy to share my knowledge and experience to help others enjoy keeping healthy and happy fish.

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