Freshwater Angelfish are some of the most popular fish in the aquarium trade. They have been bred in captivity for a very long time because hobbyists enjoy them so much.
They come in a vast array of colors and fin shapes and are generally quite easy to keep in the home aquarium.
Here’s what you need to know about Freshwater Angelfish if you want to enjoy them in your home aquarium.
Angelfish – Introduction
When you think of Angelfish, the first thing that comes to mind may be the brightly colored, highly variable saltwater species collectively known as Angelfish. However, Freshwater Angelfish are actually not Angelfish at all. They are members of the cichlid family.
The Freshwater Angelfish commonly kept in aquariums is probably descended from a hybrid of pterophyllum scalare. There are three or four subspecies of Freshwater Angelfish, and hybridization of one or two of them has resulted in the Angelfish we know today.
Freshwater Angelfish have been raised in captivity for over 100 years, eliminating any separation of species that may have been present in the original breeding fish. They come in a wide range of fin and color varieties. Mixed breeding between different varieties can result in all kinds of different colors and patterns.
In the wild, pterophyllum scalare have a wide range. They’re common in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and the Guianas and throughout the Amazon River. They prefer to live along the shores of ponds and rivers among heavy plant material.
They have a unique body type in order to easily swim among the plants and keep them safe from bigger fish.
Freshwater Angelfish have a unique ability to evade predators. They can turn the black bars on their scales on and off as needed to help them blend in with the environment.
When threatened, they may completely eliminate the black scales, making them pale, and lay on the bottom to blend in with the sand.
When the lights in your aquarium are off, they will also very likely lie near the bottom of the aquarium and bars will not be visible.
Angelfish – Quick Facts
|Size||6in long and up to 8in tall|
|Aquarium size||20 gallons, or 10 gallons for each Angelfish. Tall aquariums are preferred to long ones.|
|Aquarium decor||Well planted, with a large flat rock such as slate for breeding pairs. Fine substrate is preferred to enable safe digging.|
|PH:||6.0 to 7|
|Water hardness||Between 5 and 18 dH|
|Lighting||Full-spectrum UVA/UVB for plants, but plenty of plants to cut the light down within the middle range of the aquarium where Angelfish like to swim.|
|Compatible tankmates||Most peaceful and semi-aggressive fish of a similar size|
|Available captive-bred?||Yes, almost exclusively|
|Feeding Difficulty||Easy to feed|
|Schooling Fish?||They tend to school loosely, but generally do fine in pairs in the home aquarium|
|Diet||Omnivores which eat larvae, insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish as well as some plant material and algae. Live earth worms, tubifex worms, live water fleas, and brine shrimp are excellent options to supplement a flake or pellet diet. Freeze-dried krill and glass worms are also good options.|
Angelfish Care – Infographic
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Setting up an Angelfish Aquarium
Angelfish grow to be pretty large fish, so it is vital to have a large enough tank to support them. Angelfish that live in undersized aquariums are often unhealthy, unhappy, and aggressive. From my experience, I would suggest a tank of at least 30 gallons to support a few Angelfish. This is especially important if you plan to keep other tank mates. While they can be great community fish, Angelfish are still in the cichlid family and become territorial if space is limited. It is always better to have more space than not enough space!
Angelfish tend to be pretty hefty eaters, which means a lot of waste in your fish tank. Make sure you have a good filter that can handle these type of fish. While a good hang on back filter will work, I would highly recommend purchasing a canister filter. Canister filters can process a lot more water than HOB filters, and they tend to be a lot more effective for freshwater aquariums.
When setting up your Angelfish aquarium, the first major decision you need to make is the type of substrate you are going to use. If you are new to fishkeeping, I would recommend going with a simple gravel substrate. Though gravel tends to trap a lot of waste, it is extremely easy to clean and doesn’t require a ton of upkeep. It is also fairly cheap to purchase, so your wallet will be happy (we can’t always say that in the fishkeeping hobby).
If you are more experienced with aquariums, adding sand as a substrate can be a beautiful addition. Angelfish are natively found in the Amazon Basin in South America, so naturally they are more familiar with a sandy bottom. Sand will give your tank a more realistic, natural look, but can be more difficult to clean. I personally use sand in all my new aquariums and would never switch back to gravel, simply for the looks.
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As I talked about before, Angelfish are from the Amazon Basin where vegetation is abundant. Proving your Angelfish with a lot of plants, rocks, and hiding places is an important part of keeping them stress-free. Unless you plan to purchase a light setup, it is best just to use artificial plants. Artificial plants provide the look and feel of a natural planted aquarium, but require little to no work. When selecting these plants, try to find some that stand vertically and have large leaves. These mimic the plants in the Amazon Basin and will make your Angelfish more comfortable.
Other great aquarium decorations to add to your Angelfish tank are driftwood and rocks. Driftwood perfectly mimics the Angelfish’s natural habitat. Large, vertical standing rocks also provide a great place for your fish to hide and, eventually, lay eggs! Filling your tank with lots of natural-looking hiding places and decorations helps keep your Angelfish comfortable and stress-free.
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When filling your aquarium, it is important to use a quality water source. The best thing you can do is purchase water from your local fish store. Depending on how big your aquarium is, though, this can be difficult and require a lot of buckets! Purchasing your water from a well-known fish store ensures that all the parameters will be correct and chlorine free!
If you want to take a cheaper route, tap water is acceptable to use. Water straight from the tap, though, contains a lot of chloride and can kill your fish. When using tap water, you MUST use water conditioner to neutralize the chlorine and provide a safe environment for your Angelfish. Failing to do so will burn the Angelfish’s gills and eventually lead to death. Natural Rapport produces a great water conditioner that I have used for years in my freshwater aquariums. Make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle very carefully.
Cycling Your Aquarium
Cycling your aquarium is a necessary evil. It can take week to complete, but in the end it is completely worth it. Failing to cycle your aquarium can be harmful and potentially fatal to your fish. To properly cycle your freshwater aquarium, you must first understand the nitrogen cycle.
When organic compounds such as fish waste and food dissolve in your tank, a large amount of ammonia is produced. This ammonia is extremely harmful to your fish and lethal in any amounts. In a healthy aquarium, there is an abundance of beneficial bacteria that convert this lethal ammonia into a less-harmful toxin called Nitrite. Nitrite is “better” than ammonia, but is still potentially lethal to fish. This is where a second set of beneficial bacteria come in and convert the Nitrite to Nitrate. There is only a one letter difference their names, but a huge difference in your aquarium. Even the healthiest of aquarium show traces of Nitrates, and they are usually nothing to worry about unless in high quantities. Nitrates can only be removed through water changes, so be prepared to do them on a bi-weekly schedule.
The Fish-less Cycle
Now that you know how the nitrogen cycle work, you need to learn how to effectively complete this cycle in your home aquarium! I am a huge advocate of the Fish-less cycle (not adding ANY fish until cycle is complete). While this may take a little longer, it saves a few unlucky fish from ammonia/nitrite poisoning.
Before starting your fish-less cycle, you should purchase a test kit. The API Freshwater Test Kit is the absolute best on the market. To begin your cycle, have your aquarium completely set up (substrate, water, plants, decorations, filter, heater)and add a few pinches of flake food each day. As this flake food deteriorates, you will notice a huge spike in ammonia on your test kit. Make sure to test your water at least once a day to stay up-to-date. As ammonia spikes, the first type of beneficial bacteria will begin to grow. As these bacteria grow, they will consume the ammonia and convert it to nitrite. This first part of the cycle may take anywhere from 2-3 weeks. Make sure to add a little pinch of flake food once in a while to feed your ammonia-consuming bacteria!
Once ammonia begins to drop (the first type of beneficial bacteria are doing their job!), you will notice a spike in Nitrites. At this point, the second type of beneficial bacteria will begin to reproduce and grow in numbers. This bacteria, of course, consumes the nitrite and converts it to nitrate. As always, remember to keep adding a few flakes of fish food to sustain the cycle. In another 2-3 weeks time, you will notice the nitrites begin to fall off (remember to test your water every day) and nitrites begin to spike. Once Ammonia and Nitrite hit zero on your test kit, your cycle is complete! Do a large water change to reduce nitrates and your tank is ready for fish. Add you fish one at a time every few days instead of all at once. The beneficial bacteria are still growing and you don’t want to overwhelm them!
Adding Your Angelfish To The Tank
Once your cycle is complete, you are in the clear to add your fish! If you want to be on the safe side, it is best to get a few hardy species such as mollies or guppies and add them to your aquarium first. Watch them for a few days and make sure they look healthy before adding your Angelfish.
When the time finally comes to add your Angelfish, make sure your tank is set to the proper temperate. Angelfish like a temperature of 76-82 degrees. If you still need a heater for your tank, I would highly recommend looking into the Aqueon Pro Heaters, I have used them for a whole and they are extremely durable and reliable.
Slowly acclimate your Angelfish to your aquarium by floating them in the bag for 20-30 minutes. When the temperatures are evened out, you can finally release your fish into the tank. You have been building up to this for weeks and it is an exciting time, congratulations!
Feeding Your Angelfish
Angelfish are aggressive eaters and definitely look forward to meal time. It is important to feed your Angelfish a healthy, balanced diet if you want them to thrive and be happy in your new home aquarium. I would recommend a mixture of flake food and meaty, frozen food to keep you Angelfish as healthy and strong as possible. I usually give my Angelfish TetraMin Tropical Flakes a few times throughout the day supplemented by frozen brine shrimp or blood worms at night. You can decrease the amount of frozen food as the Angelfish get older, but this is not necessary. Live brine shrimp is also a great treat once in a while!
Only feed you Angelfish as much as they can eat in a 60 second period. It is better to feed your Angelfish 3-4 times a day in small quantities than one large meal. Feeding too much as one time will only increase the amount of uneaten food and make your aquarium dirty. In fact, overfeeding is the most common mistake made by new fishkeepers!
Maintaining Your Aquarium
A huge part of keeping you Angelfish happy and stress-free is having a healthy aquarium. Keeping an aquarium requires a good amount of work, so if you are looking for a set-and-forget kind of hobby, this probably isn’t for you!
Water changes should preferably be done on a bi-weekly schedule. Every other week, swap out between 10-20% of the total tank volume and replace it with fresh water. Before adding the new water, make sure it is dechlorinated and ready for your fish. During water changes, you should scrub the glass of your aquarium to remove any build up or algae. You should also use a siphon to suck up any settled waste on the sand/gravel. Getting rid of this waste before it has a chance to decompose will help keep your ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in check.
During water changes, you should also do a thorough cleaning of your filter. Put a few cups in a bucket and splash your filter around to remove any gunk or slime. This will help prevent your parasites from building up and infecting your fish. It is very important to ONLY use existing tank water to clean your filter, do not run it under the faucet or anything. Doing so will kill all of the beneficial bacteria, which, as you know, are very important to the health of your tank.
Missing a water change here and there is not a huge deal. I commonly let my aquarium go for a month without doing a water change. As long as you are testing your water often, you shouldn’t have nay problems. Just make sure you do water changes at least once a month. Your fish will love you for it!
Breeding Freshwater Angelfish
Pterophyllum scalare are relatively easy to breed, and they are extremely interesting to watch as breeding pairs and as parents. As long as they can select their own mates and are well cared for, they tend to make it very easy to breed them and raise their young.
When Angelfish are ready to breed, they will choose a flat surface, generally either a piece of slate that is placed in the aquarium or a broad leaf, on which to deposit the eggs. Both Angelfish parents meticulously clean the egg depositing location. The female lays her eggs in organized rows and the male follows, fertilizing them. As many as 200 eggs may be laid.
Both parents put a lot of effort into caring for the eggs, although there is some variability in parenting skills depending on the pair and their experience. Good parents remove any dirt or debris from among the eggs and devour eggs that have died or were not fertilized properly so that they will not rot.
Fry are born in only a couple of days. The parents continue to care for the fry until they are swimming freely and confidently and able to care for themselves. They may even move the babies around in a herd looking for food.
Some aquarists remove the eggs as soon as they are laid to eliminate any possibility that poor parents will consume them. However, the home aquarist is encouraged to allow the parents to raise the babies, since balancing aeration and anti-fungus treatment when eggs are removed can be challenging, and you will likely lose a batch or two before you get the hang of it.
If the Angelfish do eat their eggs, you will find that they likely produce more in only a couple of weeks and are much less likely to consume them the next time around. There is no need to remove the young Angelfish until they begin to stop following their parents around in search of food and begin to look for food on their own, at which point the parents may breed again and the first batch may be a danger to the second. The best food for juvenile Freshwater Angelfish appears to be Artemia.
Setting up a successful Angelfish aquarium is a lot of work. If done properly, your Angelfish will live for years and bring you a ton of joy. As they grow, you will notice that each Angelfish has his/her own unique personality, something that is not common among many fish. You put a lot of hard work into your aquarium, enjoy it as often as you can!
Angelfish would generally be considered schooling fish, although they do not school tightly as shoaling fish do. Freshwater Angelfish in the aquarium, as in the wild, form loosely grouped schools with social hierarchies.
In your aquarium, Angelfish will occasionally fight and posture to establish social status. However, provided they are given sufficient room, fighting is unlikely to be problematic or dangerous for any of the Angelfish in the group.
Although Angelfish seem to show a preference for larger shoals, pterophyllum scalare kept in pairs are likely to be just as happy as Angelfish kept in school. When kept in schools, Freshwater Angelfish will compete for social hierarchy.
However, Angelfish kept as pairs are generally quite peaceful with one another. If you would like a 20 gallon planted aquarium with Angelfish and a few other species, a pair of Angelfish will be just fine.
Freshwater Angelfish are not as dependent on other members of their school as some types of fish, and you are unlikely to see serious negative behavioral consequences like refusing to feed or constantly hiding if you only have one Angelfish. That said, Angelfish are schooling fish in the wild and seem to do better with at least one other Freshwater Angelfish.
While a mated pair of pterophyllum scalare are more likely to get along very well than two male Angelfish, keeping two male Freshwater Angelfish is certainly better than only keeping one. If you would rather your Angelfish not breed, keeping two males is perfectly reasonable.
Freshwater Angelfish are semi-aggressive, both with their own species and with members of other species. They form a social hierarchy among themselves and fight for top positions. Freshwater Angelfish that are joined together at the lips in what appears to be a kissing gesture are actually in the midst of a fight.
They will also fiercely defend their young from any other fish that come near. However, outside of battles of hierarchy within their own school and defense of their eggs and fry, they are generally relatively peaceful with other fish in the aquarium, provided they have sufficient room.
Guppies are very peaceful fish that prefer to school together. When pterophyllum scalare are small, they may get along just fine with Guppies, although they may occasionally bully them depending on how much space you have in the aquarium.
Since Guppies typically occupy the upper parts of the aquarium and Angelfish choose the middle portion, the Guppies may be able to stay out of the Angelfishes’ way effectively. However, as
Freshwater Angelfish gets older and bigger, Guppies become a less ideal tank mate for the Angelfish.
A full-sized Freshwater Angelfish will likely view even adult Guppies as a potential food source, and Guppy fry will certainly be consumed by the Angelfish.
Since Angelfish seem to prefer larger food sources, provided they are within a size range that Angelfish can easily consume, Guppies may be especially vulnerable to being preyed upon by large Angelfish.
Goldfish require colder water than Angelfish do, making them incompatible with one another. Although it may be an attractive combination to put Goldfish with Freshwater Angelfish, this is not a good match. Consider another brightly colored golden fish such as Mollies.
A variety of Tetras are a good option for living with Angelfish. They come from the same natural habitat and have similar tank needs. Tetras are peaceful but also quite quick and tend to school together, so they are unlikely to have serious conflicts with Angelfish.
The exception to this rule is when Tetras are small enough to be eaten by Freshwater Angelfish. All types of Tetras are a good option for small Angelfish, but as Angelfish get bigger, you may find that smaller tetras like Neon Tetras and Cardinal Tetras become a food source for the pterophyllum scalare. Larger tetras like Black Skirt, Bleeding Heart, and Silver Tip may be better options.
Red Tail Sharks are striking fish that are very interesting when kept in the home aquarium, and they tend to be a good option for a tank mate for your Angelfish. They grow to roughly the same size as a Freshwater Angelfish and require similar conditions.
Like Angelfish, they are semi-aggressive. They generally occupy the bottom of the aquarium, so they will likely stay out of the way of your Angelfish and your Angelfish will likely keep out of their space as well.
However, keep in mind that Red Tail Sharks enjoy faster water flow than do Angelfish. Therefore, you’ll want to create current zones within your aquarium so that your Red Tail Shark can enjoy the current while Angelfish can get out of it.
Bala sharks are stunning, large fish with beautiful silver coloration That can be great tankmates for Freshwater Angelfish. They tend to be quite peaceful, but because they can get fairly large, they are unlikely to be bullied by your pterophyllum scalare. However, they do not grow so large as to view an adult Angelfish as a potential meal.
Keep in mind that Bala Sharks prefer to be kept in schools and their large size requires a large aquarium, so you’ll need a much bigger aquarium for a mixed tank with Bala Sharks and Angelfish than you would need for Freshwater Angelfish alone.
Like most sharks, Bala Sharks prefer faster-moving water, so be sure to provide parts of the aquarium with a good current for your Bala Sharks and areas with slower-moving water for your Angelfish.
Pterophyllum scalare are not exceptionally large fish, and because of their generally slow-moving habits, they do not need as much room as some other fish of similar size. A pair of Angelfish can be kept happy throughout their life in a 20 gallon aquarium. Add an additional 10 gallons for every additional Angelfish in the aquarium.
Because Angelfish are taller than they are long and because they prefer to swim in the middle of the aquarium, it is best to provide an aquarium that is tall rather than long. Such an aquarium will also reduce aggression from your Angelfish to other fish in the aquarium since other fish will be able to occupy the upper or lower level of the aquarium more easily and stay out of the Angelfish’s way.
n the wild, Freshwater Angelfish prefer densely vegetated areas at the edge of ponds and streams, and they prefer a heavily planted aquarium at home too. Plenty of aquarium plants will tend to make your Angelfish behave less aggressively and offer the opportunity for more natural behavior.
Choose aquarium plants that are typical to the Amazon River, such as sword plants. Plants that grow upwards with gently waving foliage provide Angelfish with a natural opportunity to weave in and out of the plants.
Angelfish enjoy occasionally digging in the substrate, although they typically will not disturb it enough to bother the plant roots. To avoid injury to your Angelfish when they are digging, it is best to choose a substrate of fine sand or mud rather than larger and heavier gravel.