Care Guide for Freshwater Angelfish – The Feisty Angel of the Aquarium
Angelfish are a very popular fish because of their long and majestic fins, spirited personalities, and ease of breeding. To learn more about this unique cichlid, we sat down with master breeder Dean, who has successfully kept them for the past 40 to 50 years and produces high-end strains to sell at the Aquarium Co-Op fish store. This article shares his real-world experiences as well as answers to most commonly asked questions regarding keeping freshwater angelfish.
What are Angelfish?
There is some confusion around the term “angelfish”, as the saltwater aquarium hobby includes marine angelfish. Therefore, we are specifically referring the Pterophyllum genera angelfish cichlids that have long, winglike fins and originate from South America’s freshwater rivers. P. altum is the largest known angelfish species, while P. leopoldi is the rarest and most commonly found species in fish shops.
What are some common angelfish colors and types? The most widely-used varieties are silver (or the wild type), veil or koi and marble.
What size angelfish can grow? These fish are about the same size as a small saucer. Common P.scalare angelfish measures up to 6 in (15 cm) in length, and can reach 8 in (20 cm when including their fins). Altum angelfish (P. altum) can grow up to 7 inches (18 cm) long and 10-13 inches (25-33 cm) high.
Altum angelfish are the majestic giants of the angelfish world.
How long do angelfish live? If given a clean environment with minimal stress and high-quality foods, angelfish can live up to 8 to 12 years long.
How much do angelfish cost? Depending on the size of the fish and rareness of its color variety, the price can range between $5 to $20 and upwards.
Are angelfish aggressive in nature? Angelfish have been known to chase each others around the aquarium. This territorial behavior is primarily due to breeding. In order to win the female they prefer, males fight and their parents defend their eggs from being eaten by other fish. Angelfish are calmer than other cichlids and can be kept in an aquarium that has the right mix of tank mates (see below).
How do you choose healthy angelfish?
Look for angelfish that measure 0.8 to 1.2 inches in length or between 2 and 3 cm when you buy them from a store. The best part about fish keeping is watching your fish mature from a young age into an adult. While angelfish are a relatively slender fish, don’t pick ones that are overly thin. Look for young, strong fish with a thicker head and meaty body. Ask the store to give them food so that you can choose the most aggressive eaters. Also, avoid any fish with cloudy or damaged eyes. For the best chance at success, bring home the most healthy fish possible.
How Do You Set up an Angelfish Aquarium?
Angelfish can be kept in a wide variety of setups – such as bare tanks, community tanks, and planted tanks. Try adding a few beginner-friendly aquatic plants to help consume toxic waste compounds and add a beautiful slice of nature to your aquarium. For example, java fern provides tall, textured leaves for your angelfish to swim around, and it only needs some low light and a few squirts of Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer to stay alive.
Java fern grows tall, broad leaves that provide cover and enrichment for angelfish.
As for water parameters, angelfish tend to prefer warmer temperatures between 78-86degF. (Dean keeps his tanks around 82degF for breeding and raising fry.) They are not very picky about pH and can live in a wide range from 6.0 to 8.0 (although closer to the middle is always better). Water hardness is an important consideration as many American captive-bred angelfish are from Florida. Florida is well known for having high levels of GH and hard water. Angelfish can usually adapt to soft water with no problems, but you can also look for a local breeder who has similar water parameters as your own.
How big do angelfish require? It all depends on how many fish are you planning to keep. A community tank of 29 gallons should have no more than four adult angelfish. For a 55-gallon tank, start with five or six juvenile angelfish and be prepared to remove some in the future if they get too territorial. Keep the angelfish in an environment that is too crowded. Increase the frequency of your water changes to maintain high water quality.
Can an angelfish be kept alone? We have found that keeping one angelfish in your aquarium does not adversely impact their health. While they do shoal or swim together in the wild, having just one as the centerpiece fish in your aquarium seems to make them much more easygoing and docile overall.
If aggression becomes a problem, you might consider keeping one angelfish in your community as a focal fish.
What fish can be kept with angelfish? Because of their long, gorgeous fins, stay away from any fin nippers or fast-swimming fish that will outcompete your angelfish during mealtimes. A nano fish, or any small creature that can be eaten by angelfish, is not recommended due to their size. We’ve had good luck with black skirt tetras, adult cardinal tetras, and cory catfish.
Guppies are on the “maybe” list for tank mates because of their smaller size, so you may want to try a larger type of livebearer if you’re worried about them. (Certainly, the angelfish will help keep any livebearer population under control by going after their fry.) Betta fish are another species in the “maybe” category. The angelfish could attack the betta fish so you might consider a giant betta, regular betta, or a betta with shorter fins to improve their swimming speed.
What’s the Best Food For Angelfish?
Angelfish can be fed any fish food. Some favorites include krill flakes, freeze-dried bloodworms and tubifex worms, and Hikari Vibra Bites. Frozen bloodworms are essential if you want to feed the adult to make them more suited for breeding.
The best way for fry to grow fast and survive is to hatch live baby brine shrimp. The yolk sacs of newly-hatched brine shrimp are very nutritious for baby fish, and their jerky swimming motions trigger the babies’ feeding responses and encourage them to fill up their bellies. Dean loves to eat his angelfish fry Hikari First Bites (easy fried food), and Fluval Bug Bites (prepared foods). You should ensure that both parents and children have access to a wide range of foods so they can get the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.
Frozen bloodworms are the perfect food for quickly inducing adults to spawn.
What Do Angelfish Need to Breed?
Unless you’re an experienced angelfish keeper, it can be hard to spot the differences between males and females. Therefore, the easiest method of getting a breeding couple is to buy at least 6 juvenile angelfish, raise them to adulthood, and let them pair off naturally. You can choose the most attractive pair and place them in an aquarium to spawn. (A 20-gallon high breeding tank is a good size, since it has plenty of height for their fins to fully extend.) The sex of the fish can be easily determined once they are bred. This is because the female lays the eggs. Afterwards, you can mix up the pairs if you want to match up two specific fish with desirable qualities.
How frequently do angelfish lay eggs each week? If the eggs are not removed or eaten, angelfish can breed quickly and can produce hundreds of eggs per week. (The new parents could end up eating the eggs after the first couple of spawns. Your angelfish can still raise their own offspring if they have the right conditions and some patience. The eggs are laid on a vertical surface such as a leaf, filter pipe or section of an aquarium wall. Depending on the tank temperature, the eggs will hatch in two to three days, and the parents may move the newly hatched wigglers (fry that cannot swim freely yet) around the aquarium with their mouths. In another three to four days, the fry become free-swimming, and the parents will protectively keep their cloud of babies between them. Start the fry by adding tiny, nutritious foods such as baby brine shrimps and Hikari First Bite powder.
Even if there is no male present, female angelfish can still lay unfertilized eggs.
How many angelfish eggs can you lay? A successful spawn can produce between 300 and 600 eggs.
Unfortunately, not all of them will make it to adulthood. The survival rate is lower for the first few generations. You may also notice deformities in your offspring such as missing pectoral fins or twisted spines. These defects could be due to poor genetics or the parents accidentally causing damage to eggs or fry while moving them. One of the toughest parts of being a fish breeder is culling fry and not passing on damaged fish to other hobbyists.
The reason Dean keeps breeding angelfish after so many years is because they are a very popular fish that stores always seem to have a demand for. Just a couple pairs of angelfish can entirely fund the cost of running a small fish room. If you’ve never kept them before, you can’t go wrong with this fun and colorful fish. For more suggestions on the best aquarium fish for beginners, check out our top 10 list: