Angelfish – The Care, Feeding and Breeding of Angelfish

angelfishQuick Stats

Minimum Tank Size: 29 Gallons (132 Litres)
 Care Level: Moderately Easy
Water Conditions: 5-7.5 pH and Soft to Medium
Temperature: 23-29 °C (73-84 °F)
Maximum Size: 6 Inches (15 cm) 

The term angelfish is a blanket term used to describe a small family of cichlids native to South America. The family is comprised of three separate species – Pterophyllum altumi, Pterophyllum scalare and Pterophyllum leopold.

Angelfish can be found in nearly all of the major rivers in South America, including the Essequibo, Orinoco and Amazon River. They spend much of their time lying in ambush among aquatic plants and submerged tree roots and their naturally occurring lateral strips provide the perfect camouflage for this environment.

Angelfish are among the oldest aquarium fish in the hobby, and to this day, they are still one of the most popular fish to keep. Angelfish were first bred in captivity nearly 100 years ago, and most of the fish available now are captive breed. Because of their captive bred origins, most can adapt to a wide variety of water conditions, whereas wild caught still require soft water.

Angelfish grow relatively large in the aquarium, and though they only grow to about 6 inches (15 cm) in length, their compressed bodies make them seem much larger. Because of their body shape, the commonly quoted one gallon per inch of fish should never be used to determine minimum aquarium requirements with angelfish.

If they are well cared for, it’s not unusual for an angelfish to live for 10 years in the home aquarium, and there are many well documented cases of them living longer. It seems that the key to angelfish longevity is a well planted aquarium, and the health of the plants is often a good way to gauge the health of an angelfish.

Housing

Unlike many other common cichlids, angelfish don’t require overly large aquariums. A pair of angelfish can live quite comfortably in a 29 gallon aquarium, but if you are planning to breed angelfish, you should choose a large aquarium – something in the 40 gallon range.

By providing a larger aquarium, you not only ensure that the water parameters will be more stable, but you will also provide adequate space for the angelfish to herd around their offspring. In a 29 gallon tank, things quickly become cramped for the parents and the fry, and it can be much more difficult to keep the water quality up for the baby fish.

While many fish will benefit from the addition of aquatic plants, with angelfish plants should almost be viewed as a requirement. One of the easiest ways to keep angelfish happy and healthy is with a vibrant and diversely planted tank.

Without question, the best plants to provide for angelfish are Amazon sword plants. Not only is this a hardy and attractive beginner plant, but it also plays an integral role in the breeding of angelfish. Some other plants that also make good choices are vallinerisa, Java moss, water wisteria and water sprite.

Any tank containing angelfish should also include numerous hiding places, which helps to mimic their natural environment. This can be accomplished through the strategic planting of tall plants, or through the use of driftwood. The ideal setup would allow for the angelfish to hide its entire body behind the driftwood or the plants, but partial coverage will also work.

When choosing a filter for an angelfish tank, you should always choose the best filter within your budget. A high quality HOB (hang on back) is usually a good choice, but a canister filter can provide superior filtration – for well over double the price.

I would strongly recommend choosing an Aquaclear Power Filter for a angelfish tank. This filter combines excellent filtration with a durable design, and it will keep your tank sparkling clear for years to come. You can also read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Filter Review here.

Feeding

Feeding angelfish is usually quite easy, and most will happily accept commercial foods. If an angelfish refuses to eat, it’s usually an indicator that something is very wrong. Some angelfish are known to go on a food strike if the water quality degrades beyond a certain point. So always test your water first if your fish stops eating.

In the wild, their diet mainly consists of small fish, invertebrates and insects. This diet should be replicated as closely as possible in the home aquarium, and this can be accomplished by feeding them a high quality flake food, with regular feedings of frozen and live food.

Live food can be difficult to obtain at times, but feeder guppies, blackworms and adult brine shrimp can be found at most fish stores. If you decide to feed them guppies – which are one of their primary foods in the wild – they should always be obtained from a reputable source. Most of the ones found in pet stores are riddled with disease, and nothing will sicken your angelfish faster than adding a parasite ridden guppy to their diet.

When it comes to frozen foods, they will readily accept bloodworms, blackworms, daphnia and brine shrimp. With that being said, they seem to prefer the more meaty offerings, and their favorites are bloodworms and blackworms.

angelfishBreeding

Angelfish form long term relationships with their partners and will usually breed with no intervention from the aquarist. They don’t require a breeding trigger, and a word of warning – they will breed continuously upon reaching sexual maturity. So always have a plan in place to deal with vast quantities of fry before you start breeding angelfish.

While most wild angelfish are excellent parents, some of the angelfish available in the aquarium hobby have become so inbred, that they have lost all parental instinct. They are more than happy to devour all of their eggs or fry, so this can add an element of difficulty to breeding some angelfish.

Most angelfish generally reach sexual maturity a few weeks before their first birthday, though some will become sexually mature well before this. Once they are ready to spawn, they will pick a broad leaf plant similar to an Amazon sword, and spend several days cleaning the surface. They will remove any algae and debris from surface, and once it is suitable clean, the female will deposit her eggs.

If no suitable plants are available, they may also lay their eggs on any flat rock in the aquarium, or barring that – on the aquarium glass itself. The female will deposit a straight line of large eggs that are easy to see, so you can always tell when your angelfish have bred.

If you are worried about the angelfish devouring their young, the parents can be removed from the tank, or the eggs can likewise be removed. But it’s important to note, that if the eggs are removed, the parents will continue to spawn every 7-10 days, and you can end up with a staggering amount of eggs.

Should your angelfish still have their natural parental instincts, they will take turns fanning the eggs with their fins until they hatch. Upon hatching, the fry will become free-swimming within a few days, and the parents will take over protecting them and herding them around the tank.

The fry should be fed just before they become free-swimming, and they can be fed baby brine shrimp, microworms, or any of the commercially available fry foods. After around two weeks, they should be large enough to accept finely ground flake food.

Should one angelfish die that has formed a relationship with another angelfish, it is unlikely – though not unheard of, that the angelfish will ever breed again. It may be best to remove a fish that has seen its partner die from a breeding tank, and try with another pair.

It should also be noted that the P. Altum species is notoriously difficult to breed, and these instructions mainly cover the other two more commonly available species.

Compatibility

While angelfish are often considered semi-aggressive, they are one of the few cichlids that may do well in a community tank. Many species of barbs, tetras and minnows can be added to an angelfish’s tank, though you should always be sure that any fish that you add are larger than an angelfish’s mouth.

If a fish is small enough for an angelfish to eat, it won’t last long and if you decide to add any guppies to their tank, you shouldn’t expect to see them to live through the night.

You may also occasionally come across an aggressive angelfish, so always be sure you have a backup plan in case aggression becomes an issues in the community tank.

Comments

  1. Jonathan Roach says

    Hi Matt I’ve got a question about angelfish a friend of mine in the UK has a problem with his angelfish dying he claims they have white syringy poop. He has had his tank water tested at a fishlab near his location and they say his water conditions are perfect for angelfish. He says the water temp is around 80-82 degrees. He feeds tetra pro color flakes daily and frozen blood worms as a treat once every 3 days apart. He recently over a period of two weeks 4 or 5 of his angelfish have died including his breeding pair. Now he also per chased a couple of fish from a local seller. Matt I’m not an expert but I told his it sounded like a intestinal infection or a parasite of some sort. I wanted to ask you and get your opinion and if you are thinking the same thing as I am what treatment do you recommend and what prevention do you recommend? I’m already thinking of what to tell him to do but I really need a second opinion to reassure my own opinion. Before I got telling him do’s and don’ts on how to fix and prevent it from happening again. Also do you Allow pictures to be posted up by followers of you site just to share with others ?

    • says

      Hello Jonathon. That definitely sounds like a parasite problem, which is odd if the conditions are good. Has anything new been introduced to the tank, or any live food? In a situation like this you’d be safe putting the temp up to mid 80s to encourage them to eat, and feeding them an anti-parasite food. I would go with either Praziquenti or Metronidazole (I prefer Metronidazole), both of which will need to be eaten by the fish. Assuming that he has any healthy fish left, I would also recommend moving the sick ones to quarantine tank until this is dealt with.

      I hope this helps.

      And the comments only allow you to post links to images, but if you want to e-mail it to me contact.seymourfish@gmail.com I will post if for you in the comments.

  2. Rebecca Morehead says

    Can u please advise how MUCH flake food to feed 2 adult angelfish and how OFTEN ? Thank u, Rebecca

    • says

      The best rule to follow, is to feed your fish as much as they will eat in 3 minutes. If you watch them, and they’re leaving a lot of extra food, then you are overfeeding them. Also, don’t worry about them appearing hungry, since cichlids will always beg for food if given the chance.

  3. Laura Lee says

    Hi there, I have a 48 gallon with a breeding pair of angels (adult size), a 26 gallon again a breeding pair, a 20 gallon with 6 angels ranging in size such as 2 are dime size and 4 quarter size. My husband has a 46 gallon community tank with almost 40 fish. His tank has NEVER had a problem with water quality, but my 3 tanks are frequently having high leves of nitrates/nitrites, My husband does a 10% water change every week, I have treated my 3 tanks with stresszyme, AmQuel plus and aquarium salts, but the problems relieve itself for a cpl of days and then the cycle starts again. Would putting a snail or pleco in each tank solve my problem if it is an overfeeding issue & Once they lay eggs again I should remove the snail/pleco correct? or is their something else I should be doing? All my aquariums have plants, maybe they need more plants to lower the levels, I am not sure. If you could give me some advice on what I should do it would be greatly appreciated as I don’t wanna loose my angels as they are like my babies. Thanks In advance laura. My email is LLwarford@hotmail.com if you wish to email me, I am in dire need for some ssuggestions/solotions :)

    • says

      Nitrates are relatively easy to deal with, and they can be dealt with by removing any dead plant matter, upping the size of your weekly water changes to the 15-20% region, and give your filters a really thorough cleaning. In most cases that should bring the nitrates down.

      The nitrites are much more worrying, as that is potentially very harmful for your fish. There is something wrong with the aquarium itself, and for some reason it isn’t full cycled. What is your substrate composed of? If it’s sand, toxic pockets can form in it, and the fish digging in it can release it into the aquarium. I solve this in my tanks by having lots of Malaysian trumpet snails to burrow through the sand substrate.

      If that’s not the issue, then I would look at your maintenance. How do you clean your filter? If you’re cleaning it with tap water, then it may be killing off all of the beneficial bacteria. Also, do you turn off your filter during water changes before the water has been treated? It’s important to do this if you have chlorine in your water.

      Beyond that, it could only be overfeeding or overstocking. It doesn’t sound like your tanks are overstocked at all, so I would try to lower your feeding for a while. A snail or pleco would only add to the problems right now, unless you went with very small snails. Avoid anything like an apple snail until you have the water condition under control.

      Also, what kind of filter are using? I like to use to sponge filters in conjunction with my other filters in my problem tanks. They allow a huge amount of bacteria to grow on them, and they can really help bring problem water conditions under control in a matter of weeks.

      • Laura Lee says

        My 46 has a fluval 206 cannister, the 26 & 20 gallons gallon have fluval C3. Thanks so much for your response. On another note, my 2 koi’s in the 26 just laid eggs like 30 hours ago, some eggs tirned white, but the rest are almost an amber color, they are on the intake tube and the aquarium has a colorful background, so I am just wondering if that colr is normal or is something else causing it?, It appears to me that the male is much more mature than the female, big difference in size. I have been feeding all angles now otwice a day, in a very minimal amount, the parents with the eggs don’t seem to be eating much either…is that also normal? Thanks bunches…Laura :)

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