Angelfish are both beautiful and fascinating, and if there was one fish people would most associate with the freshwater fishkeeping hobby, it would probably be these fish. Their round bodies and triangular fins are almost instantly recognizable, and their interactive behavior has made them hobbyist favorites around the globe.
And while many fishkeepers are content to keep them in a species only tank, many others want to add tank mates to their angelfish aquarium. But that leads to the question: what fish work well with angelfish?
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. Like people, every fish is different, and what works in one aquarium, may be a nightmare of aggression and nipped fins in another. And aggression isn’t the only concern, since angelfish require a very large aquarium on their own. When additional tank mates are added, truly massive fish tanks may be required.
And something that makes it even more difficult to choose tank mates for angelfish, is that they are predators in the wild, and as a rule, they will eat any fish they can fit in their mouths. Some aquarists have reported success keeping angelfish with smaller fish like neons by raising them from young ages together. But it’s always a risk to keep small fish with angelfish.
The list of tank mates below isn’t definitive, but it should provide a good starting point to choosing the right tank mates for angelfish. Also, always be prepared for the possibility the new additions to the aquarium won’t work. If aggression problems arise, be prepared to return the fish, or at least have another cycled aquarium ready to relocate the new arrivals.
In my opinion, corydoras catfish are by far the best tank mates for angelfish. Not only are these fish attractive, with impressive schooling behaviour, but they are hardy and long-lived. And because they inhabit the bottom of the aquarium – whereas angelfish prefer the middle level – they will almost never interact with angelfish. And because they rarely interact, most aggression and other common problems are avoided.
A close second behind corydoras catfish, Bolivian rams make excellent tank mates for angelfish. They are nearly as attractive as the stunning German rams, while being far hardier and easier to keep. They tend to dwell near the bottom of the tank, and because of this, there are rarely any aggression issues between the two species (except perhaps during mating). Also, their small size allows them to be easily added to most angelfish aquariums, without significantly adding to the bio-load.
German rams are a stunning cichlid, but tend to be on the fragile side. Even in mature, well maintained aquariums, these fish can still be difficult to keep. However, if an aquarist is up for the challenge, they make excellent additions to angelfish aquariums. Like Bolivian rams, they tend to be bottom dwellers, and rarely interact with angelfish. And as an added bonus, a healthy German ram, with full coloration, is among the most attractive fish in the hobby.
Another dwarf cichlid that does well in angelfish aquariums is the kribensis cichlid. Boasting stunning colors, these somewhat timid fish make excellent tank mates for angelfish. They should be kept in groups of at least five, and hiding places – like caves and driftwood overhangs – should be provided. Some aquarists warn they tend to spend much of their time hiding in tanks with adult angelfish, but this is less of a problem when they are raised from juveniles in the same aquarium.
Some people swear by cherry barbs in their angelfish aquariums, but in my experience, they can be hit and miss. While most barbs – like tiger barbs – should be avoided in angelfish tanks, cherry barbs aren’t as prone to nipping when kept in groups of at least six. But if you plan on adding these fish, it’s important to keep a close eye on the aquarium for a few weeks, to ensure they aren’t nipping the angelfish.
Adult kuhli loaches make an excellent addition to an angelfish aquarium. Another bottom dweller, these loaches rarely interact with the angelfish, but their nocturnal nature turns off many fishkeepers, as they are most active after the lights go off at night. Also, it’s important to never add juvenile kuhli loaches to an aquarium with fully grown angelfish. While relatively rare, adult angelfish do occasionally eat juvenile kuhli loaches.
There are few aquariums that won’t benefit from the addition of bristlenose plecos, one of the most hardworking fish in the hobby. Not only are these fish interesting in their own right, but they also tirelessly consume algae from aquarium glass and ornaments. And because they are bottom dwellers, it’s rare to ever experience any issues between angelfish and bristlenose plecos. Any fish tank containing these catfish should have plenty of caves and other hiding places. It’s also important to feed them a sinking herbivore pellet, as algae alone doesn’t provide enough sustenance for these fish, and angelfish will rarely let much food filter down to the bottom of the tank.
These catfish make excellent tank mates for angelfish when they are juveniles, but become less compatible as they mature. Not only do plecos grow to tank busting sizes, but they also switch from a mostly peaceful, algae consuming fish, to an aggressive fish that rarely eats algae and are known to attack wide-body fish. They may still work in angelfish tanks as adults, but for a group of angelfish and a common pleco to coexist peacefully, the aquarium would likely need to be more than 200 gallons. Also, only one common pleco should ever be kept in an aquarium, as they don’t tolerate others of their species. All-in-all, a bristlenose pleco makes a better tank mate in almost all circumstances.
A livebearer and long-time favorite, platies are another good tank mate for angelfish. While these fish prefer hardwater and angelfish prefer soft water, most of the fish available in the hobby now are captive bred and can adapt to a wide range of water types. However, if you have very soft water, you should probably avoid these fish. Another potential issue with these fish is that angelfish are notorious fry hunters. Some aquarists see this as a plus, since they will keep the platy population under control. But many people are upset by the sight of the angelfish consuming baby fish in their aquarium, so it all comes down to personal preference.
Another livebearer that does very will with angelfish is the molly. These fish are very attractive and easy to breed, but are a bit delicate and prone to disease. While it’s always strongly recommended to quarantine fish before adding them to an aquarium, this is doubly true with mollies, since so many seem to be sick in pet stores. But if you can find some healthy and hardy mollies, they tend to coexist very peacefully with angelfish. Like the platies, very few – if any- fry will survive in a fish tank with angelfish.
A somewhat unconventional recommendation, yoyo loaches tend to do very well with angelfish. But because of their size and need to be keep in groups of at least five, they can only be kept with angelfish in very large aquariums. But if the aquarium is large enough, these peaceful, yet active bottom dwellers, are among the best fish you can keep with angelfish.
Tetras are a little bit difficult to recommend, because for every story of someone successfully keeping tetras with angelfish, there are five horror stories. But because tetras are so diverse, there are a few that seem to work better than others. These are: head-and-taillight tetras, emperor tetras, lemon tetras, and glowlight tetras.
If you want to go in a slightly different direction for angelfish tank mates, then snails are an excellent addition to most angelfish aquariums. However, make sure not to add pest snails like pond snails or ramshorn snails. This snail identification guide will help you to identify snails before you add them to an aquarium: Identifying Aquarium Snails.
Nerite Snails – These little snails are among the best algae eaters you can find for an aquarium, and while angelfish are known to harass larger snails, they usually leave nerite snails alone. And as these snails only breed in brackish water, there is no need to worry about a snail population explosion.
Malaysian Trumpet Snails – These snails are the unsung heroes of the aquarium hobby, and for anyone who doesn’t have these snails, I strongly recommend them. They are voracious algae eaters, help to consume any uneaten food at the bottom of the aquarium, and burrow through the substrate to keep it healthy for fish. The only downside to these snails is that they are a little unsightly if their population gets out of control, but most of the time they are hidden buried beneath the substrate.
Fish to Avoid
Certain fish should always be avoided in angelfish aquariums. Either they will be preyed upon, or they are almost guaranteed to cause aggression issues. Below is a list of fish to avoid.
Neon Tetras – Angelfish eat neon tetras and even the adults aren’t large enough to avoid being consumed. Any tank containing both these fish and angelfish will quickly see the population of neon tetras plummet.
Cardinal Tetras – While these fish are larger than neon tetras, the juveniles and adults are sometimes preyed upon by fully grown angelfish. While the adults are usually safe, it’s best to avoid these fish in an angelfish aquarium.
Blackskirt Tetras – On paper, these fish seem like excellent tank mates for angelfish, but perhaps due to their body shape, they are often attacked by angelfish. Angelfish are territorial by nature, and something about blackskirt tetras seems to trigger attacks. Some aquarists state they’ve had success with these fish in angelfish aquariums, but in my opinion, it’s bests to avoid blackskirt tetras.
Harlequin Rasboras – Another small fish, harlequin rasboras often end up as prey to adult angelfish. While they don’t seem to be as heavily preyed upon as neon tetras (perhaps due to body shape), it’s still best not to keep these fish together.
Aggressive Fish – Any aggressive fish shouldn’t be kept as angelfish tank mates, as the will inevitably bully the angelfish. The list of aggressive fish in the hobby is too long to list here, but most large cichlids should be avoided (Jack Dempseys, green terrors, convict cichlids, etc.), any predators (silver arowanas, peacock bass, etc.), most barbs (tiger barbs), bettas, and most ‘sharks’ (rainbow shark).
Shrimp – Shrimp will get eaten by angelfish. There are numerous people who claim to keep shrimp successfully with angelfish, but it’s just a matter of time before the shrimp are consumed. Larger shrimp like bamboo shrimp may work in angelfish tanks, but there is still the risk of the angelfish injuring the shrimp.
Angelfish are an impressive and beautiful fish, and if you’re careful and follow this guide, you can successfully build a community tank with these fish as the centerpiece. Just remember to try and stay away from small fish, fin nippers and overly aggressive fish.