Keeping and Breeding Angelfish – Ultimate Care Guide

There can be few fish in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby that is as instantly recognizable as the freshwater Angelfish. These stunning fish have graced our aquariums for over 50 years.

Eating Daphnia
Eating Daphnia

Angelfish have the amazing ability to look fantastic as a single specimen or as a large group. In fact, Angelfish look superb whatever setup they find themselves in.

I have been keeping and breeding Angelfish for over 30 years, and I have to say, they never fail to fascinate me. They come in a broad range of colors and are the perfect fish for more experienced hobbyists to try to breed.

Overview of the Freshwater Angelfish

Angelfish originate from large parts of the Amazon basin and they can be found in Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, and Suriname amongst other places. Angelfish are tall, thin fish that are famous for their long, flowing fins.

The common Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) has a body length of up to 6 inches (15 cm) and can grow up to 8″ (20cm) tall. The less seldom seen Altum Angelfish ( Pterophyllum altum) can grow up to 7 inches (18 cm) long and 10-13 inches (25-33 cm) high.

Angelfish are known to be moderately aggressive, but this aggression is rarely a problem, providing the tank is set up correctly and tankmates are chosen wisely.

Angelfish Characteristics

Common Name:Angelfish
Scientific Name:Pterophyllum scalare, Pterophyllum leopoldi, and Pterophyllum altum
Family:Cichlidae
Origin:Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname
Tank Distribution:Mid-water
Adult Size:6″ (15cm) to 13″ (33cm) dependant which species
Life Expectancy:7 to 10 years
Care Level:Beginner
Minimum Tank Size:55 Gallons (210 liters)
Breeding Method:Egg layer
Temperature:78°F-86°F (25°C-30°C)
pH:6.0 – 8.0
Hardness:0-15 dH

Different Angelfish Species

There are essentially three different Angelfish species in the hobby at the moment. They are Pterophyllum scalare, Pterophyllum altum, and Pterophyllum leopoldi.

Pterophyllum scalare is the most commonly sold and owned Angelfish. For the vast majority of us, this is the Angelfish we will have in our aquariums. These Angelfish are almost always captive bred and they are hardy, adaptable, and come in a variety of colors.

Pterophyllum altum, which is often referred to as an Altum Angelfish, is larger than the P. scalare and, although they are less common than regular Angelfish, they are available in many local fish stores. You should expect to pay a little more for Altum Angelfish.

Altum Angelfish have developed something of a cult following in recent years. They are seen by many as a step up from regular Angelfish. In reality, there is little difference in their main care requirements.

Pterophyllum leopoldi is the rarest species of Angelfish to find in a fish store. This Angelfish is sometimes called the Long-Nosed Angelfish and comes from a much smaller range, only being found in a few parts of the Amazon River.

Note: For the most part in this article I will refer to all 3 fish under the name Angelfish. Where there are material differences I will try to highlight them separately.

Angelfish Origins

Angelfish Origin Map

Angelfish Habitat

Angelfish live in a wide number of rivers, streams, and tributaries across a vast area of northern South America.

The Angelfish’s natural habitat includes slower flowing rivers and streams as well as flooded sections of the forest. They have evolved living in areas that are densely planted and where the water has lots of sticks, roots, and pieces of wood.

How Large Do Angelfish Get?

Angelfish grow anywhere from 6″ (15cm) to 13″ (33cm) depending on which species. For most of us, our Angelfish will max out at around the 6″ (15cm) mark.

Unusually for freshwater fish, Angelfish are almost as tall as they are long, and when you include their long, trailing pelvic fins, even taller. As such, to get the best out of an Angelfish, they should be housed in a tank that is at least 16″ (40cm) tall.



Housing Angelfish

Angelfish Tank Size

The tank size required for Angelfish largely depends on how many Angelfish you plan to keep.

For a group of 3 or 4 Angelfish being kept in a community-style tank with other fish, a 30-gallon (114 liters) tank would be the minimum size you would want to consider. If however, you wanted 6 or more Angelfish in a community setup, a 55-gallon (208 liters) tank would be better.

As mentioned above, tank height is also important as we don’t want the Angelfish’s trailing fins to be rubbing on the substrate whilst the Angelfish is swimming around. I would recommend a tank which is at least 16″ (40cm) high.

Whatever tank size you go for, be prepared for two or more Angelfish to pair off and breed. Spawning Angelfish can become aggressive and territorial, so have a plan B (such as a second tank) in case you develop a spawning pair.

Substrate in an Angelfish Tank

Angelfish themselves don’t really care what substrate you use in their aquariums. You can keep them on gravel, sand, or even in bare bottom tanks.

Personally, I like to use Fluval Stratum. Fluval Stratum is made from volcanic soil and is extremely beneficial to live plants, and Angelfish look amazing when kept with live aquarium plants.

Decorations in an Angelfish Tank

To my mind, Angelfish look best when kept in a natural-looking aquarium as possible. In my own Angelfish tanks, I have lots of rocks, roots, and aquarium-safe wood. I also use lots of live plants.

In my experience, the best live plants for an Angelfish tank are;

No matter which plants you choose, your Angelfish will really pop against the bright green coloration of the plants.

If live plants aren’t for you, there are some excellent fake plants available these days. I use these ones from Amazon in a number of my tanks, and although they look fake at first, once they grow algae on them, they look amazing.

Lighting an Angelfish Tank

Angelfish do not require any special lighting. In fact, many professional breeders keep their Angelfish in tanks without any lights at all.

In my display tanks with Angelfish in them, I like to use Fluval Aquasky lights as they grow plants and really make the colors on the fish stand out.

Filtering an Angelfish Tank

Filtering an Angelfish tank is a fairly straightforward affair. Whether you want to use a sponge filter, hang-on-back filter, or a canister filter, just make sure the water is sufficiently filtered to keep the nitrate levels down.

I like to use these hang-on-back filters that I ordered from Amazon. They don’t have so much flow they blow the Angelfish around the tank, but they are certainly powerful enough to keep my tanks clean and my fish healthy.


https://youtu.be/q-U3bhI9j-Y

What do Angelfish Eat?

Angelfish are omnivores, and as such, they need a diet that is based around both meat and vegetable matter.

Angelfish are relatively easy to feed as they will take almost any commercially available fish food. However, they like to eat mid-water column, so food that sinks slowly through the water gives them the best chance to eat it.

Some of the foods I have had great success feeding to my Angelfish include;

  • Tetra Tropical Flakes
  • Fluval Bug Bites
  • Hikari Vibra Bites
  • Bloodworms
  • Daphnia
  • Mosquito Larvae
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Krill Flakes

I like to feed my Angelfish a mix of several different foods. It will usually feed them pellet food in the morning, flake food late afternoon, and some live or frozen food in the evening.

How often should you feed Angelfish?

Feeding any fish 3 or 4 small meals a day is better than feeding them 1 small meal, and feeding Angelfish is no different.

I try to feed my Angelfish at least 3 times a day and often I give them a fourth feeding. By feeding them little and often you give yourself a number of benefits.

Firstly, less food gets past the fish and sits in the plants or behind decorations rotting.

Secondly, studies have shown it is better for your fish to eat a little food, then digest it, then eat more later in the day. They will grow faster and be healthier by eating little and often.

Finally, the more often we feed our fish, the more time we spend interacting with them and the tank, and every interaction allow us to spot anything that might be wrong in the aquarium and rectify the problem.


https://youtu.be/Z10u4oMZrfM

How to Breed Angelfish?

Angelfish are a fantastic fish for those are have perhaps bred some easier-to-breed fish like guppies or mollies and now want to move up to the next level.

How to sex Angelfish

Angelfish are not immediately sexually dimorphic, which means there are no easy-to-spot discernable differences between males and females. With experience, it does become possible to say with a degree of accuracy which fish are males and which are females, but it is not always possible to tell.

Some sources say the males develop a slightly more pronounced forehead (sometimes referred to as a nuchal hump) and others say females are slightly more rounded in the body.

In my experience, the only way to tell males from females is to watch a pair spawn and see which fish lays the eggs and which one comes along behind her fertilizing them.

How do Angelfish spawn?

Angelfish are egg layers and, like many other members of the Cichlid family, they make excellent parents.

Male and female Angelfish form very strong pairs. It is not uncommon for a pair in a tank with other Angelfish to bond and stay together without showing any interest in other Angelfish in the aquarium.

The downside to this pair-bonding is you can’t just chuck a male and a female Angelfish into a tank and expect them to spawn.

The first signs a pair of Angelfish are going to spawn is often the two fish meticulously cleaning the surface they have decided to lay the eggs on. Angelfish always lay their eggs on a verticle surface.

Many professional breeders use a dedicated breeding cone (like this one), or a piece of slate leaning up against the side of the aquarium. Often the Angelfish themselves will decide where to spawn, and they may choose the side of the tank, a filter pipe, or a broad plant leaf.

Once the site has been selected and cleaned, the female Angelfish will swim in verticle lines up the spawning site, depositing a line of eggs as she goes. After each line the male will follow behind her, fertilizing each egg.

This process will continue until 100 to 400 eggs have been laid and fertilized.

Angelfish Laying Eggs

As mentioned above, Angelfish make great parents. However, it sometimes takes them a few spawns to get the process right. It is not uncommon for Angelfish to eat their own eggs the first few spawns.

Give the Angelfish a few tries, they usually get the hang of it by attempt 3 or 4.

The Angelfish eggs usually hatch after a couple of days. Afterwhich they go through a wriggler stage whereby they aren’t fully developed fish, rather small dots with tails that wriggle continuously.

During this stage, the parents will often move the wrigglers around the tank by picking them up in their mouths and putting them somewhere else in the tank.

After 6 or 7 days the baby Angelfish have consumed everything in their eggs sacks and they become free swimming fish. The parents will stand guard over the developing young, trying their best to keep them in clump between the two adult Angelfish.

Angelfish will continue looking after their offspring for 6 or 7 weeks, after which time they will be ready to spawn again and the existing babies will need to move to their own dedicated grow-out tank.



What do baby Angelfish eat?

For the first few days, the baby Angelfish will consume the goodness in their egg sacks. After that, they will need to be fed good quality foods.

In my experience, newly hatched baby brine shrimp are the best food for baby Angelfish. Although it is a bit of a hassle having to hatch the brine shrimp every day in a hatchery, the growth rate of the baby Angelfish makes up for that.

After a couple of weeks, the baby Angelfish will need to transition to either crushed-up flake food or a dedicated fry food such as First Bites by Hikari.

For me, there are two major joys to breeding Angelfish. Firstly, they are great fish to breed for profit, and secondly, you can create some wonderful color combinations by breeding two Angelfish of different colors.



Angelfish Color Variations

Over the years, breeders have selectively bred Angelfish to give us the wonderful selection of colors we have available in the hobby today.

Some colors are seen more often than others, but with a bit of searching, you can probably find each of the fish below.

  • Zebra Angelfish
  • Black Angelfish
  • Marble Angelfish
  • Koi Angelfish
  • Super Red Angelfish
  • Leopard Angelfish
  • Black Lace Angelfish
  • Blushing Angelfish
  • Albino Angelfish
  • Smoky Angelfish
  • Ghost Angelfish
  • Golden Angelfish
  • Platinum Angelfish
  • Clown Angelfish

Zebra Angelfish

Zebra Angelfish are probably the most commonly seen Angelfish. They are ubiquitous in the hobby and most local fish stores will have Zebra Angelfish in stock. Zebra Angelfish typically have a silver body with black stripes running horizontally down their fins and bodies

Zebra Angelfish

Black Angelfish

Black Angelfish are another color morph that is often seen in local fish stores. Black Angelfish contrast beautifully with a fully planted aquarium and their color really pops when keep with lighter colored Angelfish.

Black Angelfish

Marble Angelfish

Marble Angelfish are the result of crossing Zebra Angelfish with Black Angelfish. Marble is a color strain we can create at home by crossing breeding a Zebra with a Black Angelfish. Marble Angelfish usually have a silver body with black markings. Occasionally, Marble Angelfish will also have a little gold or red coloration.

The amount of black coloration can vary from Angelfish to Angelfish.

Marble Angelfish

Koi Angelfish

Koi Angelfish have become really popular in recent years. Koi Angelfish are essentially lightly patterned Marble Angelfish with red or orange color, usually around the head area. Koi Angelfish can have little to no black coloration on their bodies.

Koi Angelfish

Super Red Angelfish

Super Red Angelfish are essentially Koi Angelfish that have an abundance of red color on them. Super Red Angelfish have been selectively bred to be redder and redder. The Holy Grail for breeders is an angelfish that is totally red.

Super Red Angelfish

Leopard Angelfish

Leopard Angelfish, as their name suggests, have a mottled pattern across their bodies, often a dark grey color on a white body. Leopard Angelfish are not seen in stores as often as they once were.

Leopard Angelfish

Black Lace Angelfish

The Black Lace Angelfish are formed when a Zebra or Silver Angelfish has an additional black gene. This strain was first developed in the 1950s by hobbyists in the US.

Black Lace Angelfish

Blushing Angelfish

Blushing Angelfish lack color pigmentation on their gill covers, giving the appearance they are blushing. Blushing Angelfish are usually white to silver in color. Other color forms lack pigmentation on the gill covers too, but it is not as noticeable. Blushing Angelfish don’t have any other colors or stripes on their bodies.

Blushing Angelfish

Albino Angelfish

Albino Angelfish are an all-white color form that has red eyes. Albino Angelfish lack any color pigmentation anywhere in their bodies.

Albino Angelfish

Smokey Angelfish

Smokey Angelfish have a light or white color head and front half of their bodies, transitioning to a dark grey color across the back half of their body to their tail.

Smokey Angelfish

Ghost Angelfish

Ghost Angelfish are usually completely uniform silver in color and don’t have any verticle stripes. Ghost Angelfish lack dark pigmentation. They may have some yellow or blue coloration in the dorsal fin.

Silver Angelfish

Golden Angelfish

Golden Angelfish look very similar to Ghost Angelfish, except they have gold color either just across the head or extending from the head across the back and dorsal fin.

Golden Angelfish

Platinum Angelfish

Platinum Angelfish are silver in color but unlike Silver Angelfish, their scales have a definite metallic shine to them when the light catches the Angelfish swimming around the tank.

Platinum Angelfish

Clown Angelfish

Clown Angelfish are one of my favorite color morphs of Angelfish. These beautiful fish have a silver to white body with black spots or patches across them. The Clown Angelfish pattern is completely random and no two Clown Angelfish will share the same pattern.

Clown Angelfish

Angelfish Tankmates

For decades Angelfish have been a staple of the community aquarium and they look spectacular in a tank with other fish. Angelfish are however mildly aggressive and so tank mates should be chosen carefully.

I have had great success keeping Angelfish with the species listed below.

  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Neon Tetras
  • Lemon Tetras
  • Cardinal Tetras
  • Congo Tetras
  • Bristlenose Plecos
  • Guppies
  • Black Mollies
  • Zebra Danios
  • Kribensis
  • Harlequin Rasboras

When choosing tank mates for Angelfish, there are a number of different qualities to consider.

Angelfish tanks mates should not be too small. A full-grown Angelfish has a large mouth and will easily swallow a small fish like an Ember Tetra.

Tank mates should also not be overly nippy as Angelfish have long-flowing fins. Tiger Barbs for instance are well known for nipping at fins and they will certainly go for the trailing pelvic fins of the Angelfish.

Finally, potential tank mates should not be too aggressive. Oscars for instance will dominate an Agnelfish as would other large South American Cichlids.



Common Angelfish Diseases

Angelfish are not really more or less prone to pests and diseases than other aquarium fish.

With that said, there are a number of problems Angelfish keepers need to be aware of and know how to treat if they show symptoms.

The most common pests and diseases Angelfish may suffer from include;

  • Ich (Whitespot)
  • Fin Rot
  • Dropsy
  • Gill Flukes
  • Internal Tapeworms
  • Anchor Worms
  • Mouth Fungus
  • Camallanus Red Worms

Ich (Whitespot)

Ich is probably the most prevalent disease in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby. Ich affects almost every single species of fish.

Ich presents itself as small white spots, which initially start on the fins or tail, but slowly spread across the rest of the Angelfish’s body if left untreated.

The spots aren’t actually spots, rather they are cists caused when the Ich parasite burrows under the Angelfish scales. The parasite will suck the Angelfish’s blood until it is ready to drop off, after which it sinks to the bottom of the aquarium where it stays for a few days, during which time it mulitplys before going off looking for another fish.

Ich is easily treated, providing treatment is prompt and the right products are used. I have had great success with Ich-X which is made by Hikari. Ich-X is safe for use on almost every fish and it doesn’t affect shrimps or snails.

The video below discusses treating Ich using Ich-X



Fin Rot

Fin rot is caused when a bacterial infection takes hold after the Angelfish’s fins have been damaged, usually as a result of fin nipping by another fish.

The symptoms of fin rot in Angelfish are torn, raggedy fins which may be red or inflamed.

Typically, bacterial infections are caused by poor water quality in the Angelfish aquarium. Other causes of bacterial infections leading to fin rot are overcrowding, low water temperatures, and poor handling during transportation.

If treated quickly, fin rot can be cured without lasting damage to the Angelfish. I have found Maracyn, which is made by Fritz to be the best cure for bacterial infections. If you are in Europe, eSHa 2000 is a great product to try.

Dropsy

Dropsy can affect any fish, and in my experience, Angelfish are no more or less susceptible to Dropsy.

Dropsy is the build-up of fluids in the body of the Angelfish and is usually caused by kidney failure. Angelfish suffering from Dropsy will typically show one or more of the following symptoms;

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Scales sticking out across the whole body
  • Rapid gill movements
  • Loss of appetite

If caught early enough, the symptoms of Dropsy can sometimes be overcome by placing the Angelfish in a container of water with Epsom salts (1/4 tsp Epsom salts to 5 gallons aquarium water) mixed in.



Gill Flukes

Gill flukes are tiny parasites that attach themselves to the Angelfish’s gills (in fact gill flukes are just as likely to be found on the Angelfish’s body too). Gill flukes can be present in our aquariums for many years without us even noticing. They only become a problem when numbers swell to an unacceptable level.

Because gill flukes are microscopic, the fist sign an Angelfish has them is usually when their gills become inflamed or the Angelfish are struggling to breathe.

The main symptoms of gill flukes are;

  • Red or inflamed gills
  • Struggling to breathe/rapid gill movements
  • Gasping at the surface
  • Rubbing body against rocks and decorations
  • Excess skin mucus production

Gill flukes, like so many parasites, take advantage of fish that are stressed or otherwise unwell. Keeping our fish stress-free and our aquarium water clean can reduce the chances of gill flukes becoming a problem.

To treat gill flukes in Angelfish I would recommend using either Paracleanse which is made by Fritz (see the current price of Paracleanse on Amazon) or, if you are based in Europe, I would recommend using eSHa G-dex (check the current price of G-dex on Amazon).

Internal Tapeworms

Internal tapeworms are small, parasitic worms that live inside the digestive system of fish. These tapeworms consume much of the goodness from the Angelfish’s food before the Angelfish can.

Angelfish infected with tapeworms can starve to death even though they eat every day.

Typically Angelfish ingest tapeworm eggs when they are either at the wholesalers or fish store. Tapeworms can quickly spread through an aquarium, infecting every fish in the tank.

To prevent tapeworms from entering my aquariums I always quarantine new fish for at least a week before adding them to my tanks.

Typically when an Angelfish has tapeworms they will become skinnier over time, even though they are observed eating. Heavily infested Angelfish may have a sunken-in appearance.

Treating for Tapeworms can be tricky. I have had great success using Paracleanse which is made by Fritz (see the current price of Paracleanse on Amazon) or, if you are based in Europe, I would recommend using eSHa G-dex (check the current price of G-dex on Amazon).



Anchor Worms

Anchor Worms, which are actually crustaceans rather than worms, are macroscopic (meaning small, but can be seen by the naked eye).

Anchor worms are typically introduced into our aquariums when we add new fish that are carrying Anchor worms on their bodies.

Treating a fish for Anchor worms is extremely tricky. Medications available will kill the Anchor worms that are in the juvenile stages but will have little to no effect on the mature adults.

If you suspect your Angelfish have Anchor worms I strongly suggest you contact a veterinarian that specializes in tropical fish.

Mouth Fungus

Angelfish can occasionally suffer from a mouth infection which results in cotton wool-like fungus growing around the fish’s mouth. These opportunistic bacteria take advantage of minor wounds on a fish, especially around the mouth area.

Fish that are stressed or have an otherwise compromised immune system can be easily overcome by this bacteria.

Left untreated, this bacteria can eat away at the fish’s mouth, eventually resulting in the death of the fish.

Treatment for mouth fungus is relatively easy if started when the fungus is in its early stages. Maracyn by Fritz has been very effective for me in the past, and I know of fishkeepers in Europe who have found eSHa 2000 to work quickly.

Camallanus Red Worms

Camallanus Red Worms are small worms that can quickly spread through an aquarium. Although they are more prevalent in fish that eat from the substrate (such as guppies), almost any species of fish can suffer from them.

The main symptom of Camallanus Red Worms are small, red worms protruding from the anus of the Angelfish.

Treatment for Camallanus Red Worms can be tricky. I have used Expel-P, which is made by Fritz, in the past and it proved very effective against Cammallanus Red Worms.



Frequently Asked Angelfish Questions

How many angelfish should be kept together?

Angelfish are happy being kept as a single specimen in an aquarium, or in groups of 3 or more. The exact number that can be kept together largely depends on the size of the aquarium. A 30-gallon aquarium can house 3 Angelfish whereas a 55-gallon can house 6 Angelfish.

In my experience, keeping just two Angelfish together (unless they are a bonded pair) is a bad idea as it can lead to one fish bullying the other, especially if they are both males.

Are Angelfish aggressive?

Angelfish can be aggressive, although they would only be considered mildly aggressive. A large Angelfish can easily bully and may even eat very small fish, but generally, if the tank is set up correctly and stocking levels are not excessive, Angelfish work well in a community aquarium with other fish.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

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