Angelfish Care Guide – How to Care for Freshwater Angelfish?
With their graciously flowy fins and distinctively tall bodies, the Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) are a beautiful appearance in any aquarium.
Despite having similar physical traits as the fish you would encounter in the salt waters of the tropics, Angelfish are low-maintenance freshwater fish that I recommend even for beginners.
In this Angelfish care guide, I will cover everything there is to know about the Angelfish, including optimal tank conditions, breeding, preferred tank mates, diet and more.
If you were to look for Angelfish in the wild, you’d find them throughout South-America in the Amazon river, north to Venezuela and the Guianas.
They prefer areas close to the shore of rivers and ponds where plants grow in abundance out of the water.
Because of this preference for living in areas with masses of plants, in captivity, they’ll also enjoy aquariums planted with broad-leafed plants and rock formations.
Their thin bodies allow them to swim far in among the plants, which offers them cover from other fish.
Although Angelfish rarely require any special care, one look at their bodies can hint that these fish don’t do well in small tanks.
As you will learn in this Angelfish care guide, Angelfish have a strong appetite and despite their usually peaceful nature, they can become territorial at times.
Besides their uniquely-shaped bodies, Angelfish also have a distinctive marking – a black vertical band that can appear and disappear based on external circumstances.
This stripe helps them easily blend into their surroundings, and it disappears when they become frightened or at night, when lights are turned off.
Angelfish Tank Conditions
Before I get into the details of how you should set up an Angelfish aquarium, let me start by saying that cramming angelfish into a small tank is a recipe for disaster.
Not only that they’ll be miserable and unhealthy, they’ll also exhibit aggressive behaviors.
In this section about Angelfish, I will discuss the optimal tank size for Angelfish, the water parameters you should create, and the tank mates that Angelfish are compatible with.
When setting up a tank for Angelfish, you’ll have to consider three things:
- The right size for the tank;
- The right substrate;
- The right vegetation.
So, let’s see how the ideal set up should be like.
When housing Angelfish, it’s a good idea to oversize your tank rather than under-size it. A 30-gallon tank is good for housing a few Angelfish, especially if you’re building a community tank.
Because Angelfish are active swimmers, they’re tall and grow larger, they need ample space for swimming.
They also eat a lot, which means you’re going to have to deal with a lot of waste. Therefore, a larger tank and a filter system are a must for this species.
When space is limited, Angelfish become aggressive and territorial, which means trouble for the other fish you’re housing in the tank.
When it comes to the tank filtration system, I recommend going for the canister filter over the hang on back filter. Canister filters are more efficient for freshwater aquariums.
In terms of the tank substrate, I prefer using sand in my aquariums, simply because it looks better. However, if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend going with a gravel substrate instead.
Why? It’s easier to clean and it’s cheaper. Sand requires more upkeep and it can be draining on your wallet.
Even though angelfish are more familiar with sandy bottoms, they’ll do just fine in a gravel tank as well.
Because in the wild Angelfish are accustomed to dense vegetation, adding plants to your tank will make them feel more comfortable.
They also enjoy having enough hiding places, which keeps them stress-free. So, adding driftwood and vertically standing rocks is a great way to make them feel at ease.
Again, if you’re a beginner and you don’t have the skills or the money to add a lighting system to your tank, you can go with artificial plants.
Artificial plants easily mimic natural plants and they don’t require much in the way of maintenance other than the usual cleaning.
Find plants with large leafs and which stand vertically in your tank. These plants will help you recreate the look and feel of the natural habitat of your Angelfish.
You have the tank, you have the substrate and vegetation, it’s time to add the water.
The source of the water that you’re going to add to the tank is crucial – water that has contamination issues can be harmful to your fish, so you have to choose the source carefully.
I recommend using reverse osmosis water if you have a reverse osmosis water filter system installed in your home. If not, you can buy aquarium water from a pet store. This will ensure that the water is contaminant-free.
The cheapest would probably be to use regular tap water, however, you cannot use tap water ‘as is’ for your tank.
You’ll need to dechlorinate the water and the best way to do it is to use a water conditioner like Natural Rapport.
You should only use chlorine-free water for your freshwater aquarium, otherwise you risk burning the gills of your Angelfish and even killing your fish.
Next, you’ll need an aquarium testing kit that you can use to test water parameters like ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, temperature and water ph.
Before you can add the fish to the tank, you must perform a fishless nitrogen cycle to create a colony of bacteria and a stable water chemistry that your fish can thrive in.
Below, you can read a quick guide to doing a fishless cycle.
The Nitrogen Cycle – A Quick Guide
Adding your fish to a tank that hasn’t been cycled will create a toxic environment for your fish and will eventually kill them off.
The nitrogen cycle is a way to colonize the tank with beneficial bacteria that can neutralize toxins resulting from the waste your fish generate, and the toxins released into the tank because of decaying leftover food.
The nitrogen cycle goes through the following stages: ammonia → nitrite → nitrate.
Fish waste releases ammonia into the tank, which is toxic and lethal to your fish (just think about it – your fish are swimming in their own poop, it’s not healthy!).
However, as ammonia levels in your tank peak, bacteria that can feed on ammonia start to appear and transform that ammonia into nitrites. Now, nitrites are less toxic than ammonia, but they’re still toxic.
As ammonia-eating bacteria keep transforming ammonia into nitrite, levels of nitrite in the tank keep going up until another bacteria – this time the nitrite-eating bacteria – develop.
These bacteria turn nitrite into nitrate, which in normal levels is harmless for your fish.
This whole process can take as many as 6 weeks to finalize, so you’ll need to be patient.
You’ll also need to perform regular water changes to keep nitrate levels under check.
As for the ways to kick-start the nitrogen cycle, there are two schools of thought. One way to do it is to do a fishless cycle, the other is to start the cycle with a few hardy fish.
The fishless cycle is the more humane method as there’s no risk involved for your fish because you won’t be adding them until the cycle is complete.
How to Do a Fishless Cycle?
In a nutshell, here are the steps to do a fishless cycle:
- Setting up the tank (adding the water, substrate, plants, etc. just as I described it above);
- Adding small amounts of fish food daily to kick-start the ammonia in the tank;
- Measuring daily for ammonia levels while continuing to add small amounts of fish flake for 2-3 weeks;
- After a while, you’ll notice ammonia levels spike as beneficial bacteria develops;
- You can start testing for nitrites and continue adding flakes to the tank;
- After another 2-3 weeks, nitrite levels will fall, and you’ll be able to test nitrates in your tank;
- Test for nitrites and ammonia, if levels are zero, jackpot! Your cycle is complete.
- Start adding the fish one by one, waiting a few days between each new fish.
- Perform weekly 10-15% water changes to keep nitrate levels under check.
Of course, you’ll also need to check your water for other parameters before adding the fish.
Angelfish like water in the 76-82°F temperature range and water pH in the 6.5-7.5 range. Hardness should be in the 5°-13° dH range.
I also recommend that you hold off a bit on adding your angelfish and “test the waters” by adding some hardy fish to the tank first like mollies or guppies.
Monitor them for a few days and if you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary and water parameters are in the recommended value, you have the green light to add your angelfish.
You may think that after you’ve completed the nitrogen cycle, your job in maintaining a healthy environment for your fish is over.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it isn’t over. Proper tank maintenance is an integral part of keeping fish.
Here are the tank maintenance measures you must take while keeping Angelfish:
- Perform 10-20% water changes every other week;
- Add only dechlorinated water!
- Scrub the glass of the tank to remove algae build-up or dirt;
- Siphon the gravel or sand to remove any leftover food and any settled waste;
- Clean your filter with existing tank water by splashing it around in a separate bucket with water from the tank.
What you should never do is:
- Use chlorinated water (regular tap water) for water changes or to clean the filter;
- Change the filter every time you clean the tank (you will remove healthy bacteria and throw off the chemical balance in the tank, which will shock your fish);
- Forget to monitor the levels of ammonia, nitrite or nitrates in the tank;
- Go months without cleaning your tank.
If you forget to clean your tank one month it’s not the end of the world, especially if the water chemistry is stable.
However, going months on end without cleaning will seriously affect the health of your fish and even kill them
On the other hand, using tap water to clean the filter or clean decorations is another bad idea since you’ll kill of healthy bacterial colonies that you worked so hard to establish during the nitrogen cycle.
Keeping an aquarium with fish is not such an easy-going hobby as many would hope. If you’re not up for the task of regularly checking on and doing maintenance, then fishkeeping might not be the hobby for you.
Compatible Tank Mates
You can’t add fish to your tank willy-nilly. Like with people, some fish just simply don’t get along with each other!
And because Angelfish can become territorial and aggressive towards other species, here are the best tank mates you could choose for Angelfish:
- Corydora Catfish
- Bristlenose Plecos
- Keyhole Cichlids
- Kuhli Loach
Fish you should absolutely avoid housing with Angelfish:
- Betta Fish
As a rule, avoid housing Angelfish with other territorial or aggressive fish, or fish that like to nip at the fins of Angelfish like Barbs and some Tetra species.
Always check the compatibility between Angelfish and the fish you’re planning on adding to your tank and monitor tank dynamics to prevent any issues between your fish.
I like to start out any fish diet recommendation by telling you to avoid a mistake that many beginner fish keepers make, and that is overfeeding their fish.
It’s bad for the fish and it’s bad for the tank environment. Too much food in the tank creates excess waste that’s difficult to remove, creating an environment in which toxins and diseases thrive.
Very often algae blooms within the tank are also a result of excess waste produced either by the fish or by decaying leftover food.
That being said, Angelfish are hearty eaters that look forward to their mealtime.
Because of this, if you’re housing bottom dweller fish with Angelfish, make sure your fish at the bottom get enough food by feeding them foods that sink to the bottom of the tank.
You should feed your Angelfish 3-4 times a day with a small amount of food they can eat in about 60 seconds.
To make sure they’re healthy and strong, ensure them a varied diet that consists of flake foods and meaty frozen foods (brine shrimp, bloodworms), and live brine shrimp.
A moderate and healthy diet will go a long way in keeping your Angelfish healthy throughout their lives.
Now that you know how to ensure a great environment for your fish and you know how to keep them healthy, let’s see how you can breed them.
Providing a healthy diet to your Angelfish and allowing them to choose their own mate will make it very easy for you to breed Angelfish.
What’s difficult, however, is reliably determining the sex of the Angelfish, which is another reason why you should let them choose a mate.
The only remarkable difference between a male and female Angelfish is the swollen abdomen of the female when her eggs reach maturity.
When it’s breeding time, the female develops a short spawning tube and lays her eggs on the spawning site, which could be a leaf or a slate that has been previously cleaned by both the male and the female.
After the female lays her eggs row by row, the male fertilizes them. Both the male and female care for the eggs by removing any dirt or rotten egg to prevent any damage to the other eggs.
In a matter of two days, the juveniles appear. They’re attached to the spawning site by a sticky thread that extends from the juvenile’s head.
Juveniles are kept together by their parents until they can swim freely, and you’ll notice a herding behavior as they move them from place to place in search for food.
Angelfish are devoted parents that raise the brood together until they’re strong enough to be on their own.
But that’s not always the case. Under stressful tank conditions, some Angelfish will eat the eggs and the juveniles.
This has determined some aquarists that breed Angelfish for commercial purposes to take a different approach to breeding.
What some breeders will do is remove the spawning slate or leaf and put it in a tank or gallon jar with water from the spawning tank.
They then place an air stone with a gentle stream of bubbles to make up for the cleaning and fanning that the parents.
However, this method exposes the eggs to fungal infections, which is why a few drops fungicide is also added to the water.
This artificial method has many points of failure, so I recommend leaving the eggs with the parents as they’re the best at taking care of them.
If it does happen that Angelfish become startled and eat the eggs, don’t worry about it too much, in 19 to 21 days they’ll start the breeding process all over again.
FAQs About Angelfish
Here are some FAQs about angelfish that you should also know about:
Why are my Angelfish laying at the bottom of the tank at night?
At night, or when lights in the aquarium are off, Angelfish lose their color and retreat to the bottom of the tank where they lay motionless. Don’t panic, they’re just resting — or sleeping, if you will.
Do Angelfish in the Fish Store Come from the Wild?
It’s unlikely. For starters, Angelfish straight from the wild are less impressive than those obtained from selective breeding. They’re also much more expensive.
Plus, they don’t do well in captivity. Most likely, Angelfish from your pet store are sourced from fish farms.
Will my Angelfish Eat My Smaller Fish?
Yes, they will. Anything that can fit in their mouths, they will probably turn into food. So, don’t add White Cloud fish or Zebra Danios, or even small guppies to a tank with Angelfish.
You may have some luck introducing guppies to the tank while your Angelfish are still small and young, because they’re more likely to view them as tankmates if they grow up alongside them.
Can Angelfish Live in Saltwater?
No, Angelfish live only in freshwater. The saltwater fish you’re thinking about as Angelfish, are not actually Angelfish, not in name or species.
Some saltwater fish species are nicknamed Angelfish, but they’re not the same with this freshwater fish.
How Long Can Angelfish Live?
With proper tank conditions and a healthy diet, Angelfish can live as many as 10 or 12 years.
How Soon Will Angelfish Breed?
Under ideal conditions, Angelfish can be ready for breeding as soon as 5 ½ months. Adequate space and great care are crucial.
How Many Eggs Does the Female Angelfish Lay at a Time?
Factors like temperature, feeding, water changes, etc. affect the number of eggs that are laid.
That being said, females that are kept in proper conditions and come from a healthy line of Angelfish can lay about 400-500 eggs, but it can be much less if tank conditions and feeding requirements are not met.
Why Should I Use Dark Colored Gravel in My Angelfish Tank?
Dark colored gravel makes Angelfish feel more secure and more comfortable. This will help them develop their colors much better, plus a dark tank bottom just looks better.
Angelfish are represented in almost any freshwater community tank. They’re not difficult to care for, they have a healthy appetite and are sociable creatures.
Still, when Angelfish reach maturity they do develop some aggressive traits that you must watch out for when housing them with fish that are more timid.
Despite their territorial behavior, you shouldn’t house Angelfish with fish that are more aggressive than them.
I hope my Angelfish care guide helped you in knowing this fish species a lot better and that it will help you in raising and breeding healthy and strong fish.