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.
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. For HOB filter reviews, click here.
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.
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. You can also find a wide variety of fry food at Amazon.com.
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.
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.