You’ve seen that little angelfish at your local fish store, and it’s adorable. It could be blue, orange, gold or just about any other color variation, and would fit in great in your fish tank. In order to thrive, and for the health of its tank mates, there’s a few key things you need to keep in mind when putting angelfish into your community tank.
Keep reading to find out the basics of successful angelfish keeping!
Angelfish have been a staple of the aquarium hobby for decades, first being catalogued in the early 1900s. Originally from South America, angelfish are members of the cichlid family. There are three key species that are sold in fish stores: Pterophyllum leopoldi, Pterophyllum altum, and Pterophyllum scalare.
Angelfish are easily identifiable by their long, sweeping ventral fins, and their tall dorsal and anal fins. An angelfish with great finnage looks like a beautiful star swimming in the aquarium.
Pterophyllum scalare (also referred to as just ‘scalare’) is the most popular of the angelfish, carried in just about every fish store. Selective breeding has given us almost every color variation imaginable for this variety, with different scale and fin types as well.
Silvers are the most common, with blue, orange, albino and gold variants also available, to name just a few. Regardless of the color or finnage you choose, the care for Pterophyllum scalare is uniform for any of the variants.
Pterophyllum scalare: size and variations
Most freshwater angelfish you find in fish stores are about 3-4 months old, and between the size of a quarter to a silver dollar. While small and adorable, those little fish won’t stay juveniles forever.
Pterophyllum scalare can grow up to 6” long from nose to tail and most of an angelfish’s growth takes place within the first year of their lives. While they look like they’d fit into a 10 gallon (38 liter) tank in the fish store, it’s not a good plan as they grow quickly.
Pterophyllum scalare come in a variety of scale and fin types, including:
- Veiled angelfish – these fish have long, draping tail fins and some extension to their anal and dorsal fins.
- Wide fin angelfish – the dorsal and angel fins have extra rays, and are about 20%-30% wider than standard angelfish fins.
- Paraiba– these angelfish have a metallic or pearlescent sheen on portions of their scales, typically colored.
- Pearlscale – angelfish of this variety have unique ridged scales that catch the light beautifully
Angelfish care: housing
When they are young, Pterophyllum scalare are loosely gregarious fish that rely on numbers to feel safe, but as they age they become more solitary. If you’re thinking about keeping a group of 4-6 angelfish, an 80 gallon (303 liter) long aquarium should be the minimum size to house them.
Freshwater angelfish are native to soft, acidic waters. However, tank-bred Pterophyllum scalare are a hardy fish that will accept a wide variety of water conditions. You can find them comfortably living in water with a pH between 6.0-7.5 in varying degrees of hardness.
Angelfish will live happily in an aquarium with water temperatures between 75-86 °F (~24-30 °C) making them able to handle high water temperatures that would stress most fish. Ideally though, keep the water temperature between under 82 °F (~27.5 °C) in the community aquarium to keep all fish happy.
Angelfish care: feeding
Angelfish are not picky eaters. If it moves and can fit in their mouth, it’s fair game. Angels will happily eat freeze dried, frozen and live food with enthusiasm. In fact, if your angel ever goes on a hunger strike, it’s a good indication that something is wrong with your fish. Brine shrimp, blood worms and tropical flake are great choices to include in your angelfish’s diet to add some variety.
Scalares will feed at any level of the aquarium, always trying to be the first to the food. They’ll also forage along the bottom of the aquarium, carefully looking for any scraps that may have fallen to the gravel between meals.
Young angelfish (less than 6 months) can be fed up to three times daily. Adults only need to be fed up to twice daily unless conditioning for breeding.
Angelfish care: breeding
Pterophyllum scalare can be prolific breeders, and begin maturing around 6-9 months old. Angelfish will pair up with a mate, and you’ll notice that they start to become very territorial, especially toward other angelfish.
Angels like to lay eggs on near-vertical surfaces, and have been known to lay on filter intakes or even aquarium glass when they can’t find a suitable surface. Try to provide your angelfish with a piece of slate rock positioned vertically in the aquarium or a breeding cone. You’ll notice that they’ll gravitate towards it very quickly. Your pair will lay eggs every 7-14 days depending on your water temperature.
Although getting angelfish to breed is very easy, hatching their eggs and raising the fry can be a little more difficult. It can take 48-72 hours for eggs to hatch into fry, and this is directly dependent on the water temperature. As a rule of thumb, at 82 °F (27.5 °C) the eggs will hatch like clockwork at the 48 hour mark.
Angelfish care: tankmates
Young angelfish (less than 6 months) get along with all community fish in freshwater aquariums. They’re inquisitive little fish that like exploring their environment. They should be kept with other peaceful fish and can be mixed with other angelfish as well.
As they age, you’ll notice that angels start to peck at each other, trying to establish a personal space. This eventually turns into them defending part of the aquarium from other angelfish as they get ready to breed. Unless housed in a sufficiently large aquarium aquarium (>4ft/120 cm long), a breeding pair should be removed as they’ll violently attack other angelfish.
Since angelfish do grow to a large size, their tank mates need to be large enough that the aren’t able to be swallowed. For a full-grown Pterophyllum scalare, Otocinclus catfish, neon tetras, cherry shrimp and other small creatures look like a delicious snack. Just remember: if it can fit into an angel’s mouth, it will end up in there eventually. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But definitely when you accidentally miss a feeding and they take matters into their own… fins.
This angelfish caresheet is a guest post by Andrei Vexler, an aquarist with over 20 years in the fish hobby. Having run a fish room with over 700 freshwater and saltwater aquariums, Andrei found his passion in South American cichlids, particularly altum angelfish. Growing and wholesaling angelfish in Canada through www.angelfishcanada.com he shares his years of experience in his blog for advanced aquarists.
If you have any more questions about angelfish care or want to share your own experiences with this spectacular cichlid, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!