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Angelfish are one of the most commonly kept freshwater aquarium fish, as well as the most popular cichlid. The fish are prized for their unique shape, colors, and behavior.
There are three known species, with the most common being Pterophyllum scalare, which is more synonymous with the names angelfish and freshwater angelfish than the other two.
All species are native to South America, mostly occupying water bodies inside Columbia, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, and Brazil. They dwell within the Amazon and Orinoco basin, as well as the Guyana shield ecosystem.
In a home aquarium, freshwater angelfish should be maintained in a clean and large tank, with an adequate filtration system. However, avoid excess water current, either from power filters or air pumps, because these fishes are not agile swimmers.
Angelfish also thrive best in higher aquarium that can support their body shape, and well planted around the sides and back to mimic their wild habitat.
Sagittaria, Vallisneria, Amazon sword plant, and driftwood are all classics of an angelfish aquarium.
The minimum size tank for these fish is at-the-very-least 20-gallons, with the ideal water temperature being anywhere from 76°F to 82°F and a ph range between 6.5 and 7.5. The fishes prefer soft to moderately-hard water ranging from 5 to 13dGH.
Angels are largely peaceful and make good community fish, though they have specific requirements. For this reason, some of their best tank mates are other species native to South America including tetras, cory catfish, and equally sized, peaceful fish like gouramis,danios, loaches, and rasboras.
Angelfish can stand a couple of cichlids, but overall, most spell trouble, especially in smaller aquariums, so it’s best you avoid such pairings.
Read on to find out how to care for your freshwater angelfish and a lot more including Lifespan, size, tank size, types, breeding, food, and diet.
Freshwater Angelfish Overview
Pterophyllum is a small group of freshwater fish from the cichlids family and a lower classification of the larger angelfish group that includes marine angelfish species.
(As I had mentioned before) They are endemic to the Amazon Basin, Orinoco Basin and various rivers in the Guiana shield in tropical South America.
In the natural habitat, freshwater angelfish are almost always found in quiet, slow-moving water. The fish prefer dimly lit area under overhanging vegetation or among trees that have fallen in the water.
All three common Pterophyllum (Angelfish) species are unusually shaped for cichlids being laterally compressed, with round bodies and elongated, triangular dorsal and anal fins. This body shape allows angelfish to hide among roots and plants in the wild, and it’s also part of the reason they are so popular with aquarium fish keepers.
That said, freshwater angelfish come in a variety of colors, and some can reach up to 6 inches, while others are fairly small.
For instance, Leopold’s angelfish (Pterophyllum leopoldi) is arguably the smallest freshwater angelfish, and only reach an average length of 2 inches.
Usually, angelfish fish have an average lifespan of between 5 to 8 years, but with proper care, they can live for up to 10 years, sometimes more.
They are all around good fish to keep in a home aquarium as they are fairly peaceful. Plus once you set up the right environment, caring for angelfish should be pretty easy.
Freshwater Angelfish Types
Mostly, freshwater angelfish refers to the species Pterophyllum scalare because it is the most popular and widely available species in the aquarium trade.
However, it’s not uncommon to find the other two Pterophyllum species, that is Altum angelfish and Leopold’s angelfish.
The teardrop angelfish (Leopold’s angelfish) is native to the Amazon river basin, Essequibo, and Rupununi rivers, while the altum occurs strictly in the Orinoco river basin and upper Rio negro water shield in Southern Venezuela.
That said, while most freshwater angelfish sold as aquarium pets are usually varieties of P. scalare, they can be somewhat confusing to identify as these species cross-breed easily.
Granted, for home aquarium pets, angelfish are more commonly identified by their attributes such as color, stripping, marbling (orange or black), and blushing, as opposed to their genetic structure.
The most popular types include:
#1 — Marble Angelfish
This freshwater angelfish variety is characterized by a marbled body, that comes in different color variations, though the marbling itself is usually black.
Marble angelfish are one of the more resilient types and are usually able to adapt to changes such as temperature in the fish tank.
Common colors in marble angelfish include black, white, and yellow. They mostly have a veil-shaped tail fin.
#2 — Zebra Angelfish
This angelfish is so named for the distinctive, vertical strippings that run the full length of its body, akin to those of a zebra, over a delicate, blue coloring underneath.
Usually, zebra angelfish will have four stripes, with one through the eyes, and three more on the body. Which can also be used to distinguish them from silver angelfish, that only have three stripes.
Zebra angelfish develop red eyes when fully mature and in good health.
#3 — Silver Angelfish
The silver angelfish has long been the backbone of the trade and has colors variations that most closely resemble the wild species.
The fish usually has three stripes, with one through the eye and two more on the body. Like the marbled angelfish, they are hardy and among the easiest types to care for.
#4 — Blushing Angelfish
The blushing angelfish is characterized by a lack of body pigmentation, which allows the colors of the gills to show through. However, many angelfish variations feature the blushing gene to a certain extent, with the true blushing angel being either silver or white.
They also look like gold angelfish save for some particular details. These variety have orange or red coloring on their gills that look like blushing cheeks.
#5 — Gold Angelfish
Also called the golden angelfish, this variety is one of the most popular in the market.
They start out looking silvery, with the fish developing a richer golden color as they age. The recessive gene that causes the color variation manifests in a light golden body, and a darker yellow or orange on the crown.
#6 — Altum Angelfish
The altum angelfish is more a wild species as opposed to a color variation. It is the largest of the three described species of Pterophyllum and is sometimes called Orinoco angelfish or Blue angelfish.
Usually, it will have a silvery body with dark bars that are brownish to red, though adults may show red spots and a blue-green cast to the dorsal fin.
#7 — Ghost Angelfish
The ghost angelfish is characterized by a shimmering silver color which may show partial stripping in adulthood.
However, they mostly don’t have bold body stripes such as those seen in wild type silver angelfish. They have a rather clear body.
Moreover, note that like with other angelfish types, there are variations within the ghost category, and you may even come across a half-black ghost, which is a black-lace or double-black angelfish crossed with a ghost angelfish.
#8 — Black Lace Angelfish
The black lace angelfish is the opposite of the ghost angel, the fish is almost completely black due to excessive pigmentation.
It is quite common in aquarium though most fish keepers prefer the more colorful types.
When keeping black lace angels in an aquarium that has the right amount of light, it’s possible to see traces of the fish’s neutral patterns.
Are There Dwarf Freshwater Angelfish?
There are small angelfish including dwarf angelfish for freshwater aquariums.
Usually, the term applies to either of these three species: Centropyge, Paracentropyge, and Pterophyllum leopoldi. However, from the group, only Pterophyllum leopoldi, also called Leopoldi angelfish, teardrop angelfish, Leopoldi’s dwarf angelfish, or roman-nosed angelfish is a freshwater species.
The other two (Centropyge, Paracentropyge) are marine dwarf angels.
That said, teardrop angelfish grow to a maximum of 2 inches and are arguably the smallest angelfish species. They can be kept with most aquarium fish, albeit getting quite aggressive when breeding.
Due to their small mouths, even tetras are safe with teardrop angels.
House your Leopoldi angelfish in an aquarium with the temperature anywhere from 77°F to 82°F, albeit the need to raise it to 89°F to simulate spawning.
Acidic, clear water is recommended and better if stained with tannins, and a ph of 6.5 to 7.5.
Leopoldi’s dwarf angelfish feed on fruits, ants, termites, and food particles collected at the bottom of streams or rivers in the wild. In captivity, the fish should be fed a well-balanced diet consisting of good quality flake, frozen bloodworms, and mosquito larvae.
The fish should not pose a big challenge when feeding, but be cautious not to overfeed them. Overfed leopoldi angelfish tend to overheat, resulting in excess fat and a short lifespan.
Lastly, because the dwarf angelfish small size, you don’t require a big tank. The fish will fit comfortably in a fairly small 20-gallon aquarium, though a bigger setup is recommended when keeping more than a pair.
Freshwater Angelfish Care
Angelfish are easy to keep, but only when maintained in the proper setting. For this reason, you must replicate the fish’s wild environment in your aquarium.
You’ll need to make sure your tank is at the proper temperature and ph level by installing adequate filtration and heating systems.
From there, feed your angelfish a healthy diet and clean the tank regularly, especially after meals. Moreover, look out for signs of stress or diseases and be cautious when introducing other fish in the tank.
It’s also important to acclimate new fish properly and quarantine any that shows signs of illness.
Setting Up Your Freshwater Angelfish Aquarium
The first thing you’ll want to do is choose the right size tank for your angelfish. Usually, most types kept in home aquariums (Pterophyllum scalare) grow to an average length of between 4.7 and 5.9 inches, hence require at least a 30-gallon aquarium. A 55-gallon tank is recommended when keeping more than a pair.
Moreover, even when keeping a type that doesn’t grow too big, it’s always best to have more space than necessary to accommodate the fish’s odd shape.
A deeper fish tank is better for angelfish fins, and preferably heavily decorated, with a large amount of substrate. Add things like floating driftwood to replicate fallen branches in water, and use floating plants similar to overhanging vegetation in the Amazon wild.
Also, plants that stand vertically like Java fern are great when keeping these fishes.
The current in your aquarium should be gentle because of the fish are slow swimming, so consider filters that cause minimal water movement, while a powerfulair pump is not too necessary and can be avoided.
Your substrate should be fine to medium-grade, with smooth surfaces because freshwater angelfish sometime like to forage along the bottom looking for food, albeit being mid-level dwellers.
Freshwater Angelfish Aquarium Conditions
In the wild, angelfish are used to a fairly warm climate hence need to be kept in a heated aquarium, with the temperature between 77°F to 84°F. Which means you’ll have to install a heating system to maintain your fish tank in tropical condition, especially during the colder months.
You can buy a heater online or at your local pet store, only make sure the heater is rated for your aquarium size. Moreover, purchase a thermometer to check how your water heater is functioning and help you tell if your aquarium gets too hot or cold.
Away from the temperature, maintain an appropriate tank ph, which in this case, should be between 6 and 7.5. You can easily keep tabs of the reading using a home testing kit also bought online or from your local pet store.
When you need to raise your aquarium ph level, add crushed coral. Baking soda will also buffer the ph, but be sure not to introduce harmful chemical along with the recommended remedies.
A teaspoon of baking soda per 5 gallons is generally considered a safe amount for small incremental increases. Plus It’s sometimes best to remove the fish from the tank before raising the pH.
To lower your aquarium ph, add driftwood or drop a little vinegar into your fish tank.
That said, it’s also advisable to use RO water or purchase aquarium water from your local store, especially if your tap water has a lot of minerals or other contaminants that might harm your angelfish.
However, if you opt to use tap water, use a conditioner to remove any traces of chlorine as such chemical risk burning the gills of your angelfish or even kill them.
Another thing to note is, freshwater angelfish can only be added to fully cycled aquariums because they are quite sensitive. Plus they are big fish that eat a lot and create a huge bioload.
A good hang-on-back filter will work for a small angelfish tank, but I highly recommend purchasing a canister filter when keeping more than a pair. It will process a lot more water than a HOB system and tend to be more effective. Go for a multistage filtrations system with adequate biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration.
Cleaning and Maintaining Your Freshwater Angelfish Aquarium
The other part of keeping your angelfish happy and stress-free is having a clean and safe aquarium. It includes making sure the Ammonia and nitrites level remain at 0ppm, and the nitrates don’t go beyond 20ppm.
Because of this, perform water changes on a bi-weekly schedule, making sure your change 10 to 25 percent of your total tank volume within this period. However, if you choose to consistently do 10 percent water changes, adjust the change to once every week.
Also scrub the aquarium glass surface as you perform the water changes to remove any dirt build-up or algae. Plus use a siphon to vacuum your substrate.
Getting rid of plants, fish, and food waste before it has a chance to decompose is particularly crucial as well to keeping ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates in check. Remove any uneaten food immediately, and clear dead plant leaves as soon as they detach from the live plants.
Splash a few cups of aquarium water from a bucket on your filter every once a while, focusing more on the filter media (sponge), inlets, and outlets, where most debris get trapped and accumulate.
Having said that, missing a few water changes is not a big deal, but ensure you constantly test your aquarium water, and keep an eye out for stressed angelfish. Moreover, Never let your fish tank go for a month without a cleaning and water change.
Feeding Freshwater Angelfish—Diet, Food
Angelfish eat a diet primarily composed of meat products. However, a balanced diet made up of a variety of fish foods will help your fish thrive better and remain healthy.
A mixture of flake food and meaty, frozen food is recommended, and supplementing the diet with live food is considered a good practice. For an everyday staple feed your angelfish tropical flakes.
The fish enjoy live things like brine shrimp, white worms, bloodworms, mealworms, as well as small insects and crustaceans.
That said, avoid a mistake that most beginning fish keepers make, and that is overfeeding their fish, which is bad for the fish and your tank environment as well.
Ideally, you should offer your angelfish food 3 to 4 times a day in amounts they can consume in 2 to 3 minutes, and decrease the number of frozen food options as your fish get older.
Feeding your fish more will only increase the amount of uneaten food in the aquarium.
Lastly, note that freshwater angelfish, and all angelfish in general, are hearty eater that eagerly look forward to mealtimes. Because of this, feed them adequate amounts of sinking food as you would with other bottom and lower-middle dwelling species.
What Fish are Compatible with Freshwater Angelfish (Tank Mates)?
Most fish keepers are content with maintaining their angelfish in species only tanks, but others like to add tank mates with their angels.
And this often leads to the question, What fish work well with angelfish?
Usually, freshwater angelfish are peaceful but get quite aggressive if tanked with feisty species in a small aquarium. Moreover, they require conditions akin to those in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America to thrive.
Consequently, the best tank mates for angelfish are small to medium-sized fish, that are largely peaceful and native to South American waters. They should be able to survive in tropical aquarium temperatures and soft to moderately-hard, acidic water.
Also, freshwater angelfish tank mates should love heavily planted aquariums, with a lot of verticle space and decoration, a thick substrate, moderate lighting, driftwood and leaf litter, which blackens the water.
Corydoras catfish make particularly good angelfish companions because they are docile bottom dwellers, and their size is not too overpowering for the angels. Plus they are too big to fit in the angelfish mouth.
Cories are also low maintenance and methodically scavenge in the substrate keeping the tank clean and reducing food wastage.
Another good option you should consider is platies, which although not from South America, prefer warm aquariums, with almost similar water chemistry to that of freshwater angelfish.
Platies are also beginner-friendly, adaptable, easy to keep and have a peaceful temperament, which makes them good additions to community tanks.
Like corydoras catfish, bristlenose plecos are another bottom-dwelling species that can live with angelfish. They are calm tank cleaners particularly known to keep algae down and aquariums clean.
When looking for colorful companions for your freshwater angelfish, consider the brilliantly colored German blue rams which are also native to South America, and have almost similar requirements with the angels.
Siamese algae eaters and Kuhli loach are good alternatives to cory cats and bristlenose pleco, while Kribensis cichlids, Bolivian rams, and keyhole cichlids can be maintained with the angels in the place of blue rams.
Other good companions are species with a similar temperament as platies and love tropical aquariums. They include swordtails, mollies, tetras, and guppies.
Gouramis, Zebra danios, and peaceful barbs, although native to Asia, prefer the same water conditions as freshwater angelfish and can be maintained together.
However, avoid housing your angels with fin nippers like tiger barbs as they are not good swimmers and territorial fish like cichlids.
Betta, discus, and large fish like Oscars don’t make good angelfish companions.
Below is the complete list of good freshwater angelfish tankmates.
- Bolivian rams cichlid
- German blue ram cichlid
- Rainbow kribs
- Keyhole cichlid
- Cory catfish
- Kuhli loach
- Bristlenose pleco
- Siamese algae eaters
- Common pleco
- Yoyo loach
- Large tetras
- Dwarf gourami
- Honey gourami
- Blue Three spot gourami
- Cherry barbs
- Trumpet snail
- Ramshorn snail
Fish that you should not keep with your angelfish include:
- Nippers like Tiger barbs
- Betta fish
- Large fish like Oscars
- Aggressive fish like convicts cichlids, Jack Dempsey, red and green terrors, and silver arowanas
- cool water fish like goldfish
- Prey species like dwarf shrimp and smaller snails
- Most cichlids including South American and African cichlids
Breeding Freshwater Angelfish
In additions to their many positive attributes, angelfish are also relatively easy to breed in capitivity. Given the right conditions, you should be able to mate your fish, watch their eggs hatch, and fry grow into adults with much of a challange.
Usually, angelfish eggs take about 60 hours to hatch with the right temperature 80°F, with the fry remaining attached to the yolk sac for another 5 days before they are free swimming.
Most angels will mate naturally once you pair them as long as they are ready to breed. The fish select their mates from a group, then choose an area of the tank to spawn.
Mostly, angelfish prepare a flat surface in their choosen area of the tank, clean it for around 24 hours, then the female lays her veggs which the male fertilize almost immediately.
That said, freshwater angelfish are of three different species, but all of them cross-breed easily, so if you have diffrent angles in your tank, it’s Ok to keep them in a group for them to choose their own mates.
Obtain a sizeable group in your aquarium, then look out for any potential pairing before you move your fish into a suitable breeding tank.
How to Tell if You Angelfish is Male or Female (Sexing)
Freshwater angelfish generally reach sexual maturity between the ages of 6 to 12 months and can lay eggs every 7 to 10 days if the first bunch is removed on time.
Please know that sexing young angelfish can however be challenging as their bodies are tiny, but once they are more mature, you can determine their gender by looking at the tubes of the vent.
In males, the tube is smaller, pointly, and almost triangular, whereas the tubes are larger in females, like an eraser on a pensil.
If your fish has a more smoothly sloped head, with a dorsal that is held slightly backward, it’s most likely a female. Male will often have a distinct bump in the head.
Also, females tend to be more round, while males are more angular, with fully upright dorsal fins held almost at a 90 degrees angle to the head bump.
Males will hold the ventral more erect as well, as opposed to female angelfish that hold them closer to the body.
How to Tell if Your Angelfish is Ready to Spawn (Lay Eggs)
The most obvious sign that spawning is about to occur between a pair of freshwater angelfish is the pairing-off behavior .
Females that are ready to spawn will display a bulging belly and may become more aggressive towards tank mates. The fish will also spend time grooming her mating pair, and start cleaning a portion of the tank which they’ll use as their spawning site.
Both male and female angelfish become territorial and feisty towards any other fish that tries to enter their love nest.
Even so, for your angelfish to be ready to lay eggs, you must first condition them with a live food diet, and set your aquarium temperature within the range they breed in the wild.
Most aquarists keep around 6 angels in the tank and condition them at the same time to increase the probabiltiy of having at least one mating pair. Of course, this is when you choose not to purchase an already bred pair.
How to Set the Right Conditions for Your Angelfish to Breed
The first step to breeding freshwater angelfish succefully is to choose an appropriate tank that is size, at least 20 gallons . Go with a deeper tank as angelfish grow up to a foot long from their dorsal fin to anal fin.
In the wild, the fish live in soft, slightly acidic water, so for best results, also make sure your breeding aqaurium ph remains between 6 and 7.5 with the optimal range being 6.5 to 6.9.
Also, although angelfish are largely hardy and can tolerate a wide range of temperature setting, for breeding purposes, keep your breeder between 76°F to 82°F, but try to target 80°F.
Next, add a good filter in the breeder to keep the water pristine. Rememeber to use low flow units because angelfish are not good swimmers hence not suited for strong currents, especially when breeding.
Perform at least 50 percent water changes each week, either as part of your regular cleaning schedule or just for the breeding pair.
You may want to add a few plants in the breeding tank as well to mimic submerged vegatation in the wild waters angelfish occupy and provide a couple of flat surfaces for your fish to lay their eggs.
Lastly, feed your angelfish regularly but try not to overfeed them. A good diet should consist of dried flake food, supplemented with frequent servings of protein-rich foods like bloodworms and brine shrimp.
Angelfish Eggs and Fry
Once your fish lay their eggs, you can either choose to let the parents care for the eggs and new fry or move the eggs to encourage your angels to breed again (within 10 days).
Normally, the eggs hatch within 48 to 72 hours after they are laid regardless of whether you move the parents or not.
Don’t feed the new fry at first because they tend to feed off their sac until they are about a day old. Then you can start them on freshly hatched brine shrimp and alter the diet as they mature.