EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FRESHWATER ANGELFISH

Written by Katherine Barrington Updated February 15, 2014
Angelfish are a species of freshwater cichlid and they are one of the most popular species of tropical aquarium fish.
If you have ever strolled down the aquarium aisle at your local pet store you have probably seen freshwater angelfish. These fish are uniquely beautiful with their tall, pointed fins and their sparkling scales – it is no wonder they are one of the most popular species in the freshwater aquarium hobby. Not only are angelfish beautiful to behold but they are also a pleasure to cultivate. If you have ever thought about keeping freshwater angelfish, take the time to learn about the species so you can be sure to set up your tank to accommodate their needs and preferences.

About Angelfish

Freshwater angelfish, or Pterophyllum scalare, are a species of cichlid native to South America. These fish can generally be found throughout Colombia, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru and Brazil in various river systems including the Rio Oyapock, the Rio Essequibo and the Amazon itself. This species may achieve a total length up to 6 inches and may grow up to 8 inches tall. Like most cichlids, they exhibit a laterally compressed body structure which simply means that they are fairly thin. These fish come in a variety of colors and patterns ranging from solid silver to colored stripes or black-and-silver marble. As a species, freshwater angelfish are typically fairly peaceful but they may not get along with very small species. These fish can live ten years or longer and they prefer to be kept in tanks with several of their own species.

Tank Set-up Tips

Because angelfish can grow up to 6 inches long, these fish should be kept in a tank no smaller than 20 gallons in capacity – the bigger the better. It is also important to keep in mind that this species tends to grow tall rather than long, so angelfish prefer to be kept in tall tanks rather than wide ones. The recommended temperature range for this species is between 75 and 84F and the water should be slightly soft, between 5 and 18 dH. Because they are native to the Amazon River, freshwater angelfish prefer a slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 7.5 and they enjoy a densely planted tank setup. This species is compatible with other community fish but they should not be kept with fin-nipping species or with very small fish that might become prey. You should also be careful not to overcrowd the tank because this could exacerbate aggressive or territorial behavior.

Feeding and Care

Freshwater angelfish are, by nature, omnivorous but they generally tend to prefer a meat-based diet. In the wild, angelfish feed primarily on small crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates but, in the home aquarium, they will accept a wide variety of foods. Offer your angelfish a staple diet of specially formulated cichlid flakes or pellets and supplement the diet with plenty of live foods as well as frozen and freeze-dried foods. Angelfish typically enjoy a variety of live foods including bloodworms, brine shrimp, white worms and other small insects and crustaceans. Because these fish are omnivorous, they will also benefit from the addition of some plant matter in their diet in the form of algae wafers or fresh vegetables.


In addition to offering your angelfish a proper diet, you also need to perform regular weekly water changes and other maintenance tasksto keep the water quality in your tank high. Replace your filter media on a weekly basis and test your aquarium water once a week to make sure your water parameters stay within the appropriate range. In order to test your aquarium water you will need to invest in an aquarium water test kit. Luckily, these kits are inexpensive and easy to use – another option is to take a sample of tank water in to your local pet store to have it tested for free. Not only should you test your tank water regularly but you should also keep a journal of the test results so you can establish a baseline for your tank parameters – this will help you to quickly realize it when a problem occur and your tank parameters change.

Breeding Tips

This species is notoriously difficult to sex – the physical differences which can be used to distinguish the sexes are often only visible during spawning. Male angelfish, for example, have smaller, more pointed genital papillae than females but they may not be visible except during mating periods. Males of the species may also exhibit more aggression or territorial behavior. Angelfish tend to breed in pairs but since they are so difficult to sex it is best to start with a group of 6 juveniles and to wait for them to pair off naturally as they mature – to speed up the process, you may also be able to purchase an established breeding pair from a breeder or pet store.


To condition your angelfish for spawning you will need to feed them a healthy diet of live and frozen foods. You may also want to separate the breeding pair into a dedicated breeding tank. Perform frequent water changes to keep the water quality in the tank high and try to maintain a stable temperature between 80 and 85F. When your angelfish are ready to spawn, the female will begin depositing eggs in very organized rows and the male will follow behind her, individually fertilizing each egg. After the spawning is complete, remove the adult angelfish from the tank because they will likely eat the eggs and newly hatched fry.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a unique and beautiful species of freshwater fish, consider the angelfish. Not only do these fish come in a variety of colors and patterns, but they are a stunning sight to behold when they are swimming gracefully around the tank. Whether you plan to breed your angelfish or just enjoy them for their beauty, these fish are a wonderful species to cultivate. If you do choose to stock your tank with angelfish, be sure to keep in mind the tips and facts mentioned in this article so you can provide your fish with a tank that meets all of their requirements. 
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