Angelfish Care Guide: Everything You Need To Know
There’s something striking about angelfish that has made them a staple in the aquarium hobby for decades.
Their shape is unique, looking like a 5 pointed star with their long dorsal and anal fins. They come in just about every color, or combination thereof, through selective breeding.
The way they deliberately move through the water is eye-catching on its own, deliberate, calm and inquisitive.
Angelfish have long been a favorite fish amongst aquarists, with good reason. They’re hardy, beautiful and packed with personality.
It’s been proven that angelfish can tell time, so much like dogs, when it’s feeding time they are happily waiting for you at the front of their aquarium.
Angelfish have their peculiarities and in order to keep these interesting fish happy and healthy, here’s what you need to know.
What do Angelfish look like?
Care Level: Easy-Intermediate
Max Size: 6″
Light: Dark – High
Temperature: 76°F to 86°F
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 small.
Angelfish 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.
Wild-caught angelfish are silver bodied with black stripes, but you can find angels in just about every color as well, with the most popular colors being marble (black/white), blue, gold, silver, and koi.
Through decades of selective breeding, angelfish now come in a variety of scale and fin types as well.
- 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 with this variant have unique ridged scales that catch the light beautifully
When angelfish are young, less than about 6 months old, they are a fairly peaceful community fish. As they grow, they actively pair up and try to breed, and this leads to them becoming highly aggressive as they try to defend their own little plot of land inside of your aquarium.
There’s a simple rule of thumb with angelfish: If it can fit into their mouth, it will probably end up in there.
The thing is, no two angelfish are alike.
Some of my angelfish will actively hunt snails, while I use other angelfish tanks to breed snails.
Some angelfish will leave catfish and small tetras alone, while others will see your pleco as the biggest threat in the world and your neon tetras as delicious tic-tacs.
Angelfish can be a little weird that way, but generally, you’re good to keep peaceful, medium-sized fish with your angelfish.
Some great species include:
- Large tetras (eg. Congo or black skirt tetras)
- Cory catfish
Species to avoid:
- Barbs – this is a family of fin nippers and angelfish are almost all fins.
- Ottocinclus cats – Angelfish grow large enough to swallow adult otto cats, and these catfish have spines that will lodge in your angel’s throat
- Rasboras and Neon tetras – These popular little fish are, well, little and will make a great snack for your angelfish.
- Pygmy Cory cats – Much like otto cats, these guys are slow moving and small enough to get swallowed. They also have sharp dorsal and pectoral spikes that will kill your angelfish if ingested.
For more ideas check out our article on some of the best angelfish tank mates
While angelfish look like they’d fit into a 10-gallon tank in the fish store, it’s not a good plan as they grow quickly.
Angelfish are best kept in community aquariums that are 30 gallons or larger.
When they are young, Scalares 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, a 55-gallon aquarium should be the minimum size to house them. More space is always better.
I use a 90 gallon to let my angelfish pair up, and as soon as one pair starts defending their territory, they pretty much claim the whole aquarium as their own and force their tank mates into a corner.
If using live plants, try to use tall, slender plants like Val or Sword plants. These will let your fish easily navigate through them and provide them some cover.
Sand or gravel substrate can be used, as angelfish aren’t fussy. It’s best to avoid sharp decorations because when angels get spooked, their flight response causes them to blindly dart away from danger.
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 breeding and you’ll notice that they’ll gravitate toward 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 to be free swimming can be a little more difficult.
It can take 48-72hrs for eggs to hatch into fry, and this is directly dependent on the water temperature. At 82F, the eggs will hatch like clockwork by the 48hr mark.
Andrei Vexler is an aquarist with over 20 years in the fish hobby. Having run a fish store with over 700 freshwater and saltwater aquariums, Andrei found his passion in South American cichlids, particularly Altum Angelfish. Growing and wholesaling angels to the GTA and surrounding area, he shares his years of experience in his blog for advanced aquarists at Angelfishcanada.com.