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Caring for Angelfish. What you need to know.

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

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.


Angelfish have been a staple of the aquarium hobby for decades, first being cataloged in the early 1900s. Originally from South America, angelfish are members of the cichlid family and 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 fins looks like a beautiful star swimming in an aquarium.


Scalares are the most popular of the angelfish, carried in just about every fish store, and selective breeding has given us almost every color variation imaginable with different scale and fin types as well. Silvers are the most common, with blue, orange, albino and gold variants available, to name just a few. Regardless of the color or fin type you choose, the care for pterophyllum scalare is uniform for any of the variants.



Size and Colour 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 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. While they 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.


Angelfish 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 with this variant have unique ridged scales that catch the light beautifully


Water conditions

Freshwater angelfish are native to soft, acidic waters, although they 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 6.0-8.0 in varying degrees of hardness. Angelfish will live happily in an aquarium environment with water temperatures between 75-86F as they’re able to handle higher water temperatures that would stress most fish. Ideally, keep the water temperature between 78-82F in your community aquarium, and your fish will thrive.


What do angelfish eat?


Freeze dried foods, like blood worms here, are a favourite amongst angelfish

Angelfish are not picky eaters. These fish eat just about anything...if it moves and can fit in their mouth, it’s fair game. Angels will happily eat freeze dried foods, frozen food 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 fish (less than 6 months) can be fed up to three times daily, and adults only need to be fed up to twice daily unless conditioning for breeding.



How do I breed angelfish?

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 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.



A great beginner fish

There's a ton of great information (like this blog!) on the internet about angelfish, and they're a fantastic addition to a community aquarium. These little fish pack big personalities, are hardy and suited for aquarium life.


Leave a comment, a question, or even a contradiction down below and we can learn together.


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Andrei Vexler is 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 angels to the GTA and surrounding area, he shares his years of experience in his blog for advanced aquarists.

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