Updated: May 25, 2019
Angelfish breeding is fun and exciting, but can be frustrating as well. You've spent the last 6-12 months raising your fish and waiting for this day, but now you've noticed that their eggs keep turning white and you're not getting any fry. There's a few reasons why this is happening, and with some simple changes, you'll have angelfish babies in no time.
A little tweaking, a little patience
Put a group of angelfish together in a tropical fish tank, and eventually you're going to get eggs. Pterophyllum scalare can lay up to 500 eggs every 7-10 days when full grown, and they can do this for years. It's frustrating when your angelfish pair keeps laying non-viable eggs, but this is a very easy fix when you adjust the right things.
1 - #Location is everything
Where are the angelfish laying their eggs? Females deposit the eggs and males squirt their sperm over them to fertilize the clutch. If the clutch of eggs is laid near fast moving water, it doesn't help the situation. For example, there was an aquarist who's angelfish had layed eggs over 10 times on a filter intake, and every clutch went white. Right next to the intake (about 1/2") was a bubble wall which was creating turbulent water that was likely blasting away the sperm. It's not like those tiny sperm are Olympic swimmers :) When the aquarist realized this and gave the angelfish an appropriate breeding spot away from fast moving water, he had success with his eggs.
For a #perfectspawn (95%+ fertilized) angelfish require a flat, slightly angled surface about 12" long and 2-3" wide. They lay their eggs in rows, side by side. The female will make a vertical run while depositing her eggs, and the male will follow just behind her to fertilize. Slate rock resting against the side of an aquarium is a great, cheap medium for angelfish to lay eggs on. You can also get a 2.5" PVC pipe from a hardware store, glue it to a base, and you're good to go.
Porous mediums like wood don't work well for spawning. The eggs will become covered in fungus despite your best efforts. This is likely due to bacteria within the wood.
The easiest method is to use a breeding cone. They're portable, they don't fall over, they're easy to clean, and perfectly sized. Breeding cones also have a lip for the eggs or fry that fall off of the cone, letting parents pick them back up easily.
2 - Put away the camera, give them some privacy
An experienced pair of angelfish will ignore onlookers, allowing you to get relatively close when they are spawning. For about 90 minutes, their sole point of focus is on #breeding. New parents tend to get distracted by everything, especially the male, as they aim to defend their clutch of eggs. The problem is, when the male leaves his spot in the routine, he doesn't always jump back in properly. Almost every batch of eggs I've photographed or captured on video has been non-viable due to the parents getting distracted by me waving around a camera. In the video below, look how distracted the male is with me while the female is trying to prepare the spawning site. It has completely thrown him off. Leave your fish alone, give them the time they need to breed, and then you can watch as they care for their eggs.
If you're finding that the eggs are not viable, and it's not a location or medium problem, then take a look at your fish's tankmates. Are the angelfish constantly trying to chase off lurking fish who want some delicious eggs? You may have to #separate the pair and move them into their own aquarium so they can get some piece and quiet while breeding.
3 - You don't actually have a pair
On occasion, two female angelfish will pair up and breed, with one believing it's the male. This is rare, but it happens. I haven't actually seen footage or heard of this happening in years, so it's really rare. Assess your fish's body shape, ensure that you have a male and a female trying to spawn. The root of your problem is very likely one of the other reasons in this blog.
My angelfish keep eating their eggs
If this is regularly happening to you, it's likely that the angelfish are not comfortable with the situation they are in. Too much commotion or lack of proper spawning area leads angels to eat their eggs before someone else does. I have had angelfish who are prolific, experienced breeders suddenly start eating their eggs. I lightly rearranged their aquarium, cleaned off their breeding cone so that there was no algae buildup, and they were back to being great breeders again on their next breeding cycle. If the angelfish feels that the eggs don't have a chance due to external threats (tankmates) or poor spawning medium (wood, algae covered rock, etc.) they would prefer to ingest the protein their eggs provide rather than feed other fish with their spawn. Angelfish will also eat their eggs if fungus is starting to cover the majority of the clutch. This can be solved with properly dosing the aquarium with methylene blue. If you change your feeding routine, angelfish can panick and see their eggs as a meal. Make sure you're feeding your angelfish on the same schedule every day to avoid this problem.
If at first you don't succeed, fry, fry again
Angelfish need time to learn how to breed. They're born with the instinct, but not the experience. The longer a pair spawns together, the larger the clutch becomes and they'll be more accurate with fertilizing their eggs. This can take anwhere from 2-20 spawns. I have a pair of blue angelfish that were giving me massive clutches that all turned white on the same day, telling me they were not fertilized. The clutch size was so impressive for young breeders (300+ eggs rather than less than 100) that I really hoped the pair would find their groove. It took 9 spawns, about 3 months, before I finally got a clutch which was 90% fertilized. Every batch before this had less than 30 eggs that were viable, and I was nearly ready to split them up to pair with other mates. Hang in there, use the tips in this blog, and give your angelfish the time to figure out what they are doing.
Leave a comment, a question, or even a contradiction down below and we can learn together.
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.