Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Your angelfish just laid eggs in your community aquarium and you’re wondering, how should I raise them? Do I leave them with the parents? Do I remove the parents? Do I remove the eggs? Depending on what you want to accomplish, you have a few very important decisions to make in order to successfully raise the fry. There are a few things to keep in mind when making your decision. Unlike dogs who learn some important lessons early in life from their parents and siblings or cats who are taught to hunt and clean themselves by their mother, angelfish babies take no experiential or emotional benefits from being raised by their parents.
Do I need to let angelfish raise their fry?
No, you don’t. Also, most angelfish are not very good at it. Angelfish have been inbred and crossbred so much that they’ve seemed to have lost a few of their instincts. Sadly, one of these instincts is the need to protect and raise their eggs and fry. While not all parents have lost their drive to protect their babies, it is more common to find a pair that will eat their eggs rather than raise them. We’ve found the farther you get away from the original strain, the worse parents they become. There are no emotional or physical benefits to letting angelfish raise their eggs. Angelfish don’t miss their babies, and there’s no joy and exuberance when putting a grown baby back with its parents… the parents will likely kill their long-lost child as they prepare to lay another batch of eggs. Also, angelfish parents do not provide food for their babies. They don’t catch prey or regurgitate meals like birds. Most importantly, they do not create skin secretions that the babies feed off of to grow, like a discus. Some may argue this point, but they’re forgetting two things: First, discus are a completely different species of fish, just because angelfish and discus enjoy the same water parameters and are from the Amazon, doesn’t mean their physiology is the same. Second, we have witnessed the babies pecking at their parents, and have watched this with great interest. What we noticed was that the fry (aged ~14 days) were pecking at everything, and their parents just happened to be there. The angelfish's parents were becoming agitated by the occasional pecks as well, and this started to make us nervous that the parents were going to kill the fry.
Is it better to let angelfish raise their fry?
It depends on how you define “better,” but we have found that it isn't. If by better you mean a higher percentage of successfully hatched eggs, then the answer is no. We did a test where we let angelfish eggs from the same breeding pair hatch in three different ways: left with parents with no involvement from us, left with parents with a little involvement, and removed and raised separately. Check our Instagram feed to see the day by day videos. What we found was that when left alone, 100% of the angelfish eggs died before they hatched. When we provided some assistance, about 40% of the eggs hatched, and when we placed the eggs into a controlled environment, 90%+ of the eggs hatched. While there are exceptions (we have some pairs who if left to their own devices, have a 5-10% success rate), we found that this is typical throughout our pairs.
If you define better as fewer mutations and better quality fry, again, the answer is no. For the batch that the parents raised with our assistance, about 20% of the fry will likely need to be culled. We estimate that we had about 100 fry go free swimming and make it to dime-size, which means 80 good babies. When we raised the eggs ourselves, we got about 300 babies, and about 30% needed to be culled (this was a koi breeding pair, who typically have a higher mutation/deformity count). For argument’s sake, let’s say that’s 90 fish that needed to be culled, leaving 210 good babies. Yes, the deformity count is higher, meaning that the parents likely ate a few deformed babies, but the overall number of good babies is significantly more.
There are complications leaving fry with parents
We’ve noticed a few problems when leaving eggs/fry with their parents.
The parents tend to stop eating for a few days. We didn’t like that, as our first priority is to the health of our adults and this is the only time we had witnessed them stop eating. Since we were still trying to provide food to the parents for when their appetites kicked back in, we were dirtying up the water. It’s not so simple to clean an aquarium when there are tons of fry swimming around while two full-grown angelfish are attacking you.
Another issue is that the parents began eating the baby brine shrimp that we were putting into the aquarium for the fry. We didn’t think this would happen, seeing as there is such a size difference between the food and the adults. It really surprised us! In the video below, you’ll see two females in two different aquariums pecking at the baby brine shrimp in the aquarium.
We like putting gravel and plants into our breeding tanks. We think it makes the fish happier, and that makes us happy. By having gravel in the aquarium, we needed to use a gravel cleaner head to suck out the food. This can present some challenges when trying to avoid sucking out young fry.
While fry grow a lot in their first week, they don’t grow very big. After the first week though, they start putting on mass very quickly. We found that by week three, the bio-load that the babies were creating was starting to become a concern, and they were starting to take up a lot of physical space. The parents seemed agitated by the babies, and we saw them occasionally doing the angelfish threat display if a baby was pecking at them. It started to look like the parents were warring with themselves, wanting to get some space and calmness back, but also not wanting to kill their offspring.
Our aquariums are filtered by sponge filters, but many aquarists have power filters like those from Aquaclear or Fluval. These filters are terrible for raising babies, as they will suck up the angelfish fry and kill them. You can try to correct this by putting a pre-filter over the intake, but you need to ensure you do this before the fry go free swimming.
But I want to raise angelfish babies naturally!
This is a weird statement we hear way too often. What’s natural about sticking a fish from the amazon into a small glass box with noisy filters, a manipulated sleep cycle, improper water conditions, and processed food? We need to use the technology at our disposal to create a life support system for our aquatic pets, and we need to do the same to raise their eggs. Writing this, I’m looking at my dog who’s sleeping on a blanket on my couch and thinking that if I were to leave her in the woods, she’d die. Yes, she has descended from wolves, but through inbreeding and cross-breeding has turned into a lovable little mutt with a favorite doll and absolutely no survival instincts. There’s nothing natural about fishkeeping.
There's no wrong answer
Maybe you want to see how angelfish rear their young, or maybe you don't have an extra fish tank at the moment to separate the eggs. Whatever your decision, be it leaving the eggs with the parents or removing them, you're about to explore the really cool world of hatching and raising baby fish. Do it your way, keep your fish healthy and enjoy the hobby!
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 the surrounding area, he shares his years of experience in his blog for advanced aquarists.