Freshwater Angelfish Overview
The Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) belongs to the Cichlidae family. This family includes all species of freshwater Cichlids.
It should not be confused with the Marine Angelfish, which belongs to the Pomacanthidae family.
These fish are one of the many unique species that come from Brazil’s Amazon River. They are found in the river basin and its tributaries in Peru, Colombia, and Guiana. They are one of the most popular freshwater Cichlid choices due to their fancy appearance, ease of care, and lack of aggression compared to other Cichlid species.
In well-kept tanks, these fish can live up to 10 years. They reach maturity at around 10 months of age.
Since they are so popular, you can find them at most aquarium suppliers and pet shops.
On average they will cost around $10 – specialty breeds will cost between $20 and $40, depending on the variety and the quality.
Like most Cichlids, they can be quite aggressive. They will form small hierarchies and fight to defend their positions. If you catch your angels locking lips, they are actually fighting.
They will form small schools, but are not particularly social with the others in their school. They are quite territorial and are more likely to fight than cooperate. However, they are not as aggressive as other Cichlids. They are not likely to bully others outside of their school.
You can watch them as they weave in and out of your aquarium plants in the middle level of your tank. Although they might hide in an overcrowded tank, they are otherwise very showy fish.
These fish are one of the few species that take care of their young. They will fiercely defend their eggs and rear the newly-hatched larvae and fry for up to two months.
Outside of competition and mating, they will not interact much with each other. You should not expect to see coordinated swimming patterns and cooperative foraging.
Freshwater Angelfish Appearance and Types
Angelfish can grow up to 6 inches long, and their spectacular fins can reach heights of up to 8 inches tall.
They are shaped like arrowheads, with wide bodies and triangular snouts. Their most iconic feature is their trailing dorsal and pectoral fins and their wide fan-shaped caudal fin.
Usually Freshwater Angelfish are silver with 4 large, black bands. Juveniles have 7 bands but as they mature theirs bands reduce to 4.
Standard color forms include: gold, silver, black and marbled. Marbled Angelfish have black spots or jagged, irregular bands rather than the typical straight black bands.
In addition to the standard colors, specialty colors and patterns are bred for ornamental purposes – some are even bred to resemble Goldfish or Koi! The Koi variety is silver or white, with orange/red spots and a black marbled pattern that resembles a typical Kohaku Koi fish.
Gold and Platinum Angelfish are completely gold or completely silver, with no banded pattern.
There is even a color form that resembles a panda. Panda Angelfish have stark white scales with an all-over spotty black pattern.
Habitat and Tank Conditions
This species is native to the Amazon River and its tributaries – it is found in slow moving streams, swamps and floodplains along the Amazon River basin.
These are tropical fish that thrive in warm water with temperatures between 75-82°F. Their water is often acidic, with little to no salinity. They live in swampy conditions, with fine sandy substrate and lots of aquatic vegetation and mosses for hiding.
Their water is usually clear and they live at depths where light can easily penetrate the water and reach them.
This Cichlid tank should be kept between 75 and 82°F. The pH should be anywhere from 6.8 to 7.
Cichlids like to dig, so any substrate you place in the tank should be soft and fine. This will prevent cuts and scrapes to their scales and fins. Fine sand/mud will make the best substrate for them.
Freshwater Angelfish are used to very small amounts of flow, so there is no need to generate a powerful current – you should use low flow aeration or an under-gravel filter.
The tank will need exposure to 8 to 12 hours of light per day. Any aquarium light that can mimic the sun will do just fine.
To create a miniature swamp that mirrors your Angel’s tropical swampland, you can use plants that are native to the Amazon River. Amazon Sword plants have wide, broad leaves that make a safe and comfortable place for your fish to hide out.
Brazilian Waterweed, more commonly known as Anacharis, is another good choice for an Angel tank. Outside of native South American plants, you can include Java Fern and Java Moss.
Avoid using floating vegetation like Duckweed and Pondweed. These can overcrowd your tank and block out light.
What Size Tank Do Freshwater Angelfish Need?
You will need a minimum of 20 gallons to keep a pair of Freshwater Angelfish. You will need at least 80 gallons to keep a small school.
You will need at least 10 gallons for every Freshwater Angelfish in the tank.
Freshwater Angelfish Tank Mates
The Amazon River basin that these fish call home is a biodiversity hotspot. In the wild, these fish live alongside thousands of unique fish species.
The slow moving streams and swamps of the Amazon are dominated by other species of Freshwater Angelfish, and other Cichlids such as Oscars, Discus, and Banded Cichlids.
They live with Characins, small freshwater Catfish, and the more infamous Amazon River species such as the Silver Arowana and the mighty Arapaima.
Though they come from an area well known for their species richness, selecting compatible tank mates for these little guys can be quite difficult.
If keeping them with other Cichlids, choose species like the Discus, Dwarf Cichlid and Bolivian Ram. These species will not be easily bullied by your Angelfish. They might even be able to handle sharing a tank with Jack Dempseys, though these are known for being very pushy.
Outside of other Cichlids, Mollies and Dwarf Gouramis make ideal companions for your Angels. Small freshwater Catfish, particularly Plecos and Pictus are another good choice.
There are not very many good non-fish companions for these Cichlids. Crustaceans and other invertebrates risk being harassed or preyed on.
Avoid keeping African and South American Cichlids together. These Cichlids are from entirely different parts of the world and require different environmental conditions and water parameters.
Do not mix too many Angelfish species together, or they will behave aggressively towards one another in competition for territory and resources. Do not keep any of the more aggressive Cichlids, such as Oscars and Convicts, with these fish.
Barbs should be avoided due to their reputation as ‘fin-nippers’. These pushy fish will harass your Freshwater Angelfish and bite at their trailing fins.
Keeping Freshwater Angelfish Together
A single species tank is the best way to keep this Cichlid species. They can be kept in schools of about 5 or 6 individuals.
They will form territories and hierarchies within their school and their competition for dominance can be very engaging.
Freshwater Angelfish Care
Angelfish are known carriers of parasitic nematodes. Infection by these nematodes can be fatal, and can spread to the other fish in your aquarium.
Infection is caused by them eating nematode’s eggs or larvae, which can be found on unclean food and in dirty tanks. Once the larvae are eaten, there is a three month infection period as the worm goes through its life cycle. The worm will steal nutrition from its host, making the fish appear weak over time.
Infected fish may display inflammation, cysts or bleeding. If you notice these symptoms in your fish, it’s important to separate them from the tank as quickly as possible.
The parasite can be treated with a dewormer administered by a veterinarian that specializes in aquarium fish.
Hexamita is another parasite that affects Cichlids. It is caused by ingestion of a protozoan that infects the fish’s intestines and gallbladder.
The symptoms of a hexamita infection include weight loss, sluggishness, paleness and discoloration. It can be treated with medicine administered by a fish veterinarian.
To prevent parasitic infections make sure that you are clean your tank at least once a fortnight, or more in particularly messy or smaller tanks.
Make sure that you are carefully inspecting the food you give to your fish. Never give them wild caught prey.
Any new fish that you plan to place in your community tank should be quarantined for 2 to 4 weeks to make sure they are healthy.
What Do Anglefish Eat?
Angelfish are omnivores, but small live prey makes up the majority of their diet. In the wild, they feast on insects, larvae, crustaceans, rotifers and even smaller fish.
They require a diet high in protein and fiber, and do not eat lots of plant material or algae.
In the aquarium they should get the majority of their nutrition from live prey (just like in the wild).
Tubifex worms are a vital food source for these fish in the aquarium. They provide the protein content that they would be getting from wild rotifers. You can also give them live water fleas and brine shrimp. Outside of live prey, they can be given flake or pellet foods that are high in protein.
Freeze-dried glassworms and krill provide a little bit of extra protein and satisfy an Angelfish’s appetite.
These are big feeders that must be fed at least twice a day. Mated pairs that you are planning to breed must be fed even more, up to 4 times a day.
They do not eat aquarium plants or algae. However adding a little bit of plant food to their diet will help make sure that they get the fiber they need.
You can supplement their diets with cooked garden vegetables, including romaine, zucchini and spinach. The vegetables should be lightly blanched before you give them to your fish.
Breeding Freshwater Angelfish
One of the reasons these fish are so popular is that they are very easy to breed!
When introduced to a school, Freshwater Angelfish will pair off naturally. Once paired, they will set aside a territory for themselves and mate. When you see that your fish are paired off, you can prepare them for breeding.
Create a breeding environment using a 20 gallon tank with a low flow filter and a vertical, slanted surface. Tiles, PVC pipes and Anacharis all make good spawning surfaces.
Your breeding pair should be fed high protein flakes and live tubifex worms up to 4 times a day. The temperature of the breeding tank should be maintained at 82°F.
If you see your female spending a lot of time near the spawning surface, she is preparing to lay her eggs. She will lay anywhere between 200 and 400 eggs per spawning, and the male will fertilize them externally.
The parents will rear the eggs and fry for about a month before the fry can be separated and placed in a 15-20 gallon rearing tank.
Your fry should be fed brine shrimp larvae with hardboiled eggs mixed with water until they are 5 to 7 weeks old. After this, they can be fed flakes and dried foods.
After 6 to 8 weeks in the rearing tank, your Freshwater Angelfish should be ready to graduate to an adult tank.
Are Freshwater Angelfish Suitable For Your Aquarium? (Summary)
With their exotic beauty it’s easy to see why the ‘King of the Aquarium’ is so well loved.
They will shine in a tropical community tank just as well as they will stand out on their own. With a wide range of colors and varieties to choose from, they will fit into any tank.
If you are thinking of keeping a few of these beauties, it helps if you already have experience keeping tropical freshwater fish.
In comparison to the other more difficult Cichlids, they are quite beginner friendly. If you want all of the grace and majesty of an Angelfish, but don’t feel quite ready for a saltwater tank, the Freshwater Angelfish might just be the perfect choice.