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Quick Overview

  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare, P. altum, P. leopoldi
  • Care level: Medium
  • Temperament: Peaceful to aggressive
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water conditions: Temperature – 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, 6.8 – 7.8 pH, and 3 degrees and 8 degrees dKH
  • Max Size: 6 to 10 inches
  • Minimum tank size (as an adult): 55 gallons

Common Questions

As an avid aquarist, I often ask many questions about angelfish care because I want to make sure my fishes are doing fine. The questions I frequently ask are the following:

  • How long will my angelfish live?
  • What is the recommended diet for freshwater angelfish?
  • How do I make my angels happy and healthy?
  • Can I breed these fishes easily?
  • What kind of angelfish is easy to nurture?
  • What are the best decorations for an angelfish tank?

In the following sections of my article, I’m going to review the answers to these questions. But, first, let me talk about a brief overview of freshwater angelfish care.

Brief Overview: Angelfish Care

Generally, there are two kinds of angelfishes: saltwater and freshwater varieties.  People discovered freshwater angelfish in 1823. The first species recorded are the P. Scalare. For centuries, aquarists referred to the angelfish as a scalar.

The term angelfish came into existence in the 1920s. Whenever people say angelfish, they usually refer to the freshwater variety. Later on, the term freshwater was coined to differentiate them from the saltwater varieties.

Angelfish is notable for its long fins. Its long tails and fins lend them the graceful, regal beauty known to the species. Another prominent feature is its brightly colored stripes that create a beautiful contrasting blend in its slender body.

Freshwater angelfish live longer than its saltwater counterparts. They’re more adaptable to varying water conditions, as long as these conditions aren’t extremes. Young angelfishes are sociable but later grow into grumpy adults.

No one knows why they turn hostile to their fellow fishes in the community. However, don’t worry because not all angelfish become aggressive. They usually turn hostile in poor tank conditions or when they’re lonely. I’ll explain more about this behavior later.

I have been an aquarist for years, but I still find it difficult to distinguish females from the males. They all look the same except when the female gets pregnant.

Enough with the overview, I know you’re dying to learn more about this graceful beauty and buy one for your new aquarium. As I’ve promised, I’m going to answer the questions I’ve listed about angelfish care. Let’s start with their appearances, diet, and tank mates.

Angelfish in a aquarium

Angelfish Appearance

Freshwater angelfishes are strong and tough species. So, how long will my angelfish live? The shortest span is five years. If you can maintain an excellent water environment, your angelfish live up to 10 years old or maybe longer. You’ll never know. Perhaps, your angelfish will set the new record for the oldest angelfish in the world.

General Appearance

An angelfish has a disc-like body with long fins. Some types have a rectangular shape while most kinds have a square shape.

A young angelfish measures an inch or smaller. A mature one measures up to 6 to 10 inches depending on its breed. Their long fins add to this measurement, which requires large tanks for optimum growth. An angelfish can grow fast and can reach adulthood in roughly 18 months.

Freshwater angelfish has vertical dorsal fins and long anal fins. These fins are perpendicular to its body. Some angelfish have elongated anal fins, referred to as a “veil tail.” Due to interbreeding, a mutation occurs, which results to longer or shorter fins and unusual color combinations.

Variety in Colors

Colors vary depending on the breed. The most common is silver with black stripes. Other variations include marbles, leopards, zebras, veils, half blacks, blushing type, and gold. Here is a simple description of the different color varieties:

  • Marble angelfish has silver scales with black stripes and spots.
  • Zebra angelfish has stripes in its body or fins as zebras do.
  • Leopard angelfish has black spots.
  • Blushing angelfish has red spots on their gills.
  • Veiltail angelfish has long anal fish.
  • Gold angelfish has gold highlights and may have a marble combination as well.

Pure black angels are not a pure colored variety. They have stripes too, but these stripes aren’t noticeable to the naked eye. These varieties interbreed with other types, making “pure” black angels a rarity.

Sex and Other Characteristics

Like many other fish species, sex in angelfish is hard to distinguish. Females and males look similar, but if you study them carefully, you’ll see slight differences.

One notable characteristic is their reproductive system and behavior. Male angelfish may develop a small lump on their forehead near the nose. Its papilla is pointed. During mating, the male angelfish follows behind and passes over the laid eggs. It releases its sperm.

Female angelfish has a rounder and broader papilla than the male. This papilla is located near the anal fin. During mating, the female lays the egg on flat surfaces one at a time.

Diet & Feeding

The essential freshwater angelfish care is feeding. You must know when and what to feed your fish. Adult angelfish in captivity are omnivores while the angelfish fry needs a specific diet so they can grow into a healthy fish. With this voracious appetite, what is the recommended diet for freshwater angelfish?

Adult Angelfish Diet

Feeding angelfish may seem complicated, but honestly, it’s not. You need to know the eating habits of the angelfish in the wild.

Wild angelfish are carnivores. Even though they’ve been cultured to adapt to fish tank conditions, they still possess an innate behavior. So, feed your angelfish fish food such as brine shrimps, frozen bloodworms, and Mysis shrimp. Other meaty treats include tubeworms and mosquito larvae.

I recommend keeping some small shrimps in a separate tank. Shrimps breed fast so you won’t have to worry about running out of living shrimp supplies. This will become your angelfish’s snacks. When the shrimps overpopulate, you can move some to your angelfish tank as a sweet treat for them.

Add quality flakes for a staple food on a weekly basis. Rotate their diet and make sure to give them food that they can eat in three minutes.

Angelfish are foragers. Although they feed on the surface or in the middle of the water, they love to search for food at the bottom. So, take note of this behavior in decorating your fish tank. Here is some great food to feed your Angelfish!

Angelfish Fry Diet

Angelfish fry needs quality food. Feed them with baby brine shrimp (live ones), so these future angelfish grow up strong and healthy. If you’re breeding angelfish, you’ll need to feed the baby angelfish with brine shrimp for the next five weeks.

The Key to Feeding Angelfish

Observation is the key to feeding your angelfish successfully. When you feed angelfish, watch them for three to five minutes. Take note of how they react to a specific food. As they grow, their eating habits change. Their food requirements increase.

Each angelfish is unique. However, following the standard in care3 is okay. However, don’t limit your angelfish to these standards. Give them treats from time to time.

Angelfish Tank Setup

The natural habitat of angelfish is slow-moving in the tropical waters of South America and the Amazon River. Angelfish prefer dark areas with vegetation. They inhabit rivers, floodplains, and swamps. The water is slightly acidic.

Angelfish Tank size

In selecting tank size, consider the number of angelfish and its size. Other factors include the regularity of changing the water, pH levels, temperature, species of the angelfish, and feeding practices. A general guideline is as follows

  • Nickel-sized fish – one angelfish/gallon
  • Quarter-sized fish – one angelfish per 2 gal
  • Dollar sized fish – one angelfish/3 gal
  • Ready for pairing – one angelfish per 5 gal

Since angelfish can grow up to 10 inches, the minimum is 55 gallons or larger (Altum angelfish can grow on average 12 to 15 inches in height.)

Water Conditions

The optimum pH levels are between 6 and 7. The ideal temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit and should not exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Tap water is okay to use in angelfish tanks but treat the water first before placing it in the tank.

Angelfish like stagnant to slow-moving water. If you are adding an aquarium filter, select filters with gentle filtration. Angelfish aren’t fast swimmers. Any turbulent current in the waters stresses them. Stress is a factor of slow breeding or no breeding at all.

Decorations for Angelfish Tank

Angelfish love vegetated areas so include live plants with broad leaves. Floating plants are also ideal for shades. You can also include driftwood arranged vertically. But, make sure that the driftwood doesn’t have sharp edges. Smooth rocks on the bottom may also be suitable.

Angelfish love to forage food on the bottom. Placing rocks or gravel may not be practical. The uneaten food might lay in the bottom where the angelfish can’t reach. This uneaten debris causes decomposition, which results in affected water quality.

Any decoration is fine as long as they don’t have sharp or rough edges. To check for roughness, try the nylon test. Run a thread of nylon along the surfaces of the decoration. If the nylon snaps, the décor is rough or has a sharp edge.

Angelfish Tank Mates

Angelfish has a mild temperament, but occasionally, it displays aggressive behaviors. As young angelfish, it’s sociable and likes to mingle with other schools of fish. However, as it grows old, it becomes territorial. Angelfish may even turn hostile toward other fishes, nipping at their fins or tails.

Occasionally, you’ll observe some squabbles between the angelfishes. It’s normal but look out for hostility. This kind of behavior shows up when angelfish perceives threats from other fishes. To avoid such kind of territorial and hostile behaviors, here are some pointers to remember:

Good Companions for Angelfish

Another angelfish is an excellent addition to the tank. I recommend even numbers and a minimum of six angelfishes in the tank.

Festivum cichlids and mid-sized tetras are good companions for angelfish. Catfish, loaches, and African butterfly fish are ideal companions too. Other companions are rasboras, rainbow fish, gouramis, and discus.

If you still want to include small fishes, try Zebrafish. These fishes can swim fast. Angelfish being cichlids won’t be an issue. Barbs are also great tank mates but be careful in including it in the tank. Some barbs are aggressive, too, and might nip the angel’s fins and tails. Select peaceful ones.

Building a community for your angelfish requires careful selection of the fishes and, of course, large tanks. Feel free to experiment on your own, some combinations may not work but the fishkeeping hobby is all about learning.

How to Keep Angelfishes Healthy

Angelfish can live longer than 10 years. However, to achieve this, excellent tank conditions and freshwater angelfish care are important.

Pointers to Remember

Prevention is okay but being proactive is better. Keep the tank clean by doing a 30% water change.

Keep medications on hand. What are the medications to include in this kit?

  • Medication dips for wounds and scrapes
  • Antibiotics
  • Medicated foods
  • Ich control
  • Parasite eliminator

Common Diseases

Angelfish are prone to ich. Ich is a form of parasite, common in the fishkeeping hobby. It’s treatable by raising the temperature and medication.

Another disease you should look out for is the angelfish virus. It’s a highly infectious virus. Angelfish with a low immune system may get infected. Since it’s a virus, medication won’t work. You’ll have to rely on your angelfish to fight this virus.

Symptoms may include clamped fins, sluggish behavior, and excessive slime. If you observe these symptoms in any of your fish, remove the fish immediately. The incubation period is around three weeks.

This virus is deadly so quarantine any suspected fish. If your angelfish survives, it carries the virus for another six months until it rids itself of the virus. During breeding season, it’s best to remove infected eggs before they grow into mature angelfish. This action is saddening, but you must think of the others in the tank.

During the incubation period, make your angelfish as comfortable as possible. Remove or dim your aquarium lights and give your fish antibiotics for prevention. The angelfish virus sometimes results in secondary diseases.

The outbreak of flagellates is common in full fish tanks. Angelfish is prone to this outbreak. Stress and poorly managed fish tanks are the causes of this outbreak. Symptoms may include decreased appetite and white feces. If you suspect an infestation, treat the symptoms by increasing the temperature for 10 days. You may give medication such as metronidazole.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) isolated on black background

Breeding Angelfish

Spawning or breeding is easy. When two adult angelfishes are ready, they breed and fertilize eggs. Each breeding season, a female can lay up to 400 eggs. Although female angelfish can lay hundreds of eggs, only 10 to 20 percent of the eggs survive. The reason is the cichlids’ behavior of the species.

Most captive angelfish lose their parenting instinct. Fortunately, they eat their eggs after fertilization. To increase the survival rate, breeders often remove the eggs from the main tank.

Video on How to Breed Angelfish


Angelfishes are interesting species. They have mild temperaments but may become hostile in some circumstances. Angelfish care requires a medium level of fishkeeping skills. Although they are gentle creatures, this fish is not ideal for beginners in the hobby.


Hi, my name is Jordan. I've been in the fishkeeping hobby since my childhood. Welcome to my blog where I help fishkeepers enjoy the hobby by offering free guides, advice, & product reviews. Read more...