April 26

Angelfish Care Guide: Habitat, Appearance, Behavior, Feeding Information


In Brief

Angelfish are a group of peaceful but sometimes aggressive freshwater cichlids. They come in a variety of colors and stripes. They are native to South America, often inhabiting slow-moving waters.

They are quite easy to care for but do not react well to wide/inconsistent variations in water chemistry. Though they are not very active swimmers; their relatively large/broad size means they have a need for a tank with great depth.

The angelic character in them does seem to wane as these fish prey on small fishes and show their aggressiveness as breeding approaches. Their unique body shape, lightsome style of swimming and territorial inclination make a joy to watch. Their appearance, lifestyle, feeding habits and style of breeding are explicitly discussed in this article. Plus, you will also get to read about the things required to keep them in the home aquarium.


Angelfish are remarkable creatures and one of the most perceived freshwater fishes among beginner and long-time aquarists. The unusual shape and unique colouring have made this species extremely popular for freshwater aquariums. Additionally, they exhibit interesting personality traits and require little maintenance apart from water parameters and healthy feeding.

    Scientifically known as Pterophyllum, this genus belongs to the family of Cichlidae. They were first introduced in Europe in 1920 and were bred for the first time in 1930 in the United States. There are three identified species of Angelfish named- Pterophyllum altum, Pterophyllum leopoldi and Pterophyllum scalare. Among all three species, Pterophyllum scalare is the most frequently kept one in the aquariums followed by Pterophyllum altum.

    However, it is challenging to find Pterophyllum leopoldi in the trade which is also the smallest and most aggressive one.  They are often sold very young, but they grow large pretty quickly and need a large fish tank to house them.

    Natural Habitat

    These fishes are indigenous to tropical South America, mainly from Amazon River, Orinoco Basin and tributaries to Brazil, Peru and eastern Ecuador. They dwell in the slow-moving water and prefer areas with minimal lightings such as under dense vegetation and between rocky outcroppings where they can feed on small fishes, insects, plants and spineless species. The water is either salty or clear; however, the colour of fishes is better in clear water.


    Angelfish have an elegant form and graceful swimming movements. They can undoubtedly add beauty and grace to an aquarium with their vibrant colors. In terms of appearance, they bear minimal resemblance to any other fish of the Cichlid family. They have a winged leaf-like appearance, which is why the genus name Pterophyllum is given to them.

    They have round, disk-shaped and abbreviated bodies with stretched triangular dorsal and anal fins which help them to hide among vegetation in the water. The pectoral fins are elongated into long filaments while the caudal fin is broad and fan-shaped. In the wild, these fishes are stripped along their length which gives them further camouflage.

    They are silver in colour with a slight brown tinge and four black vertical stripes. The first stripe runs in a curve from the nape to the beginning of the ventral fin, the next one goes from the dorsal to the anus, the third one crosses the dorsal and the anal fin, and the last one runs through the start of the caudal fin.

    Due to natural mutations, there are also fishes which are in lace form with solid black colour without any stripes. At maturity, the fishes develop streamers on the outer corners, and their pectoral fins are large.

    The above description of Angelfish is of the original wild-caught specimen. However, now Angelfish are mostly captive bred and with selective breeding, now you can find various colour patterns and long-finned varieties of these fishes. There are several beautiful angelfish types with different colours including:

    • Leopard Angelfish: This variety of fishes has spots all over the body when they are juvenile, and as they mature, the spots grow closer.
    • Silver Angelfish: These fishes have red coloured eyes and silver body with four vertical black bars that run through the body. The first one goes through the eye and the other three from the top and bottom fins. Some of the fishes also have black speckles on the top half of the body.
    • Gold Angelfish: These are a little difficult to breed, but they are gorgeous and can develop an orange crown. 
    • Albino Angelfish: The fishes have pink coloured eye pupils similar to the albino animals, and they lack pigmentation.
    • Blushing Angelfish: They have a white body with red cheek area and are considered to be the most exquisite out of all the varieties.
    • Marble Angelfish: They have broken pattern of vertical stripes in silver and black colour. Also, you can find undertones of golden and white tones in the head region, while the fins appear to have rays of white and black.

    The lesser bred species; Pterophyllum altum has a notch on the upper side of its snout with a steep forehead as compared to the rounded forehead in other two species. Adult P.altum fishes have red spots and blue-green cast on the fins

    While Pterophyllum scalare can grow to a maximum length of 15 cm; Pterophyllum altum which are considered the largest of the three species can reach up to 30 cm at maturity. Some of the varieties can appear taller due to their fins.

    Life Span: How long do angelfish live

    Angelfish can live up to 12-15 years in a well-planted aquarium. The health of the plants and water parameters are often related to the health of the Angelfish.


    Angelfish are timid and gets scared easily by loud noises and sudden moves. Even though they are considered as community fish, but just like other Cichlids, they can also get quite aggressive if they are not kept with the right species. Angelfish are carnivorous, and they tend to prey on smaller fishes. This does not mean that they are very aggressive, characteristic to any other fish; Angelfish are also opportunistic and eat anything that can fit into their mouths. They are usually peaceful fish but tend to become territorial at the time of breeding. They have the habit of pairing off and developing a stable nuclear family to defend their territory.

    They dwell in the middle of the tank and are known to be active swimmers. A good thing about Angelfish is that they do not disturb or damage the plants.

    Tank Requirements

    Angelfish is of medium difficulty in terms of care and requirements; however, it can be a little difficult for the beginners as these fishes need a large tank, stable water conditions and tend to show aggressiveness towards juveniles. They can get sensitive to changes in water conditions, which is why you have to keep a constant eye on the chemical levels in the water.

    The tank for keeping Angelfish should have a minimum size of 30 gallons which can house a pair comfortably. It would be better to have a tall aquarium to accommodate the body shape of the fishes. It should be noted that if you keep Angelfish in small tanks, then they can get unhealthy and aggressive.

    A larger tank, it must be equipped with filter for 55 gallon tank, will give them enough space to swim, and they tend to become less territorial, which is good for other fishes. Another advantage of a bigger tank is that when these fishes spawn, they will feel secure and would not eat their eggs.


    Angelfish are omnivorous and eat all kinds of foods in a tank including frozen food and live food. Make sure that you give your Angelfish a healthy balanced diet of both dry and meaty meal. You can feed them high-quality flakes and occasionally give blood worms, glass worms and brine shrimps.

    The food can be given to them 2-3 times a day, but only give them as much food as they can east in sixty seconds. Do not feed a large meal as the uneaten food can make your tank dirty. Angelfish feed at the surface or mid-level in the tank, however, at times they also dwell around the bottom looking for worms and small insects.

    As the fish is a greedy one, you should always ensure that you never overfeed it in any condition.  This should be primarily kept in mind while feeding the fishes with blood worms and mosquito larvae as they can have terrible flatulence. These fishes are aggressive eaters and tend to gorge too much.

    Overeating will result in fat build-up and inactivity which can kill the fishes. It is better to depend on brand food and keep live food should be given as rare treats. Also, you should decrease the amount of frozen food once your fishes start getting older.

    In their natural habitat, Angelfish get up to 80% of fibers from their food, it is essential that you provide an appropriate balance of protein and fibre in their diet. You can find many brand foods that include a raw plant in their products to maintain and enhance the coloring of the fishes. Alternatively, you can merely add from fresh lettuce and spinach in the food to meet their fibre requirement easily.

    The health of your fishes mainly depends on the quality of the food, so to avoid any infections in the tank, ensure to feed your fishes a variety of different types of food. With a varied diet, the fishes will thrive and will be much more apt to breed.


    During Angelfish breeding process, the fish form stable monogamous pairs and lay the eggs on a flat/vertical surfaces such as a piece of log or a leaf. But, at maturity, they keep breeding continuously, so it should be kept in mind to deal with the vast quantity of fry before you decide to breed your Angelfish.

    Similar to other Cichlids, Angelfish take care of their eggs during breeding, and when the juveniles develop, the parents continue to take care of them until they get big enough to swim. As these fishes choose their mates on their own, it is better to go for six or more small fishes and let them grow together so that they can select their respective partners.

    While choosing these six Angelfish, make sure to pick those with straight dorsal and anal fins and perfect feelers without any bends in them. These fishes are active feeders and grow very fast; also females produce eggs in high numbers. You should pick up fishes which are healthy and active.

    Once, you have selected the fishes, house them in at least a 20-gallon tank and feed them well so that they can grow and reach the breeder size.

    With mature fishes, it is possible to stimulate breeding by changing the water pH and raising the temperature to 27 degree Celsius. Freshwater Angelfish reach the reproductive age at about 9-12 months and can lay eggs every 8-10 days. At the age of three years, the frequency of spawning starts decreasing and eventually stops after a while.

    You can observe the fishes to find out if they are ready for spawning by checking the appearance of the pair’s genital papillae. A couple usually sticks together and try to scare off other fishes at the time of spawning.

    When spawning takes place the female deposits the eggs on a flat surface, and the male fertilises them. Both male and female fish take several turns over the site of spawning until several hundred eggs are laid. The parents continue to hover around the eggs and fan continuously with their fins to create more water circulation around the eggs. The unfertilised eggs that turn white after a while are removed by the parents later.

    You can provide newly hatched brine shrimp to the Angelfish fry, 2-4 times a day for the first four weeks. Post that, they can be given good quality flakes and dried blood worms in powder form. You can also continue to feed some brine shrimp to the fishes occasionally.

    In order to maintain the excellent health of the fry, it is recommended to give them a variety of food once they get to the size of a quarter. You can feed them guppy fry and a combination of flakes, frozen brine shrimp and frozen blood worms for next four weeks in rounds.

    When you are leaving the fry with the parents, ensure that they are given adequate peace and aren’t disturbed unnecessarily. To filter a fry tank, you should use a sponge filter as it will make sure that the fry would not be sucked into the filter and even the brine shrimp stay safe.

    It is essential to clean the tank for proper growth and development of the fry because decomposed waste can lead to ammonia build-up which can be deadly for the fishes.

    Unfortunately, some of the captive Angelfish lose their rearing instinct and eat their eggs. This can happen if the fish spawn in a community tank and they get stressed or if the couple is inexperienced. In such cases, if you are planning to hatch the eggs away from the parents, then you would need a 20-gallon tank with an inverted piece of slate in a jar which can be used by the fishes to lay eggs.

    Having a jar will make it easy for you to remove the entire spawn at once. With slight changes in the water, hatching usually occurs within 36-48 hours. Post-hatching; make sure to increase the aeration so that all fry get enough oxygen. Once, the fry start swimming which generally happens after 3-5 days, you can feed them some newly hatched brine shrimp.


    The captive Angelfish can survive in a wide range of water conditions, although they should be kept in a warm aquarium with an ideal temperature of about 27 degree Celsius. The water pH should be from 6.8 to 7.8 with a hardness of 54-145 ppm and to maintain all this, you can buy the best aquarium controller. It should be noted that these parameters should be kept stable as much as possible to avoid stressing the fishes.

    If you are keeping the aquarium in a room with a temperature below 25 degrees Celsius, then you have to use an aquarium heater to increase the heat. Make sure to clean 10-25% of water at least twice a month to maintain good health of the fishes.

    Before adding new water to the aquarium, make sure that you clean the glass to get rid of any algae and that the water is dechlorinated.  You should use a good water conditioner to provide a safe environment for your fishes. In case if the water is not clean, the gills of your Angelfish can get burnt which will eventually lead to their death.

    The fishes need subdued lighting, good water movement and efficient filtration. As Angelfish are hefty eaters, there will be a lot of food waste in your aquarium. Make sure that you spend on buying the best aquarium power filter that maintains ideal atmosphere for this fish.

    In their natural habitat, Angelfish have an abundance of vegetation. You should include live plants in your freshwater aquarium as the water quality can be determined readily by these plants. The live plants add oxygen to the water, keep it clean and also inhibit the growth of algae.

    Angelfish like plants such as Nymphaea micrantha and Amazon sword with broad leaves so that they can lay their eggs on them. You can also add some driftwood and vertical standing rocks to your tank. Moreover, as these will provide hiding places, they help in keeping the fishes stress-free and happy.

    Angelfish originate from large areas of South America, which is why they are familiar to sandy substrates. When setting up a tank, you can either add sand substrate or go with just gravel. While sand will provide a more natural look to your aquarium, it can get difficult to clean up.

    On the other hand, gravel can trap a lot of waste and does not need a ton of cleaning. Either way, it is also important to regularly remove any debris settled in the gravel/sand before it decomposes which will keep the ammonia, nitrate and nitrite in order.


    Just like other Cichlids, Angelfish are susceptible to many fish ailments. This usually happens if the water quality is poor and unstable. The most common problem is Ich which is referred to as White Spot disease which is caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. When there is a high level of ammonia in the water, it caused a lack of oxygen. In such condition, the fishes get stressed and have higher chances of contracting Ich. However, this can be treated by increasing the temperature of the water to 30 degree Celsius for a couple of days.

    Angelfish are also prone to Pop-Eye which is characterized by sores, dark spots, loss of fins and cloudy eyes. This ailment is caused by internal parasitic, fungal and bacteria apart from poor maintenance of the tank. Other commonly occurring illnesses include Hexamita, Dropsy, Flukes, Velvet disease and mouth fungus.

    It is crucial to know all the signs and symptoms of common tank diseases because catching them on time can make a huge difference. Always keep in mind that whatever you add to your aquarium can bring diseases as well. To avoid such fatal ailments, make sure to clean anything that you add to your tank first which includes even the plants, substrates and decorations.

    Compatibility and Aquarium Mates

    Angelfish are ideal for a community tank, but as they are from the Cichlid family, they often get territorial and attack the smaller fishes and prawns. The young fishes stay in groups, and as they get mature, they form couples and try to scare off other fishes. To deal with their semi-aggressive nature, it would be better to introduce tank mates while the Angelfish are still small and young so that they can grow together.

    Angel Fish tank mates can be variety of medium and large-sized fishes which may include Platies, Corydora Catfish, Bristlenose Pleco, Dwarf Gourami, German Blue Ram Cichlids, Swordtails, Keyhole Cichlids, Kribensis Cichlids, Kuhli Loach, Head and Tail Light Tetras, Lemon Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras and many more.

    You should totally avoid small sized fishes such as cardinal Tetra, Neon Tetra, Rasbora, bloodfin tetra or any other fish that can fit in an Angelfish’s mouth. Also, make sure to be careful with fishes that have the tendency to nip at fins as they can deteriorate the environment of the aquarium. As a basic rule for any aquarium, do not add any species which is more aggressive than the Angelfish.

    Angel Fish FAQs

    Are angelfish aggressive?

    Angelfish are peaceful aquarium species. But, as they are cichlids, it is not uncommon to see them exhibit some degree of territoriality wherein they could become increasingly aggressive. Besides this, angelfish are also intolerant of aquarium fish species that are smaller to them and would sometimes feast on such fishes.

    What is the lifespan of an angelfish?

    Angelfish will live for up to 10 years in captivity - and even for 15 years or more - if the conditions that promote their thriving are optimally sustained in the home aquarium. It should be noted that they thrive in a well-planted aquarium with water temperature ranging from 26 - 300C and pH value between 6.5 - 7.5.

    What do angel fish like to eat?

    Angelfish are omnivorous in their feeding orientation which means they will be fine with plant-based and animal-based feeds. In this wise, foods such as frozen Mysis shrimps, zucchini, blanched peas, shredded lettuce, insects and rotifer should suffice. It is however important that one mixes these food items to ensure that the fish is served a balanced diet.

    How big do angelfish get?

    Averagely, angelfish can grow up to about 15cm (in length) in the home aquarium. Notwithstanding, one can come across an angelfish measuring about 25 cm even while it is in captivity. One factor that plays a significant role in their growth - with respect to size - is the size of the tank in which they are housed.

    Wrapping Up:

    If you have been looking for an exclusive and beautiful freshwater species, then Angelfish would be the perfect choice for you. Even though beginners might face a few challenges with Angelfish, they are still easier to manage as compared to other Cichlids.

    With a large tank, balanced diet and clean water, Angelfish can thrive within a tank. With the array of colours and patterns, these fishes are a lovely sight to behold when they swim elegantly in an aquarium.


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