Freshwater Angelfish – A Complete Care Guide

Hey fellow Angelfish Fans 🐠 !

Looking to keep one of these majestic fish? You are in luck today because today’s post is all about the Freshwater Angelfish. In this post, we will cover their origins, go over a few types, address tank mates, and help you establish the proper environment for them.

Be sure to read and take notes📝 . Let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Freshwater angelfish are generally peaceful fish that can be kept in a community planted tank.
  • It can be slightly challenging to find appropriate tank mates for angels due to their potential aggression, but they do well with larger tetras and their own species.
  • Angelfish have undergone selective breeding to express the best colors and patterns possible.
  • Breeding angelfish is straightforward and usually happens on its own in the right settings. This has eliminated the need to collect wild angelfish.

Species Overview

Scientific NamePterophyllum scalare
Common NamesAngelfish, Freshwater angelfish
OriginAmazon River system
Care LevelEasy
Lifespan10 to 12 years
TemperamentPeaceful (Semi-aggressive when breeding)
Tank LevelAll
Minimum Tank Size40 gallons
Temperature Range75 – 82°F
Water Hardness1-5 KH
pH Range6.0 to 7.0
Filtration/Water FlowModerate to high
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingEgg Layer
Difficulty to BreedEasy
CompatibilityCertain community species
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

Brief Introduction

Freshwater angelfish remain one of the most popular fish available in the aquarium hobby. These fish have been around for decades and still hold the hearts of hobbyists everywhere.

Now more than ever, dozens of angelfish varieties featuring every color and pattern are readily available. Their easy care requirements on top of their simple breeding, make angelfish one of the best feature fish you can have in your freshwater tank.

There are a few considerations that come along with owning angelfish, though. These fish, scientifically known as Pterophyllum scalare, actually belong to the cichlid family. If you know anything about freshwater fish, then some red flags might be going off in your head. Cichlids are aggressive, right?

Yes, freshwater cichlids are known for being aggressive. However, angelfish are one of the most peaceful cichlid species for the home aquarium. They are often kept with community tank species but can also be kept with other semi-aggressive cichlids. This leaves a lot of possibilities for tank mates and tank setups!

It should be noted that two other species of angelfish are sometimes seen in the aquarium hobby: P altum (Known as Altum Angelfish) and P leopoldi. For this article, we will only focus on P scalare.

Do Angelfish Live in Freshwater?

Yes! Angelfish live in freshwater. But angelfish also live in saltwater. This is a case of stolen identity. Freshwater angelfish are not related to saltwater angelfish. Freshwater angels belong to the Cichlidae family while saltwater angels belong to the Pomacanthidae family. Even as you go further up their scientific taxonomy, there is no connection between these two fish.

Most likely, they are both regarded as angelfish due to their intricate trailing fins and rounded appearance.

Origin and Habitat

Angelfish originate from the Amazon River basin throughout the northern regions of tropical South America. More specifically, they can be found in Colombia, French Guiana, Peru, Brazil, and Guyana.

These fish are found in slow-moving waters filled with vegetation. Water is soft and stained from tannins due to organic matter that falls from the jungle canopy above.

Today, most aquarium angelfish are bred in captivity. As we’ll see, they are easy to breed and acclimate well to aquarium conditions. This makes transporting them to your own aquarium much easier, with less risk of introducing disease and parasites from wild-caught individuals.


What’s angelic about a fish? We’ll tell you.

Freshwater Angelfish

Angelfish are unlike any other fish available. They have compact yet tall bodies with trailing fins. These long pelvic fins are sometimes known as feelers as they can be seen extended forwards and sideways to interpret their surroundings better. With their fins and slow, graceful movements, they effortlessly float from one side of the tank to the other. Some species naturally have red eyes and they make excellent centerpiece fish.

On top of their ornate appearance, angelfish also come in many different colors and patterns. Here are some of the most common color variation options:

  • Koi angelfish. Named after their resemblance to the coldwater species, koi angelfish feature mottled variations of white, yellow/orange, and black.
  • Marble angelfish. There are a few variations of angelfish within the marble category, including veil tail varieties. These fish often feature black and silver marbling with long, uneven streaks of color. The black marbling varies from fish to fish.
  • Zebra angelfish. Zebra angelfish are similar to their wild-type variations but have much broader and more even alternating silver and black stripes.
  • Silver angelfish. These angels are thought to be the most natural variety, with a silver body and random, thin vertical black stripes.
  • Black lace angelfish – pictured above. This fish offers a silver body with black strips and the trademark red eye
  • Gold angelfish – A light sliver and orange to gold color near the face. You will also see gold marble varieties that will offer black marks across the body and fins
  • Veil angelfish – These fish have long upper and lower fins that make them appear taller in the aquarium. They do best in tall planted tanks.

How Big Do Freshwater Angelfish Get?

Don’t be fooled by the small angelfish for sale at your local fish stores. These fish are sold as juveniles but can grow to get quite big over time. Freshwater angelfish can grow to be 6 inches in length and 8 inches tall. It isn’t unheard of for them to reach up to 12 inches in height at mature size.


On top of their size, angelfish can live for considerably longer times. Freshwater angelfish can live to be over a decade old, sometimes surpassing 12 years of age!

This long lifespan is important to keep in mind as they are a long-term commitment. On top of their large size and volatile temperament, angelfish should never be an impulse buy.

Food and Diet

To get the best fins and colors out of your angelfish, you want to provide the best food and diet possible. These are large centerpiece fish, but they have small mouths and aren’t overly ambitious when it comes to feeding times. This means that feeding angelfish requires some special attention.

Angelfish tend to eat at the surface of the water. They may chase after some sinking food, but they prefer a high-quality pellet or flake food that can easily fit in their mouth. It should also be noted that they’re not overly ambitious eaters, and prefer to eat at a relaxed pace. If the other tank mates in the aquarium are overly active, then it might be necessary to offer both floating and sinking foods for better distribution.

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Otherwise, freshwater angelfish will appreciate a variety of live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods, like brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, and mosquito larvae. As omnivores, they can be offered a variety of blanched vegetables as well, including cucumber and lettuce. These vegetables can be clipped to the side of the aquarium to prevent your angel from dragging its fins across the bottom of the tank.

How Often Do You Feed Angelfish and How Much?

In general, aquarium fish should be fed at least once a day. The portion should be able to be eaten within 5 minutes, with the excess being immediately removed from the tank. Many hobbyists prefer to feed their fish in more frequent, smaller portions. An example of this feeding schedule would be a pinch of food in the morning, afternoon, and night.

Temperament and Behavior

Angelfish are largely peaceful fish. Many hobbyists keep them without ever having a problem with other fish. Now and again, a hobbyist will experience an overly aggressive angelfish, which taints the name of the species altogether.

It is true that angelfish can be semi-aggressive. Caution should be taken when keeping angels, especially larger individuals, with slow or small fish. When buying angelfish, try to go for juveniles. Sadly, there is probably a reason why a large angelfish has been returned to the store, often caused by over-aggression.

Otherwise, angelfish are very docile. They can be seen floating at the top and in the middle of the water column without hardly moving their fins. They may swim at all levels of the aquarium, but they especially like hanging out by the surface, waiting for food.

Best Tank Mates

While often sold as a community fish, angels need some careful tank mate planning. In general, angelfish can be kept with most community tank species as long as they aren’t fin nippers or overly active.

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It is important to keep in mind that a juvenile angelfish will grow. Just because they can be safely kept with certain species while small does not mean that those same tank mates will be compatible in the future. Because of this, it’s best to plan your community aquarium for long-term success.

Here are some of the best community angelfish tank mates:

As a cichlid, angelfish can also be kept in freshwater aquariums that feature peaceful cichlids. Here are some of the recommended species:

How Many Should Be Kept Together?

Adult angelfish have been known to be aggressive towards one another. But there’s no denying how incredible these fish look together in planted community tanks!

These fish are best kept in pairs as male and female in the long term. In larger tanks, small groups of 5 or more may be kept as long as fish are added together at the same time while still juveniles. It’s also strongly recommended to only keep female angelfish together to prevent harassment, though this can be difficult as there are minuscule differences between males and females.

To prevent aggression altogether, only keep a single angelfish in any given tank.

What Size Tank Do You Need For 2 Angelfish?

Many hobbyists like keeping freshwater angelfish in pairs. This increases the chances of breeding and also lessens the possibility of aggression arising.

In general, the bare minimum tank size for any angelfish is 40 gallons. However, if keeping only a single pair of angelfish in an aquarium by themselves, then it’s possible to keep them in a 20 gallon tall aquarium; this is one of the only fish in the aquarium trade that does better in a taller aquarium rather than a long one.

Do Angelfish Eat Other Angelfish?

A large, adult angelfish may eat a smaller angelfish. Though these fish have tiny mouths, they’re very capable of bullying other fish until they die. At that point, they may begin to eat the fish. This is especially known to be true for smaller species, like neon tetras.

Whenever adding angelfish to an aquarium, make sure that they are all relatively the same size and preferably from the same tank.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Angelfish tank mates to avoid are smaller, slower fish. Because of this, most species of tetra are incompatible with angels; at the same time, fin-nipping tetra species must also be avoided. Overly aggressive species, like African cichlids, can’t be kept with angelfish as they may injure or stress them out. Lastly, tank mates can’t be overly active as this could also cause damage to your fish or cause unnecessary competition during feeding periods.

Complete Care Guide

Once you get the tank mate situation sorted out, angelfish care is easy. These are relatively hardy fish that have been captive bred in the aquarium trade for decades. This has made them very resistant to common aquarium illnesses and forgiving of incorrect water conditions.

Here are some ways you can give your angelfish the best life possible!

Aquarium Setup

The best angelfish aquarium setup will resemble their natural habitat with slow-moving water and dense vegetation. In fact, the angelfish body shape is perfectly designed to flow in and out of live plants. Not only do plants make your fish feel at home, but they also help maintain water quality and lessen the need for tank maintenance.

On top of live plants, hard structures, like driftwood and smooth rocks, can be used to make your fish feel more comfortable.

Tank Size

Angelfish can get to be pretty decent sizes, but their relaxed demeanor and ease of care don’t make a large tank necessary.

What size tank do angelfish need? A single pair of angelfish without any other fish need a 20 gallon tall tank. A pair of angelfish with other community fish need at least a 40 gallon aquarium. A small group of angels should be kept in freshwater aquariums over 100 gallons.

As mentioned before, a tall tank is better than a long tank when keeping angelfish due to their long, pointed fins.

Tank Decorations

Angels are best kept in aquariums that match the conditions of the freshwater rivers and streams that they’re found in, but they have adapted to the more traditional appearance of hobbyist tanks. This means they can be kept in a planted aquarium with natural driftwood and rock or colorful decor and pirate ships.

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Just as long as these decorations are aquarium-safe and won’t tug at your fish’s delicate fins, they can be used for an angel tank.


Similarly, angelfish can be kept on an assortment of substrates, like sand, gravel, or even a bare bottom. Sand is beneficial for hobbyists looking to achieve a natural appearance that facilities plant root growth. Gravel is a popular choice for beginner hobbyists that aren’t interested in keeping plants. A bare bottom is great for angel keepers looking to minimize their workload.


Angels generally aren’t shy fish. In fact, shyness can be a sign that something is wrong. For the most part, angelfish are likely to be found in the front of the tank. If they’re hiding in the back, then they might be facing bullying from other fish, improper water parameters, or overly intense lighting.

If you find that your fish is staying in the shadows of your tank, observe for bullying, test water conditions, and try lowering the lighting intensity. Adding floating plants and creating more areas of shade can help your fish feel more comfortable.

Live Plants

Live plants are the best tank mates for angelfish! These fish can be kept with all species of plant in a high or low tech setting. They especially enjoy floating plant species that provide food and coverage at the top of the tank.

Tank Maintenance

If keeping angels in a planted aquarium, then not a lot of tank maintenance is required as the plants will naturally recycle excess nutrients. Here’s how to make sure your angel tank stays running smoothly!

Filtration and Aeration

Angelfish do best in an aquarium with little to no water current. However, adequate water flow is necessary for the circulation of gases and nutrients throughout the aquarium.

For the most part, the current from an appropriately sized hang on the back filter or canister filter will be gentle enough for angels. If you find that your fish is struggling to swim in your aquarium, then it might be necessary to baffle the return flow.

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Keep in mind that angelfish grow to large sizes, which means more waste. Gauge how many fish you have and their size when picking out your aquarium filter. Otherwise, additional aeration is not necessary, though a carbon dioxide diffuser might be necessary for heavily planted setups.

Water Parameters

Angels are hardy fish, but cannot tolerate traces of ammonia or nitrite. Planted aquariums require nitrate to run, though levels should always remain under 30 ppm. It may be necessary to dose nutrients for healthy plant growth.

While wild angelfish originate from acidic water conditions, most individuals have been captive bred. This means that they have adapted to average aquarium conditions with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 and a water temperature between 75 and 82°F.

Tank Maintenance

For most aquariums, a 10-25% weekly or biweekly cleaning schedule maintains water parameters. This percentage and frequency may change depending on the number of plants and current bioload in the aquarium. It’s strongly recommended to use an aquarium vacuum while performing a water change to remove any debris or waste that gets stuck in the substrate or between plant stems.

Another part of maintenance is trimming plants. Though this isn’t required, some plants can grow unruly, which can start to become overwhelming. Not to mention that you will need to keep up with feeding your plants as well.


Breeding angelfish is easy, fun, and rewarding. These fish are relatively easy to breed as long as you’re able to establish a male and female pairing. Breeding should take place in a separate tank if there are other fish present in the aquarium. A video below by Patrick Neary goes into more detail.

There are a few differences between male and female angels, but they can be hard to see. One of the only, though not always guaranteed, ways to tell these fish apart is by examining their behavior. Male angelfish tend to show much more territorial behavior than females, though some females can be just as aggressive.

In general, it’s best to shop from pet stores that already have an established breeding pair. Otherwise, a small group of juvenile angelfish can be purchased and maintained until a breeding pair has formed.

Once a pair has formed, they angelfish mate on their own. The water temperature may be slightly elevated, and the quality of food increased to encourage spawning. When ready, the female will release eggs that the male will fertilize. Angelfish parents are very protective of their eggs and should be kept together during this time.

Within a few days, the eggs will hatch the fry will become free-swimming. Baby brine shrimp are great to feed these newborn fish as the yolk sacs of newly hatched brine shrimp offer a lot of nutritional value to them. The parents will continue offering protection during this time but have been known to eat their fry if not supplied with enough food!

Fry may be fed tiny foods, like brine shrimp nauplii, until ready to accept bigger portions.

Fish Diseases

Though angels are hardy fish, they’re susceptible to a few unique diseases and illnesses. Like other fish, they can contract ich, velvet, and fin rot, especially if their long fins are allowed to scrape across objects in the aquarium. Here are a few less common problems you might experience with your angelfish:

  1. Cloudy eyes. Cloudy eyes are never a good sign in fish. They’re usually indicative of a larger bacteria, fungus, or parasitic infection. Cloudy eyes are usually caused by poor water quality and can usually be treated with consistent water changes and light medication treatment.
  2. Gill flukes. These are parasites that take over the fish’s gills and cause inflammation, difficulty breathing, and secondary infections. Gill flukes are a little more difficult to treat than affected fish experiencing cloudy eyes and can require medication, dips, and consistent water changes.
  3. Hexamita. Another parasitic infection, Hexamita causes hole in the head for angels. This is usually caused by water quality and can be treated by removing carbon from the aquarium, medications, and water changes.

When picking out your new fish, find angelfish that are bright in color, round in the head, and with clear eyes. If possible, ask the employees at the pet stores to feed the fish in front of you. There should be no hesitation to eat. Once home, quarantine your angels accordingly.


Angels are very popular fish for a good reason! They are easy to care for, beautiful in color, and a statement piece for any freshwater aquarium. It can be slightly challenging to find suitable tank mates for angels, but they do well on their own, in pairs, or with large, moderately active species. When kept in pairs, they’re easy and rewarding to breed!

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