Angelfish 101: Complete Care and Species Guide 2024

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Featured Image – angelfish care guide
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 9, 2024
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The stunning and extraordinary appearance of Angelfish makes them an intriguing addition to any freshwater aquarium. Nonetheless, these fish need proper care and attention to thrive and stay healthy.

Article Summary

  • Angelfish are freshwater fish belonging to the Cichlidae family and are well-known for their unique shape and stunning colors.
  • They can be kept in pairs or small groups, but it’s essential to provide a suitable tank size to prevent territorial issues.
  • They can be aggressive, especially during breeding, and should be carefully monitored for signs of aggression or illness.

If you’re thinking of owning angelfish, it’s good to learn a little more about their specific care needs to make sure they’re the right fit for you.

Here’s everything you need to know about angelfish care, including aquarium set up, water parameters, nutrition, and suitable tankmates…

Natural Habitat

Freshwater angelfish (all Pterophyllum species) originate from a large area of tropical South America, including the majority of the Amazon River system.

They are mostly seen in secluded and low-light areas with slow-moving water.

You’ll often find wild angelfish underneath overhanging vegetation, leaves, or trees that have dropped into the river. 

History of Pterophyllum Species

The Pterophyllum scalare angelfish was first described in 1824 by F. Schultze, whereas the Pterophyllum altum was described in 1906 by J. Pellegrin, and the Pterophyllum was described in 1963 by J. P. Gosse.

The visual differences between each Pterophyllum species are quite subtle…

The visual differences between each Pterophyllum species are quite subtle, though the Pterophyllum leopoldi has 29 to 35 scales in a lateral row and straight predorsal contour.

In comparison, the Pterophyllum scalare has 35 to 45 scales in a lateral row and a notched predorsal contour.


Altum Angelfish

The stripes on both species are also slightly different. 

The Pterophyllum altum is the largest species of freshwater angelfish and has marginally different markings than both the Pterophyllum scalare and leopoldi. 

Its body is silver with brown or red vertical stripes, unlike the silver base and black stripes of the pterophyllum scalare and pterophyllum leopoldi.

Long-fin Variety

Long-fin varieties known as veiltails have also been developed over the years through selective breeding.

The majority of freshwater angelfish sold in the fishkeeping hobby are Pterophyllum scalare, but Pterophyllum altum are also sometimes available.

The tiniest and most aggressive freshwater species of angelfish known as Pterophyllum leopoldi are quite rare and very seldom seen in the hobby. 

Additionally, wild angelfish are not often available. Most of the angelfish species you’ll see in pet stores will be captive-raised.

How Do You Tell If an Angelfish Is a Male or Female?

Angelfish are tricky to sex, especially as juveniles.

However, some mature males will have a large nuchal hump, which is a bump on their forehead.

This isn’t apparent on all male angelfish, though.

Another way to determine the sex of angelfish is to look at the shape of the tubes that come down from the underside of their body.

Where to look

These tubes are very small so they can be difficult to spot. On male angelfish, the tube will look similar to the tip of a sharpened pencil. 

The tube on female angelfish will be much rounder and have a cylindrical shape to it. Female angelfish typically have a slightly more rounded and wider belly or body than males, too.


The tube is most visible during spawning.


If you want to establish a mating pair, it’s best to purchase around 6 juvenile angelfish and raise them all together.

This gives you a fairly good chance of getting at least one mating pair out of the group.

Once mature, the males and females will pair off and attempt to spawn. Or you can just purchase a proven pair from your local fish store or breeder.

Freshwater Angelfish

Varieties of Angelfish

Freshwater angelfish can grow up to 6 inches long and their fins can reach up to 8 inches in height.

  • Standard color varieties of this fish include silver, gold, and marbled. Marbled patterns have black spots or jagged bands instead of straight black stripes.
  • Platinum and gold angelfish have no bands and are entirely silver or gold in color.
  • Specialty colors of angelfish include koi, black lace, blushing, and panda. There are even albino angelfish with white or silver body that have faint white stripes and red eyes.

The former resembles a Kohaku Koi fish thanks to its silver or white body, orangey-red spots, and black marbled pattern. 

  • Black lace angelfish are entirely black in color due to their excessive pigmentation.
  • Blushing angelfish have a gold or silver body with two bright red or orange gills that make them look like they’re blushing.
  • Panda angelfish, as you might have already guessed, share a similar color form of a panda.

They have bright white scales and black splodges all over their body.

Personally, I love angelfish koi colors and the natural silver and black stripes of wild angelfish as they look incredible in aquariums with lots of plants. 

Although not as commonly available in the fishkeeping hobby, you can get veiltail varieties of angelfish.

They have incredibly long fins and can come in any color or pattern as those with standard fins. 

As you can see, there are a lot of color varieties you can choose from.

Whether you decide to keep gold, silver, black, or koi angelfish, your angelfish tank is sure to look stunning.

Are Angelfish Good for Beginners?

Angelfish are a good choice for beginners to the fishkeeping hobby as they can withstand a fairly wide range of parameters and are quite hardy fish.

However, like with any fish, they require some maintenance and care to keep them happy and healthy. 

How Long Do Angelfish Live For?

With proper care, angelfish can live up to 10 years in captivity.

This is a fairly long time compared to some other species of tropical fish like guppies and platies.

As a result, angelfish are quite the commitment and will be with you for a considerable amount of time, provided you look after them correctly.

Freshwater Fish Tank
Freshwater Fish Tank

Why Do Angelfish Die So Easily?

Like other species of freshwater fish, Angelfish are susceptible to premature death if their water parameters or tank isn’t up to scratch.

If their aquarium isn’t large enough and the quality of their water is poor, then they can quickly become sick and die. 

Proper Tank Size is Necessary

That’s why it’s important you keep a pair of angelfish in at least a 20-gallon tank with an extra 10 gallons per additional fish.

it’s important you keep a pair of angelfish in at least a 20-gallon tank…

Regular water changes are necessary for keeping freshwater angelfish aquarium clean, so make sure you adhere to frequent tank maintenance.

In addition, a good diet is crucial for this type of fish.

I’ll go into more detail about the specific nutritional needs of angelfish and the best food to feed them later on. separate tank

Can I Keep Just One Angelfish?

Angelfish are shoaling fish, which means they prefer to be kept in small groups.

Without another of its own kind, angelfish will become lonely and bored.

This can cause unnecessary stress on the fish and lead to health issues. 

If you want to keep just one angelfish, then it’s best to select a mature fish.

Angelfish are most territorial as adults, which is why some can live in an angelfish tank by themselves.

Might be better in pairs

However, if you can, it’s much better to keep angelfish in at least a pair.

Keeping angelfish in groups is truly fascinating as they will form hierarchies and territories within their school.

Watching them compete for dominance can be quite interesting to witness, so you’ll be missing out on one of the best aspects of owning this fish if you only keep one.

What Do Angelfish Eat?

Angelfish require a diet that is both high in protein and fiber as they don’t eat much algae or plant matter.

When keeping them in the aquarium, angelfish should be given a diet that is focused on live prey.


  • Tubifex worms should be a primary food source for this fish as they provide plenty of protein, much like wild rotifers do for wild angelfish.
  • Live water fleas and live brine shrimp are also good options.
  • In addition to live prey, pellet, or flake food that are high in protein can be offered. Freeze-dried krill and glass worms add a little extra protein and make good treats.
  • While angelfish don’t consume plant matter or algae, giving your angelfish a little bit of plant material can be beneficial for ensuring they get enough fiber.
  • Cooked garden vegetables like zucchini and spinach are both great choices.
Fish Flakes
Fish Flakes

What Is the Best Food for Angelfish?

The best food for angelfish is live foods like tubifex worms, brine shrimp, and water fleas. These provide a great deal of protein and are similar to what angelfish eat in the wild.

However, if you can’t get hold of live foods, their frozen counterparts are a decent option. 


When feeding angelfish, high-protein fish flakes and pellets can also be used to supplement your angelfishes’ diet and make sure they receive enough protein.

Try not to feed your angelfish the same foods for multiple days in a row to ensure they get a varied and balanced diet. 

How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Angelfish?

Adult angelfish should be fed twice a day.

Only feed them as much as they can eat within around two minutes to prevent overfeeding.

Some aquarists even fast their fish for one or two days per week to avoid overfeeding and help maintain a steady water chemistry.


Young angelfish and mated pairs will require more frequent daily feedings, either three or four times per day.

This helps ensure they get enough nourishment to grow or spawn successfully.

Angelfish Tank Setup

As angelfish can grow relatively large and tall, they require a fairly big aquarium to move freely.

While the size of the aquarium is important, decor, plants, and water flow are also factors you need to consider when keeping this fish.

What Size Tank Do Angelfish Need?

For a pair of freshwater angelfish, you’ll need at least a 20-gallon tank.

For each additional fish, you’ll need an extra 10 gallons.

For a pair of freshwater angelfish, you’ll need at least a 20-gallon tank…

If you’re planning on keeping a small school of angelfish, it’s best to go as big as possible to prevent aggression and territorial issues.

Due to their body shape, it’s recommended to keep freshwater angelfish in a tall tank to provide them with a home with plenty of swimming space.

Panda Angelfish
Panda Angelfish

Housing Recommendations

As angelfish originate from the Amazon River and slow-moving waters, you’ll want to make sure your tank filter is set to a gentle current to match their wild habitat.

If the flow is too strong, it can cause a lot of stress on the fish.

An under gravel filter can be a good addition to your angelfish aquarium for this reason.


Angelfish like to dig, so make sure the substrate you use in their aquarium is soft and fine.

This will prevent damage to their scales and fins. Sand or mud is generally the best type of substrate to use for this fish.

Live plants

To create a natural environment for freshwater angelfish, you’ll want to use lots of live plants in your tank, preferably ones that are native to the Amazon River.

Amazon Sword plants are ideal, as they have wide and broad leaves that your angelfish can hide under.

Ancharis or Brazillian Waterweed is another solid choice.

It’s made up of a tall green stem with tiny green leaves. Java fern and Java moss also work well and are very easy to grow and care for.

I think a group of gold angelfish or ones with black and silver stripes in a black water setup would look particularly stunning.

Sword Plants

You could fill the tank with lots of sword plants, Java fern, and Ancharis to create an angelfish’s natural habitat that replicates their natural home of the Amazon River.


Make sure your freshwater aquarium has access to 8 to 12 hours of light every day to create a more natural habitat and day-night cycle for your fish.

Any aquarium light should work fine, but you might need a more powerful lamp if you want to keep light-hungry species of plants.

Water Requirements

All species of aquarium fish require specific water parameters to be happy and healthy, and angelfish are no different.

Before keeping this fish, it’s a good idea to check the PH and hardness of your water to ensure it’s a good match.

Subjecting freshwater species of angelfish to inappropriate water parameters can cause a variety of health issues and severely affect their lifespan.

PH Levels

Angelfish prefer water that is slightly acidic with a PH of between 6.6 and 7.8. The water should also be quite soft, between 3° and 8° dKH (54 to 145 ppm).

Freshwater angelfish are tropical species, so you’ll need an aquarium heater in their setup.


Their temperature should be between 78° and 84° F.

One of the main reasons why angelfish perish or get sick is due to improper aquarium maintenance and poor water quality…

One of the main reasons why angelfish perish or get sick is due to improper aquarium maintenance and poor water quality, which often occurs in those new to the fishkeeping hobby.

Water Changes

Aquarium Water Change
Aquarium Water Change

Water changes are a necessary part of keeping aquarium fish and should be carried out semi-regularly.

Performing water changes helps keep your existing tank water clean and free of ammonia and nitrite, which is vital for your aquarium fish’s health.


As a rule, you should aim to remove around 15% or 20% of the water every 7 days.

However, this largely depends on the size of your freshwater aquarium and its bioload.

If your freshwater aquarium is small and overstocked, then you will need to remove a higher percentage of water.

Are Angelfish Aggressive?

Like the majority of cichlids, angelfish are aggressive by nature.

When kept in groups in a community aquarium, they will form hierarchies and territories and compete for dominance.

Despite being a shoaling fish, angelfish are not overly social with their own kind.


Other than for mating and competition, angelfish don’t interact with one another too much.

You won’t see them form tight schools or feed with other angelfish.

Not so much

However, they’re not as aggressive as some other types of cichlids and don’t tend to be territorial towards other fish except during breeding.

In fact, they can be a little shy around other fish and can be easily outcompeted for food.

Swim Level

Angelfish are mid-level fish, which means they tend to swim in the center of a tank.

If you want to house other types of fish with angelfish, it’s best to select species that won’t occupy the mid level like bottom dwellers.

Can Angelfish Recognize Their Owners?

Compared to some other species of aquarium fish, angelfish are fairly intelligent and engaging with their owners.

Cichlids, in general, are full of personality and react when their owners walk past their tank.

Many keepers of angelfish claim that their fish are able to recognize them…

Many keepers of angelfish claim that their fish are able to recognize them and will swim right up to the glass of the aquarium.

Whether this is due to affection or simply expecting food is another story, but it still shows just how interactive angelfish can be!

Why Are My Angelfish Kissing?

Angelfish “kiss” for two reasons…

The first is part of the pairing and mating process. The second is to do with dominance and is a sign of aggression.

When angelfish lock lips aggressively, it’s usually the result of dominance establishment or mating rejection.

Group of Angelfish
Group of Angelfish

How Do You Tell If Fish Are Fighting or Playing?

Distinguishing between playing and fighting in aquarium fish can be difficult, especially if you’re not sure what to look out for.

However, as angelfish and cichlids can be quite aggressive, it’s typically fighting rather than playing.

This is especially true if you don’t own any female angelfish as males are much more likely to be aggressive towards other angelfish males.


If your angelfish are locking lips and are chasing one another, it’s likely due to competition or territory. 

Watch out for signs of fighting

If any of your angelfish have marks or cuts on their bodies or fins, they’ve probably been fighting. Injured or bullied fish will usually hide to give themselves time to heal.

If you spot one of your angelfish shying away from other fish in the group, it could be the result of fighting with another fish.

What Fish Can Angelfish Share Their Aquarium With?

Although angelfish are relatively peaceful fish, true to common cichlid behavior, they can be quite aggressive fish.

For this reason, they should not share a home with extremely aggressive cichlids like Convicts and Velvets.

Suitable freshwater tankmates for angelfish include catfish (like the Giraffe Nosed), corydoras, plecos, columbian sharks, larger tetras except for the bucktooth tetra, paradise gouramis, platies, and rainbow fish.

Avoid Smaller Tankmates

Can angelfish live with smaller fish?

It’s best to avoid small fish like neon tetras as angelfish can view them as prey.


If the fish is tiny enough to fit inside an angelfish’s mouth, then it’s at risk of being eaten.

That’s why it’s better to opt for larger species of tetras such as Black Skirts. Just make sure you keep Black Skirts in a large enough school as tetras can be nippy in small numbers.

Other Suitable Cichlid Tankmates

If you want to keep your angelfish with other cichlids, opt for discus and bolivian rams as they’re less likely to be bullied by your fish.


Discus and Bolivian Rams

Both discus and bolivian rams are less aggressive species of cichlids, so they can be decent tank mates in freshwater angelfish aquariums.

You should avoid barbs in freshwater aquariums as they have a reputation for being “fin-nippers”.

They will not hesitate to bully your angelfish and bite at their fins, which you obviously don’t want.

Avoid Invertebrates

Unfortunately, most invertebrates are not recommended for an angelfish aquarium. This fish will more than likely try to harass or eat shrimp, even larger species like amano shrimp.

However, bamboo shrimp often grow to two to three inches in size, so they can work in angelfish aquariums. 


Freshwater snails such as the Japanese trapdoor snail can also be suitable tank mates, but bear in mind that they lay eggs readily and rapidly.

How Many Angelfish Should You Keep Together?

Although not overly social, angelfish prefer to be kept with their own kind.

You should get at least a pair of them, but ideally a school of around 5 or 6 individuals.

…make sure your tank is big enough to house the number of angelfish you plan to own.

Freshwater angelfish do require quite a large aquarium, so make sure your tank is big enough to house the number of angelfish you plan to own.

This fish can be very territorial towards their own kind due to their aggressive nature, especially when kept in an inappropriately-sized aquarium.

Best Tankmates for Angelfish 

Considering all the factors mentioned above, here are my top 5 recommendations for angelfish tankmates.

  1. Boesemani Rainbow Fish
  2. Corydoras Catfish
  3. Bushynose Pleco
  4. Platy
  5. Dwarf Gourami

Parasitic Nematodes Infection

Angelfish are susceptible to a few diseases, so it’s vital you remain vigilant and regularly check your fish’s body and behavior for signs of illness.

One of the most common infections they can get is caused by parasitic nematodes, which angelfish are known carriers of.

Can Be Lethal

If not treated, an infection caused by these nematodes can cause death and quickly spread to other fish in your tank.

The infection is brought on when angelfish consume nematode eggs or larvae, which can be found in unclean tanks and on leftover food.

When your angel fish has eaten nematode larvae, there’s a 3-month infection period as the parasite carries out its life cycle.


During this time, the worm will make your fish considerably weaker and malnourished.

Angel fish infected by this parasite will usually have inflammation, bleeding, or cysts on their body. If you spot any of these signs in your fish, you should place them in a quarantine tank as soon as possible. 

Fortunately, nematodes can be treated successfully with aquarium dewormers as long as you deal with them quickly.

Hexamita Parasite Infection

Another parasite that can affect angel fish and other types of cichlids is Hexamita. Hexamitiasis, also known as “hole in the head disease”, is caused by many species of the protozoan parasite Hexamita.

It’s thought that these parasites are always present in most aquarium fish intestines but in low numbers, rendering them harmless.

However, when a fish is weakened or stressed, the parasites begin to multiply quickly and spread to other parts of the body. 

Can be fatal

When the parasites spread to other internal organs, it is usually fatal.

Fish suffering from hexamitiasis typically have symptoms such as stringy white feces, discoloration, weight loss, and sluggishness, and lesions on the head or body.


The standard medication to treat this infection is metronidazole.

The best method is through use of medicated fish food, particularly in early infections.

However, more severe cases may require you to add the medication directly to the aquarium fish as seriously sick fish might be reluctant to eat.

Typical doses are 250mg per 10 US gallons daily for a period of at least 3 days. In addition to medication, good nutrition and water quality is crucial for successful recovery.

Do Angelfish Like to Be in Pairs?

While you can keep a single angelfish, they do much better when kept in pairs or small groups.

Even if you house a lone angelfish with other species of tropical fish, they’re still prone to becoming bored or lonely.

That’s why it’s better to keep more than one angelfish if your tank size can allow it.


If you’re thinking of letting your angelfish spawn, you should consider purchasing a small group to increase your chances of getting a mating pair.

Do Angelfish Mate for Life?

Freshwater angelfish don’t mate for life but will pair off for a single breeding period.

They will readily accept a new mate if their previous one passes away or is removed from the aquarium.

On the other hand, French angelfish do mate for life and defend their territory against other angelfish pairs.

Are Angelfish Easy to Breed?

Angelfish are incredibly easy to breed, so they’re a great choice if you’re new to breeding tropical fish.

Males and females reach sexual maturity at between 6 to 12 months of age and can spawn every 7 to 10 days if the eggs are removed.

Unlike many species of fish, angelfish take care of their fry and defend their eggs and young for up to 2 months.

During this time, angelfish are very aggressive and territorial towards other fish.


Provided you give them proper care, freshwater angelfish are a relatively easy species of fish to own and breed.

They do best when kept in slightly acidic soft and acidic water but can tolerate a fairly wide range of parameters.

You can find angelfish in many color varieties, including gold, silver, black, koi, or traditional wild colors of black and silver stripes.

Behavior and Tank Size

Although not particularly social species, you should keep at least two angelfish, ideally a small group. Without companionship, they can become lonely or bored.

Tanks of at least 20 gallons in size are suitable for two angelfish, but you’ll need to add on an extra 10 gallons for each additional fish. 

Due to their aggressive nature, the larger tank you have, the better. However, if you don’t have a lot of space at home, an aquarium coffee table might be a better option to house your angelfish.


If you want to house angelfish in a community tank, you should opt for peaceful fish species like plecos, corydoras, mollies, and large tetras.

Avoid fin-nippers like barbs to prevent your angelfish from getting harassed, as well as small fish and invertebrates.

Angelfish spawn fairly easily in an aquarium, so you won’t have to spend too many days making breeding preparations.


Angelfish require a good diet high in protein and fiber, so make sure you feed them live foods such as brine shrimp and tubifex worms.

They can also be given frozen, freeze-dried, flake/pellets, and the occasional cooked garden vegetable.

If you’re new to the fishkeeping hobby and want a striking but beginner-friendly fish species that will be the heart of any tropical aquarium, the angelfish is definitely for you.

Feel Free To Share!

Thanks for reading! I hope that this angelfish care guide was helpful to you. Feel free to share it with your friends or fellow aquarists!

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