Freshwater Angelfish Care Guide: The Queen of the Aquarium

Freshwater angelfish (or Pterophyllum) are beautiful creatures. They float almost effortlessly through the water, with the lightness of an angel. Their fins even look like angel wings.

It’s no wonder these fantastic fish are called “angelfish”.

But don’t let their beauty and gracefulness fool you. Angelfish can be aggressive towards other fish. They’re multidimensional fish, with several sides to their personality.

And angelfish aren’t only a saltwater fish. There are freshwater angelfish as well.

Like any other fish, angelfish have special specific needs.

Finding everything you need to know about angelfish care in one place is hard. We gathered all the info you’ll ever need to know about angelfish to create this ultimate guide.

Origins of the Freshwater Angelfish 

The freshwater angelfish belong to the fish family Cichlidae. They’re native to South America, especially in Brazil. They can also be found in Columbia, Ecuador, Guiana, and Peru.

And they’re most often found in the Amazon River or tributaries winding through these countries.

The Amazon River is a slow-moving river. And angelfish thrive in this tropical environment.

They also like low-lit and shady areas with overgrown plants that hang over the river. And they hide under trees that have fallen into the river.

The freshwater angelfish was introduced in Europe in 1920. Which led to breeding for the first time in 1930 in the United States. 

Species of Freshwater Angelfish 

There are three different species of the freshwater angelfish.

On average, a freshwater angelfish from a pet store will cost you $10. Specialty breeds run from $20 to $40 per fish.

Pterophyllum Altum

Pterophyllum Altum


First, there’s the Pterophyllum altum. These angelfish are found in northern Brazil, southeastern Columbia, and southern Venezuela.

They live in the Orinoco River Basin and the upper Rio Negro watershed.

Pterophyllum Leopoldi

Next is the Pterophyllum leopoldi. The leopoldi is a hard breed to find when looking for aquarium fish.

They have anywhere from 29 to 35 scales in a lateral row with a straight dorsal contour.

They’re fast growers and need large aquariums when they reach adulthood.

This species lives in the Amazon River, Essequibo River, and Rupununi River.

Pterophyllum Scalare

Last, there’s the Pterophyllum Scalare. This is the most common aquarium angelfish.

They have somewhere between 35 to 45 scales in a lateral row with a notched dorsal contour.

They’re easy to raise and to care for.

The scalare is found in several countries including Brazil, Columbia, and Peru. Their native homes are in the Amazon River and the Amazon Basin. 

Colors of Freshwater Angelfish 

Thanks to decades of angelfish breeding, there are tons of colors and designs out there.

Some of these unique breeds include:

  • Albino Angelfish: Albino angelfish are like other albino animals. They lack pigmentation so they’re all white. And their eyes are pink or even a reddish color.
  • Black Lace Angelfish: Black lace angelfish are black, except for their fins. If you look close enough, you can see a pattern underneath all that black.
  • Blushing Angelfish: Blushing angelfish are one of our favorite angelfish breeds. They’re an off-colored white. Under their eyes is a red or orange color, much like the fish are blushing.
  • Gold Angelfish: This breed of angelfish is a beautiful golden color. Sometimes they’re covered in gold. Other times, they have a golden (or orange) colored crown or halo.
  • Koi Angelfish: You know the big koi fish? Now imagine one of those fish shrunken down into an angelfish. Like a koi, they’re a whitish and gray color with black spots. On the top of their heads is a gorgeous and bright orange color.
  • Leopard Angelfish: Juvenile leopard angelfish are covered in spots with large spaces between them. As they age, those spots grow closer to each other. This gives them the appearance of leopard spots.
  • Marble Angelfish: The marble angelfish is another one of our favorite breeds. They have a silver base and on top of the silver is black. The black is always some kind of pretty and unique pattern. These fish are resistant to most fish diseases.
  • Silver Angelfish: The silver angelfish is a beautiful silver color with four vertical strips on their body.
  • Veil Angelfish: These angelfish have fins that are longer than other angelfish breeds. They come in different colors and patterns. And they’re sensitive to too warm water and hot water.
  • Zebra Angelfish: Zebra angelfish look a lot like the silver angelfish but smaller. They’re a silver color with black stripes. They can have up to six stripes. 

Lifespan of the Freshwater Angelfish 

Lifespan Of The Freshwater Angelfish


Freshwater angelfish start to mature around the age of 10 months. They grow up to six inches in length. Their angel-like wings grow up to eight inches in height.

They can live up to 10 to 15 years in an aquarium. They have a long tank life as long as they’re well taken care of. 

Diet of the Freshwater Angelfish 

Freshwater angelfish are omnivores. They don’t have a difficult diet to contend with. You only have to make sure they have a balanced diet between meat and plants.

Alongside fish flakes, you should feed your angelfish blood worms, brine shrimp, krill, and water fleas.

These can be live or frozen. But don’t feed your angelfish too much frozen food.

You don’t have to supply an angelfish with fiber only through fish flakes or pellets. You can feed them cooked romaine and spinach from time to time.

You must feed your angelfish two times a day. They feed at the surface or mid-level of the aquarium. Feed them as much as they can eat in one minute.

If you feed them more than that, they will continue to eat. This leads to overeating. When they overeat fat builds up, like on a human. This fat build-up will kill your angelfish. 

Aquarium Specs for Freshwater Angelfish 

Freshwater angelfish aren’t a difficult fish to care for. But they’re picky creatures who need their needs met in their aquarium.

Aquarium Size: 30 gallons or more, tall aquarium

Temperature: Between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 84 degrees Fahrenheit

pH: Between 6.8 and 7 with hardness between 54 and 145 ppm

Light: 8 to 12 hours of light a day

Water for the Aquarium 

Water For The Aquarium


The water for your aquarium should come from a pet store or an aquarium store. They have high-quality water filtered for healthy fish.

We recommend avoiding tap water. There’s chlorine in tap water. Some areas have more than others. It doesn’t take much chlorine to kill your angelfish. 

Substrates for the Aquarium 

The substrate for a freshwater angelfish aquarium needs to be fine-grade to medium-grade. A smooth gravel surface is an option. It’s less expensive and easy to clean.

It allows the angelfish to forage, as in their nature. But since it’s smooth it won’t harm your fish.

But the best choice is a fine mud or sand. Again, this lets them forage but protects their fins from getting scraped up.

Sand mimics angelfish’s natural environment in the Amazon River. But it’s more expensive and tougher to clean.

So, make sure you have the time and patience if you choose sand as a substrate. 

Vegetation for the Aquarium

Freshwater angelfish prefer large broad leafs plants that they can hide under. Amazon Sword plants let them hide and it gives them a sense of their natural habitat.

Use random floating leaves to mimic the shade angelfish love.

Driftwood is also a great addition to an angelfish aquarium. If you set the driftwood up vertically, your angelfish will use this space to lay their eggs.

You can use artificial vegetation if you prefer. It’s cheaper because you don’t have to replace artificial vegetation often. They’re also a lot easier to clean than real vegetation.

Make sure they have plenty of areas to hide and areas of shade. Otherwise, you’ll have an unhappy angelfish.

Filtration for the Aquarium 

Filtration For The Aquarium


Freshwater angelfish like to swim in slow-moving water. So, you don’t want a fast current in the aquarium.

A low-flow aeration filter is the best option for your aquarium’s filtration system.

Another option is an underground filter. Underground filters can’t provide fast-moving water due to its’ location. 

Behavior of the Freshwater Angelfish 

Angelfish are a complicated freshwater species. They don’t have behavior that’s set in stone. Some variables determine how they’re going to act.

They can be scared easily by loud sounds or fast movements from out of nowhere. They’re sensitive to jump scares.

In most cases, they are calm fish who live a peaceful life. They only want to swim, swim, swim. Oh, and breed of course.

Behavior Around Other Fish

Freshwater angelfish are community fish as long as they’re living with the right species. They’re not aggressive fish, they only have a few situations that can cause aggression.

Like with people, most of us aren’t angry people. But some situations bring out our anger.

There are fish species that angelfish just don’t like. So, they become aggressive towards them. They will fight with other fish.

The other time you’ll see aggression from an angelfish is when their aquarium is too small. They get anxious without the space to swim. They also become territorial.

It’s important to make sure you have an adequate aquarium for your angelfish.

One other issue to be aware of is that angelfish are omnivores, so they eat meat as well as plants.

This in itself isn’t a problem. But when tanked with smaller fish, they will eat them. It’s their nature.

Behavior During Breeding

Behavior During Breeding


Freshwater angelfish are also aggressive during their breeding period. They’re territorial and possessive of their little angelfish.

They stick to one partner during that time for stability. The two fish create their space or territory to protect their spawn.

They’re not inviting when another fish comes around. They assume the fish is coming to eat or hurt the spawn. So, they’re proactive and attack this fish. 

Fish Compatible with Freshwater Angelfish 

Freshwater angelfish can be community fish as long as they’re swimming with the right fish.

Other Cichlids are good tank mates for your angelfish, like the Discus or Dwarf. You can mix with other species of angelfish as long as breed is not too aggressive.

Other fish to mix with your angelfish are small catfish and tetras.

They do need their space from other species. When there’s more than five fish in an aquarium, the tank should be 55 gallons. There should also be plenty of places for the angelfish to hide.

Avoid tanking angelfish with any fish that can fit in their mouths. They will eat these little fish. 

Breeding Freshwater Angelfish

 While breeding, freshwater angelfish are monogamous. They stick to one partner.

And if you plan on breeding, you need to have around six angelfish living together. Each one should be healthy so they can breed super healthy fish.

Once the angelfish are grown, you can get the breeding started. They’re able to breed around nine months. Adjust the pH of the aquarium to get close to 6.8. And change the temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

When angelfish breed, the female will lay eggs every eight to ten days. They lay their eggs on a flat surface and the males fertilize them.

After they’ve begun breeding, you’ll start feeding the two about four times a day, instead of two.

They care for their little ones through the whole process as eggs and as juveniles. They take turns hovering over the eggs to keep water circulation around them.

The breeders raise these eggs until the juveniles can swim on their own. The eggs hatch around 48 hours after they’re laid.

By five days old, the angelfish are swimming. And when they start swimming, you can feed them brine shrimp. You feed them brine shrimp until they’re about five weeks old.

Breeding Freshwater Angelfish


After they’ve been around for a month, you can separate them from their parents.

Stressed out breeders don’t make great parents. They often eat the eggs instead of caring for them. 

Diseases of the Freshwater Angelfish 

Like all fish, freshwater angelfish are susceptible to different diseases. And angelfish can carry parasitic nematodes. Nematodes are roundworms.

An unclean tank is often the cause of nematodes. Eggs or larvae from the nematodes will find themselves in dirty tanks or even dirty food.

Once your angelfish eats the eggs or larvae, the infection process begins. And the infection lasts three months because that’s how long the roundworms live. If your fish lasts that long.

The roundworms feed off the food and nutrition your angelfish consumes. Your fish will become lethargic and may even develop cysts.

Hexamita is common with angelfish too. It’s caused by an unclean tank or infected wild prey.

When your angelfish eat something with the parasite, they’ll become infected. And they’ll develop Hexamita. It attacks your fish’s intestines.

They’ll start to lose weight and become lethargic. Their coloring will change.

The Popeye condition is a scary one that angelfish can contract. It’s named after the biggest symptom, where the fish’s eyes pop out. This is due to serious swelling.

Popeye is caused by a constant unclean tank, like most conditions. But it can also be caused by too high of ammonia or metal in the tank’s water.

The swelling happens because tissue fluid leaks behind the fish’s eyeball. The fluid builds up and pushes on the eye, causing the swelling.

Their swollen eyes might become cloudy. They’ll also get dark spots and lose their fins. Worst of all, it can lead to other infections in your fish.

Ich can affect any type of fish. Also known as White Spot disease, ich develops when the ammonia levels are too high in an aquarium. Too much ammonia equates to less oxygen.

You can spot ich by the small white spots on your fish (hence the name). Your fish will also be lethargic and lose their appetite.

It’ll eat away at their tissue, causing their death. It can also cause other types of infections. 

Final Thoughts 

Freshwater angelfish are a wonderful fish to care for. They’re calm fish most of the time and full of personality.

The many species give you a choice. But you can even mix them up for an eye-pleasing aquarium.

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