The Ultimate Guide to Angelfish

Angelfish are beautiful additions to any freshwater tank. These friendly fish glide across the water, showcasing their long, beautiful fins and unique patterns. When you come to an aquarium or pet store to watch them, they'll often swim right up to the front, ready to greet you with a swish of their fins. 

In this guide, we'll explore how to best care for your freshwater angelfish so they can have a happy and healthy life. (Note: There are also saltwater angelfish, but these are a separate breed with different care needs. This guide focuses on the freshwater variety.) 

In this guide, we'll explore: 

The Origin and History of Angelfish
How Long Do Angelfish Live?
Setting Up the Ideal Tank Environment
Nutrition and Food for Your Angelfish
Breeding Angelfish
Ongoing Care
Appropriate Tank Mates

Whether you're a  new angelfish owner or a seasoned angelfish caretaker, this ultimate guide will help you better understand how to create a nurturing environment where your friendly fish will grow and thrive. 

The Origin and History of Angelfish

There are two types of angelfish: freshwater and saltwater. The saltwater angelfish is from the family Pomacanthidae, while the freshwater variety is from the genus Pterophyllum, which is part of the Cichlidae family.

Today, there are three recognized species of Pterophyllum: P. scalare (the species of angelfish that most aquarium owners have), P. altum and P. leopoldi. 

Freshwater angelfish originate from Brazil and the lower Amazon region. Their natural habitat is full of heavy vegetation, and their thin bodies allow them to navigate easily among the plants, winding their way through leaves and branches.

Angelfish were first imported into Germany in 1909 but weren't successfully bred in the United States until 1921. At the time, they were very expensive, but today they're among the most popular and common aquarium fish. 

Over the years, selective breeding has led to many color varieties of freshwater angelfish that you might find in stores. These include silver angelfish (most closely resembling the P. scalare fish found in nature), zebra, koi, black lace, golden, blushing, marble, golden marble, half-black, and altum (from the related species P. altum, which is less common).

How Long Do Angelfish Live?

Angelfish tend to be hardy, so they're easier to raise than other fish breeds. And they're peaceful, so they get in fewer fights than betta fish do. A well-cared-for angelfish could live as long as 10 to 15 years

Setting up the Ideal Tank Environment

When bringing your angelfish home, you'll want to make sure you have the perfect tank environment set up and ready. This will help your new pet have a long, happy, and healthy life. 

1. Tank Size

Angelfish are a taller species of fish with long, vertical fins. It's good to invest in a deeper tank, so your angelfish don't feel cramped. They can grow to four inches in diameter, but their fins alone can lead to some being over a foot tall in length. Tall, narrow tanks can work for them, but they'd also love tanks that are both tall and wide so that they can swim around more.

Aim for a minimum size of 20 gallons for angelfish so they have plenty of room for their long fins once they're fully grown. If you want to keep small  school of angelfish together, such as four or more, try a tank that's 55 gallons or larger

Make sure you invest in a good filter for your tank. Look for a low-flow filter since this better mimics an angelfish's natural environment, where water currents are slow.

You'll also want to invest in a quality water conditioner to ensure the water is safe. Keep a water test kit on hand to make sure all nitrate, ammonia, and other levels in the water are safe too. Your test kit's instructions will be able to elaborate on what levels to watch out for. 

2. Heating and Lighting

Angelfish can thrive in the same type of lighting you'd use for any standard aquarium. If you're keeping your angelfish in a planted aquarium, you want to provide about 10 to 12 hours of light a day for the plants. Otherwise, about eight hours of light a day should be sufficient. It's important the lighting mimics the day-and-night cycle so your fish have a daily routine that stays the same. Setting the lights on a timer can help with this. 

Since they're tropical by nature, angelfish prefer warmer water. This means you'll keep the tank at a comfortable 76 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

3. The Best Decor for Your Tank

Angelfish's natural environment is full of tall plants, so adding taller, soft plants to your aquarium can be a nice choice. In fact, if you're building a medium-sized or larger planted aquarium, angelfish might love this. 

Angelfish may also enjoy driftwood in the tank. Angle the driftwood, so it extends from the surface to the bottom, like a branch. You can purchase driftwood from a pet store. 

Remember: angelfish have delicate, long fins. So make sure you're using smooth decor, without any sharp edges the fins could catch on. If you're using live plants, java moss, water sprite, and java fern are good choices. 

4. Bedding (aka Substrates)

Although angelfish are hardy and can live with the most common aquarium substrates at the bottom of the tank, they'll especially enjoy one that mimics their natural environment. Your fish would love a finer substrate, like sand or mud. If using gravel, look for a smoother variety that's less likely to snag their fins. 


5. Cleaning the Tank

You'll need to clean your tank regularly and change the water to help keep your angelfish healthy. Check out our blog on water chemistry to get started.

To make things a little easier on yourself, set up a schedule for cleaning your tank and changing the water, so you don't forget. How often your tank needs cleaning depends on the size of your tank and the type of filter you're using.

A five- to 10-gallon tank typically needs either 25% of its water changed every two weeks or 10% changed weekly. It's a pretty simple process. You don't even need to take your fish out of the tank because removing them will just stress them out needlessly! All you have to do is add a water conditioner to the new water to make sure it's safe, adjusting the temperature to be close to the water you're replacing. Slowly remove about 25% of the water (if doing a bi-weekly change), and replace it with the newly prepared water. 

Note: Tip #3 in our "3 Tips to Succeed" video shows you how to change the water in a tank. 

If you're deep cleaning the tank, that will take a little longer. You still don't need to remove the fish, but you'll change about 50% of the water. First, set out the replacement water so it has time to reach the same temperature as the warmer water in the tank. Then turn off all the tank equipment (lights, filters, and heater). Next, remove about 10% of the water with your gravel vacuum so the water doesn't slosh out of the top. (Don't worry, gravel vacuums won't hurt your fish!) 

Next, use an algae scraper on the glass to remove visible algae. Now it's time to use the gravel vacuum again. This time, you'll use it to clean the bottom of the tank, removing fish waste or any decaying matter.  You'll remove about 40% of the water in the process. 

After you've done all these steps, it's time to replace the water, just like you did during your weekly water change. Before putting everything back into the aquarium, clean all rocks and decor in warm or boiling water, scrubbing them with a toothbrush. 

You'll also want to check your filter's cartridges and make sure the filter doesn't need cleaning. Your filter's instructions will walk you through this part. 

Nutrition and Food for Your Angelfish

You can help your angelfish live a longer, healthier life with the right food. Tropical Granules or Tropical Flakes are a good choice for your friendly, tropical fish. They'll also enjoy the occasional live food treat, like bloodworms or brine shrimp. 

Remember, don't overfeed your angelfish. Just feed them once or twice a day at the most, typically in the morning and evening. And only feed what they can consume in about two to three minutes. Signs  you're overfeeding your fish include finding uneaten food at the bottom after about five minutes, cloudy aquarium water, or a clogged filter. 

Breeding Angelfish 

Breeding angelfish is pretty easy. In fact, it's so easy that your angelfish might accidentally pair up even if you're not purposefully trying to breed them! If you're aiming specifically for little baby fry (aka hatchlings), know that it can be tough to distinguish males from females. Some males have a bump on their heads near the eyes, but not always. It's really simplest to just buy a handful of young fish and see which ones pair off as they grow up. The females will ultimately lay the eggs in vertical lines, and the male fertilizes the eggs after she lays them. 

Angelfish prefer to lay eggs on broad, vertical surfaces, such as plants with broader leaves. A vertical piece of pipe or a flat leaf can work. If you're using live plants, Amazon sword plants make a good choice for laying eggs. 

Both the male and female angelfish take care of the eggs, protecting them and fanning them to keep them clean and oxygenated. In fact, angelfish can be so protective that these peaceful fish might attack their tankmates when they're breeding. 

In a few days, the eggs hatch and the fry stay attached to the surface where their eggs are, eating the yolk. They'll start swimming in about a week. At this point, they might like to eat tiny, newly hatched brine shrimp, which you can get in pet stores.

People sometimes move a breeding pair of angelfish into a separate breeding tank before they lay their eggs. This ensures that other fish don't eat the eggs or newly hatched babies. A separate tank should be about 20 gallons inside, with a slanted, flat surface for laying eggs. Use a lower-flow sponge filter that doesn't hurt the baby fish. (The sponge filter can be bought in pet stores.) About six weeks after they're born, baby fish can return to the main tank (as long as the tank is big enough).

Ongoing Care

As with any pet, angelfish can catch diseases and illnesses. If you think your fish is sick, try to see a veterinarian in your region who cares for fish. If you can't find one, you can also talk to an aquarium store owner for advice or referrals. You want an expert to help you determine what illness your fish has and the best course of treatment. 

Signs to look for that may mean your fish needs care, include: 

  • Cavities in the fish's temples
  • White spots
  • Scales that stick out or protruding eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Fin rot

With proper care, many illnesses can addressed. If your fish does catch something, it's a good idea to quarantine the sick fish from the rest of the tank while receiving treatment and medication under the care of your veterinarian or other fish expert. The good news is that angelfish are hardy, so if you keep the tank clean and change the water regularly, they should thrive.

Appropriate Tank Mates


Aside from when they're guarding eggs, angelfish tend to be peaceful unless they're cramped up with too many other angelfish and don't have enough space. They get along with a variety of fish — including other angelfish. You can even keep six angelfish together in a 55-gallon tank or larger and they'll be fine. Gouramis can often make good tankmates for angelfish. Other good tankmates include pictus catfish, plecos or suckermouth catfish, mollies, dwarf cichlids, and discus cichlids.

Avoid putting fish that tend to nip at the fins of other fish — like barbs — with angelfish. 

Angelfish can be carnivorous by nature, so you want to avoid pairing them with smaller fish they might feed on, like neon tetra or certain invertebrates like crabs or shrimp. 

When choosing additional fish to live with your angelfish, it's best to aim for roughly one inch of adult fish for every net gallon of aquarium water. (Except for angelfish themselves, which need more space due to their large fins.) If you have a lot of decor in the tank, you may want to have fewer fish. You should also add in a little extra space if any of the fish are territorial.

Raising an angelfish can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You'll watch your beautiful fish grow and thrive thanks to your tender loving care. Setting up the tank and getting everything in place may take a little time, but it's worth the effort when you see your fish living its best life.