Angelfish are a very popular aquarium fish. Angelfish are part of the family Cichlidae, which makes them a Cichlid, but in comparison to many Cichlids, they are pretty tame and make great community fish.
In the wild, there are three recognised species of Angelfish, the most common in the aquarium trade is scalare, but it is possible to find Altums. The hardest to come across are Leopoldi which is a dwarf species and only reaches around 5cm in length.
Due to years of selective breeding, Angelfish come in a variety of colours, so it’s pretty easy to find one that looks good in your aquarium. Just be sure that you have a big enough aquarium, these guys can reach 8 inches and are usually taller than they are long.
They are social creatures too that are best kept in groups, but they will happily exist as a pair. The minimum size aquarium for a pair of Angels is debated online, but I would say that 250 Litres is an absolute minimum.
Angelfish are an interesting shape. They have triangular bodies with a slightly rounded belly and are quite narrow overall. In the wild this is used to hide within reeds and plants, using their colour as camouflage to avoid any predators.
Their natural habitat is rivers of South America including the Amazon river, Amazon basin and the Orinoco. An aquarium that matches this biotope is best suited to them, providing tall plants and roots for them to hide in is ideal.
Getting Set Up
Breeding Angelfish is fairly easy and they will breed pretty readily in the aquarium without a great deal of encouragement if you have a male and a female. Once they have paired off, they will select an area in the aquarium in which to breed.
They like a smooth, flat, horizontal surface to lay their eggs on, such as a large leaf of a plant, and seem to prefer if it is in the corner of the tank (easier to protect). If you don’t have plants, or want something that is removable adding a piece of slate, plant pot, or any other smooth surface will work just fine. But they may ignore all your tempting offers and lay their eggs on a filter pipe/heater anyway.
How to Identify the Gender of Your Angelfish
Sexing Angelfish can be a little tricky. In most cases, the male will be larger than the female, but this may not be obvious until you are sure they are fully grown. The male may also develop a nuchal hump on his head.
The best way to tell for certain is when breeding behaviour starts to occur, I’ll cover that in a moment. When this does occur though, if you look closely you will notice a tube protruding from the bottom of each fish. This is their breeding apparatus, the female will deposit her eggs through hers and the male will fertilise them with his.
The female will have a breeding tube that is short and stubby and may look flat at the tip, it is slightly wider than the males so that her eggs can pass through it.
The male’s breeding tube will appear more narrow and pointed.
You May See Signs of Aggression
If you have both a male and a female in your aquarium then breeding behaviour will occur at some point. Initially, a pair will form, the first sign of this is usually the two Angelfish ‘lip-locking’. This is often mistaken as aggression, and really, it is. The fish are testing the strength of the other to ensure they are a worthy candidate to breed with.
This could go on for a few days until a decision is reached. Once they are paired up it isn’t usually long before they will begin to select an area for breeding. This is when their aggression may step up a bit, they will begin to defend the selected area from just about any other fish in the tank. Initially, they will clean the area, usually, a flat surface on which they intend to lay their eggs.
Once they are happy that the area is clean, the female will lay her eggs and the male will fertilise them. They will usually take turns to pass over the area, the female lays them, then the male fertilises.
Once all the eggs are laid and fertilised, they will guard them, again, any fish that enters the area is going to get a good telling off from them at this point.
Looking after the eggs
Parenting Skills May Not Come Naturally Straight Away
Unfortunately, Angelfish have been bred for years in captivity and over time have lost their parenting abilities it would seem. This may not be the case for all Angelfish, you may be lucky and get some great parents, you will be able to tell after there the first couple of attempts.
Often the first go is like a trial run as they figure things out. But they will usually lay around once a month, maybe more frequently once paired.
Once the eggs are fertilised the Angels will initially guard them, but if they are in a busy aquarium with lots of other fish then quite often they will eat them. I’m unsure if this is their idea of guarding them against any other fish, or if they are just a bit peckish, but if left alone chances are they will eat them.
Removing them is easy if they have selected the decor you intended for them to breed on, it is made a little more tricky though if they have selected a filter pipe or a leaf.
If you want your eggs to hatch and you want to breed the fish then the best chance of them hatching is usually to remove the eggs, or parents, from the main tank.
Once the eggs are separated, it’s worth checking which are fertilised, you can usually tell after a day or two. Fertilised eggs will appear translucent with a tint of orange/amber. If the egg has not fertilised it will go white as it is attacked by fungus/bacteria.
This is where things can get tricky, any unfertilised eggs are best removed which is a pretty delicate job. Removing them prevents any fungus from spreading to fertilised eggs, the parents are pretty good at this and might be where they get a taste for their own eggs.
The fertilised eggs then need to be kept in clean water with good flow running over them, this prevents any more fungus developing or any bacteria settling on them. This can be achieved by placing them in the path of a filter outlet or powerhead, just make sure they aren’t going to be blasted away. Normally the parents would do this using their fins.
Alternatively, let nature take its course. Angelfish seem to learn to parent as they go, so it may take them a few goes, but eventually, they may get it right. It is quite interesting to watch as they learn at each different stage. Some may not learn though, my last pair ate around 10 batches in a row.
Caring for Your Fry
Angelfish eggs can hatch after as little as 60 hours. Initially, they will simply wiggle a little, still attached to where they were laid and this will continue for a few days as they grow and wiggle more.
They may become detached from where they were laid, if the parents are with them they will be scooped up and put back, but if in a breeder box or their own tank, they may have to stay where they land.
Once they started looking more like tiny fish than an egg, it’s worth adding a little food for them. Baby brine shrimp is always good food for fish fry, but there are other products available too such as Liquifry. If the parents are still with them then they may crush food into dust for them too.
As fry, your baby Angels are still at risk, the parents may still eat them at this stage, again, they learn as they go. So a good option to keep them alive is for them to remain in their own space.
If your batch of baby Angels doesn’t work out, don’t worry, it won’t be long at all until they try again. As I said, Angels learn as they go, and so will you. If it is your intent to breed them then at some point, whichever method you use, it is likely to happen.