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Keeping Freshwater Angelfish | Pterophyllum

We haven’t met an aquarist yet who doesn’t fall in love at least a little bit when they see a well-maintained Amazon biotope aquarium with a school of angelfish. These cichlids are the kings and queens of the freshwater aquarium hobby! Their regal stature and fascinating behavior have made them a favorite of many an aquarist.

Angelfish aren’t the easiest fish to care for in the aquarium. What do they need to thrive? We’ll tell you exactly what you need to know.

Note: Angelfish aren’t ideal beginner fish. If you’re just starting out in the aquarium hobby, try having a look at our list of 6 easy aquarium fish instead. Alternatively, skip to the last paragraph to find out how you can enjoy the beauty of angelfish without having to be an aquarium expert!

What is the genus Pterophyllum (angelfish)?

The common name ‘angelfish’ can occasionally cause a bit of confusion. There are multiple genera of marine fish also referred to as angelfish, but we’re actually talking freshwater here. Freshwater angelfish are species that fall under the genus Pterophyllum.

Pterophyllum is a genus of cichlids that naturally occurs in South America, notably the Amazon basin. These rivers can vary from extremely tinted (blackwater) to almost clear (white water). The genus has evolved into a flattened, leaf-like shape for camouflage, which makes them quite fascinating to see.

The most common angelfish you’ll see in the aquarium trade is Pterophyllum scalare, which naturally features silver coloration and three black vertical stripes but has been selectively bred into all sorts of colors and patterns. Aside from scalare there are only two other angelfish species: Pterophyllum altum and Pterophyllum leopoldi. The latter is usually the most difficult to find in the aquarium trade.

Angelfish aquarium

So, you’ve fallen for the static appearance of the genus Pterophyllum and want to set up your own angelfish tank. What will you need?

To really enjoy your angelfish to the fullest it’s a good idea to set up an Amazon biotope aquarium. Although these fish can function in some ‘regular’ communities you won’t see the best of them unless you carefully replicate their natural habitat and choose tankmates wisely.

Angelfish grow quite large, especially in height, and need aquariums that are both tall and long. Don’t think you can get away with a small number of angels in a smaller tank: these fish are highly social and you need at least about 6 specimens for their social structures to function. An aquarium of at least 80-100 gallons is therefore a good idea.

In order to make the angelfish feel at home, tint the aquarium water using plenty of leaf litter. Piles of driftwood, dimmed lighting and tall plants finish the Amazon look. Choose tankmates that won’t bother the angels but won’t fit into their mouths either. Small tetra species like neons are a popular choice but can fall prey to a mature angelfish. Armored catfish from the Corydoras genus might be a better idea, as they’re pretty sturdy and almost exclusively bottom dwellers.

Caring for angelfish

In order to keep your angelfish happy and healthy, you’ll have to ensure the water values are where they’re supposed to be. These fish hail from soft and acidic waters, so they won’t appreciate a high pH. They’re not always very robust either, so check your water quality very regularly with a liquid test kit to ensure the aquarium is still properly cycled and there are no excess nitrates. The water flow should always be gentle.

Feed your angelfish a varied, protein-based diet. High-quality floating cichlid pellets or flakes make a good staple. You can supplement with frozen foods like bloodworms and mosquito larvae or, even better, live foods. Live food cultures aren’t as difficult to set up as some might think and your angelfish will absolutely love to hunt critters like daphnia, blackworms or brine shrimp.

Need help?

Setting up an aquarium that truly recreates your angelfish’ natural habitat isn’t an easy task, especially if you have no experience with blackwater- or biotope aquariums.

If you want to enjoy the beauty that is a school of angelfish in your own home without all the hassle, we can help you out. FantaSEA is here to set up and maintain your angelfish tank! Sound good? You can contact us for a quote or any kind of question here.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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