Author: Maddy Hargrove
Angelfish have long been a staple of the aquarium hobby due to their elegant appearance and graceful movements, and with new varieties consistently becoming available, they make an excellent choice for many home aquarists.
The Grace of Angelfish
I for one have always believed that angelfish truly deserve the common name that they were given. They have an aquatic angelic quality due to their soft flowing lines and graceful movements. Nothing can compare to the sight of angelfish in a tank with lighting casting a shimmering glow on their beautiful bodies. This species is gorgeous and relaxing to watch, and is a very popular part of our hobby.
Angelfish belong to the genus Pterophyllum in the Cichlidae family. It is likely that aquarium strains are hybrids of different wild species, but they are generally considered to be P. scalare. This species is found throughout a very large range in South America and most of the Amazon River Basin.
Although most cichlids are aggressive, angelfish are an exception to the rule. This fun-loving and peaceful species really shines when placed in a proper home aquarium. Their sheer size is enough to catch the eye of children who seem captivated by their every movement. Even people who are unfamiliar with the aquarium hobby can identify an angelfish by its majestic and unique shape because they have become a popular icon for tropical fish.
Angelfish Physical Attributes
Angelfish are unusually shaped for cichlids because they are laterally compressed, with round bodies and elongated triangular dorsal and anal fins. This unique diamond-shaped body allows them to hide and move easily among roots and plants. Their natural coloration includes dark vertical stripes, thought to provide camouflage like a zebra’s stripes. Angelfish are ambush predators that prey on small fish and invertebrates that they stalk in the plants.
Angelfish are easy to care for and can live up to 10 years in captivity if they are provided with proper aquarium conditions. Because of their shape, this species prefers tall aquariums with a capacity of at least 20 gallons. However, if you want to keep several in a beautiful setup, I would highly recommend an aquarium that is 55 gallons or larger. Another advantage of purchasing a larger tank for your angelfish is that the increased space will offer a better feeling of security, and breeding parents will not be as quick to eat their eggs or hatched young.
Angelfish should be kept in a warm aquarium, with a temperature that remains around 78° to 80°F. Although they come originally from slightly acidic, fairly soft water, angels are quite adaptable to waters of various pH and hardness. Any tank decor should consist of smooth rocks and wood, as the fish can be injured by sharp objects.
Broadleaf aquatic plants such as Amazon swordplants Echinodorus spp. are great for an angelfish tank because they will allow them a nice natural surface on which to lay their eggs. Java moss, water sprite Ceratopteris spp., and Java fern are also good choices for an angelfish aquarium.
Angelfish will flourish if they are fed a mixture of flake, live, and frozen foods such as brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and bloodworms. It should be noted that angelfish are gluttons and will gorge themselves on food, so stick with a strict feeding schedule unless you want your aquatic pets to resemble floating basketballs with fins sticking out. Overfeeding also leads to health problems and water fouling.
When choosing tankmates for your angelfish, make sure that you pick non-aggressive species that will not nip at their large, flowing fins. Angelfish are generally peaceful, but can be very aggressive eaters and become territorial while breeding. A common choice is to stock a tank with just angelfish, either one variety or several, and perhaps some cory catfish to provide activity on the bottom.
Angelfish Health Concerns
Angelfish are hardy, and it is much better to concentrate on disease prevention than on diagnosing and treating illnesses. You can lower the chance of disease by doing frequent water changes and keeping the aquarium environment in top condition. And always quarantine new specimens before adding them to your established tanks.
Angelfish are especially sensitive to poor water quality. They are also one of those fish that really, really respond to large, frequent water changes. Many commercial breeders make 50-percent daily changes on their tanks and attribute spawning success and rapid growth of fry to this simple maintenance procedure.
Ich, also known as white spot disease because of the appearance of the parasites Ichthyophthirius multifiliis on infected fish, is the most common aquarium fish illness. It is usually easily treated with commercially available preparations, so it is a good idea to keep ich medication on hand, though hopefully you won’t need it.
Angelfish form monogamous pairs. Eggs are generally laid on a vertical surface: a piece of wood, a flat leaf, or even the aquarium glass. Breeders often provide an artificial spawning site such as a piece of slate, a ceramic cone, or a vertical piece of plastic pipe.
As is the case with most cichlids, brood care is highly developed. The parents tend the eggs, and when they hatch, the parents hang their fry on vertical surfaces until they become free-swimming. Although experienced angelfish breeders can usually discriminate male from female visually, it isn’t foolproof. Only during spawning will you be able to tell the male from the female because the female has a thick, blunt breeding tube, and the male has a thin, more pointed breeding tube.
Obtaining a Pair
The best way to get compatible pairs is to start with six or more fish and raise them until they pair off. Often you will find that a pair has spawned and is keeping all the other fish in the tank at the far end from the spawning site. If you are attentive, you will be able to spot pairs before they spawn, with the two fish staying close together, sometimes chasing off other fish, and often hanging out in the same area of the aquarium.
Your angelfish will generally reach sexual maturity between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and can spawn every seven to ten days if the eggs are removed. When a pair is ready to spawn, they will choose a site and meticulously clean the surface. The female will then deposit a line of eggs. The male follows and fertilizes them. This process is repeated until the spawn—often several hundred eggs—is complete.
Although some strains of angelfish have very poor parenting skills, in an ideal world, both parents will take turns maintaining a high rate of water circulation around the eggs by fanning them with their pectoral fins and mouthing them gently to remove dirt or infertile eggs, which will turn white. After a few days, the eggs hatch, and the fry remain attached to the spawning substrate or to whatever surface their parents move them to. During this period, the fry do not eat and survive by consuming the remains of their yolk sacs. After about a week they become free-swimming, at which point they can take newly hatched brine shrimp and other similar-sized foods.
The best system for filtering a fry tank is to use a sponge filter, which will provide gentle water circulation. A sponge filter also will not suck in the fry the way more powerful filters can. Water quality is even more critical in a breeding tank, since even small amounts of dissolved wastes can be fatal to young fry.
Millions of angelfish fry have been successfully raised on a diet of newly hatched brine shrimp. They should be fed three to four times per day until they are large enough to consume flake food and dried bloodworms. Once their bodies reach the size of a quarter, they can be fed the regular adult food.
Varieties of Angelfish
Many mutations have occurred in domestic angelfish stocks and have been established into fixed strains. Some varieties of angelfish will breed true, meaning that if you pair two fish of the same variety, all the offspring will be of that type. Other varieties will produce a variety of types. And, if a fish with a dominant trait mates with a fish with the recessive variant of that trait, the offspring may all display the dominant trait.
The genetics of angelfish are fascinating and complex, but outside the scope of this introduction. We’ll look at some of the more common varieties, but realize that there is much more to the breeding of various angelfish varieties.
The silver angelfish sports the coloration of the wild angelfish. It has a silver body with red eyes. Three vertical black stripes adorn the side. These stripes fade or darken depending on the mood of the fish.
Veil and Super Veil
The veiltail gene causes all of the finnage to be longer and more flowing. A fish with one veiltail gene is called a veiltail, and one with two has even more elaborate fins and is called a super veil. A veiltail bred to a standard fin will produce half of each type, while a super veil bred to a standard will produce all veiltail offspring.
Black and Black Lace
The first color mutation in captivity was the dark gene. A fish with one dark gene is called a black lace. The entire body is darkened, and there is a very attractive lace pattern in the fins. A fish with two dark genes is called a black, double black, or double dark angel and is nearly completely black, though faint barring can be seen in some strains or in the right light.
The zebra angelfish is similar to the silver, but it has four to six vertical stripes. If a zebra has one dark gene, it is called a zebra lace and is a darkened version of the zebra, also with beautiful lacing on the fins. (A double dark zebra looks like a regular double dark.)
Gold angelfish have no black markings, and the base color is a yellow-gold. They often have considerable yellow or orange markings on the face, head, and back.
In marble angelfish the silver and black markings are marbleized rather than in stripes. The fish can be lightly or heavily marbled.
A different gene causes the gold marble coloration, which is a more gold than silver and has only a small amount black marbling compared to a regular marble angelfish.
The blushing trait removes the dark bars and causes the gill covers to be translucent in young fish. The bright red gills showing through explain the “blushing” name. As the fish mature, their gill covers become opaque, however. A silver blushing is all-over silver with the red “cheeks,” and these often show considerable blue iridescence and are sometimes called blue angels or German blues. A gold blushing is all-over gold with the blushes.
The newest mutation in angelfish is the gene known officially as Philippine blue. Identified and established by Ken Kennedy in the Philippines, this trait can combine with other varieties in beautiful ways. A gold angel with two Philippine blue genes is called a platinum and is a spectacular, blue-white fish with amazing iridescence. A black angel with two blue genes is called a pinoy angel, and a gold blushing angel with two blue genes is called a Paraiba.
These new types have caused quite a stir in the hobby, as they display traits heretofore not seen in angelfish and are truly gorgeous. A particularly popular strain is the pearlscale platinum, whose iridescent body looks positively metallic.
Koi and Sunset
A gold marble blushing is called a koi angelfish. Originally they had red-orange on their heads, but strains have been developed in which the red-orange pigment is displayed on the entire body and into the fins. A gold blushing fish with a prominent orange crown is called a sunset angel.
In the half-black angel, the back half of the fish is solid black. The front half is like that of a silver. This trait can be affected by environmental conditions, so fish that are genetically half-blacks can appear as silvers if their rearing conditions were less than ideal.
Pearlscale is a scale mutation and can occur on any color angelfish. It produces a finely crinkled tinfoil appearance to the scales and is much more visible on light fish than on darker ones. Most people prefer, say, an albino pearlscale to a black pearlscale.
Albino angelfish lack dark pigments, but may retain yellow or red pigments. In the right light you will see a white-on-white effect that shows the bars. The eye pupils are pink/red as in all other types of albino animals. Albinos do not produce any dark pigments and therefore show a white to yellow body.
There are many different types of angelfish to choose from in addition to the varieties covered. No matter what your taste is in coloration or pattern, you will find an angelfish to suit you. Angelfish have fascinated hobbyists over the years, and will continue to do so as they majestically cruise through the waters of our home aquariums.
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