By R.R. Holster Jr./PetStation

Perhaps the most recognizable of all aquarium fish is the angelfish. And certainly it is one of the most strikingly beautiful. With its elongated dorsal and anal fins and fashionable colors, it is a favorite of aquarists and aquarium gazers everywhere.

Yet great looks are not the only reason that angelfish have won the hearts of so many aquarium keepers. As members of the cichlid family, angelfish have distinct and endearing personalities! Definitely a rarity among aquarium fish.

Pterophyllum scalare is native to the rivers and lakes of South America, including the great Amazon basin. Angels congregate in slow-moving streams that have plenty of vegetative cover. Banded silver was the basic color of most wild angelfish, but many different colorations have been produced commercially. Black, gold, marble, veiled, smoky, and more color schemes are available from aquarium fish shops, many of which carry a good selection of angels because of their great popularity.

Angels are schooling fish, which in the aquarium setting should be set up in groups of four or more, but not to the point of crowding. Remember that even if you presently have small angels, they can (and should) grow, so these fish need lots of room, so the larger and taller the aquarium the better. A fully-grown angelfish can be 9-10 inches tall . Two could be kept together in a 10-gallon aquarium, but this is not an optimal situation. Smaller aquariums will stunt your angel's growth.

Ideally, the large aquarium will be planted with tall plants which will allow the often shy angels to feel more secure. They are fairly tolerant of a range of water temperatures, though care should be taken that it never gets too cool; they are tropical fish. Between 75-80 degrees is best. Angels can handle, and even prefer, somewhat acidic pH balances. They do need very clean water, so a good filter is a necessity.

Like most cichlids, angelfish are voracious carnivores. They will gobble up brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, drosophila and even worms. Commercial flakes can be used, particularly if specially formulated for cichlids and angels, however, live or once-living foods should be offered regularly for best results. Of course, angels are notorious for eating smaller aquarium fish. Care should be taken to not keep angelfish with fish that can fit in their mouth... for these smaller fish will soon disappear from view.

Angels are seemingly among the most alert and intelligent of aquarium fish. They can learn to recognize their keeper and will even accept morsels direct from fingers. They also have several other interesting characterstics. Typically, they will select a mate (or best friend) to hang out with most of the time. Some have been known to become so bonded to a partner that if it dies, the survivor will stop eating and perish as well, presumably from sadness. "Hunger strikes" are another strange behaviour that angels sometimes pull. In such a situation, a change of water conditions might snap them out of it, or perhaps an alteration in diet could work.

Squabbles and scuffling are not unusual among angelfish, even a bonded pair. They can't do much damage to each other, however. Care should be taken not to keep angels in the same tank with other species, such as barbs, that will pick on angelfish and nip off pieces of their delicate fins.

Breeding angelfish and watching the eggs develop into tiny angels is one of the joys of the hobby. Although angelfish are members of a family that in the wild are doting parents, aquarium angels should probably not be allowed to raise their babies. After eggs have been laid and fertilized, they can be removed for hatching in a small tank, safely away from mama and papa, who might snap them down the gullet in a flash. A general rule of thumb is to not put any fish in a tank with angels that they could possibly eat... including their own fry.

That said, however, some aquaculturists do take the risk of allowing their angelfish to fully rear the fry, and if it works out with little or no cannibalism, it is very interesting and amusing to see the angels herding and cleaning their babies.

Though not the easiest of tropical fish to keep, angelfish are generally hardy and disease-resistant. Care should always be taken when acquiring new stock. Ask the shop where they obtained their angelfish. The best answer is "from a local breeder." Such fish will be less likely to be in-bred or have other genetic faults.

Beginners as well as long-time angelfish aficianados can share the joys that come only with this species. The angelfish still rules as the king of the aquarium in the hearts of many.


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