Even with ideal tank conditions, angelfish parents will sometimes eat their eggs. If you have kept these beautiful cichlids for any time, you have likely observed the phenomenon yourself. Fortunately, adult angelfish will also provide care and protection for their eggs.
Through the years, we have observed angelfish do both. Experience has taught us that there are things you can do to reduce the chances of consumption, and we would like to pass those things on to you. It helps you better understand your fish and allows them to experience rearing young as part of a complete lifecycle.
Some topics we can cover that will improve your knowledge include:
- Do angelfish eat and protect eggs
- Why they might do this
- What can you do to reduce instances of filial cannabilism
- Do they act the same way toward their fry
- How long the angelfish parents are needed
Do Angelfish Eat Their Eggs?
Several species of fish, including all the species of Pterophyllum, will consume part or all of their spawn for varied reasons.
While it might appear counterintuitive, it is instincts honed over millennia of evolution on display when your angelfish pair eat their eggs. For instance, you will watch adult fish fanning and cleaning the egg-laying surface as they tend to their unborn progeny. One of the things you will observe the parents do is eat unviable specimens to prevent potential contamination of the others.
Outside of unviable specimens, angelfish will eat their eggs due to stress factors. Evolution has hardwired these South American cichlids to reabsorb their unborn progeny instead of letting other competitors benefit from the nutrients. They will instinctually reabsorb eggs for their well-being instead of wasting energy and time tending to potential offspring in less-than-ideal environments.
If you are new to keeping a breeding angelfish pair, realize that there are biological reasons your fish consume their spawn. It does not mean, however, that they will continue to do so each time they mate.
Do Angelfish Protect Their Eggs?
While spawn consumption does happen with angelfish, the natural drive to reproduce is an even more powerful instinct.
Male and female angelfish can reach sexual maturity between six months to a year. Our experience and research indicate pairing off and breeding start closer to ten months of age for most angelfish. Some fish know how to prepare, spawn, and care for young from the start, while others may take a few tries before they get the process down.
Newer parents will tend to eat their eggs more often than those with experience. Through the years, we have yet to find a breeding pair that does not eventually become adequate at spawning and caring for their offspring until they are self-sufficient.
You can watch the adults select a site and clean it for preparation. The female angelfish will eventually pass over the cleaned area and deposit her eggs, followed by the male, who brushes over them to fertilize them.
These fish will then guard their progeny, chasing off other tank mates in community tanks. They will increase water oxygenation by swimming past the egg-bearing surface and fanning the eggs with their fins. You will also see the parents clean away debris and consume unviable specimens.
This process continues until hatching after 72 hours. The baby angelfish are now wigglers that you might see the parents suck into their mouths as they move them around. The adults are not eating these babies, as you will see them spit the wigglers back out onto the surface.
Once the baby fish become free-swimming fry that can fend for themselves, the parents stop maintenance and recuperate in preparation for the next spawn within a couple of weeks.
Why Do Angelfish Eat Their Eggs?
As discussed previously, adult angelfish will eat their spawn to remove damaged, infected, or unfertilized specimens. It prevents bacteria from forming fungus on nearby eggs and allows both parents to focus on potentially viable young. You will note that your angelfish will always eat unviable specimens each spawn.
Inexperience can also factor into filial cannibalism. Just like any other animal, some mating and rearing instances go wrong. One or both fish have a breeding instinct, but it may take a few spawns to learn to do it correctly without eating their progeny.
Community tanks can also cause angelfish to consume their young. If the parents feel they cannot guard the eggs, it is instinctual to eat them. They absorb the nutrients to remain healthy for the next spawn while denying the competition (other fish in the tank) a nutritious meal.
Another issue that causes spawn consumption is poor water quality. Polluted water can stress the parents, triggering the instinct to consume their young. Less than-ideal water parameters like pH, hardness, and even water temperature could be enough to over-stress your pets, overriding their parental instincts.
Finally, external aquarium factors can cause adult angelfish to eat their eggs. Lots of movement outside the tank can make the angelfish feel threatened. You may also observe that loud and sudden noises disturb your fish and might create a flight-type response that sees the parents abandon or eat the clutch.
How Do You Prevent Angelfish From Eating Their Eggs?
Many breeders looking to maximize the number of angelfish fry from each spawn will remove the eggs to separate tanks away from the parents once fertilization is complete. If you want to raise as many angelfish as possible, this is a good solution that avoids the problem of filial cannabilism.
Many keepers, ourselves included, enjoy seeing our pets experience the richest lifecycle possible, including being parents. Some things can reduce why angelfish consume their young, but remember that even ideal conditions may not prevent unwanted eating.
Space may be an issue if you have problems in community tanks. One solution is to get a larger tank that provides additional space that reduces stress and aggression for your pet angelfish trying to spawn. Having separate tanks for breeding is also a solution. You can also remove problem tank mates if they cause continuous stress for your breeding angelfish pair.
Another trick you might try is to provide plenty of hiding spaces for the eggs and the parents caring for them. Plants and other decors can make the fish feel more secure and make it easier to protect their progeny.
We also recommend that you provide proper water flow to make the parents feel secure. Their native waters in the Amazon River Basin provide slow-moving currents. Use a sponge filter or other system with a minimal current generation, or point more powerful filters toward the corner or wall to buffer current generation.
You can help your angelfish by providing an air pump that bubbles. It creates oxygen-rich waters that improve egg viability. An air pump is also necessary for a separate tank for eggs and fry.
Proper tank conditions also reduce the stress that may cause angelfish parents to eat their eggs. Maintain water temperature between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit (hovering near the higher end of that range may help the parents and offspring), a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, and a water hardness range of 5 to 12 dH. Those conditions resemble the water parameters in the Amazon River and its tributaries.
Tank location can also provide some privacy and can help lower stress levels. Keep the fish tank out of high-traffic areas in your home and out of rooms with lots of noise. You might also consider covering the tank if it must stay in a location where people often walk past.
Do Angelfish Eat Their Babies?
The same trial and error can play a role once the hatch is complete, and in some cases, parents will eat their angelfish fry. Eating fry happens far less frequently than when a parent eats their eggs, and it is worth noting some of the same reasons are behind it.
Again, inexperience can play a role in this type of filial cannabilism. As a predatory cichlid, it is natural for these fish to swallow smaller fish. If the parental instinct is not yet dominant, that may cause issues.
Tank size, other fish, water parameters, and things outside the aquarium can also be a factor here. Of these, overcrowding seems to cause more fry eating than the others.
Do Angelfish Protect Their Young?
We agree with researchers that have observed a breeding angelfish pair protecting their young from egg-laying through to the point they can defend themselves.
They will guard the angelfish fry, chasing off other fish looking to eat their babies. Once the pair were ready to spawn again (two weeks after the last egg laying), the free-swimming fry will have used their yolk sac and feed on microscopic organisms in the water and things like freshly hatched brine shrimp.
We have observed parents protecting their offspring for up to a month, but this happens less frequently.
How To Prevent Angelfish From Eating Their Fry?
We have found the same methods that reduce spawn consumption also help reduce the instances of filial cannabilism once they hatch into angelfish fry.
Providing a separate tank for the whole family or the fry reduces or eliminates the problem. If you keep the parents in community tanks, you can decrease stress by getting a larger tank with more room. Adding more plants and hiding spots can help fry to avoid tank mates and even the parents if needed.
Water conditions are crucial to keeping stress down, so monitor water temperature, pH, and hardness to keep them in acceptable ranges. Also, perform frequent water changes to keep pollutants to a minimum.
Another factor that can help with survivability is to keep everyone in the aquarium well-fed. The parents will eat less during the spawn but will eat after. Satiated fish are less likely to nibble on your new angelfish.
How Long Do Angelfish Need Their Parents?
We use the natural two-week cycle between spawns for how long angelfish fry need their parents. By six days post-hatch, angelfish fry is free-swimming, has absorbed their yolk sac, and can feed on freshly hatched brine shrimp.
The parents will continue rearing and guarding the fry until they begin preparing for the next spawn. By then, the offspring is starting to look like its parents and would be fending for itself in the wild.
See also: How often do angelfish lay eggs?
Helping Angelfish Eggs and Fry in Your Aquarium
Your breeding angelfish pair may consume their eggs or fry, especially if they are new to parenting. Experience and instinct will allow them to develop a nurturing behavior, and they will eventually stop this habit.
Cramped conditions, tank mates, water parameters, and external tank movement or noises can stress the parents into abandoning or consuming their offspring. Luckily, you can control these factors to reduce the instances of filial cannabilism.
Trust in the process; you will see results as your adult angelfish become nurturing parents. In the meantime, comment so we can help you with this or other questions about your cichlids!