Freshwater angelfish live in groups in their native South American waters, and we recommend keeping at least two fish in your aquarium. If you can, housing four or more provides an ideal environment for these fish as adults and gives you a good chance for more than one breeding pair.
Over the years, we have witnessed well-intentioned keepers trying to maintain a single angelfish in their community tank. We want to promote pet health along with the hobby, and we believe keeping more than one angelfish can maximize health and help with natural social behaviors.
Let us look at some reasons behind our thought process, including things like:
- How do they live in the wild
- What number should be kept together
- Recommended space requirements
- Is keeping a single specimen advised
- Answers to commonly asked questions
Why Should You Keep Angelfish Together in an Aquarium?
Are Angelfish Schooling Fish?
Freshwater angelfish are not technically a schooling fish species. Schooling usually refers to fish of the same species swimming synchronously. That means the group moves in the same direction, turns together, and stays tightly bunched.
Schooling would prove challenging in the shallow waters of the Amazon River Basin tributaries these fish inhabit. They also use their thin body shapes to swim among plants and fallen timber to ambush prey. Such tactics would be impossible to do in a school of competing fish.
Fish in the Pterophyllum genus are more of a shoaling species. The term better describes the looser cluster these fish live in, often interspersed with other fish species in their native murky waters. Various angelfish species live in groupings of about 20 fish in the wild.
As keepers, we can use this natural state to our advantage. It allows us to keep a reasonable number of specimens in our aquariums and allows for pairings and territorial claims.
How Many Angelfish Should You Keep Together?
You should keep at least two angelfish together, with additional pairs if you have the room. Keeping odd numbers of fish can make life stressful for the odd fish out. Today’s angelfish market affords you the luxury of buying a breeding pair from the start, letting you stock even the roomiest tanks with a small shoal!
As a shoaling species in its native waters, the freshwater angelfish will perform all of its natural functions and follow instincts if it has other angelfish to interact with. A breeding pair will lay eggs and rear young if provided with space and ideal water quality. Displays will attract mates and establish a tank hierarchy that will keep order within the aquarium.
Is there a cutoff to the number of angelfish you can keep?
No, there is no maximum number of angelfish you can keep. For example, you will see juvenile tanks at stores holding lots of young angelfish looking for a new home. The key here is to provide enough space for your angelfish to grow without stunting the fish in adulthood because of cramped tank conditions.
How many pairs of angelfish species can you keep in a tank?
Again, we recommend a pair for each species kept (P. scalare, P. altum, and P. leopoldi). Maybe you want to keep a pair of P. altum in a tank with four P. scalare; provide enough space, and you should be fine. Keep in mind that angelfish species can crossbreed.
How Many Angelfish per Gallon?
We recommend a minimum tank size of 30 gallons for a pair of fish, with an additional 10 gallons of water for each specimen above two. You have likely read or watched videos where people say a 20-gallon aquarium is an acceptable minimum, but we disagree.
Most manufacturers and distributors recommend you fill an aquarium with a rim to one inch from the top (two inches for rimless tanks). Standard 20-gallon tanks are only 12 inches tall, to begin with. Add substrate and other decors, and your tall angelfish have less room to swim comfortably.
Many 30-gallon tanks are 18 inches in height, giving more depth for angelfish to swim in the top and mid sections of the water column.
Adding 10 gallons per angelfish after two provides enough water and space to handle the bioload and needs of the fish. Trying to cram more fish than this into a tank makes upkeep more difficult and generates unneeded stress within the tank. That is especially true as angelfish compete for mates, resources, and territory within the aquarium.
Can I Have Just One Angelfish?
Yes, you can keep a single angelfish in a fish tank. Are those ideal conditions for your pet? No.
All species of Pterophyllum live in groups in the wild. We are advocates for pet welfare as well as the interests of keepers, so we believe you should keep at least two angelfish in the same fish tank.
Look at a breeding pair of angelfish; they are monogamous. That means the fish have only one mate at a time. They will even defend each other.
While this species lives within loosely-connected shoals in the Amazon River Basin, it interacts naturally with others of its kind. Important characteristics like social hierarchies, the establishment of territories, and mating require more than one angelfish. A lack of these natural stimulants might stress your fish, and science shows that fish can become depressed.
We advocate for providing the best conditions for your cichlids. As a keeper, you want your pets to enjoy themselves as much as you enjoy them. That should include keeping two or more of these fish together in your community aquariums.
What if I still want to keep a single angelfish?
If you still insist on housing a single specimen in your aquarium, you must provide it with the proper room. You want at least a 20-gallon tank (Tall or High designs would be preferable) because you want as much height as possible. Angelfish are tall and need swimming depth after the substrate and the fill line reduce the actual water column height.
Monitor water parameters to help prevent extra stress on your fish. Do your best to keep conditions similar to the wild, including water temperatures between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the ph between 6.5 and 7.5 and hardness between 5 to 12.
Keep the water clean by performing 25 percent water changes weekly, if not more often. With only one angelfish in the aquarium, you don’t have to worry about water changes affecting the scents used to establish a tank hierarchy with multiple angelfish.
Only keep peaceful species with your solitary angelfish. Make sure they do not become a target for fin-nipping or chasing. Also, avoid tank mates the angelfish identifies as a food it can swallow.
Provide slow-moving currents by keeping filters pointed toward the walls of the tank. Add plants and other decors to help stimulate the fish. Place your aquarium in an area with lower household traffic to avoid startling the fish often.
Lastly, be extra observant of signs of stress. A loss of appetite, erratic swimming, rubbing against objects, and clamped fins can indicate a problem.
External causes like aggressive tank mates or water quality are easier to address with the current setup; stress due to lack of other angelfish may require upping the number of Pterophyllum you house to solve the problem. Keep in mind stress can reduce the lifespan of your aquatic pets.
One Is the Loneliest Number
While you can technically keep a single angelfish in your aquarium, we suggest at least a pair, if not more. These fish live in loose groups in their native South American waters, and they will find contentment in living with others of their species.
You want to provide the proper amount of living space for adult specimens, which equates to 30 gallons for a pair and an additional ten gallons for each fish after them. Aim for keeping breeding pairs instead of odd numbers of fish, and your community tank should thrive!
If you have any questions, please ask so we can provide the answers you and your cichlids need.
Can you keep different types of angelfish together?
Yes, you can keep different types of angelfish together in community tanks. All angelfish species hail from the Amazon River Basin, sharing similar water parameters. They are less aggressive than other cichlids and should do okay once territories and tank hierarchies become established.
There are angelfish enthusiasts that not only keep all types of angelfish together; they intentionally attempt to crossbreed Pterophyllum scalare, P. altum, and P. leopoldi variants.
Can angelfish be kept alone?
Yes, you can keep an angelfish alone in an aquarium. That does not mean it is an ideal situation, however. We agree with most sources recommending at least two (a breeding pair would be good) housed in a 30-gallon fish tank.
In the wild, these fish live in groups of 20 or more, so the more freshwater angelfish, the better! Remember to add an extra ten gallons of water for each additional fish, though.
How many angelfish can be kept in a 55-gallon tank?
We would recommend keeping up to four fish in a 55-gallon aquarium. While some sources might suggest at least a 20-gallon tank, a minimum of 30 gallons provides the best space while accounting for decor, filtration, and possible tank mates.
For each additional angelfish, plan to add ten gallons to the size of your aquarium. You might do okay with five fish here, but that would leave one as an outsider if the others paired up. We feel six angelfish in a 55-gallon community tank would be too much.
Can I keep three angelfish together?
You can keep three angelfish together in the same aquarium. It could raise stress for one fish if the other two pair up. You might find an increased chance of the pair bullying the third fish as they view it as challenging their hierarchy and territory.
We suggest that keepers purchase pairs of angelfish. Should you decide to get an odd number, such as three, provide adequate room to reduce stress for the third fish during feeding or mating.
Can I mix angelfish with other fish?
Yes, you can mix your angelfish with other fish species. You should look for potential tank mates that are peaceful to avoid fin nipping or stress. Several South American dwarf cichlids work in a community aquarium setting, as well as fish like corydoras and plecos.
Avoid fish species that are small enough to be swallowed since angelfish are omnivores that will not pass up on an easy meal. Remember to consider water parameters, as many tropical fish require different ph, hardness, and temperature ranges than freshwater angelfish. For example, goldfish cannot be kept with angelfish due to their different tank requirements.