Emperor angelfish

Saltwater Angelfish Care Guide

Saltwater Angelfish (scientific name: Pomacanthidae) are among the most decorative of all fishes. Their graceful flat bodies, delicate streamers, unique patterns, and shimmering colors make them excellent additions in an aquarium. These attractive fishes are originally found in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean, in particular.

The name Pomacanthidae comes from the Greek words poma (cover) and akantha (thorn). A distinct feature of these fish is that they have prominent spines on their gills.

Marine angelfish are different from freshwater Angelfish, which are called Pterophyllum. The latter originate from the rivers in South America and the basins of the Amazon and Orinoco. Marine angelfish have rounded or crescent-shaped fins while freshwater angelfish have triangular fins.

There are 88 species of Pomacanthidae. All of them are bony and have spiny dorsal (top) fins and soft anal (bottom) fins. Their pelvic fins (those under its stomach in front of the anal fins) have spines and some soft rays. They have large pectoral fins at their sides; these help them to steer effectively while swimming in the seas. Aside from these common features, colors, sizes, and patterns differ immensely between species.

The largest of their kind are the gray angelfish, which can measure 24 inches. The smallest are the Centropyge that grow up to 6 inches at most. The average size is between 8 to 12 inches; Angelfish that grow in their natural habitats are usually larger than those in aquariums.


Saltwater angelfish first appeared on earth around 50 million years ago! And they have remained in the oceans ever since. Their long history enabled them to evolve into the various angelfish forms that exist today.

Caring for Saltwater Angelfish

How to care for angelfish

Saltwater angelfish can be purchased from pet shops or caught in the wild. Expect that those that came from the oceans will find it harder to adapt to a captive life and they might not thrive as well as those who are born and raised in an aquarium. Nonetheless, marine angelfish can survive being in captivity if you take care of them well.

Angelfish Tank Conditions

The ideal tank conditions for saltwater angelfish differ depending on their species. In general, an aquarium for these fish must recreate the features of their natural habitat so that the fish will grow up healthy. Consider the following when setting up an aquarium:

Salinity: Saltwater fish need saline water. This could be achieved by mixing salt into the aquarium water. The recommended amount is one half cup of salt per one gallon water.

Water hardness: Ocean water has magnesium and calcium in it; replicate these conditions by adding crushed seashells and coral in the aquarium. Aquarium decorations that have calcium in them can also be used for this.

Oxygen: Fish need oxygen in the water to survive. Water filters and bubblers encourage the distribution of oxygen into the water. It’s best to have an aquarium with a wide top because oxygen enters the water from the surface.

Size: Saltwater fish are used to larger spaces than freshwater fish. This means that you need a bigger aquarium for saltwater angelfish as compared to one that you’ll use for other fish types. Small angelfish are best suited for a 20 to 55 gallon aquarium. Medium-sized angelfish will thrive in 55 to 100 gallon tanks. The largest angelfish need a home that is somewhere between 100 to 300 gallons.

Water filtration: The open seas enable water to become replenished; a closed container does not. Because of this, toxic wastes build up in a tank. You need to remove this through filtration and water changes. These can be done through biological filters, which make use of certain bacteria that breaks down ammonia, mechanical filters that trap impurities, chemical filtration that makes use of substances that eliminate phosphates and nitrates, and other methods.

Angelfish Breeding

Breeding angelfish creates a lot of fishes so prepare to transfer them into a larger aquarium eventually. Saltwater angelfish start out as females and become males if they are dominant. Male angelfish can become females when they lose their dominance. This means that you don’t need to distinguish whether angelfish are males or females; they will choose their gender according to what is needed for the situation.

Some angelfish species find a mate and stick with them while other species display harem behaviour where one male mates with several females of its kind. When mating, they can become territorial so it’s best to keep competitors away from them.

Marine angelfish release numerous eggs into plankton-rich water, where they are left to float until they hatch. Because eggs are easily consumed this way, keep plankton-eating fish away from the aquarium.

Angelfish Feeding

Small species of marine angelfish often feed on plankton, while larger ones feed on tunicates (invertebrates such as sea squirts), sponges, hydroids (jellyfish-like animals), and bryozoans (animals found in seaweeds and rocks). Some species are hard to keep because they only want specific kinds of food. Holocanthus angelfish only eat sponges so you need to have fish food made exclusively of sponge.

Because angelfish often feed on algae, an aquarium with algae is suitable for them. Larger angelfish will feed on small crustaceans so keeping them in the aquarium is also a good idea.

Places that sell marine angelfish will usually have fish food that is formulated especially for them. Be sure to mention what kind of angelfish you have so they will give you the right kind of food.

Suitable Tank Mates For Saltwater Angelfish

Marine angelfish are territorial and they will fight with other fish even if they are of the same species. Because of this, it’s best to keep one kind of angelfish in a single aquarium. Do not combine different angelfish species unless you have a very large aquarium.

If you intend to keep different types of fish, start putting other fish into the aquarium and add the angelfish later on. This will prevent the angelfish from claiming the aquarium as their territory and perceiving other fish as intruders.

Marine Aquarium

Saltwater angelfish species have varying tolerance levels for other fish. Small and medium-sized angelfish are typically not aggressive and can live harmoniously with other fish. Some recommended tank mates for them are Anthias, Butterflyfish, Blennies, Gobies, and other similar species.

Large angelfish are aggressive. If you decide to keep them with other kinds of fish, these should also be aggressive to prevent the angelfish from destroying them. Examples of fish that can safely become their company are Groupers, Triggerfish, Damsels, Tangs, and Eels.

When angelfish are still small and young, they can be kept with other fishes because they are not usually that territorial yet. If they become large enough that they fight their companions, consider transferring them into separate tanks.

Angelfish Life Span

Saltwater angelfish can live up to 15 years old. Their colors and patterns may change as they mature. As an example, Genicanthus bellus males begin with wide black bands that turn into vivid orange bands upon maturing. This makes it interesting to watch them as they grow through the years.

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