Guide To Breeding Angelfish
One of the most difficult aspects of breeding Angelfish is encountered at the very beginning of the endeavour – how to obtain a mated male/female pair in the first place. Since there is no truly reliable way to sex immature Angels just by looking at them, the best way to obtain a pair is to buy a group of young fish and grow them on, allowing a pair to form naturally. With only two fish, the chances of having a male and female are only 50%, but with a group of six, the chance is nearer 95%. Allowing the fish to pair up naturally and choose their own partners also means the pair has a stronger bond.
Unless you have a sound knowledge of Angel genetics, it is best to choose fish of the same colour variety so that the fry are of a good standard. “Mutt” fry may be harder to re-home.
Angelfish usually pair up and start showing spawning behaviour between the ages of 8 and 12 months, but for more delicate, slow-growing colour forms, it may take longer. When a pair is beginning to form, the two fish may take part in short jaw locking “battles,” but will soon turn their attentions to chasing away the other tank mates. Unlike many other cichlids, Angels rarely display to one another. Instead, they spend a lot of time swimming side by side, and defending “their” area of the tank from other fish. Either the pair or the tank mates may need to be removed at this point.
Tank Set Up
The breeding tank should be at least 18 inches in height, and have a capacity not less than 20 gallons as an absolute minimum. 30 gallons is better, as it allows space to start growing out the fry as well. The set up will vary from breeder to breeder, but most find it preferable to leave the tank without substrate to allow for more sterile conditions. A mature sponge filter, heater and some broad leaved live or plastic plants complete the set up. Since Angels usually choose vertical surfaces to lay their eggs, some breeders use pieces of slate in the breeding tank as spawning sites.
Angels do best in warmer water, so the heater should be set for between 80 and 85 degrees F (27 – 29C). If the water is on the soft and acidic side, so much the better, but these days, fancy Angels have been tank bred for so many generations that they will usually spawn easily enough in most tap water. The exception of course is wild caught fish, or those not many generations removed from wild caught stock. They will still require soft and acidic water to spawn successfully.
The pair will choose a spawning site and begin cleaning it with their teeth. Their ovipositors will be visible, which means this is the earliest chance we have to reliably sex the pair. The males ovipositor is smaller and more pointed in shape than that of the female.
Two or three days after the cleaning commences, spawning begins. The female lays rows of eggs on the spawning site, and the male follows behind her, fertilizing them. It is worth mentioning that two female Angels will sometimes form a false pair, going through the pairing and spawning motions. Obviously, the eggs will not be viable in cases such as these.
When spawning is complete, there will usually be several hundred eggs there, and there may be as many as 1,200 if the pair is mature and in good condition. The eggs are particularly delicate in the first 24 hours, until the outer layer hardens. Any eggs which are infertile will turn white over the first day or two. Viable ones will be translucent.
Once spawning is complete, the breeder has two options:
Leave the eggs with the parents and let them guard them. Angels, like most Cichlids, are good parents, at least in theory. Many years of having been intensively tank bred has weakened the parental instinct, so some pairs do not parent their own spawns at all. Young pairs may need several tries at spawning to get the eggs to hatch.
Remove the eggs and hatch them artificially.
If the eggs are to be left with the parents, try and minimize disturbance in and around the tank. Water changes should be carried out as usual, but vacuum away from the spawning site and pour the clean water into the tank very gently.
If the parents seem to be eating the eggs, don't worry about it at first. Good parents will clean the eggs and remove infertile ones, so may appear to be eating them when they aren't.
If you wish to try hatching the eggs artificially, you'll need some large jars and/or a hatching tank. Use clean, dechlorinated tap water, and maintain the temperature at around 80 F (27C). In colder climates, the temperature can be maintained by keeping the jars inside the hatching/grow out tank.
If your Angels have chosen a plant leaf or piece of slate on which to spawn, you'll be able to transfer the eggs quickly and easily to the jar. Don't allow them to be exposed to the air for more than a few seconds. Angel eggs are light sensitive, so it's better to keep them in the dark for a greater success rate. The best way to achieve this is to use methylene blue solution to darken the water in the jar. The water should be tinted very dark blue, and this will not cause harm to the eggs. In fact, although methylene blue will not stop fungus, it seems to slow the spread of it if it does occur. The final addition should be an air stone, placed underneath the eggs to create a strong water flow. This replaces the fanning actions normally carried out by the parents.
Raising The Fry
All being well, the first fry will be free swimming on day 6, and all of the spawn be free swimming by day 7, when feeding should begin. It is important not to start feeding until the fry are free swimming. If live baby brine shrimp is to be used as the first food, the culture should be started on day 5.
Live baby brine shrimp is the best food for newly hatched Angel fry. Microworms also make a good supplement to their diet. Frozen brine shrimp is a decent substitute for the live version. At a push, commercial dried fry foods can be used, but they aren't really comparable to baby brine shrimp as a first food. The fry should be fed several times a day, if possible.
Exceptionally clean water is of great importance for Angel fry, and since feeding should be frequent, water can become polluted easily. When raising my own fry, I do daily partial water changes of about 30%, but 50% a week should be about the minimum considered. Some breeders raising vast quantities of fry will carry out daily water changes of up to 200%!
After about three weeks or so, the fry can be weaned onto frozen adult brine shrimp and crushed flake food. By this time, they should look like real, miniature Angelfish, and it may be a good idea to separate them according to size so that the smaller ones don't find it so difficult to compete for food.
It should be noted that some colour forms of Angel are more delicate than others. These strains include Blushers, German Reds, Double Blacks and Albinos, and the mortality rates will be higher among these spawns. Silver, Gold and heterozygous Marbles are the hardiest and quickest growing of the colour forms.