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Angelfish Spawning and Breeding

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Gun Toting Lunatic
Sep 30, 2003
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So many people post questions asking what to do when their angelfish pair up and spawn, I’ve decided to put up a post on what I do when this occurs. Hopefully this will be something that is easily referred to.

Water Conditions

Angels live and breed in a wide range of water conditions. The most important thing is clean water, with a temperature of 80-82F. Ideally, you want softer water, with a pH of 6.5 to 6.9. My water is pretty hard, around 170ppm, with a pH of 7.7. I have no problem breeding with this water; adjusting pH is tricky at best, deadly for fish at worst.

Pairing Behavior

Before angels spawn, you will probably see some aggressive behavior. Chasing each other, as well as other fish, lip locking (kissing), and some tearing of fins are all common. At this point it is good to provide plenty of tank space, as well as plenty of plants or other decorations for fish to hide and get a break from this pairing behavior. The two angels are testing each other, seeing if the other is good & strong, making it a suitable mating partner. Keep an eye on them, and a divider or other tank handy in case this aggression towards each other, or other fish gets out of hand. Some tearing of fins, swollen lips, or scraped scales are to be expected, fresh water will heal this in healthy fish. Black angels show scrapes the most, they can look pretty bad, scrapes heal in a few days. Lighter colored fish hardly show scrapes at all. Veils will show torn fins more than standard fin angels. Most times the pair will claim an area of the tank as their territory, keeping other fish away.

Once two angels pair they could claim as little as a corner of the tank, or most of the tank as their territory, depending on tank size, other tank inhabitants, and aggressiveness of the pair. This is when you have to watch closely for aggression towards other fish, especially other angels, or fish that look like angels. Sometimes the pair will single out one fish, usually another angel, to let out their aggression on. Watching closely cannot be over emphasized at this point, you have two aggressive angels with nothing better to do but defend their territory. They can, and will kill other fish. Some pairs just chase a little, some can be incredibly brutal.

If one of the pairing fish, or other fish in the tank starts looking really torn up, with larger sections of fins missing, eyes starting to get swollen from repeated skirmishes, or hiding in strange places getting really stressed, it’s time to separate some of the fish. If the battered fish is one of the pair, split them up for a couple of days, preferably giving the injured fish their own tank in a quiet area. A little melafix helps healing, as well as daily water changes. Reintroduce the healed fish in a few days, or when it has healed sufficiently. Rearranging the tank before reintroducing will help reduce aggression, as this helps to eliminate existing territories.

If it is one of the fish that is not pairing, a divider can be used, provided the fish is not too torn up. If it is really taking a beating, a separate tank with melafix and water changes is best. In either case if another tank isn’t available, use a divider, treat with melafix, and do daily water changes. 25% daily is a good amount, 50% is better when doing water changes for an injury.

At this point the pair will pick an object or two in their territory to spawn on, usually something vertical like a plant, filter intake, heater, rock, or sometimes the wall of the tank itself. They begin cleaning the chosen object with their mouths; this is a sign that they will spawn soon, usually within a few hours to a few days.

When they are ready to spawn breeding tubes emerge. This is when you can make a positive identification as to which is the male and who is the female. The female’s tube is longer, wider, and more blunt on the end, the male’s tube is more narrow and pointy. The female will start to spawn in rows, with the male following closely behind to fertilize. Usually a pair’s first spawn is smaller, around 200 eggs. As they mature spawns tend to be larger, 400 eggs is probably average, and 600 is not unheard of. Now is probably a good time for you to make some decisions.

Decision Time

Do you have a place to sell or give away 200 to 500 angels? Most chain stores such as Petco, Petland, or Walmart will not deal with local breeders. Smaller, independently owned shops usually will, for store credit or cash. You need to line up at least two shops, more is always better. Auctions are also an alternative, as are online sites such as Aquabid. It never fails that when you are ready to sell some fish, the person across town just sold them 100 angels yesterday. Sometimes this can take a lot of work.

Do you have the money and space for 200 or more gallons of water, and all the equipment and supplies that goes along with them? Dime body size angels require ½ gallon for each fish, nickel body size need 1 gallon per fish. All of the eggs will not grow out to be a sellable fish, at least 80% will if you get good at it, which really isn’t too difficult. All the fry will not all reach the same size at the same time, but at times many will.

Do you have the time & energy to do daily water changes on fry tanks, daily brine shrimp hatchery maintenance, and weekly tank maintenance on all these tanks, as well as the time it takes to go to local shops, auctions, or setting up fish for shipping for online sales? Forgetting to do the brine shrimp hatchery with young fish means they don’t have anything to eat. Young fish need frequent meals, no food for a day means dead fish. The same goes for daily water changes. Older fry are not as maintenance heavy as younger fry, but still need their water changes & food. Some things in life happen without being planned to everyone, young fry don’t understand this.

Do you have it in your heart to do the most difficult part, culling? This can be very rough for some people, but it does need to be done. Not every fish will be perfect, some far from it. You are not doing the hobby any favors by selling defective fish. Mother nature is the most ruthless culler around. If 10% of wild angels survived from every spawn in the wild, the Amazon it would be overrun in a year. The defective ones are among the first to go.

If you’ve decided that for whatever reason this is not for you, don’t feel bad, it’s not for everyone, or everyone’s situation. Just pull the spawn, rinse it off in the sink, & replace the object they spawned on. Enjoy the pair you have, I think they are one of the most beautiful things to watch.

Breeding Tank

If you have decided to give this a try, congratulations on your enthusiasm. If the angels have completed spawning and are fanning the eggs that is a good sign. Some pairs will eat the eggs soon after spawning; it may take them a few spawns to get past this. You can leave the spawn in with the parents to see if they parent raise them, or pull the spawn to raise them in their own tank. Some pairs will parent raise with practice, some never do. It is best to remove the pair and house them in their own tank, that way you have a better chance of them parent raising the spawn. Even if they don’t parent raise, their own tank is best. They will feel less threatened, and will be less likely to eat the eggs before you can pull them and hatch them yourself. In a tank with fish other than the pair the eggs rarely last long.

The best setup for a pair is a tall tank, bare bottomed, without too much water flow. 20 high tanks are considered the minimum, and sponge filters work well. Since they will spawn on vertical objects, provide a piece of slate, pvc pipe, or removable plant. It is best to block the heater & filter intake tube with something more removable, tall plants usually work well for this. You want something removable in case they don’t parent raise.

Hatching Eggs

The advantage to pulling the spawn and raising it in it’s own tank are that you have a larger percentage of eggs that hatch due to being able to add anti-fungals at a rate that would kill free swimming angels. The disadvantage is that you have to do the work of the parents.

Many different size containers are used for hatching a spawn, from 1 gallon jugs to 10 gallon tanks. The basic requirements are being able to keep the water at the same temperature as the parent’s tank, and adding an airstone to provide a little circulation for the eggs. The airstone replaces the parents fanning of the eggs. Most everyone uses a different size container, or places the airstone differently. Much of it is trial and error at first. What works for some people won’t work for others. By telling you what works for me and why is probably a good starting point.

I pull the spawn because my pairs have yet to parent raise. Even if they did I would pull them, I feel it gives me more control over feeding and water quality. When the pair are done spawning, and busy fanning the eggs, I transfer them to a 10 gallon tank. In a 10 they can hatch as well as grow for a few weeks before being transferred to a larger tank. It also leaves me more room to work in than a smaller tank. I also make sure I have a spare cycled sponge filter, brine shrimp eggs, and a spare panda cory on hand befoe I pull a spawn, as I will be needing these things in a week.

When I pull the spawn I take it from one tank, and put it directly in the 10 gallon. Air contact doesn’t seem to matter for a few seconds. The tank is already filled with fresh dechlorinated water the same temperature as the parent’s tank. I place the airstone beneath the eggs with a slight air flow, being cut back with a valve. Gentle circulation is the key, too much damages the eggs. Everyone has their own recipe for anti-fungals, I started with 4 drops per gallon methylene blue, with so-so results. I am now using 7 drops per gallon meth blue, 3 drops per gallon acriflavine+, and 4 drops per gallon Maroxy. I have 15-20 fungused eggs per spawn with this mix. I also keep a light on near the tank; I feel this helps prevent fungus, as I’ve never seen fungus grow in a well-lit area.

If we consider the day the eggs are laid as day 0, you will start to see a few white eggs on day 1, a few more on day 2. I remove these with an eyedropper, as the parents would remove them and eat them. I begin 50% water changes daily on day 2. I use water from the parent’s tank, as it is the same temp, and aged. You want to trickle in the water, as well as take the water out slowly. I use air line tube to drain, with a sponge on the end to keep any wigglers from being sucked up. A 1 gallon jug with the top cut off and a small hole drilled in it is used to fill it back up. A board across the top of the tank holds the jug. Usually on day 2 you will begin to see a few wigglers, hatched eggs clinging to the spawning site. They should be most all wigglers by the end of day 3. I continue daily water changes to reduce the anti-fungals. By day 5 you should start to see small eyes on the wigglers. If some have fallen to the bottom of the tank, don’t worry, this often happens, and they do just fine. You want to start your brine shrimp hatchery on this day. I have tried other fry foods; none work as well as bbs. On day 6 you should see a few swimmers, they will be all swimming by day 7. Day 7 is when I pull out the airstone, add the cycled sponge filter, and the small panda cory. The cory helps keep the bottom clean, eating left over bbs, and doesn’t bother the fry. This is when you want to begin feeding bbs. I use ¾ of an eyedropper 3 times per day. More frequently is better, this is all I have time for due to work. I also keep a light on 24/7, as this keeps them off the bottom, where the bacteria settle. Once they are swimming I continue using small piece of sponge over the air line tubing used to drain the tank. This keeps fry from being sucked up.

Cleaning the Fry Tank

Cleanliness is essential with angel fry. I vac the bottom daily with a piece of airline tubing into a bucket. You will suck up a few fry no matter how hard you try not to. I use a turkey baster to get the vacuumed fry out of the bucket and back into the tank. Basters are also great for cleaning around any tank where a vac won’t reach. Adjusting the position of the light will often get them to swim towards a different area, letting you clean where they aren’t. I also wipe the bottom and sides of the tank daily with a paper towel. If you move slowly they will move slowly.

Growing Out the Fry

I keep the fry in the 10 gallon for 3 weeks, gradually increasing the amount of brine shrimp. As they get larger they eat more, getting 2 eyedroppers per feeding. After the 2nd week I start cutting back water changes and bottom cleaning to every other day, and start introducing tap water. At the beginning of week 4 they go into a bare bottomed 20 gallon, along with a few more corys & a bristlenose plec. I just net a group of them with a small net, and transfer them from one tank to another. They get twice weekly tap water changes of 50% once they are in the 20 gallon, twice weekly bottom cleaning, as well as increasing the amount of bbs. Besides the sponge filter there is a small hang on back filter, with a sponge over the intake to prevent any fry from being sucked up.

At the beginning of week 6 they get split between 2 20 gallon tanks, both set up the same. This is a good time to begin culling, as they look like angels enough to see any defects. I also begin introducing finely crushed flake food for 1 feeding per day. Water changes get cut back to 50% weekly.

At the beginning of week 8 they get split again, each tank gets split between 2 more 20 gallons set up the same as the first 2. This is another good time to do some culling, as well as keeping an eye out for any future breeders, or interesting coloration. They get flake for 2 feedings per day, bbs for 1. I also start to introduce frozen brine shrimp about every other day.

By the beginning of week 10 some are of sellable size, and half of each 20 gallon goes into a pair of 55 gallons. I’m now up to 190 gallons of tank space being used for 1 spawn, making phone calls to different shops, and making sure I have plenty of bags to transport them in. Coolers are a good thing to transport fish in when it is colder outside. If I’m lucky I sell a spawn in a few weeks, sometimes all the breeders in my area have spawns growing out at the same time, and it takes a month or two. I don’t even think of pulling another spawn until most of the tanks are empty. It’s too easy to get tanks loaded with fish that no one wants to purchase. I keep extra empty tanks and extra heaters on hand, and spare cycled filters running on tanks. These get used if buyers are few and far between.

Making and Saving Money

No one I know of gets rich breeding angels. You will be able to cover all your costs, as well as have a few dollars for your pocket. Building your own stands, filters, tank tops, lights, or anything else you feel handy enough to try will save money. Don’t be afraid to improvise, you may build a better mousetrap. Keeping an eye out for used equipment will help, but it is, like anything else, buyer beware. Some of the best deals for new equipment, as well as supplies, can be found online.

Walking into a shop to sell some fish can sometimes be tricky if you aren’t a regular customer. I check out the shop first before I consider selling fish to them, if I wouldn’t buy a fish there, I don’t feel right selling my fish there. If they look good offering them half a dozen free fish to check out usually works if they are hesitant. Make sure they are some of your best fish, well bagged without any debris from the tank in with them, and stop back in a week or so. This has worked out well for me.

When the shops are looking for a larger quantity, I include 10% over for free. This helps empty some tank space for me, as well as making for a happy customer. You have to play salesman, it helps to stop in and chat if you can figure out when their slower times are. It won’t be long before you have some regular customers set up, and get into somewhat of a scheduled routine.

I hope this helps anyone who has angelfish and is considering breeding them.

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