Do Angelfish Need to be in Groups? Do They Need Companions?

Quite frequently, I had terrible luck when I tried to grow large groups of angelfish altogether; the competition and aggression were awful. That was when I asked myself – do angelfish need to be in groups at all? Maybe they are just better on their own? Over the years, I have learned some interesting facts about that issue.

Yes, angelfish need to be in groups since being in shoals lowers their stress and spares energy. Also, keeping them together makes mating, breeding, and social hierarchy establishment more accessible. Lastly, groups will prevent the angelfish from getting indifferent, which is what usually happens when they are kept isolated.

Nevertheless, being in groups also features its downsides. If you take the wrong steps, your tank might be overcrowded and suffer from high ammonia and inappropriate pH levels. Keep on reading to understand better how to grow your angelfish properly, both as groups and individuals. 

Should Angelfish be Kept in Groups?

The answer to this question is mixed.

Angelfish need to live in groups since that is how they live in their natural habitat. However, it does not mean that angelfish alone will not be able to survive and grow.

A few researchers focused precisely on that subject. One study found that angelfish who were kept in isolation showed less and less activity overtime, comparing to the behavior in groups.[1]

According to the research, the angelfish were a bit more active once they were first introduced to the isolated tank. However, as time had passed, they became more indifferent. 

Another study had focused on the feeding frequency as an indicator of the angelfish’s health.[2] They saw that the angelfish ate less frequently after they have returned from isolation, and kept doing so for at least ten days. 

To better understand the idea, I will go into the three scenarios below. Their purpose is to present different situations that will help you understand the circumstances which are suitable for your angelfish. 

Scenario 1: Angelfish Companions

The first scenario involves habituating a lone angelfish with a minimum number of other angelfish of the same species. 

The question is, how many angelfish are needed in such a case? The answer is it can be anywhere between 3 and 5. The reason that the scenario is in the first position is that angelfish prefer shoaling.

That refers to the behavior of fishes to swim together. By doing so, the angelfish develop a social hierarchy. If they are entirely alone, they would not be able to do so.

Then, they will have to modify their habitat as well as behavior to survive in their unfamiliar conditions. That is why, from my experience, I highly suggest that you stick to a few companions for your angelfish. This should be as low as 3.

Scenario 2: A Mating Companion

If the first scenario is not possible, the second scenario will help angelfish survive and flourish. In the absence of a group, you will find that angelfish often stick to their mating partners. It is particularly true when they are living out there in the wilderness, although it is also valid to aquariums.

You can mimic the same conditions in your tank. If you cannot introduce a large number of angelfish, you may at least add a mating fish.

Make sure that you pick a male and a female for that matter. If you are not sure, you may ask in the pet shop or even buy two angelfish that have already paired. That will ensure the angelfish get company and be, later on, able to thrive and flourish.

Having a mating companion around will also ensure that the angelfish can establish some social hierarchy, as mentioned earlier. This way, there will be some resemblance to their natural habitat in the Amazon Basin.[3] This will also get them accustomed to the tank more naturally and quickly.

Scenario 3: Alone With Other Community Fish

Well, what if you cannot introduce even the companion angelfish?

In that case, it is a good idea to add community fish which are compatible with the angelfish. Some of these fish types include:[4]

  • Platies
  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • German Blue Cichlids
  • Swordtails
  • Keyhole Cichlids

These are merely a few examples of species that are compatible with angelfish. Admittedly, there is a lot more than that. If you are not sure, check online before introducing them to your aquarium. 

While selecting the species, you should take care of two main factors:

  • The fishes should not be too small; otherwise, the angelfish might eat them up. That is what happened to me with a few kinds of tetras. 
  • The fishes should not be aggressive; otherwise, they might nibble the fins or tails of your angelfish. As mentioned earlier, check online or consult about it in the pet store beforehand.

Once you keep these two criteria in mind, it will become easier for you to choose the right community fish to live along with your angelfish. Also, it will make things more comfortable if you wish to grow a sole angelfish on its own.

Angelfish can survive in all of these three scenarios. Whether it does or not is also up to grower. That is the reason why I started by stating that the answer to the question is mixed.

How Beneficial is it For Angelfish to Stay With Companions?

Angelfish is a shoaling fish. That, in turn, can only happen when it’s in a tank with other companions. Shoaling has its benefits, which include:

1. Shoals Probably Reduce Stress

Generally, fish are safer when they are shoaling. Logically, doing so lowers the chances that predators will eat them.[5] Therefore, when your angelfish are shoaling in the aquarium, their stress levels will be on the lower side.

Undoubtedly, the conditions in a tank are different than those in the wilderness. The dimensions and group sizes are much lower than the Amazon habitat. Nonetheless, it is better than nothing.

2. Easier to Find a Mate

While shoaling, it is easier for angelfish to find a mate. Obviously, they have more opportunities to find a breeding partner as we increase the number of fish. That will raise the chances for your angelfish to thrive and flourish at a faster pace.

However, keep in mind that too many fish would create competition and probably aggressive behavior. Therefore, you should stick to the rule of thumb mentioned earlier about the sufficient amount of angelfish.

3. Lower Energy Consumption

One of the main reasons why fishes shoal is because of hydrodynamic efficiency. The group swims in such a way that the energy required for moving around is much lower.

Each fish gets a boost of kinetic energy from his companions floating aside. Therefore, when your angelfish shoal, they are likely to consume less power. It is logical to presume that they will be more energetic and healthy as time goes by.

4. They Will be Less Indifferent

From my experience, sole angelfish tend to swim slower and stay behind plants. Over time, they become sick and find it hard to survive. However, when they live in groups, they seem more confident and active.

It’s hard to determine which behavior is preferred since we must not reflect human characteristics on fish. Nonetheless, I have noticed my angelfish live much longer when they share the tank with other companions.

How Many Angelfish Should You Keep Together?

If you want to keep the angelfish in a group, you probably wonder how many angelfish should actually be there. For that, I will go into the ideal group size as well as the minimum group size below. That would be based on my experience over the years.

Ideal Group Size

The perfect group size for angelfish is between 5 and 6. You should, however, ensure that the tank is big enough to support them.

While on a stand-alone basis, it might be big enough, you have to ensure that there is proper space for other species as well. Once you take that into account, you can decide if you can accommodate the ideal group size or not.

My trick is to introduce two angelfish to every 30 gallons of water. For example, if you have a thirty gallons tank, put merely two angelfish in it. If you have a sixty gallons tank, introduce four, and so on.

Minimum Group Size

In case you’re not able to adhere to the ideal group size, your next best option is at least the minimum group size. From what I’ve seen so far, and heard from other fish growers, the minimum group size is three angelfish.

As you might have already guessed earlier, you’ll need at least 30 gallons tank to grow a group of angelfish. This, of course, by taking into account the first conclusion, we’ve made that angelfish are better in groups.

If you have no other choice, you may try growing one on its own. However, keep in mind that these aren’t the ideal conditions.

Can Angelfish Live Alone?

Angelfish can live alone, as I have highlighted above. However, there are steps you should take to ensure that when they are alone, they will not get too indifferent. There are a few tank arrangements that can help you avoid this issue. I will go into the details of these arrangements below.

  • The first thing which you need to ensure is that the tank is not entirely clear. Add a few rocks or plants with broad leaves. These will resemble the Amazon habitat and provide the angelfish with hiding spots.
  • It is advisable to introduce some community fish, as highlighted above, if you plan on keeping no more than one angelfish. However, as mentioned, make sure they aren’t aggressive.
  • Make sure that the food supply is ample, especially during the younger years. Especially do so if you have a single angelfish in the tank along with other community fishes. This will lower the competition over food. However, do not feed excessively (twice per day should suffice). Also, provide a balanced diet, preferably more than one type of food.
  • Ensure that the temperature and pH level of the water is within the prescribed limits. The pH should be between 6.8 to 7.8, and the temperature range is 78° to 84° F.

If you take care of all these things, you will increase the chances for your sole angelfish to live alone. The bottom line is providing the ideal aquarium conditions, which resemble the natural angelfish habitat.

Are There Any Downsides to Angelfish Groups?

As I have highlighted above, angelfish can live alone, although they are better in groups. Nevertheless, being with other companies does feature a few downsides, especially when there are too many. Fortunately, these are avoidable or can be fixed.

1. Overcrowded Tank

The most apparent downside for companions is a full tank. In that case, even in a shoal, the angelfish might be in stress. Also, the angelfish in the group itself would probably compete with others for food. As a result, they might not get proper nutrition.

Also, the nitrate levels can increase in the tank, and therefore, the pH levels might change. If that happens, once again, the angelfish will be prone to stress and malnutrition. That is why, if you plan on keeping the angelfish in groups in your tank, it is necessary to avoid overcrowding.

2. Aggression Towards Each Other

When Angelfish are in a group, they try to establish a social hierarchy. However, not always, the others accept the new social standing right away. In such a case, a couple of angelfish might pair and display aggression towards others.

Therefore, in spite of sharing the same species, certain angelfish can be a victim of an assault. That may also be the case when they compete for mating purposes.

You should observe your angelfish from time to time and, if need be, isolate the aggressive ones to bring things back to normal. Otherwise, the angelfish might start forming different pairs rather than a large group for shoaling.

Here is what another aquarium owner had experienced when he tried to introduce too many angelfish to the same tank:

“… I have 4 large angles in my tank, and they are OK. I have tried to add more without success (the Alpha male attacks any “new” angel). And like they all mention, you will need a large tank.”

Josh Holloway, aquariacentral.com

Conclusions

While angelfish can certainly survive alone, there are profound benefits of keeping them in groups. However, there are naturally drawbacks if you introduce too many angelfish in a relatively small tank.

Ultimately, it is up to your preference. I have highlighted both ways above and mentioned their advantages and disadvantages. The call is entirely up to the tank owner. Angelfish can survive and thrive in both conditions, as long as you do it right.

Sources

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