Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What You Need - Part 3 of 5

Earlier this week, I listed two of the things you need to keep angelfish: a sizable aquarium and a good filter.

But what about the water?

Angels are very sensitive to water changes. Most pet stores maintain a Ph of 7.0. Angels prefer 7.0 or lower, as low as 6.2. If you add real wood to your tank, you can be dropping the Ph without even realizing it.

Do not add shells or any decorations that contain calcium or you will be raising the Ph above 7.0. This creates too much of a strain on angelfish.

A good filter will keep ammonia, nitrates and nitrites under control.

When you first set up your tank, you need to cycle the tank - which means the filter needs to run all the water through it several times so it is more efficient at handling ammonia and fish waste. You can add fish food to a tank without fish to give the filter something to process. Or you can buy a product through your pet store that helps to cycle the tank. Only when your tank has been up and running for a few weeks and the water is well cycled, should you add your fish.

You can also take some shortcuts: add gravel to the new tank from an existing tank; the good bacteria is already in it (unless you allowed it to dry out) or place some decorations from an existing tank into the new one. You can also use filter media from an existing filter in another tank to get the new one started.

Do not overuse chemicals! Agents like Prime will rid the water of ammonia and chlorine. But if you use too much, you can pull out all the nutrients in the water that angelfish need to survive. Tetras, guppies or bettas will survive too much chemical much faster than angelfish will. I use half the amount recommended to keep my angels healthy - and only treat the water you're adding, never the whole tank unless all of the water in the tank is brand new.

But what about the temperature? Tune in tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What You Need - Part 2 of 5

Yesterday, I talked about the size tank needed to keep freshwater angelfish. Experts recommend five gallons per fish. I recommend ten gallons per fish.

Angelfish are very particular about their water. They feel changes in the water quality much more easily than tetras, guppies or bettas do.

So it's very important to have a great filter.

I don't know of a pet store that doesn't sell the standard, hang-on filters. I started with two Marineland filters on my 70-gallon tank (I have seven tanks at the present time). Each filter was rated for up to 60 gallons but because angelfish can place a heavy load on the system I wanted to have a bit more than I needed instead of just barely adequate. These filters are easy to install and operate. It takes just minutes and about once a week, simply rinse out the filter media inside. Once every 4-6 weeks, replace the filter.

The hang-on filters can be noisy, however. And since this tank is in the great room, it meant having to turn up the television just a bit louder. The white noise was always there. Angels also do not like a lot of current because of their long fins, especially if you have the veil-tail variety.

I eventually purchased a commercial Eheim Professional 3e external canister filter (shown at right.)

Setup is not for the faint of heart. It took a full day for me to set up the first one and about three hours to set up another one a year later on a 60-gallon tank. However, once it is installed, it is a breeze to maintain. It cuts down on water changes, it keeps the water incredibly clean and clear, and it is completely noiseless.

I clean the filter media about once every two months. Directions recommend once a month but because I have my tanks understocked, every two months is all it takes.

Tomorrow: how often to change the water and how best to do it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What You Need - Part 1 of 5

Since starting this blog and posting photographs and video links of my angelfish, I've had several people ask me how difficult it is to successfully keep or breed angels. So over the course of this week, I'll give you a little bit of information. There are plenty of websites and books that go into a lot of detail but I'll try to keep things simple.

Freshwater angelfish can grow to 10 inches tall, as three of mine have already. If you have smaller fish like many tetras, you can get by with one fish per gallon of water. Guppies and neon tetras can thrive with two fish per gallon.

But an angelfish needs a minimum of five gallons. I try not to have more than one angelfish per ten gallons. In my 70-gallon tank when Lindsay and Stevie began to start a family (or sushi bar, if you were one of the other fish watching) 70 gallons was clearly not enough space for these two. They were very territorial. Which is why they now have their own 20-gallon honeymoon suite. (At right: a 60-gallon tank.)

So the first thing you need is an aquarium. The bigger, the better. Height is a big factor, as angels get taller than they are wide (or you are feeding them WAY too much.) I suggest at least a 60-gallon tank is you want to keep 6-8 angels.

Tomorrow... all about filters.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Eddie's Story

This is Eddie, one of my two Jack Russells.

I also own a collie and a foxhound and too many fish to count.

The Robeson County Humane Society has volunteers who visit dog pounds and rescue dogs that are destined for euthanasia.

Eddie had a bad limp and held his front paw up as if he was trying to tell them he was hurt. That meant when three days passed and no one came to claim him, he was scheduled to be euthanised.

The Humane Society volunteer took him, thinking his leg was broken.

But when he was taken to the vet for x-rays, they found that he had been shot.

That was all I needed to hear.

I adopted Eddie and took him to a specialist in Cary, North Carolina. He reconstructed his leg and inserted a metal plate to help the bone fuse back in place.

Eddie still has shrapnel in his leg because it would have caused more damage to try and pick it all out.

But he is happy now and eagerly jumps through the doggie doors to my back yard about a million times a day. He seems to know he was saved by people who love him.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blue Angels

This is a blue angelfish.

I purchased this angel along with 10 others several months ago from a breeder in Pennsylvania, who shipped the fish direct to my door.

This is a female who has already selected as her mate a rare Siamese angelfish who is white with fins that go from white to black tips.

When I received the two angels, their bodies were about the size of a quarter. They are now about 5 inches tall and may grow to twice that size.

They share a 60-gallon tank with five other angels, about a dozen corydoras and a plecostomus.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pipsqueak Littlefish

This is Pipsqueak Littlefish, The Band Manager.

Most people associate angelfish with the silver variety with bold black stripes. This is a koi angelfish, named "koi" for its orange and white markings.

Pipsqueak is about 10 inches tall now. But when I purchased him, his body was the size of a dime. He only had one ventril fin (that long fin in the front of the body) instead of two because the other had broken off.

He was so ugly that he didn't fit in Fleetfish Mac so I made him their Band Manager.

He was constantly swimming around the tank worrying about whether the others would get to their gigs in time. Then he worried when Stevie Fishnick had an affair with Mick Fleetfish. Then with John McFish. And he worried as she flaunted her affairs in front of Lindsay Buckingfish.

Now Stevie and Lindsay have their own honeymoon suite tank. Pipsqueak has several younger angels to look after. And now he's the Big Fish in a Small Pond. And loving it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Separating the Kids from the Parents

I have several dozen angelfish babies in a 20-gallon tank. It's the third batch one pair of angelfish have had in about a month. None of the babies survived in the first batch. Two survived in the second batch.

By the time the third batch hatched, I'd seen the video on YouTube (see last week's posts) which recommended the parents be separated from the babies at 14 days. It had only been one week but I suspected Papa Lindsay Buckingfish was eating his fry. After all, he was never hungry when I fed him dry flakes of food... And he was looking pretty fit and healthy.

So this morning, I set up a second 20-gallon tank. Lindsay and Stevie did not want to leave their fry but I managed to get them in my huge nets (Lindsay is 10 inches tall) and transferred them to a brand new tank. In this tank, I have new amazon plants, their favorite surface for laying eggs. So they can "have at it" as my character, Irishman Dylan Maguire, would say in Vicki's Key.

At right are some of my adult angels coming to see me when I venture close to their tank. This is a 70-gallon tank.

Meanwhile, the babies are on their own. They are being fed freshly hatched brine shrimp four times a day. With no predators in the tank now, I will be interested to see how many survive to adulthood!

They are clear now and have torpedo-shaped bodies. They are shown with river gravel, which is slightly larger than aquarium gravel. So you can see how very tiny they are. It will take several weeks before they begin to morph into their beautiful angelfish shape and get their distinctive markings.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Musing Maggots

Like so many people I know, I've owned dogs just about my entire life. I grew up in a time before heartworm medicine, before a monthly flea treatment really got rid of fleas, before tick medicine prevented ticks. It was a time when we bought flea powder at the grocery store...

Yet, we always treated our pets like they were family. My dad used to make an ice cream cone and then held it while his Scottish terrier licked it. I would ride my bicycle across town to pick up five cent cans of dog food for my cockapoo. And they never, ever had bugs in their food.

So in mid-October when I was at PetSmart in Wilmington, NC - 87 miles one-way from my home - I picked up a 34-pound bag of Pro Plan. It cost $43 on sale so it was far more expensive than the Sam's Club five minutes from my house charges for Member's Mark.

And it never occurred to me that it would be filled with maggots.

I have those specially designed dry dog food bins where I pour the food in and it closes with a seal-tight fit. I opened the bag, wrestled with it (since it was 34 pounds and bulky) and poured it in.

When I was finished and ready to put the lid on, I saw the maggots swarming in the food - and some with wings were trying to fly out.

I immediately enlisted my daughter-in-law's aid to hold the bag while I poured the dog food back into it from the food bin. You can see the maggots in the food and crawling over the lid in the video we made.

I called PetSmart who told me if I couldn't drive 87 miles back to their store (and spend $32 in gasoline to return the $43 bag of food) then I should contact the manufacturer.

I contacted Pro Plan and explained what happened. Their response:

Maggots are not harmful to dogs and it won't hurt them it they eat it.

Their factories were sanitized and the maggots didn't come from them.

However, they offered to send me a coupon for the next time I wanted to drive 87 miles to buy another bag of their dog food.

I went to the local pet store who does not carry Pro Plan. They gave me 10 pounds of Eukanuba for FREE so I could try it with my dogs and see if they liked it. I came back two days later and bought their largest bag. Now my dogs are eating Eukanuba.

I still have the 34 pound of Pro Plan in my garage, taped into the original bag and then into a plastic bag. The bin is outside drying after I spent thirty minutes cleaning and disinfecting it.

Lesson learned.

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Clock is Ticking!

This female, a Band Groupee who recently joined the Fleetfish Mac tank, is fat with eggs. Every time John McFish comes around, she begins cleaning the filter and tries to catch his eye. For whatever reason, he's not been interested. And she is not showing any interest in any of the other males in the tank.

Once the eggs have been laid, once they've hatched and are swimming about... The work is just beginning. Here's the second half of yesterday's documentary about raising the fish to an age where they can be sold:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Angelfish are Made

Some people are birdwatchers. I love fishwatching. I've heard it said that fish don't have personalities but never from someone who has actually watched them!

This is the best video I have ever seen on angelfish breeding. It also shows up and close and personal how to tell the difference between a male and female fish.

I tell the difference based on their behavior. Males are more aggressive and more likely to fight for dominance while females are more likely to hang out in the background. Females clean the surface where they wish to lay their eggs and try to entice the male to join them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

And It's Getting Bigger!

Each day the babies venture further out on their own.

But their numbers also begin to diminish. Perhaps the reason angels can lay eggs every two weeks and the eggs generally number 300 or more is the mortality rate is so high at this stage. From the eggs that were laid, there are only a few dozen still swimming. These will be the fittest and most likely to survive.

I've heard from professional breeders that the parents will eat the smallest and weakest of the fry to give those who are larger or fitter a better chance at survival. Some breeders allow this natural culling process. Others will remove the parents immediately after the eggs have been fertilized so they can attempt to grow all the angels to maturity -- or at least to the stage where they can sell them.

The smallest angels are sold when their bodies are the size of a dime. It's better if they are the size of a nickle or larger, as this gives them the best chance of survival in their new home.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's a Big World Out There!

When the babies are about a week old, they will begin to swim in a school.

At this stage, they are nearly invisible. They are very tiny and can only be seen in the right light. Their fins have not grown into the beautiful fins they will be as an older angelfish and their colors have not yet developed. It will take more time to see whether they will be marbled or platinum or a combination. Each pattern will be unique. It's part of the fun of raising angels!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Parental Protection

When the baby angels are ready to pop off the spot where they've been wiggling by their little heads, they are in a most vulnerable situation. If they wander off, they could be eaten by prey - and apparently they are quite tasty. The parents have to keep watch constantly.

In the video below, the babies start to test their fins. But when they venture too far from the plant for Mama and Papa Fish's comfort, they will gather them into their mouths, return to the plant and spit them out where they think they will be safer.

Some people think the parents are eating their fry when they see them gobble them into their mouths like this. But the only time they are known to eat their own fry is when they sense they are deformed in some way. They won't eat them if they are starving because they won't lay eggs when they're starving. Conditions have to be ideal.

Tomorrow - see them venture away from the plant and swim together!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Super Sweet Award

Hi! Lindsay Buckingfish here. I've been elected by the Band to accept the Super Sweet Blog Award today!

I am being assisted by Simone, the collie. Her claws work better on the keyboard than my fins.

Many, many, many fish kisses to our friend Misaki for awarding us with the Super Sweet Award! Woo Hoo! We're all clapping our fins!

The Rules for accepting the Super Sweet Award are:

1. Give credit to the best pooch in the whole universe for nominating us. Yay, Misaki!! (Yes, we are sucking up. As demonstrated by Mick Jaggarfish at right.)

2. Answer these questions:

a. Cookies or Cake?

We prefer cookies made of algae and shrimp. It gets the protein we love into us and the vegetables we need. Icing falls apart in the water.

b. Chocolate or vanilla?

We're not really sure. We've asked our peep to put me in a jar and carry me up to DQ to try out the flavors. Plus, I'd get a road trip. It would be nice to see something other than these four glass walls.

c. What is your favorite sweet treat?

Brine shrimp. Ooh, it's to die for!

d. When do you crave sweet things the most?

Right before Stevie Fishnick lays her eggs. I have to stand guard a lot so I need to build up my strength. Plus, it takes a lot of fortitude to fertilize hundreds of eggs!

e. If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?

Sweet Lips HooliLindsay.

3. Now for the third rule: I have to give this award to a Baker's Dozen (13) blogs!

We're new at this blogging thing and all our friends already have the award (Yay, Misaki and Sammy!)

So if anyone wants it, let us know and it's yours!

Happy Fishing!!

(And thank you, Simone the Collie, for typing this!)

Friday, October 12, 2012


After a few days in which the mama and papa rarely sleep but remain vigilantly protective of their eggs, they will begin to hatch.

When they hatch, the parents will scoop them into their mouths and take them to a new spot. In this case, it's a red amazon plant. They spit them onto the leaf so their heads stick. Then the baby wiggles and wiggles for several days while their bodies grow and begin to take form. It's a little like watching tiny tadpoles.

Here is a picture of a group of wigglers:

They look almost like eggs except they are longer. They are slightly larger than a pinhead - and apparently taste very good, so the parents are extra protective of them.

And here's a video where you can see them wiggling:

In my books Vicki's Key and Secrets of a Dangerous Woman, Vicki and Dylan are CIA operatives. But their neighbors think they are angelfish breeders. They use an old carriage house on the property and actually raise angelfish and do quite a nice business with it - in between their CIA missions.

Next week, I'll show you what they look like when they pop off the place where they've been stuck by their heads.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Angel Eggs!

So I thought I would give you a blow-by-blow account of a group of baby angels, from inception to adulthood. It's actually quite fascinating!

The female angel will signal to her mate that she's ready to lay eggs by cleaning a vertical surface, like an amazon plant leaf (their preferred spot), a piece of slate or even the filter. It must be defensible so they'll spend quite a bit of time picking the right spot.

Then the female will begin moving up the vertical surface, laying dozens of eggs with each pass. When she's done, she'll typically have more than 300 eggs laid.

In between her passes, the male will follow and inseminate them.

Here's what the filter intake looks like after the eggs have been laid.

Tomorrow, I'll show you what happens when the eggs hatch!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

And While Babies are Swimming...

While I am tending my angelfish, I am surrounded by four dogs. They are all rescues and I am told I now hold the record for the largest number of dogs adopted from the Robeson (NC) County Humane Society, a no-kill shelter.

I have a foxhound named Mattie from the Richmond SPCA who was seized as a puppy from a hunting lodge. Her brother, Skipper, was adopted at the same time but unfortunately he passed away a couple of years ago.

I have a collie named Simone who was near death when I adopted her. Fully grown she weighed just 42 pounds and had almost no fur. She is now happy and healthy and nearly 80 pounds!

I also have two Jack Russells. Eddie was the first one I adopted; he had been shot in the leg. I brought him to a surgeon in Cary, NC, who reconstructed his leg and put in a metal plate and you now can't tell he was ever injured. He is the one in the video below with the docked tail.

Lucy is my latest adoption. She is probably part corgi. She's a puppy and loves to "attack" the others while I work with the fish.

In the video below, it sounds like they're going to kill one another. But keep watching and you'll see someone call a time out. They stop, catch their breath, then start to play again! They're like this all day long!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Baby Angels Going for a Swim

When angelsfish lay their eggs, they continuously fan them to keep fungus from growing on them.

Once they begin to hatch, the parents will clean another surface, gather the brand new fry in their mouths and spit them out onto the new surface. The little baby attaches to the surface with its head, where it wiggles for a day or two before popping off. During this time, they continue to grow so they have a better chance of survival.

When they've hatched, they are so tiny, they can barely be seen.

In this video, Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick try to attack my camera as I zoom in to watch the babies swimming around their parents. They are alone in the tank with them so no predators can get to them now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Protective Parents

I've heard it said when an angel sees something, three thoughts enter their mind:

Can I eat it?

Can it eat me?

Can I have sex with it?

It seems that angelfish have three purposes in life in the wild: to reduce the population that's smaller than they are, to be food for fish that are bigger than they are, and to breed.

In the aquarium, an ideal situation neither gives them smaller fish to eat nor bigger fish to eat them.

What's left?

To breed.

By the time they are teenagers (within six months) they are looking for a mate.

The female shows interest by cleaning a vertical surface in front of the male. She's saying, "I'm ready to lay eggs here."

The male shows interest by showing how fierce a protector he can be.

Because when those eggs are laid, he is going to have to protect them -- even if there are three hundred or more. When they hatch, he must continue to protect them. And he must protect them when they are swimming but too small to defend themselves.

Here is Lindsay Buckingfish protecting the eggs Stevie Fishnick laid on the filter. Pipsqueak Littlefish, the band manager, sees the eggs as a sushi bar. But Lindsay tries to ward him off by a display of fins. When that fails, he goes in for Pipsqueak's lips. They lock. Lindsay wins. And a short time later, they're friends again - as long as Pipsqueak stays away from the eggs!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Dance of the Angels

Eventually, I would fill my first tank with angels - and then add more tanks with more angels.

Each morning when I awaken, I see the Dance of the Angels: an elaborate dance the angels perform in the middle of the tank.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

John McFish

The silver angel is the one that is most closely identified with the freshwater angelfish.

It descended from the altum angel, which is difficult to impossible to keep in a fish tank.

When the silver angel is frightened or stressed, the stripes turn translucent.

If the silver angel is at ease with his surroundings, the stripes appear black or deep brown.

But if the angel is defending itself, its nest or its mate, the stripes will deepen in color.

All angels bring their top fin straight up when defending itself or showing aggression. The reason is simple: they look much larger so they appear to be a more formidable opponent.

When an angel wants to show submission, they will show their underside to the other angel.

Shown here is John McFish, who is currently about two years old. He is about eight inches tall.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

John and Christie - Dedicated Lovers

John and Christie McFish proved to be dedicated lovers.

Most angelfish will select their mate when they are juveniles. They mate for life and often live to be 10 years old under the right conditions.

John McFish is a silver angel. He is currently about two years old and about eight inches tall.

Christie McFish (now sadly, deceased) was a smoky leopard angel and petite; fully grown, she was about five inches tall.

They were the first to lay eggs.

They choose the filter that plunged about ten inches deep into the aquarium. It was surrounded by vegetation, which made it more easily defendable.

The female moves along the vertical surface, laying her eggs.

The male follows behind and fertilizes them.

They lay anywhere from two hundred to six hundred eggs. I was to find out eggs have a very high mortality rate, which is why they lay so many. If they are not actively raising their fry, they will lay eggs about every two weeks.

In this picture, John and Christy are guarding their eggs on the filter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fleetfish Mac

The video on this page shows my original four angels:

Mick Fleetfish is the large platinum angel with the crooked top fin. He was supposed to be a juvenile when I received him but he is clearly an old man. He was definitely one of the most gentle angels I've ever owned.

The golden angel is Stevie Fishnick. Stevie and her predecessor, Stevie Fishnick II, bucked the angel tradition of mating with one male for life. They both preferred to play the field, mating with Mick, Lindsay and John at various times.

The marble angel is the original Lindsay Buckingfish. After his death, a more flamboyant Lindsay would take his place, growing to ten inches tall and fathering thousands of eggs.

The smoky leopard in the background is Christie McFish. She would eventually mate with a silver angel. They became inseparable and after her death, the silver John McFish was devastated. It wasn't until I introduced a few little beauties to his tank that he began to perk up again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mick Fleetfish

In the early 1970's, I owned three gorgeous angelfish in a community aquarium. Unfortunately, a short time later an angelfish epidemic swept the world and they were almost eradicated from pet shops. It would be more than 30 years later before I would buy another. But this time, it surpassed anything I might have expected.

Angelfish are often difficult to find in pet shops because they need precise water conditions. While tetras can fare well in a range of water conditions, angelfish are more sensitive to fluctuations. It results in a high mortality rate unless you buy direct from a breeder.

Which is precisely what I did.

My first group of angels consisted of four: a smoky leopard, a black marble, a golden and a platinum. The platinum angel stood out like Mick Fleetwood on the drums. He was huge. I was expecting an angel with height of three inches from fin to fin. This one was easily double that. The top fin was bent in such a way that he looked like he was always leaning forward. He dwarfed the other angels. Yet he was so gentle and so shy, eager to stay in the background while others took the spotlight. So I named him Mick Fleetfish.

Mick would go on to have affairs with both Stevie Fishnick (the golden angel) and Christie McFish (the smoky leopard.) But in the end, Stevie always returned to Lindsay Buckingfish and Christie always returned to John and poor Mick was left the odd fish out.

In the picture on this page, he is with Christie McFish, the smoky leopard.

p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 16 books, including the Black Swamp Mysteries series (Exit 22, Vicki's Key, Secrets of a Dangerous Woman and Dylan's Song) which feature two CIA operatives using an angelfish breeding business as their front. For more information, visit