Angelfish

Silver Angelfish, Freshwater Angelfish, Common Angelfish

Family: Cichlidae Silver Angelfish, Albino Angelfish, Pterophyllum scalareAlbino AngelfishPterophyllum scalarePhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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Hiya, I have a 40 gallon fluval vicenza aquarium with a fluval external canister filter. I do a 25% percent water change every Friday and the fish are feed flake,... (more)  sam

Timid, temperamental, and delicate, the Angelfish is familiar to every freshwater aquarist and the most commonly kept cichlid.

The Angelfish Pterophyllum scalare is a graceful disk shaped cichlid. Though it was named for the marine angelfish, it bears little resemblance to these fish or even to any other fish in the Cichlid family. This fish is rather diamond shaped or leaf-like in appearance. It has a rounded body that is greatly compressed laterally accented with long, triangular dorsal and anal fins. Its genus name Pterophyllum is very descriptive of its appearance as this term actually means "winged leaf". It is also known as the Silver Angelfish, Freshwater Angelfish, and Common Angelfish.

These are some of the most attractive fish and very popular with both the beginner and the long-time aquarists. In the wild they are found with black bars on a silver colored body. But there are also some mutations found in nature as well where these fish are without bars, are solid black, and have lace forms.

Through captive inbreeding its natural mutant forms have become fixed forms for the hobbyist. Angelfish are mostly all captive bred and there are many color and finage varieties available. Some of the best known varieties include the Silver Angelfish, Zebra Angelfish, Marbled Angelfish, Veiltail Angelfish, Blushing Angelfish, and one produced with much effort, the Gold Angelfish.

These are moderately sized cichlids that are very tall and extend to about 6 inches (15 cm) in length. The Veil varieties can be even taller due to their fins. They are moderate to care for but they do need enough room to accommodate their size and swim freely. A 30 gallon tank would be the suggested minimum, but if you are keeping a pair or keeping them in a community, the tank will need to be larger.

The Angelfish are considered a community fish, but they are cichlids. Consequently they may not be as sociable with smaller fish. They will school peacefully when they are young but tend to pair off and become more territorial when they are older. Being a bit timid, they can be frightened by shadows and fast movements. They will feel most at home and comfortable in a warmer aquarium that has hardy plants placed around the inside perimeter, has some rocks and roots for retreat, and has an open area in the center for swimming.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care


Geographic Distribution
Pterophyllum scalare
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Pterophyllum
  • Species: scalare
Freshwater Angelfish

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A Brief Introduction - two kinds of angelfish available to aquarists.

Freshwater Angelfish belong to the Cichlid family of fishes. This video is intended to give a brief introduction to the two kinds of angelfish available to aquarists. Both are a beautiful addition to the freshwater aquarium. The common angelfish (Pterophylum scalare) has been bred into many different color varieties. All the Altum angelfish look mostly the same and is harder to find, since mostly wild caught specimens are sold. The Altum angelfish is also a unique and beautiful specimen for your freshwater aquarium.

Angelfish - Common - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 6.0 inches (15.24 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Angelfish Pterophyllum scalare was described by Schultze in 1823. They inhabit slow moving waters of rivers in South America: the central Amazon River basin and tributaries to Peru, Brazil, and eastern Ecuador. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names they are nown by are Silver Angelfish, Freshwater Angelfish, and Common Angelfish.

In the wild these cichlids live in swamps or flooded areas where the vegetation is dense. The water is either is either clear or silty, but their color is stronger in clearer waters. They feed on smaller fish and invertebrates as well as eating food particles in the water.

These fish were first introduced in Europe in about 1920, and were first bred in the United States in 1930. Though the Angelfish sold today is often referred to as being Pterophyllum scalare, wild specimens vary widely from the long established captive bred varieties.

Angelfish Question: Are they a "species" or "hybrid"?

The Angelfish species are a most attractive and graceful group of fish. Currently there are three recognized species in the Pterophyllum genera: the common Angelfish Pterophyllum scalare, the Altum Angelfish or Orinoco Angelfish Pterophyllum altum, and Leopold's Angel Pterophyllum leopoldi. Besides the three described species of Angelfish there are thought to be several undescribed species.

Questions have arisen as to what species the common Angelfish sold today actually is. There is not a definitive answer. All the angelfish species are similar in appearance. In the early days there was much confusion identify imported species and little recording of cross breedings. The three types of angelfish are:

  • Silver Angelfish Pterophyllum scalare
    The common Angelfish sold today is generally considered to be a hybrid of Pterophyllum scalare, however, this may not be the case. Forms of Angelfish found in the wild have become fixed forms by captive inbreeding. The common Angelfish has historically been referred to as Pterophyllum scalare because this angelfish proved to be the hardiest and easiest to breed in captivity.

  • Leopold's Angel Pterophyllum leopoldi
    The Leopold's Angel is a pretty rare imported. It looks very similar to the common Angelfish, but its black bar patterning is a bit different. It has a couple vertical dark body bars, but is is distinguished by a black blotch at the base of the dorsal final that doesn't extend into a full bar.

  • Altum Angelfish. Orinoco Angelfish Pterophyllum altum
    The Altum Angelfish. Orinoco Angelfish is the largest of these three species. It is distinguished by having a "notch" on the upper part of its snout followed by a steeply rising forehead, rather than a more flat or slightly rounded forehead as on the other two species In color and pattern it is very similar. The fins may have some red striations and on adults the dorsal fin may have some red spots and a blue-green cast. But overall the color differences are subtle. It used to be that only wild caught specimens of the Altum Angel could be obtained. For years this species was considered impossible to breed. More recently however, it has been successfully bred by some hobbyists and captive bred specimens are now occasionally available as well as wild caught.
  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed

Description

The Angelfish are found in nature with black bars on a silver colored body. The laterally compressed body has a distinctive diamond shape and pointed snout. They have oversized extended dorsal and anal fins, these and the tail fin are long and flowing. In mature fish the tail fin can develop streamers on the outside corners. The pectoral fins are very long and delicate. They can have a lifespan of 10 -15 years in if properly cared for.

In the wild they are found with black bars on a silver colored body. There are also some mutations found in nature where these fish are without bars, in solid blacks, and in lace forms. Through captive inbreeding these forms have become fixed. There are many popular varieties available, including:

Veiled Marble Angelfish
Veiled Marble Angelfish

 

Gold Veiltail Angelfish
Gold Veiltail Angelfish

 

Koi AngelfishKoi Angelfish
Photos © Animal-World:
Courtesy David Brough

  • Silver Angelfish: This is the wild angelfish type. It is the standard which all other mutations and phenotypes are compared to. It has a silver body with 4 vertical black stripes (one through its eye). Most will have red eyes and can have some color on top..
  • Zebra Angelfish: This is a Silver variety with extra vertical black stripes.
  • Halfblack Silver Angelfish: This variety has a black rear portion.
  • Black Lace Angelfish or Zebra Lace Angelfish: This variety has very attractive lacing in the fins.
  • Albino Angelfish: This variety lacks pigments The eye pupils are pink as in all albino animals
  • Ghost Angelfish: This is a Silver variety with just a stripe through the eye and tail.
  • Smokey Angelfish: This variety has a dark brown/gray back half, and dark dorsal and anal fins.
  • Chocolate Angelfish: This is a Smokey variety with more of the dark pattern and sometimes only the head is silver.
  • Gold Angelfish: This variety is quite attractive, some will develop an intense orange crown.
  • Gold Marble Angelfish: This is a Gold variety with black marbling.
  • Marble Angelfish: This variety has more black pattern than Gold Marble does.
  • Silver Gold Marble Angelfish: This variety is Silver with some Gold Marble.
  • Gold Pearlscale Angelfish: This variety has a scale mutation. The scale have a wrinkled, wavy look that reflect light to create a sparkling effect.
  • Koi Angelfish: This is a Gold variety with some marbling, and a variable amount of orange.
  • Sunset Blushing Veil Angelfish: On this variety the upper half of the fish exhibits orange, sometimes the body is a pinkish or tangerine, and juveniles have clear gill plates.
  • Leopard Angelfish: The young have spots over most of their body. Most of these spots grow closer in the adult.
  • Blue Blushing Angelfish: The body of this variety is actually gray with a bluish tint under the right light spectrum. An iridescent pigment develops as they age, appears blue under most lighting.
  • Black Hybrid Angelfish: This variety is very very and may look brassy when young.
  • Lace: This variety is without complete stripes. Ghosts generally have more iridescence than non-ghosts.
  • Platinum Angelfish: This is a newer phenotype developed from the Gold Angelfish. It has a white sheen when young and becomes tinted with green or blue as it matures.
  • German Red Angelfish: This is a popular newer phenotype variety that has a is reddish hue all along the body. Be cautious though, sometime what is sold as this fish may be a Ghost Angelfish that's been fed a red food coloring.
  • Size of fish - inches: 6.0 inches (15.24 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The angelfish can make a great addition to the tank of almost any aquarist, from beginners to highly experienced fishkeepers. They can be very sensitive to water condition changes and can show aggression with smaller community fish.  Thus, it is recommended that the owner keep a diligent eye on chemical levels in the water and monitor aggressive behavior by any of the tank's inhabitants. Especially watch out for fish nipping at the fins of the slow moving and long finned angelfish. 

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous, the Angelfish will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. They do best on a diet which contains plenty of protein, but variety is important. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food or pellet everyday. Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat. You can even feed them lettuce or spinach. Feed mosquito larvae very sparingly as they will tend to over eat it. Overeating can result in a buildup of fats, which results in inactivity and could kill them.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes - Small pellets are best, angel's mouths are not as large as their bodies!
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Angelfish require weekly water changes of roughly 15-20% of the aquarium's capacity. The Angel is very sensitive to water fluctuation so make sure to test any water going back into the tank. The water needs to be soft for 0-5dH. Make sure when doing water changes to carefully vacuum the substrate throughly. Take care to not cause unwarranted or excessive stress to the tank's inhabitants while cleaning the tank. 

  • Water Changes: Weekly - Change 15-20% each change depending on bio load.

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 30 gallon aquarium is suggested, though a larger tank would be best if keeping several. They need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. They do best in a warm aquarium with soft, slightly acidic to neutral water. Provide hardy plants placed around the inside perimeter along with some rocks and roots, but keep an open area in the center for swimming. They prefer subdued lighting. These fish do not burrow and will not damage plants as much as other cichlids.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) - Will need at least a 55 gallon for a pair and much larger for a community.
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 80.0° F - The range is 80-85 deg F.
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 2 - 10 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

They are considered a community fish but being in the cichlid family, may become aggressive towards smaller fish. They are usually fine when young but they will often get territorial as they get older. They will pair off, developing a strong nuclear family, and defend a territory in which to breed. A nice thing about Angelfish is that they don't burrow or disturb plants!  Take caution to pick tankmates that are not known to be fin nippers.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor - Will eat anything that will fit in it's mouth.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor - Angels are slow swimming with long fins which attract other fish to harrass them.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

There are no distinguishable differences except in breeding season, then the papilla on the male is pointed and on the female is blunt.

Breeding / Reproduction

Angelfish are egg layers and form nuclear families. These egg layers are open breeders that spawn on the submerged leaves in the wild, They are difficult to sex, so it's best to start with a small school of about 4 - 8 fish and let them establish pairs. They become sexually mature around 6 to 12 months or more, depending on the tank conditions, and about 2 inches (5 cm) or more in length.

The pair will need very clean water and need to be conditioned to spawn. Supplement their current diet with foods rich in protein, but be sure to not overfeed them. The breeding water should be slightly acidic, soft, and warm. Have a pH of about 6.5. hardness at about 5° dGH, and temperatures between 80 - 85° F (27 - 29 ° C). The males sometimes make a loud grating sound with their jaws when mating.

The female lays up to about 1000 eggs on carefully cleaned leaves and the male will follow and fertilize them. Eggs will be laid, but convincing the parents to care for the eggs is another issue. Generations of inbreeding have cost these fish much or their parenting instincts, resulting in a tendency to eat the eggs. If the parents don't eat the eggs, the larvae and fry are carefully guarded. The eggs will hatch in a few days and the fry will be free swimming in a week. The parents will swimming with a shoal of fry in tow. The fry can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp for the first week or two. See the general description of how to breed Cichlids in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

Angelfish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol.

As with most fish Angelfish are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Remember anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance.

Availability

Angelfish are readily available online and in fish stores in many different color and finage varieties, and they are fairly inexpensive. As these are captive bred fish there may be symptoms of inbreeding such as stunted growth, pale colors, and poor parenting.

References

Author: Clarice Brough CFS, David Brough CFS, Jeremy Roche
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Lastest Animal Stories on Angelfish - Common


sam - 2009-10-27
Hiya, I have a 40 gallon fluval vicenza aquarium with a fluval external canister filter. I do a 25% percent water change every Friday and the fish are feed flake, cichlid pellets, tetra prima, catfish pellets, and blood worm treats. My current fish are one 3inch male festivum, one 3 inch male opaline gourami, one 3inch female pearl gourami. 3 days ago I added 4 little baby angelfish about the size of a 50p, 2 smaller marble ones and 2 silver striped angelfish. At first they got chased and nipped but now they are ignored.They lighten up my dull tank. They look so awesome just playing tag in and out of the big amazon sword plants. Feeding time is, well fun, they are wee psychos, lol. Soon I'm going to add some new fishes to the festivum, gourami's and angel's tank. I'm thinking about adding somthing like 2 golden gouramis, 1 snakeskin gourami, 1 baby pleco, 1 red tailed shark, 4 baby keyhole cichlids, 6 cherry barbs, 8 serpae tetras, and I would like to add a baby severum too, but we'll see. Thanks Animal-World, you've helped me out sooooo many times with your fish info, and today you helped me again with my new angels. So thank you very much :), your brilliant! Cheers Animal-World. I mean it, without your site I'd be a crap fish keeper, thanks!!

  • Wes - 2013-12-23
    That is way too many fish. If you are going to add all the fish you say your going to need a 125 gallon.
Reply
Rach - 2013-06-21
I three big angelfish, and two are marble male and my female. I also have 3 small angelfish, 2 gouramis, a clown loach, and a 3 to 4 inch pleco in a 36 gallon tank. One of the males and the female I had just gotten 2 weeks ago, and they laid eggs unknowingly, and I do not know anything on angelfish fry.  Above all, these two fish are beating up my other big angelfish that I had through everything. I was going take them back, but now  I do not know long the fry need to be with fiercely guarding parents!

Reply
Max miller - 2013-03-26
So I have a 60 gallon with 10 black tetras and I was thinking of getting 2 black angelfish. Will 2 be fine?

  • Jeremy Roche - 2013-03-27
    The tetras may harrass the angels at first and add too much stress for them unless larger angels.
Reply
Kim DaFoe - 2013-03-17
I am getting a 38 gallon tank for home. I plan on using sand for the substrate. I have 2 zipper loaches in my tank at work that I plan on bringing to the home tank. I am looking for suggestions. I would like to get a couple of Angels but I'm not sure what else to get. I like the Cardnil Tetra, Dwarf Gourami, African Butterfly & Banjo Cats. I see so many fish that I would like to have, but I want to be sure of the compatibility and I don't want to over stock.

  • Jeremy Roche - 2013-03-17
    Angels get large and 2 full grown can take up a 38 gallon tank.  Dwarf gourami will do well.  Careful adding anything that requires schools or like to nip.  The tank will not be large enough for schooling fich as well.
Reply