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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I want to cite this article in a University assignment I have. In what date was this article written?  Javier

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
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • 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)
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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


Javier - 2015-08-06
I want to cite this article in a University assignment I have. In what date was this article written?

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-08-08
    This article was last revised on July 15, 2012. Thanks for asking, as we've had a running conversation about whether the dates should be shown or not. Nice to have some input!
Reply
Protocol - 2015-04-07
I have a marbled angelfish 5-6' who is not eating, however every week I buy 10-16 fry and they are all disappearing, BUT... I also have a 6' rainbow shark and 2 gourami about 5' each (the shark is a suspect) in the same tank, 40 gallon, and I have seen my gourami eye the fry. My angel is active, healthy, and swims about just fine, also my water quality is perfect as is the temp in my tank, all seems to be fine. I just don't know if he is the one feeding on them... Can anyone help me out... What can I do to know that my angel is feeding? Just seeking closure....

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-04-09
    Sounds like your angelfish is doing fine so is probably eating something. Hard to say who is eating the fry. You would have to park yourself in front of the tank to know for sure. Maybe also offer some frozen bloodworms or brine shrimp and see who comes around to feed.
  • Protocol - 2015-04-22
    Yes, it was the angel fish all along that was eating them, just found this out after dumping about 30 fry in the tank, he ate three in about 10 seconds. And more good news, he is now eating black worms with my peacock eel.
  • Clarice Brough - 2015-04-22
    That's great to hear, and I bet he'll do great with such a varied diet too.
Reply
Protocol - 2015-04-22
My angel was the one eating them, and he now shares blackworms with my peacock eel

Reply
Vladimir Lagos - 2014-12-27
This week I bought 4 baby angelfish for my 55 gallon planted aquarium which they share with 9 guppys, 3 corydoras, and 3 cherry barbs. My pH is at 6.8. My question is whether my aquarium is at capacity or if I can add a fe more fish, I would like to add 8 neon tetras as a final component, but I don't want to overpopulate either. The aquarium is over a meter long and 60 cm tall, with only slight internal current and with plants to the back and a free front section. Regards from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Congratulations for your very detailed site, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading several of your entries.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-12-27
    Nice tank! By your dimensions, it sounds like what we would call a 'show' tank... being tall rather than wide or long. (I actually have a similar tank) The only drawback to these taller show tanks is that there is less  surface water area. This actually reduces the number of fish because of the oxygen exchange in the water is directly coorelated to the size of the surface area. However, I don't think adding a school of neons will affect it too much because they are such small fish, as are the tetras and barbs you have. Over time your angelfish will get much bigger though, but you tank will also get more stable... so personally I would give it a go. Good luck to you!
  • Anonymous - 2014-12-28
    Thanks for the prompt reply and the good news. I'm off to the pet store now!
Reply