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

The Angelfish Pterophyllum scalare is a graceful, disk-shaped cichlid. Thoughnamed for the marine angelfish, it bears little resemblance to these fish orto any other fish in the Cichlid family. The Angelfishis rather diamond-shaped or leaf-like in appearance. Itsrounded body iscompressed laterally and accented bylong, triangular dorsal and anal fins. Its genus name Pterophyllumactually means “winged leaf.”This fishis also known as the Silver Angelfish, Freshwater Angelfish, and Common Angelfish.

These veryattractive fish arepopular with both beginningand seasonedaquarists. In the wild, they are usually found with black bars on a silver body, but some natural mutationshaveno bars, are solid black, orhave lace forms.

Through captive inbreeding, these naturallyoccurring variationshave become fixed forms for the hobbyist. Angelfish are mostly all captive-bred, and many color and finage varieties are 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 moderatelysized cichlids 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 moderately easy to care for, but they need enough room to accommodate their size and allow them to swim freely. A 30-gallon tank isthe suggested minimum, buta pair ora community will need a much largertank.

Angelfish are considered a community fish, but they are cichlids. Consequently, they may not be as sociable with smaller fish. They will school peacefully whenyoung but tend to pair off and become more territorial as they age. Thesetimid fishcan 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, some rocks and roots for retreat, andan open area in the center for swimming.

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

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.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Pterophyllum
  • Species: scalare
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&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Angelfish Pterophyllum scalare was described by Schultze in 1823. They inhabit slow-moving 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 known by includeSilver Angelfish, Freshwater Angelfish, and Common Angelfish.

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

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

Angelfish Question: Are they a “species” or “hybrid”?

Angelfishare anattractive and graceful speciesof 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 belongs.Nodefinitive answer exists. Allangelfish species are similar in appearance. In the early days, there was much confusion ofimported 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. Previously,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.
  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Angelfish are found in nature with black bars on a silverbody. The laterally compressed body has a distinctive diamond shape and pointed snout. They have oversized, extended dorsal and anal fins. Boththese 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 to15 years in properly cared for.

In the wild, they are found with black bars on a silverbody. Some mutations found in nature lack thesebars, aresolid black, or exhibitlace forms. Through captive inbreeding, these forms have become fixed. Many popular varieties are available:

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 to which all other mutations and phenotypes are compared. 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 scales have a wrinkled, wavy look that reflects light to create a sparkling effect.
  • Koi Angelfish: This is a Gold variety with some marblingand 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, making themappearblue under most lighting.
  • Black Hybrid Angelfish: This variety isvery dark 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

Angelfish make a great addition toa tankkept byalmost 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. 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, Angelfish will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. They do best on a diet thatcontains plenty of protein, but variety is important. To keep a good balance, give them a high quality flake food or pellet every day. 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 as 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 to20% of the aquarium’s capacity. Angelfish arevery sensitive to water fluctuation, so make sure to test any water going back into the tank. The water needs to be soft (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 – Weekly water changes of 15 to 20% depending on the 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) – A pair will need at least a 55-gallon tank, and a much larger tank will be needed 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&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 80.0° F – The range is 80 to 85 deg F.
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 2 – 10 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

They are considered a community fish butmay become aggressive towards smaller fish. They are usually peacefulwhen 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! Be sure to selecttankmates that are not known to be fin nippers.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor – Angelfish will eat anything that fits in its mouth.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor – Angels are slow swimming with long fins that attract the harassment of other fish.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

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

Breeding / Reproduction

Angelfish are egg layers thatform nuclear families. These egg layers are open breeders that spawn onsubmerged leaves in the wild.They are difficult to sex, so it’s best to start with a small school of about 4 to8 fish and let them establish pairs. They become sexually mature at around 6 to 12 months or more, depending ontank 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 and85° F (27 – 29 ° C). The males sometimes make a loud grating sound with their jaws when mating.

The female lays up to1000 eggs on carefully cleaned leaves, and the male will follow and fertilize them. Convincing the parents to care for the eggs is another issue. Generations of inbreeding have cost these fish much oftheir 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 swimwith a shoal of fry in tow. The fry can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp for the first week or two. For ageneral description of how to breed Cichlids, seeBreeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

Angelfish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if their 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,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 manufacturer’s 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. Aquarists shouldread up on 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 that anything added to atank can introducedisease. 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 tankso as not to upset the balance.


Angelfish are readily available online and in fish stores in many different color and finage varieties, and they are fairly inexpensive. Thesecaptive-bred fishmay showsymptoms of inbreeding, such as stunted growth, pale colors, and poor parenting.