Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Ultimate Guide


The angelfish (Pterophyllum) are colorful inhabitants of mostly tropical reefs. In contrast to the closely related butterfly fish, they have a spike on the gill cover. 

Angelfish are a small genus of freshwater fish from the family Cichlidae that originate from the Amazon Basin, Orinoco Basin and various rivers in the Guiana Shield in tropical South America. They are laterally compressed, with round bodies and elongated triangular dorsal and anal fins.

This Angelfish Guide gives you information on the right aquarium , water parameters , feeding and breeding angelfish.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Quick Facts

Length:5cm – 10cm
Scientific name:Pterophyllum
Origin: Amazon region
Life expectancy: up to 10 years

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Types of Angelfish

Angelfish are a genus of cichlids consisting of 3 species.

Altum Angelfish (Pterophyllum altum)Orinoco River Basin and the Upper Rio Negro watershed in Southern Venezuela, Southeastern Colombia and extreme Northern Brazil
Leopold’s angelfish (Pterophyllum leopoldi)Amazon River (between Manacapuru and Santarém), Essequibo River and Rupununi River.
Freshwater angelfish (Pterophyllum scalareAmazon Basin in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil Nigeria, Cameroon

1. Altum Angelfish (Pterophyllum altum)

Altum Angelfish
Altum Angelfish

The Altum Angelfish, also refered to as the “High Sailfish” is up to 40 cm tall and is significantly larger than the other two types of angelfish. 

You can also recognize it by a pronounced saddle nose and reddish colored fins. Altum angelfish are very rare in nature. 

The attitude is very demanding and by no means suitable for aquarium beginners. Only a few breeders succeed in breeding Altum angelfish, which is why good animals are very rare and expensive .

  • Size: 15 cm in length, up to 40 cm in height
  • Difficulty level: very difficult
  • Minimum pool size : 720 liters (200x60x60)

2. Leopold’s Angelfish (Pterophyllum leopoldi)

leopold's angelfish
Leopold’s Angelfish

The Leopold’s Angelfish is also referred to as the pointed head sailfish.

As the name suggests, this species has a very pointed head and is the smallest angelfish species with the shortest fins. 

Leopold’s Angelfish are rarely found in aquariums because they are less visually appealing due to their shorter fins. 

The keeping requirements are very similar to those of the Pterophyllum scalare

Overall, Leopold’s Angelfish are a little more aggressive and demanding than ordinary angelfish.

Those who want to keep this type of angelfish need to turn to specialists, as they are very rarely sold in stores.

  • Size: 15 cm in length, up to 20 cm in height
  • Difficulty level: medium
  • Minimum pool size : 300 liters (120x50x50)

3. Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare

freshwater angelfish
Freshwater Angelfish

The Freshwater Angelfish is by far the most widespread and most frequently bred scalar species. There are many different cultivated forms of the Pterophyllum scalare such as the golden-headed scalar, koi scalar and many more. 

This type of scalar is best for beginners and is available in every major specialist store.

  • Size: 15 cm in length, up to 25 cm in height
  • Difficulty level: medium
  • Minimum pool size : 300 liters (120x50x50)

The Freshwater Angelfish ( Pterophyllum scalare) is  best suited for keeping in the aquarium . These fish are comparatively easy to keep . Altum Angelfish and Leopold’s Angelfish are rare, expensive and demanding, which is why they are only suitable for advanced aquarists.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Appearance & behavior

Angelfish have a narrow, compressed body, similar to the closely related discus . 

Their exceptionally long dorsal and anal fins make up a large part of their height. There are 2 long and narrow abdominal threads that look like antennae on the abdomen . 

The caudal fin is comparatively short. Scalar wild forms have a silvery, shiny , slightly golden color and slightly reddish fins. Wild forms also have 4 dark vertical stripes , which can sometimes no longer be seen in cultivated forms. One stripe is at eye level, 2 on the body and one at caudal fin level. Males and females can be found on the genital papilla differ, which is only visible when mating.

Angelfish usually live in groups of 6 or more . For spawning, pairs form, each occupying a territory which they violently defend against intruders. A strong partner loyalty can be seen in scalars . In a group of scalars there is a clear order of precedence . Every now and then you will witness the extremely interesting courtship and display behavior of the angelfish.

Young angelfish should be kept in a group until a pair has been found. If you put 2 x any animals in a tank, you don’t know whether they form a pair or whether they are males and females at all.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Keeping in the aquarium

Should I keep Angelfish in pairs or a group?

Angelfish can be kept in pairs or groups . It is always better to keep angelfish in groups, since pairs of angelfish only separate from the group to spawn. Outside of this time they come together to form loose associations, a kind of group.

Angelfish in Aquarium

How should I feed Angelfish?

Angelfish can eat plant-based foods, but prefer animal foods . In addition to dry food containing meat in flake or granulate form, scalars should be fed several times a week with live or frozen food such as Artemia, mosquito larvae or Tubifex. The food should be changed every now and then to ensure a varied diet .

As always with feeding, make sure that no food ends up on the ground. A fasting period of 1 to 2 weeks (e.g. on vacation) is no problem for adult animals.

Tips to help you to successfully keep Angelfish in an aquarium

Although Angelfish are a great fish for beginners, there are certain things that you need to keep in mind. Below are tips that will help you to successfully keep Angelfish in an aquarium. All of these pieces of advice will help you with the feeding and care of your Angelfish.

Tips to help you to successfully keep Angelfish in an aquarium:

  • Feed a varied diet
  • Keep them in taller aquariums
  • Keep them in low flow
  • Keep them in bigger aquariums
  • Be careful with tank mates
  • Keep them with amazon swords
  • Keep them in softer water

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): The perfect aquarium

Aquarium size

There are few fish for which the size of the tank is more controversial than for angelfish. 

Due to their height, a sufficient pool height of at least 50 cm , better 60 cm, is particularly important. The minimum width is 120 cm . 

Assuming the smallest possible dimensions, keeping it in a 300 liter aquarium (120x50x50) would be conceivable. However, you can only hold a pair of this size. 

If you want to keep a group of angelfish, the tank should be significantly larger due to the habitat behavior during the spawning season. In an aquarium with several pairs of angelfish, there must be a clear division of territories.

Guide values ​​for keeping angelfish

  • from 120 cm width: 1 pair
  • from 160cm width: 2 pairs
  • from 180 cm width: 3 pairs

If you keep too many angelfish in too small a space, weaker animals will be attacked and chased away . If the stocking density is much too high, there is no territory formation in the first place. What sounds good at first is a falsification of the natural behavior and should not be the goal of the aquarium hobby.

The Ultimate Angelfish Aquascape (VIDEO)

The ultimate Angelfish aquascape

Water values

Scalars are rather tolerant in terms of water values . Temporarily they tolerate slightly alkaline water, but prefer acidic water with a pH value below 7. The total hardness should be below 15, if possible even below 10 °. Nitrite should be below the limit of detection. If the water temperature is too low, scalars wither quickly.

  • Water temperature:  25 – 30 ° C
  • pH value: 5 – 7.5
  • Total hardness:  below 15 ° dGH
  • Carbonate hardness: below 10 ° dKH

Ideal aquarium plants for angelfish

Dense planting is important for a angelfish tank . You should use some tall plants, such as Vallisneria or Echinodorus , as these serve to separate territories. 

In addition, angelfish like to hide between tall, upright leaves and orientate themselves on them. Often tall, broad-leaved plants are chosen as spawning grounds . In addition to tall plants, low-growing plants and topper plants can of course also be used in order to preserve sufficient swimming space.

In principle, all plants can be used that can tolerate temperatures of 25 to 30 degrees.


In their natural habitat, most of the soil consists of clay. Since clay is unsuitable as a substrate in aquariums, we recommend using fine gravel or sand as a substrate. This is well suited for various plants. We advise against a kitschy interior with colored gravel.


good structure is essential in an angelfish aquarium with more than 2 scalars. Due to the strong territorial behavior during the mating season, clear territorial boundaries in the form of large plants, roots or stones are necessary.

Alternate tank

An alternative tank should always be available when keeping more than 2 angelfish. If a pair comes together to brood, it will violently defend their clutch. This leads to serious injuries and stress.

Even if the pool is big enough, turf wars can occur every now and then . If there is no alternative in the form of a second pool, the fights often lead to the death of inferior animals due to the lack of escape opportunities . After mating and breeding, the chased animals can usually be set back without any problems, because angelfish are very peaceful outside of the spawning season.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Socialization

Angelfish are more peaceful fish. Nevertheless, there are a few things to consider when it comes to socialization. Species with a body size of less than 2 cm usually end up as expensive live food. It should not be forgotten that angelfish are perch and therefore predatory fish  . Medium-sized fish are suitable for socialization . A socialization with small fish can succeed if they move into the basin in front of the angelfish.

The association of fin-plucking species should also be avoided, as they bite off the belly threads of the angelfish. This is not only unsightly but also very painful for the angelfish.

Possible fish for socialization

  • Dwarf cichlids: e.g. butterfly cichlids
  • Tetra (over 2cm!) : E.g. redhead tetra or black tetras
  • Catfish: e.g. armored catfish
  • Live-bearing toothcarps: e.g. swordtails, mollys or platys

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Gender differences

How do I determine the gender? It is impossible to distinguish a man or a woman in angelfish before adulthood. And even that is guaranteed to be understood only during spawning, when the female has a thick, conical ovipositor.

Angelfish: Differences between adult males and females in adulthood

  • In an adult male angelfish, there is a large growth on the head, the forehead is so fat, and most importantly, displays the so-called “mustache branches”, that is, they are divided downwards.
  • In an adult female angelfish, the forehead is graceful and the antennae are thin and smooth. Everything is immediately clear in my photo.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum): Breeding in the Aquarium

Angelfish make a stable, monogamous couple. In addition, they actively spawn in a common aquarium, but it is quite difficult to save caviar. Eggs are usually placed on vertical surfaces: a piece of driftwood, a flat sheet, also on glass in an aquarium.

  • Like all cichlids, the angelfish have developed care for their offspring. Reproduction is not easy, the parents take care of the eggs, and when the fry hatch they continue to take care of them until they swim.
  • Since angelfish choose a pair themselves, the best way to get such a pair is to buy six or more fish and breed them until they are established.

Very often the aquarist only learns about the start of spawning when he sees eggs in a corner from all the other inhabitants of the aquarium.

But if you are careful you can see the pair preparing for breeding. They stick together, drive away other fish and guard a corner in the aquarium.

  • Angelfish typically mature in 8-12 months and can spawn every 7-10 days when removed from them. Spawning begins with the fact that the couple chooses a place and begins to methodically clean it.
  • Then the female lays a chain of eggs, and the male immediately fertilizes them. This continues until all the caviar (sometimes several hundred) is set aside, the angelfish is quite large and light in color.
  • Parents take care of the fry, fan it with fins, eat dead or unfertilized eggs (they turn white).
  • After a few days, the eggs hatch, but the larvae stick to the surface. At this point, the larva does not eat, but uses the contents of the yolk sac.
  • After about a week, she becomes a french fry and begins to swim freely. You can feed the brood of angelfish with brine shrimp or other brood feed. 
  • They need to be fed three to four times a day, in servings that they can eat in two to three minutes.
  • In an aquarium with fish roe, it is better to use an internal filter with a washcloth and no lid, as this provides adequate filtration but does not suck in the fish roe.
  • The purity of the water is just as important as regular feeding, precisely because of the accumulated pollutants, which most often die.

Often times, aquarists ask why angelfish eat their eggs? This can be due to stress from spawning in a shared aquarium and being distracted by other fish, as well as in young couples who are still inexperienced.

Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions about Angelfish (FAQ)

1. Do Angelfish only thrive with other Angelfish?

Angelfish can thrive in a community tank with other fish as long as their tank mates are not aggressive or habitual fin nippers. Fast-swimming fishes may also make angelfish nervous and may out-compete them for food. You should not keep more than one pair in 30-gallon high aquarium.

2. What fish live well with angelfish?

Angelfish coexist well with the following fish species:
• Bushynose Pleco
• Dwarf Gourami
• Boesemani Rainbow Fish
• Corydoras Catfish
• Praecox Rainbow Fish
• Platies
• Mollies
• Kribensis
• Zebra Loaches
• Ram Cichlids

3. Why are my angelfish twitching?

Angelfish twitch or dart around primarily due to water chemistry intolerance. Less than ideal water values for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH will irritate Angelfish and cause them to twitch. When Angelfish dart around excessively, it could be as a result of bad water quality, toxins, stray voltage, parasites, over dose of meds, pH shock. Make sure you control the water values.

4. Is it normal for angelfish to fight?

When you have a pair of Angelfish, you might witness some fighting. If there are 2 females, there is no fight. But they do chase each other away. A majority of the time, a pair of Angelfish will fight like this before spawning & after spawning (after they have eaten the eggs).

5. What is the lifespan of an angelfish?

With proper aquarium conditions and care, Angelfish can live up to 10 years in captivity. You should therefore thrive to house them in optimal conditions and aquarium of the right size due to their size.

6. Why are my angelfish biting each other?

Some larger Angelfish display a pecking behavior which is either a dominance contest or a mating ritual. When angelfish form pairs, they usually test each other by lip locking, dancing and posturing.

7. Are angelfish aggressive towards other fish?

Generally, Angelfish are not aggressive. However, they are cichlids and can be aggressive toward one another, especially when attempting to pair off and spawn. Like most fish, they are opportunistic and will eat anything that fits into their mouth.

8. How do I know if my angelfish have paired?

When Angelfish have paired, they seem to want to revolve around each other without getting too close. If you have a breeding pair, your other angelfish will pick up on this immediately and they’ll hide as tightly packed into a corner as possible. They’re not sick, they’re scared.

9. How do you tell if an angelfish is a male or female?

The most pronounced difference between the male and female angelfish is the size of the tube located between the anal and the ventral fin. This tube will be much thicker in the female than in the male, but the difference is generally not easily visible until the fish have begun to spawn.

10. Do angelfish breed easily?

Angelfish are relatively easy to breed in captivity. Under the right tank conditions, those who enjoy keeping angelfish can watch them hatch and grow into adults.

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