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Related FAQs: Angels, Angels 2, Angelfish Identification, Angelfish Behavior, Angelfish Compatibility, Angelfish Selection, Angelfish Systems, Angelfish Feeding, Angelfish Disease, Freshwater Angel Disease 2, FW Angel Disease 3, FW Angel Health 5, FW Angel Health 6, FW Angel Health 7, FW Angel Health 8, FW Angel Health 9, & Angelfish Reproduction, & FAQs on: Wild Angels (P. altum), Discus, Neotropical Cichlids, Cichlid Fishes, Cichlid Systems, Cichlid Identification, Cichlid Behavior, Cichlid Compatibility, Cichlid Selection, Cichlid Feeding, Cichlid DiseaseCichlid Reproduction,

Related Articles: Discus, Juraparoids/Eartheaters, Dwarf South American Cichlids, Cichlids of the World,

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

The Cichlid Fishes Called Angels

By Bob Fenner

Pterophyllum scalare 

Since 1911 when the first freshwater angels were imported into Germany (and the U.S. through the Brooklyn Aquarium Society in 1925), this South American Cichlid has gone on to become a staple in our hobby interest. Or should I say staples due to the many sport mutations, colors, finnage... varieties produced by earnest aquarists? Indeed, by many estimates the freshwater angel, Pterophyllum scalare, is THE most popular freshwater aquarium species. And rightly so... the Scalare is a real beauty, and with so much successive breeding very adapted to aquarium use.


    The three valid species of freshwater angels, genus Pterophyllum ("tare-oh-fill-um") are members of the Cichlidae, with some  1,300 described species, the second largest (after the minnows) family of freshwater fishes. Pterophyllum eimekei Ahl 1928 and P. dumerilii (Castelnau 1855) are invalid, synonyms for P. scalare. Apart from occasional shipments of "the" wild angel, P. altum, all domesticated freshwater angels are of the species P. scalare. For a discussion of the nomenclatural history of these species please see Leibel, 1996.

Pterophyllum altum (Pellegrin 1903), Wild Angel. pH range: 4.8 - 6.2; dH range: 1.0 - 5.0, temp.: 27 - 31°C. South America: Rio Amazonas basin, in the upper Rio Negro drainage; Rio Orinoco Basin, in tributaries of the upper Rio Orinoco (Rio Ina­rida, Rio Atabapo) to Puerto Ayacucho. To about 8 inches in height.

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Pterophyllum leopoldi (Gosse 1963). the "Dumpy" Angelfish (in reference to it more squat appearance). South America: Rio Amazonas basin, along the Rio Solimões Amazonas between about Manacapuru and Santarém; Rupununi River in the Essequibo River drainage in Guyana. Infrequently offered in the trade.


Pterophyllum scalare (Lichtenstein 1823), Angels of many sports. pH range: 6.0 - 8.0; dH range: 5.0 - 13.0, temp.: 24 - 30°C. South America: Rio Amazonas basin, in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, along the Ucayali, Solimões and Amazonas rivers; rivers of Amapá, Brazil, Rio Oyapock in French Guiana; Essequibo River in Guyana. To about six inches in height. Silver, gold koi and albino ones below.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
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    Though angels can be kept in small, plain systems, they hail from shallow more still waters with dense vegetation, and are happiest kept in larger tropical settings with vertical plants, other decor like submerged wood and subdued lighting. 

Tanks: At least a forty gallon is preferable, something wider than tall if possible to grant the angels a sense of being able to "get away". Mated pairs of angels are often housed in twenty gallon tall tanks. In community settings this volume doesn't allow enough space for tankmates to hide from the possible wrath of an aggressive angel. 

Filtration: Most any scheme for providing biological, mechanical and possibly chemical filtration will do for domestic angels. They have been bred for so many successive generations that they're now very adaptable to a widely varying range of captive conditions. Wild angels (P. altum) are not quite so forgiving however, and require high water quality of elevated temperature. 

Chemistry/Temperature: Domestic and wild angels originate in very soft, acidic waters and are best kept in such. Though Scalare's will tolerate a wide range of water quality, the values stated above (pH range: 6.0 - 8.0; dH range: 5.0 - 13.0, temp.: 24 - 30°C.) are the practical limits for their care in captivity. Wild Altum angels are far less tolerant and need water of lower pH and elevated temperature (pH range: 4.8 - 6.2; dH range: 1.0 - 5.0, temp.: 27 - 31°C.). All angels prefer warm water, even the domestic species. The low to mid 80's F are best. Even further elevated temperatures (upper 80's) are employed for inducing reproduction. 

Compatibility: Tank-mate Choices

    Tankmate choices abound for what can be kept with angels, however they are capable of swallowing small fishes like tetras and can bedevil slow-moving, long-tailed fishes like fancy guppies and Bettas. Best to house them with other "mid-temperament" fishes like most Gouramis, smaller barbs, dwarf to medium South American cichlids (Apistogrammas, the festivum, Juraparoids...), or if practical in a tank of their own perhaps along with other fishes found in their native waters like armored and sucker-mouthed catfishes, some of the larger easy-going characids (e.g. Hatchetfishes, smaller Pencilfishes).

    Often, the most disagreeable fishes to place with angelfishes are other angels! Therefore the usual admonition against crowding and suggestion that you buy/place all the angels you intend to keep at the same time... and even then remain vigilant in discovering and removing bullies. Solitary angels can be/come tremendous terrors, killing all of the other livestock in a system. Most overt aggression will be eliminated by placing a number (six or more) individuals in good sized systems (sixty or more gallons). 

Breeding, Rearing Young:

    Angels of all varieties are "stock" items in the hobby and business of ornamental aquatics. And though they're amongst the easiest to breed and raise young, there is seeming no end to demand for these fish. Indeed, there are several folks in the U.S. and out that make their living from such activity. Whether you've got designs on making money or simply want to see if you can (or accidentally do!) breed and raise angelfishes, there are some "Standard Operating Procedures" to guide you along the way:

1) Selecting Breeders: is best done by stocking a large system (sixty or more gallons) with six or more individuals and allowing them to pair off. Be aware that this may take only a few months and that there is a possibility that what you may end up with are two females in pairs at times (and infertile eggs). Angels can be sexed when "big enough" by the males having a bulge (nuchal hump) on their "foreheads" and females having a more "bent-in area" along their ventral margin behind the pelvic fins. If they're expressed, the genital pores are good indicators of sex (females are narrower, longer, males more blunt, shorter). Making pairs by simply placing one of both sexes can work out, but is more likely to result in fights and death of one of the "pair".

2) Preparing the Breeding Tank: As previously stated, angels can and will spawn in almost any size and type system. Commercial operations frequently use 20 talls (24 X 12 X 18" usually) as stock tanks here... keeping spawning pairs separated from other fishes. You may be "surprised" by your angels suddenly pairing off, driving off your other livestock and "setting up home" in your community tank. If there is room here or you have no other choice, there is a good chance you may be able to successfully hatch out and even raise young in place... However, there are many good reasons why folks in the trade choose to house their spawning pairs in their own systems and raise their young independently. Most all these concerns are related to control, preserving the life and vitality of livestock and maximizing production. 

    Water quality and consistency can make or break your efforts at successful spawning. Softer water of neutral (7.0) pH or lower is required. Folks with hard, alkaline source water can blend in reverse osmosis or deionized water, use chemical additions like "blackwater tonic" or ostensibly make their own with the use of dark peat (boiled and sandwiched between layers of mechanical filter floss). Temperatures in the mid to upper 80's F. are useful in inducing spawning. 

    Angels breed on vertical or near-vertical surfaces. Some aquarists prefer "natural" materials like swordplant (Echinodorus) leaves, others use materials like slate or clay flower pots that can be easily removed, sterilized, stored between deployment. If no other surface is available, ready spawners will place their eggs on aquarium walls, filter parts, glass heater tubes... much better to provide a suitable spawning substrate. 

    For biological filtration either sponge type or corner filters are ideal for cycling wastes, providing aeration and circulation. Outside power filtration can work for the breeder tanks, but is more expensive to procure and operate and ill-advised for systems with free-swimming young. Undergravel filtration is wholly unsuitable for either. 

3) Rearing the Young:

    Requires adherence to a regular routine of mainly two foci: maintaining water quality and nutrition. In ideal settings, you have either a semi- or totally open system where you can drip in new fresh tapwater that has had the sanitizer (usually chloramine, sometimes chlorine) removed, heated and possibly chemically altered to use, with the mixed/old water overflowing to waste. This constantly flushing set-up provides the optimum decrease in metabolite accumulation, spurring on the growth of the young. In most settings things are quite so ideal, and the "closed" systems in use require more filtration, and manual water changes... daily to every few days. 

    Commercial breeders often remove the provided spawning media to another small volume (sometimes drum bowls) other times rectangular aquariums with an anti-fungal like Methylene blue and mechanical aeration (e.g. an airstone) placed near the eggs to provide circulation like their dolting parents. 

    Foods for the young need to be small enough to ingest (infusoria, liquid prep.s, freshly hatched brine shrimp are very often utilized, ground up flakes and pelletized foods coming later) and offered FREQUENTLY. Some commercial breeders feed ten, twelve or more times daily... to maximize growth and reduce intraspecific aggression. This last can be a real source of trouble and loss, with some "super growers" turning on their smaller siblings to the point of their loss. 

    Which brings up the twin issues of culling and sizing. Some to several of the young from any given spawn or pair are going to be deformed, or behaviorally "not right" or both... and should be summarily disposed of (frozen, fed to other stock...) to allow better growth, living conditions for the remaining stock. There is differential growth in batches of young as well, and the larger, faster growing individuals need to be sorted/removed to other quarters to discount intraspecific aggression and allow their smaller kin opportunities for food, space. 


    Due to their captive "plasticity", domestic angelfishes are very easy to feed. They will readily take most any foods small enough to fit their diminutive mouths. Live foods like tubificid worms, Daphnia, brine shrimp, chironomid larva ("glass worms") et al. are taken with relish. Do endeavor to supply these foods as part of your angels standard diet, particularly if you're interested in conditioning for spawning or raising your Pterophyllum for show. Dried prepared foods as flakes, pellets, sticks are also greedily accepted by these fish, as are all suitably-small sized freeze-dried foods. 


    Angelfish are susceptible to the two most common parasitic diseases of freshwater tropicals, ich and velvet, though they tend to be more resistant to these scourges than other fish groups. Two other protozoan complaints, Hexamita and Spironucleus can be sources of great and continuing losses of Pterophyllum, sometimes resulting in hobbyists quitting their use and stores giving up carrying them altogether. Quarantine of new stocks and treatment with Metronidazole (Flagyl, in water at 5 mg/l or foods) can curtail these losses. Symptoms of these organisms presence include blood streaking in the fins (hemorrhagic septicemia), clear to whitish feces, ataxic behavior of hosts. 

    For beauty, grace, hardiness (except for wild types), overall adaptability and diversity freshwater angelfishes are unparalleled amongst aquarium fishes. Keeping and for many, breeding them is a rite of passage for the personal evolution of many aquarists. 

Angelfish Book Recommendations - 08/05/06 Hi I am a long time user of your website from India. Recently I have set up a 50g tank for angelfish. It is a planted tank with vals & E. tenellus. Can you suggest some good books on angelfish?. Thanks Sandeep R < Not too many books dedicated to angelfish these days. I would recommend "Enjoying Cichlids" by Ad Konings. It is available from Cichlid Press. it is a great book that will help you will all aspects of keeping cichlids. Angelfish are cichlids by the way. lots of info on feeding, filtration and water chemistry to keep any cichlid you want.-Chuck>  

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.
Isn't that pretty? Some Gold Flake angel pix.

Bibliography/Further Information:

Angels Plus http://www.angelsplus.com

The Angelfish Society: http://www.aquaworldnet.org/tas/


Axelrod, Herbert R. 1985. The angelfishes, Pterophyllum. TFH 4/85. 

Dawes, John. 1988. An update on the angelfish dilemma. "Singapore disease" is said to be threatening worldwide supplies of angelfish, yet a big market still exists for healthy livestock. Pets Supplies Marketing 7/88.

Dow, Steven. 1978. Compatibility dating with angelfish? FAMA 5/78. 

Dow, Steven. 1980. Breeding those elusive black and black-veil angelfish. FAMA 2/80.

Dow, Steven. 1987. Notes on the artificial incubation of angelfish eggs and embryos. TFH 9/87.

Kowite, William J. 1985. Angelfish: observations on genetics and parental care. FAMA 5/85.

Lango, William. 1986. How to keep, raise, and breed angelfish. FAMA 10/86.

Leibel, Wayne S. 1996. Angelfish. One of the "pancake" cichlids. AFM 10/96.

Levy, Harold. 1953. Secrets of egglayers. The angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare). TFH 1:3(53).

Loiselle, Paul. 1996. Angel sex. How to tell the boys from the girls in angelfish. AFM 7/96.

Maurus, Walt. 1978. The most kept tropical fish in the U.S.A. FAMA 9/78.

Murray, Renee R. 1992. Healthy angelfish are within your reach. FAMA 4/92.

Newman, Lee. 2004. Ready to take the nest step with angelfish? Breed some wild ones. AFM 7/04.

Norton, Joanne. 1981. Angelfish breeding tips. FAMA 8/81.

Norton, Joanne. 1982. Angelfish genetics. 4,5/82.

Norton, Joanne. 1988. Freshwater angelfish care and breeding. AFM 10/88.

Norton, Joanne. 1988. From egg to adult. Raising freshwater angelfish. AFM 12/88.

Phillips, Todd A. 1988. Raising baby angelfish. FAMA 5/88.

Schiff, Steven J. The angelfish aquarium FAMA 7/99.

Thompson, Richard W. 1989. The altum angelfish: a guide to keeping a rarely seen beauty. AFM 12/89.

Walker, Braz. 1974. Angelfish. TFH Publications. Inc. Neptune City, NJ.

Walker, Braz. 1976. Unexplained angelfish breeding failures. TFH 5/76.

Webster, Kent. 1993. Black pearl angelfish. FAMA 1/93.

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