Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is a large, gluttonous fish that likes eating fish juveniles and prawns, though it’s rather good-looking and it has quite an interesting behavior.

Its high and flattened from sides body, rather varied coloring and large size – all these made angel fish one of the most spread and popular fishes among aquarists.



Despite the unusual body shape this fish is considered to belong to the same species as discus, namely to Cichlidae family.

Angel fish body may be very high and up to 15 cm (6 in) long. The fish care is of medium difficulty, however it requires a spacious tank so the fish has enough space to swim.

So, a minimal tank capacity is 100 liters (25 gallons) and in case you have a couple of a group of fish, the tank capacity should be at least 200 liters (50 gallons). They can be kept in community tanks, but don’t forget that this is still a cichlid fish and it’s not desirable to keep it together with some small fish.

Inhabitance in the wild

Angelfish was first described by F. Schultze in 1824. It was first brought to Europe in 1920 and then the fish was bred in the US in 1930. However, fish that are on sale right now are also called angelfish, they differ greatly from this kind of fish that inhabits in the wild.

The fish prefers waters with slow flow in South America: in the Amazon river central basin and its tributaries in Peru, in Brazil and Eastern Equador.

In the wild angel fish inhabits in thickly planted areas, where they feed on fish juveniles, insects, spineless species and plants.

Angelfish are from Cichlidae family. Pterophyllum species include three types: Pterophyllum altum (Pellegrin, 1903) that are about 30 cm long from their dorsal to fluke fin ending. They inhabit in the Orinoco river basing in South America.

Another two types P. scalare (Liechtenstein, 1823) and P. dumerilii (Castelnau, 1855) they may be found in the Orinoco river basin and Guyana coastal zone. Both P. altum and P. dumerilii are quite a rare thing to any aquarist.

Even though P. altum fish is as quite attractive as P. scalare, they are very seldom exported. Lessening of their export may be partially explained with fact that these 2 species are rather demanding as for the water quality if compared with the species of the same kind P. scalare.


Angelfishes that inhabit in the wild have a silvery body flattened from sides with dark stripes on it, with large fins and sharpened head shape.

Reproductive fluke may have some long thin rays. Such fins shape helps the fish to hide among plant roots and leaves.

For the same reason the fish in the wild have vertical dark stripes on their body. They are predators and in the wild they feed on other fish juveniles, small fish and spineless species. Angelfish average lifespan is about 12-15 years.

Difficulties in keeping

The fish is of medium difficulty in care, however it can’t be recommended to the beginners, since it requires a tank of rather large capacity, stable water parameters and they may show aggressiveness towards some small fish.

Although, angelfish may suffer themselves from other fish attacks – tiger barbs and black tetras may be nipping the fish fins all the time.


The fish is omnivorous and in a tank it eats all the types of feed: live, frozen and artificial one. The basic of their diet may include qualitative flakes and live or frozen feed (tubifex, blood worm, brine shrimp, glassworm) may be given as an addition to the main diet.

It’s important to keep in mind two main things about this fish – it is a gluttonous one, so you mustn’t overfeed it no matter what.

Also, be careful when feeding the fish with bloodworm or you even may exclude it from diet, since in case the fish has eaten just a bit more of bloodworm than it should, it’ll have a very bad flatulence. It’s much more safer to feed the fish with some brand feed of high quality.

It’s more important to keep the balance of fiber and protein in diet. In the wild the feed of the majority of angelfish species includes from 50% to 85% of fibers from the total food weigh, however only few fish food manufacturers take this peculiarity into account when creating their products.

Some manufacturers use additions of raw plant food in their products to keep the fish coloring intensity and their health. It’s easy to meet the requirement in fresh plants components in the fish diet by adding all types of lettuce and spinach into it.

Also you my feed the fish with small pieces of new zucchini or any other squash. Spray these vegetables with boiling water and blanch for some time, then cool them before giving to the fish.

Sometimes angelfish may nip soft-leaved plants. If this happens, add some fish food containing spirulina into the fish diet.

Keeping in a tank

Angels is rather not demanding and its lifespan is longer than 10 years, if they have proper tank conditions. Due to the fish body shape it’s desirable to keep angelfish in a tank not less than 30 gallons large. However, if you are planning to keep several fish, it’s better to get a tank of 55 gallons capacity.

Another advantage of large tank is that when angelfish spawn, they feel there safer and don’t eat their eggs that often. Angelfish should be kept in a warm water at 26 to 30 °C (75 to 86 °F). In the wild the fish inhabits in weakly acid and rather soft water, but nowadays the fish adapts to any tank conditions quite well.

The tank may have any kinds of decorations, but without sharp edges which may do harm to the fish. As for the plants, – it’s desirable that they are with large wide leaves, something like Nymphaea micrantha or Amazon sword plant, since the fish likes to lay its eggs on these large leaves.

Body isn’t made for swimming in high flow waters, so the tank filtration should be quite moderate. Strong water flow makes the fish feel stressed and slows down their growth since they spend their energy on fighting with the flow. Weekly water renew is obligatory (about 20% from the total tank capacity).

Scientific NamePterophyllum scalare
Common NameAngelfish or freshwater angelfish
Tank size25 gallons (100L) and more
Temperature26 to 30 °C (75 to 86 °F)
pH6.0 to 7.0
Size6 inches (15 cm)


May be kept in a community tank, however you should keep in mind that it’s still a cichlid fish and it may be aggressive towards other smaller fish. The same may happen to the fish juveniles and prawns – they may become angelfish feed.

The fish stick together while they are young, but the adult fish form couples and become rather territory-dependent after this. The fish is a bit timid and it may get scared of unexpected moves, sounds and lights turned on suddenly.

So who can be a perfect cichlid tank mate?

The answer is – quite a variety of large and middle-sized fish, you should avoid completely small sized fish like cardinal tetra and mosquito rasbora, also avoid barb fish, except cherry barb. In my experience a school of gold barbs left all angelfish almost without their long fins.

Also Buenos Aires Tetra, tiger barbs, barbus denisonii may nip the angelfish fins.

Angelfish can be kept together with live-bearing fish: platyfish, swordtails, mollies, but keep in mind that you won’t see any of their juveniles.

Also tankmates may be – Opaline Gourami, pearl, moonlight gourami, Dwarf gourami, glowlight tetra, Congo tetra, Neon tetra and many other fish.

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Sex differences

It’s impossible to see between male and female before they become reproductive, and even then you can be sure that it’s a male of female fish only during their spawning period, when female has a thick cone-shaped ovipositor in its body.

There are some indirect indicators, like – the male fish is larger and it has larger forehead, but still it doesn’t guarantee anything.


Angels form a stable monogamic couple. As a rule angelfish lay their eggs on some vertical surfaces: snags, flat leaves, even tank glass.

Breeders often put some cones, plastic or ceramic tubes for the fish to lay its eggs on them.

Just like all cichlids, care about its offspring. Parents take care of their eggs and when the juveniles appear, the parents still continue taking care of them until they start to swim on their own.

Since angels choose their couple on their own, the best way to get such a couple is to buy 6 or more fish and grow them till they choose their matches.

Quite often a tank owner finds out that spawning has started only when he sees eggs in one corner of the tank and all other tank inhabitants in the other one. But if you are attentive, you’ll see a couple that is getting ready for spawning. They stick together, scare other fishes off and they are guarding some nook in the tank.

Usually angelfish become reproductive at the age of 8-12 month and they can lay eggs each 7-10 days, if you take the eggs away from the tank. When the fish couple is ready for spawning, it chooses the place in the tank and starts to clean it. Then the female fish lays a line of eggs and male one fertilizes them right away.

The process continues till all the eggs are laid and fertilized (sometimes there are several hundreds of them). The parents take care of their eggs, fan them with their fins, eat some dirty or not fertilized eggs (they become white colored).

In several days the eggs hatch, but the larva stay stuck to the surface. At this time larva doesn’t eat, it just consumes its yolk bag content. In about a week later the larva turns into juvenile and starts to swim.

Angelfish juveniles can be fed with brine shrimp nauplii and other feed for juveniles. The juveniles should be fed 3-4 times a day with portions that they can eat in 2-3 minutes.

In a tank that has juveniles inside it’s better to use an internal filter with bast wisp and without a cap, since this way the filtration is sufficient and the filter doesn’t suck the juveniles inside.

Water purity is as important as timely feeding, because it is due to the water contamination usually juveniles die more often.

A very common question is – why angelfish eat their eggs? It may be caused both with stress, when the fish spawns in a community tank and they are distracted by other fish, or it may happen when the fish couple is young and not experienced.