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Angelfish – Pterophyllum scalare


Angelfish - Pterophyllum scalare

Cichlids are a very ancient and extensive classification of fishes dating back millions of years before, for example, dinosaurs. Cichlids probably originated around 550 million years ago (give or take a month or two 😀) and there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 to 3,000 different species, of which around 1,700 have been classified (at the time of writing).

Cichlids can make excellent community fish but you should take care because not all Cichlids are good community fish and may devastate an established aquarium, treating their tankmates as food, so before choosing a Cichlid, please ensure that you know whether or not your choice will be appropriate to your needs.

Is Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) a good community fish? Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) should be considered to be an excellent community fish assuming that the community is one of non-aggressive, non-predatory species. Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is suitable for all community aquariums although it can be territorial, particularly during breeding. 

Key Facts about Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Angelfish
Scientific namePterophyllum scalare
FamilyCichlidae
Originate fromAmazon Basin in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid shoaling fish – tend to mate for life
Colour & Formtall, slim, almost circular body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 10 years – often longer
Adult size6 inches – Male larger than female
DietOmnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms and pellet and flake food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size36 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches that live in fairly neutral, soft water
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species in too small an aquarium, also avoid fin-nippers
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp75 – 86 Fahrenheit
Water pH6.0 to 7.4
Water hardness (dGH or dH)0 to 15 dGH

Origins of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is found in the Amazon Basin in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, in South America.

It is usually found in nature in slow-flowing streams, on the margins of larger rivers, in marshland, in ponds and also in lakes but seldom, if ever, in stagnant water.

Basic Characteristics of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) will grow up to around 6 inches in length in the aquarium – the males will generally grow to be larger than the female. The male (an example of which is found in the featured image above) also tends to have a “bump” on its head about midway between its mouth and its dorsal fin.

The lifespan of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is around ten years or more but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) prefers fairly soft, neutral water with a pH of 6.0 to 7.4  and a temperature range between 75 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 to 15 dGH.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) enjoys soft to medium, slightly acidic or neutral water conditions so it will be comfortable with other species of similar size that prefer this type of water chemistry.

As the Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) has particularly elongated finnage it is advised to avoid keeping them in company with any fin-nippers. Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare), being Cichlids, will defend themselves and, especially in respect of smaller fin-nippers, they are likely to retaliate with prejudice.

The physical appearance of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) has a tall, very slim and rounded body, starting with a protruding lower jaw. There is a significant number of variations of the original Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) shown here so I will limit my description to this specific specimen. The body has silver, almost white scales which is further distinguished by four vertical stripes:

  • The first stripe starts below the eye and is very dark at the bottom and runs up, over the eye and continues to the top of the dorsal area, where it then runs up to the dorsal fin.
  • The second stripe starts at the bottom of the body just in front of the anal fin and runs vertically upward until it meets the first stripe just ahead of the leading edge of the dorsal fin.
  • The third stripe starts around one-third of the way along the dorsal and anal fins, runs vertically up the body then curves backward running to the edges of the dorsal and anal fins to their tips.
  • The fourth stripe is a much thinner stripe and runs up the full depth of the rear of the caudal peduncle, delineating that from the caudal fin.

With commercial breeding, there are many color variations of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) so you can expect to see marbled coloring, white coloring (without stripes) and any number of other variants. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so, providing the fishes that you choose are healthy, choose fishes to suit your own preferences.

Please note that different color variants will breed together, creating offspring with an increasingly diverse range of colors over several generations.

The Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is a medium-sized Cichlid. It has a very extended dorsal fin, a very extended anal fin and its ventral fins are extremely long but generally thicker than the delicate ventral fins of a Gourami. The fins of the male can tend to be longer than those of the female.

The pectoral, ventral and caudal fins tend to be clear (hyaline) and note that there is no adipose fin.

The living environment for Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) enjoys being in the shade so a well-planted tank is beneficial to it.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) will appreciate floating leaves and pretty well any broadleaf will assist the condition of the tank, as not only do such leaves provide shade but also, as they decompose, they provide infusoria for any fry in the tank. This also helps adults to determine that breeding conditions are good because they will appreciate the fact that there is a ready source of food for newly-hatched fry.

Note that Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) will generally mate for life unless one of the pair is lost, when the remaining partner may find another mate.

It is recommended that Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) are kept as a small shoal. The male, in particular, can be territorial but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general.

Having a clear, broad area of a fine substrate will protect the elegant finnage of your Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare).

Overall, Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) are the most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

The diet of Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is primarily omnivorous but has a preference for live food, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia is recommended and Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)  will readily eat pelleted food and flake food.

Sexual differences in Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

It is reasonably easy to distinguish the sex of adult Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) because the adult male is often larger and has a distinctive bump midway between its nose and its dorsal fin along the top line of its head. The female is also fuller-bodied when viewed from above, especially when carrying eggs (gravid). 

Aquarium size for Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) 

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)  should be one of at least 36 inches in length or more due to the fact that a shoal of around six per species should be maintained and the adult fish will be around six inches long. This will enable your small shoal to move around freely. A smaller tank will be too restrictive (unless it is a breeding tank) and the fish will suffer as a result whilst a larger tank is always to be recommended.

There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes to live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a piscine prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have a certain amount of movement, as Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) enjoy a flow of water.

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) – Videos

Are you keeping tropical fish as a hobbyist or as a breeder?

This is a question too often ignored in my humble opinion. If you are a breeder (either commercially or as a hobbyist who gives away young fish to other hobbyists) then you will need the resources to move fish into breeding tanks in order to maximize the yield of fry that will grow up either for sale or to give them away.

If you are keeping fish for the joy of observing them in something resembling a natural habitat then you may feel that it is appropriate to allow nature to take its course and, as and when different species breed, then many of the eggs (and surviving fry) will be eaten either by their parents or by other fish in your aquarium. This is the natural order of things because this is what will happen in nature. The fittest may well survive to reach adulthood.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How do Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) breed?

In total, the female Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) could lay between 100 and 1,000 eggs during a single spawning. 

At around 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the eggs will hatch in around two to three days and the fry will become free-swimming after around seven days.

It is generally true that Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) make good parents and will not prey on their own young but it is not unknown for them to cannibalize their own brood.

The female Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become extremely aggressive if she feels that her brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended.

It takes around two to three days for the eggs to hatch, depending on the water conditions and temperature and around a further five days or so for the yolk sacs to be depleted and the fry to become free-swimming.

In a well-planted aquarium, the Cichlid will often spawn in the community tank and at least some of the fittest fry will survive to adulthood.

In a breeding tank, it is always a good idea to include a few aquatic shrimp, as they will consume any unfertilized or dead eggs but won’t tend to predate on viable eggs.

Breeding tank for Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

You should prepare a tank of around ten to twenty gallons in size with mature, soft, flowing water. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with some well-cleaned slate inserted at an angle upon which the female will lay her adhesive eggs. It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges.

Arrange your tank heating so that you can slowly remove up to half of the tank water and then replace it with collected rainwater and repeat this daily until the Cichlids spawn. This water and temperature change will encourage spawning, as it mimics nature. The rainwater is most important.

Cichlids prefer to spawn where the water is flowing so a decent pump is required to synthesize that flow.

Feed up your Cichlids on bloodworm, which will sink to the bottom and burrow into the substrate. Your Cichlid will love rooting out the bloodworm and it can help to trigger spawning.

You may also wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or tubifex worms as an inducement to reproduction and live food will be very much appreciated. This will also tend to divert the attention of the Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) from preying on their own eggs and fry.

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump once the eggs are laid – only regular aeration is now required. Keep the lights off (or very low) and the tank dark (of fairly dark)  because eggs and fry can be particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in two to three days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around seven days after hatching. 

Keep the tank more-or-less unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Cichlid will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone or a macro lens to see anything at all. A collection of eggs is generally easy to spot, as they look like a collection of tiny, tiny pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. 

Once the fry are free-swimming and their yolk sacs are depleted, then add baby brine shrimp and/or white worms. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank where they will join the existing shoal. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Unless you are breeding commercially, you may wish to consider moving the fry into the community tank sooner rather than later. It may seem harsh but the adult fish in the tank will deal with any fry that are unlikely to survive to adulthood in the wild and you are synthesizing, to the best of your ability, a wild environment. The fittest fry will probably survive whilst the rest will be dealt with by the community.

Should your Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Cichlids don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding tubifex, bloodworm, or mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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