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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Cichlasomatinae

Common Name: Altum Angelfish

Origin and Habitat: Occurs in tributaries of the upper Rio ***** and upper Rio Orinoco in Columbia and Venezuela. Found along the banks among thick aquatic vegetation, fallen logs, branches and overhanging terrestrial plants, where the water flow is very minimal.

Compatibility/Temperament: Generally peaceful. Except for a mated pair being maintained specifically for spawning, angels should be kept in a group of four/five or more. Males are territorial and a hierarchy will be formed within a group; all fish in the group should be acquired at the same time to avoid territorial aggression (subordinate fish can be bullied to death) when new fish are added to an existing group. Active tankmates may intimidate angelfish and the stress can make them prone to disease and may cause them to refuse to eat; this is especially true for this species. Good tankmates are non-aggressive catfish, small to medium sized loaches, medium-sized characins such as many of the Hyphessobrycon species such as those in the Rosy Tetra clade, Trigonostigma species of rasbora, Phenacogrammus interruptus (Congo Tetra), Moenkhausia pittieri (Diamond Tetra). Not suitable with anabantids (gourami, betta), active swimming fish (such as danio) or small fish such as many of the tetras and similar fish; should not be kept with discus (for the good of the discus). Angelfish are slow and sedate, and fish inclined to fin nip must be avoided.

Altum Angelfish Diet

Initially, wild foods such as artemia (brine shrimp), daphnia, insect larvae, blackworms may be required, and the fish weaned onto frozen bloodworms, daphnia and shrimp. Prepared foods may be accepted in time, more likely with tank-bred fish.


Attains 7 inches (18 cm) in length, and normally 8-10 inches (20+ cm) vertical height in the aquarium. Wild specimens measuring 50 cm (20 inches) in height have been recorded.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length; height should be no less than 24 inches, and preferably 30 inches.

Water parameters for Altum Angelfish

Soft (1-5 dGH) and acidic (pH 4.8 to 6.2) water, temperature 27-31C/81-88F. Available fish will likely be wild-caught so strict adherence to the given parameters is important. Soft water is mandatory. Nitrates must be kept very low.


This is the largest of the three angelfish species. Given that they are wild-caught, careful attention must be given to the water parameters as noted below. In a sufficiently large tank with their preferred environment, they do well with fish such as those mentioned under Compatibility. This species will readily eat any fish that will fit into its mouth.

The aquarium should contain plenty of wood and standing branches and be well planted; Echinodorus bleherae and similar plants in the sword family are ideal, along with Sagittaria, Brazilian Pennywort, etc. Floating plants should always be used to shade the aquarium and provide the dim light natural to this fish. The second photo below illustrates an ideal aquascape. Given the fish's vertical length and sedate manner, the height of the aquarium is important. The filter should not produce a strong flow; a sponge filter is sufficient to circulate the water, or in larger tanks a canister with minimal flow, as this species is particularly intolerant of water movement. A sand substrate suits the fish's tendency to sift through it. Nitrates must be kept very low, which can be achieved with live plants and regular partial water changes. Loss of appetite and the frequent "hunger strike" which is more likely with this species should not occur in a well maintained aquarium and a good variety of live and frozen foods.

This species only occurs in its natural form, silver with black/brown vertical bars. It may be distinguished from the other two species by the sharper incline of the front of the head, the dorsal line, and a more pronounced dip or notch above the nose; see the illustration below. The white space between the vertical bars is narrow than the bars; the bars are more brownish and the intermediate bars are more prominent than on P. scalare.

Difficult to sex except when spawning; the male genital papilla (breeding tube) is more slender than the female. Otherwise, the more dominant behaviour of males will usually be suggestive. Spawning in aquaria has been recorded, but it is not easy; this species prefers sunken tree branches and roots as a spawning medium. This species is somewhat more prone to ich and parasitic disease than its cousin, P. scalare.

Pterophyllum altum was described by J. Pellegrin in 1903; the genus name comes from the Greek meaning "winged leaf" and the species epithet altum comes from the Latin for tall, referring to the fish's vertical span. In 1979, Warren Burgess considered P. scalare and P. altum to be variants of the same species, and for a time in the literature they were subspecies known as P. scalare scalare and P. scalare altum respectively; P. leopoldi remained a distinct species. In 1986, Sven Kullander determined there are three valid and distinct species in the genus, P. scalare, P. altum and P. leopoldi, and this placement is deemed valid.

In 1998, Dr. Kullander erected the subfamily Cichlasomatinae for several genera including Pterophyllum.


Burgess, Warren E. (1979), The Species of Angelfish, Aqualog IV.

Kullander, Sven O. (1986), Guide to South American Cichlids, Aqualog IV.

Kullander, Sven O. (1998), "A phylogeny and classification of the South American Cichlidae (Teleostei: Perciformes)," in Malabarba, L., et al. (eds), Phylogeny and Classification of Neotropical Fishes, pp. 461-498.

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