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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Cichlastomatinae

Common Name: Leopold Angelfish

Origin and Habitat: Occurs along the Amazon River roughly between Manacapuru and Santarem; also in the Rio Rupununi in the Rio Essequibo basin in Guyana. This fish is found in slow-moving rivers and streams, among the tangled roots and branches. No angelfish has been found living anywhere with a strong flow of water.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful, though territorially aggressive with in the species. Except for a mated pair being maintained specifically for spawning, angels should be kept in a group of six 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 other angelfish species; should not be maintained with discus (for the good of the discus). Any fish inclined to fin nip must be avoided.

Leopold 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 10 cm (4 inches).

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length; a 55 gallon or larger.

Water parameters for Leopold Angelfish

Soft (1-5 dGH) and acidic (pH 4.8 to 6.2) water, temperature 27-31C/81-88F. Available fish will be wild-caught (unless obtained from a local breeder) so strict adherence to the given parameters is important. Soft water is mandatory. Nitrates must be kept very low; prolonged exposure to nitrate can cause harm.


This species is the smallest of the three angelfish species, and unlike both P. scalare and P. altum, this one has a straight pre-dorsal contour [see illustration below]. A readily-identifiable differentiation is the black blotch at the dorsal insertion on the fourth vertical bar immediately below the base of the dorsal fin. This species only occurs in its natural form; there are no hybrid forms.

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 shows an ideal aquascape for this and any angelfish. 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 like all angelfish 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 is very rare in the hobby; when it is imported it is sometimes under the incorrect name Pterophyllum dumerilii. This invalid species name was originally assigned to a specimen of P. scalare by Castelnau in 1855 who described the fish and called it Plataxoides dumerilii. Guenther sorted this out and decided on Pterophyllum scalare as the valid name; there is to date no distinct species P. dumerilii.

P. leopoldi was the last of the angelfish species to be described, and that was done by J. Gosse in 1963, although he placed it in the old genus Plataxoides because he thought the name Pterophyllum had been used for a genus of insects; Schultz in 1967 ascertained that the insect genus is actually Pterophylla, so under the rules of the ICZN Pterophyllum was available. The genus name comes from the Greek pteron [= fin, sail] and phyllon [= leaf], meaning "winged leaf" which is a reference to the dorsal fin. The species epithet honours King Leopold III of Belgium (1901-1990) who collected the type specimens from which Gosse described and named the species.

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, with the "second" distinct species P. leopoldi. In 1986, Sven Kullander determined there are three valid and distinct species, P. scalare, P. altum and P. leopoldi.

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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