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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Cichlasomatinae

Common Names: Angelfish, Scalare Angelfish. There are several colour forms: Marble Angelfish, Black Lace Angelfish, Albino Angelfish.

Origin and Habitat: Occurs in several rivers in the Amazon basin including the Amazon itself (Brazil, Peru, and Columbia) and in the Rio Oyapock (French Guyana) and Rio Essequibo (Guyana). It is found in swamps and flooded forest where vegetation is thick, and in slow-flowing streams where they remain close to the banks around aquatic plants, roots, branches and/or overhanging vegetation. Wild-caught fish are available from importers, but most hobby fish are commercially raised.

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. 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.

Angelfish Diet

Wild fish feed mainly on invertebrates, small crustaceans and insect larvae. In captivity most fish readily accept prepared foods. Frozen bloodworms and daphnia may be offered, along with artemia (brine shrimp) and live worms; frozen or live worms should not be frequently fed. Angels will continue to eat if food is offered and care must be taken not to overfeed as this will lead to fat buildup causing health problems, inactivity and a probable early demise.


Attains six inches in length, and the vertical span of the fins can reach 8-10 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length (55g and up) for a small group; a mated pair can be kept in a 36-inch tank.

Water parameters for Scalare Angelfish

Soft to medium (< 20 dGH, preferably below 15 dGH), acidic to slightly basic (pH 5 to 7.5 but preferably below 7) water, temperature 24-30C/76-86F. Most non-wild caught fish will adapt to the higher end of the given ranges for hardness and pH, but long-term health will be better in soft, acidic water. Wild caught fish should be kept above 26.5C/80F but commercially-raised fish are adaptable to the lower range temperatures.


Pterophyllum scalare is the most commonly seen of the three species of angelfish; the other two [described in their respective profiles] are P. altum and P. leopoldi, the latter being much less often seen in the hobby; see comments below on the species' names, and the illustration of the different head shapes.

A number of colour forms are available, including the original silver, zebra, marble, black lace, black, gold, blushing, veiltail and pearl scale. The original wild fish is pictured in the first photo below. The vertical stripe patterning is a natural camouflage, allowing this sedate fish to hide among the vertical plants, branches and dangling roots that occur in the fish's habitat.

The aquarium should be well planted; Echinodorus bleherae and similar plants in the sword family are ideal, with wood and standing branches. Floating plants should always be used to shade the aquarium and provide the dim light natural to this fish. Given the fish's vertical length and sedate manner, a tall rather than a long tank works well. 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. Loss of appetite and the frequent "hunger strike" should not occur in a well maintained aquarium with regular partial water changes and a good variety of foods.

Difficult to sex except when spawning; the male genital papilla (breeding tube) is more slender than the female. Otherwise, the more aggressive behaviour of males will usually be suggestive. Spawning site may be a leaf, tank wall, filter tube, flat rock or wood, or in breeding tanks a piece of slate; the parents will guard the eggs and fry, fanning the eggs and picking out infertile ones. The first several spawnings are frequently eaten by the parents; this occurs with tank-raised fish but rarely with wild caught fish. Even seasoned adults may eat the eggs if alarmed or not sufficiently well fed. To ensure survival of fry, breeding should be in a separate tank which can be 20 gallons minimum, or the eggs may be removed (on the slate) and artificially hatched. However, the parental care of the adults is wonderful to observe.

This species was first named Zeus scalaris in 1823 by Schultze in Lichtenstein. Cuvier (or Valenciennes) renamed the museum specimen Platax scalaris. In 1840, Johann Jacob Heckel collected new specimens and described the fish as Pterophyllum scalaris; in 1855 Castelnau described the same fish and called it Plataxoides dumerilii. Finally, Guenther sorted this out and decided on Pterophyllum scalare as the valid name; the genus name comes from the Greek pteron, [= feather, sail] and phyllon [=leaf], meaning "winged leaf or sail," a refderence to the dorsal fin. The species epithet scalare comes from the Latin scalaris meaning "of a ladder," also a reference to the dorsal fin.

A distinct species, Pterophyllum altum, was described by Pellegrin in 1903, and in 1928 Ahl described another species, P. eimekei. The last species to be described was P. leopoldi by J. Gosse in 1963, although he placed it in the old genus Plataxoides because he thought Pterophyllum had been used for a genus of insects; Schultz in 1967 ascertained that the insect genus was actually Pterophylla, so under the rules of the ICZN Pterophyllum was available. Schultz also determined that P. eimekei was the same species as P. scalare, so the former name became a synonym of the latter valid name. 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, the eminent authority Dr. Sven Kullander determined there are three valid and distinct species, P. scalare, P. altum and P. leopoldi.

In 1998, Sven Kullander erected the subfamily Cichlasomatinae and moved the genus Pterophyllum into it.


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.

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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