Angelfish: Species Overview

Category: Cichlid, Angelfish

Common Names: Angelfish, Freshwater Angelfish

Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare

Family: Cichlidae

Minimum Tank Size: 30 Gallons

Care Level: Easy

Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Max Size: 6 Inches

Temperature: 74-82 F

pH: 6.0-7.0

Tank Level: All

Colors: Black, White, Clear, Tan, Silver, Orange

Diet: Omnivore

Breeding: Moderate

Angelfish Overview

The angelfish is a triangular freshwater fish that is quite popular for aquarium keepers. Though moderately aggressive, especially in certain conditions, their majestic beauty and flowing appearance make them an ideal fish for a beginner fish keeper.

Even if you have experience tending to a freshwater aquarium, the angelfish’s distinctive, graceful appearance makes it a sure bet.

A quick overview of the angelfish:

  • The scientific name is Pterophyllum scalare
  • Family is Cichlidae
  • Found in the wild in South America
  • Typically 4-7”
  • Silver, gold, or black and has dark stripes
  • Relatively easy to care for
  • Lives 9-12 Years
  • Sometimes aggressive
  • Incompatible with some fish, but not all
  • The minimum tank size for one angelfish is 20 gallons
  • Omnivorous

Angelfish in Front of Green Plant Background

Distinguishing Features

Angelfish are a species of Cichlidae, an extensive family of freshwater fish. Like most Cichlidae, angelfish have a single nostril opening and an interrupted lateral line. This gives them a distinctive Chichlidaen profile.

There is a lot of diversity among Cichlids, but some things are consistent across species. So, angelfish have the distinctive arrangement of the fins, jaw position, and similar scales you would expect for any other Cichlid.

Also, their lips are somewhat puffy, perhaps designed to aid in sealing against surfaces and helping them to ingest food.

In many circles, the angelfish is the ‘king of the aquarium’ due to its beauty and regal bearing. They are typically silver, black, or gold with darker stripes along the body.

Aquarium keepers sometimes refer to them as common angelfish or silver angelfish, usually in deference to their coloring.

In general, the silver angelfish is the easiest to care for and is the most closely related to the wild species. Their forward-most stripe usually runs right through their eye. Their colors may fade or darken in response to changes in mood, cluing you into their behavior.

While their overall coloring can vary significantly, the freshwater angelfish most often has a silvery body featuring four prominent vertical bands of black

There are variations on this theme, as some species, like the Marbled Angelfish, sport irregular bands or spots rather than the customary vertical bands.

When looking at your choices for types of freshwater angelfish, don’t be surprised if you find names based on coloring. This type of fish is extremely popular, so there are a great number of variations due to breeders seeking particular colors.

Consider some of these descriptive names:

  • Smokey Angelfish
  • Gold Marble Angelfish
  • Silver Gold Marble Angelfish
  • Half Black Silver Angelfish
  • Gold Pearlscale Angelfish
  • Blue Blushing Angelfish
  • Leopard Angelfish
  • Sunset Blushing Veil Angelfish
  • German Red Angelfish
  • Black Hybrid Angelfish
  • Koi Angelfish (silver or white body with orange and/or red spots)
  • Panda Angelfish (white scales with black spots)
  • Albino Angelfish (all white)
  • Chocolate Angelfish
  • Ghost Angelfish
  • Zebra Angelfish

Describing the body of an angelfish overall should bring a reasonably compact, diamond-shaped form to mind. Some even say that they have the shape of an arrowhead.

They are relatively short and narrow, but they have long, flowing pectoral and dorsal fins that are the likely origin of their ethereal name.

Their caudal fin is distinct as well, with a fan shape that makes this fish pretty adept at changing direction and moving quickly. Though they look similar, the marine angelfish and the freshwater angelfish are completely different species.

Freshwater angelfish will not do well in mildly saline water, so avoid even slight brackishness.

Note that Veil Angelfish have extremely long fins. Through selective breeding, the appearance of these fins adds elegance and pleases our eye, but makes the fish more prone to tail and fin rot, as they can’t swim as fast as their cousins with shorter fins.

Striped Angelfish on Sand

Wild Origin and Habitat

The freshwater angelfish has its roots in the waters of South America. They are also native to the waters and tributaries of the central Amazon River basin.

Their preferred habitat is one of heavy vegetation and swampy floodwaters. They are keen to hide among rocks, vines, and floating vegetation, where their alternate coloring and dark marking become camouflage.

Their native home is silty freshwater that clears in the mid-level, where Brazilian Pennywort, Amazon Grass, and Amazon Sword Plants offer ample concealment.

Their colors are most vivid in clearer waters, so ensure you consider that when determining the conditions in your aquarium.


Angelfish are typically between three and four inches long, with a height of about six or seven inches. The males and females of this species are often indistinguishable, and there is no size difference, though some breeders claim that the females may look plumper or more rounded.

Remember that the size of an angelfish’s body can significantly vary when you include the length of its flowing fins. There’s not a precise limit on the size of these majestic swimmers, and some species may be even larger.


If you take good care of your freshwater angelfish, providing a proper diet and water conditions, you can expect them to have a life span of up to twelve years.

Close Up of White Orange and Black Angelfish

Differences Between Genders

Fully grown male and female angelfish are the same size. The only way to tell them apart is at breeding time. Otherwise, there is little to no visible difference between them.

When spawning, you can use the shape of the breeding tube to determine the gender of each fish. Males have a conical (cone-shaped) tube, whereas females have a distinctively oval-shaped tube that some say looks like a teardrop.

Even though there are no concrete visual differences, some angelfish experts believe that they can determine sex through a careful comparison of certain characteristics. While not necessarily scientific, the traits below may help you sex your angelfish between breeding cycles.

Minor Sex Characteristics

Overall body shapeRounderMore angular
Shape of headSloped, straightHumped
Nose/eye bandingFlat, in line with the foreheadRidged, especially when older
Dorsal finsHeld back, matching the angle of the foreheadErect and straight, perpendicular to head bump
Ventral finsHeld close to the main bodyHeld erect and perpendicular to the main body
Lateral line/stripeTends to start high at the nose and slope downward toward tailMostly horizontal with less or no slope


All Cichlids have a bit of an aggressive streak. Instances of aggression are not uncommon and do not vary much with gender. However, compared to most other species in this diverse family, freshwater angelfish are mostly peaceful.

When freshwater angelfish are feeding or breeding, they become increasingly prone to aggression. Overcrowding and a lack of space to express their territorialism can also touch off conflict and aggression. Territorial aggression may increase as angelfish mature.

While they descend from fish that share their swimming space with many other varieties, it’s best to keep freshwater angelfish in a species-specific tank.

Required Tank Parameters

In general, freshwater angelfish prefer a tall tank, as they are a tall species. But, there are some other aspects of tank design to consider when choosing a tank for these elegant swimmers.

Minimum Tank Size

If you’re looking to keep just one or two angelfish, you’ll need a tank that is at least twenty gallons, and twenty nine or thirty six might be better.

You should always default towards a larger tank rather than a small one. For each additional angelfish you add, consider increasing tank size by ten gallons.

If you want to keep a school of freshwater angelfish, use an 80-gallon tank or a similar size.

This method helps you accommodate the angelfish’s body type and the swampy fauna they prefer and offers plenty of room for territorial boundaries without unnecessary aggressiveness.

Speckled Angelfish on Bubbled Background

Water Parameters

Maintaining the water in your fish tank is an essential part of caring for fish in general. For freshwater angelfish, consider all the following criteria.


Freshwater angelfish ancestors come from tropical and subtropical locations with relatively warm water. So, set your heater for somewhere between 75 and 83 degrees. If you can’t dial in a temperature on your model, use a thermometer to check the water temperature every couple of days.

Some experienced fishkeepers might go a degree lower or higher based on other conditions and the breeding cycle of their fish. But, those are fairly extreme values, so only do so with caution. Also, remember that fish fry will develop more slowly in cooler water.


Freshwater angelfish prefer slightly acidic water. So, always aim for a pH that’s just barely on that side of neutral. Breeding can occur so long as the pH is below 7.5, but that’s at the top of the range.

In general, the pH of the water in your angelfish tank should be between 6 and 7.5. However, 6.8 to 7.0 is ideal.


Freshwater angelfish should be kept in freshwater. Brackishness or any significant measure of salinity is problematic.

Tank Setup

As you already know, taller tanks are best for freshwater angelfish. But, they also need some other special touches to help mimic their natural habitat and keep them healthy and comfortable.


The best substrate for freshwater angelfish is relatively soft. Fine sand, small gravel, and even a bit of mud make for an ideal condition. Anything rough can damage their fins, so avoid sharp rocks and large gravel.

Group of Striped Angelfish in Front of Grass


The ideal decorations for freshwater angelfish tanks offer a compromise between ornamenting the design, hiding places, and offering free space for swimming.

Castles, driftwood, caves, and smooth rocks work well, so long as you leave plenty of room for swimming and drifting. Since angelfish also have long fins, ensure any openings are quite large for them to easily swim through without hurting themselves.

Avoid toxic decorations, and always favor smooth decorations over those that are sharp. It’s also essential to soak and rinse any decorations in a separate bath before adding them to your tank. This will help remove any debris or chemicals that might be present.


Generally, the more you mimic their native habitat, the better your tank’s fauna will be for your freshwater angelfish. Most plants found in the Amazon River basin are acceptable. These plants include:

  • Amazon grasses
  • Amazon sword plant
  • Brazilian pennywort
  • Melon sword
  • Milfoil

Anacharis is also ideal, especially if you’re breeding your angelfish.

Tall, weedy plants help offer swimming space, resistance to large shadows that might frighten your fish, and plenty of concealment. Avoid floating plants that might block your light source.


Angelfish of a freshwater variety are usually diurnal, meaning that they need a day and night cycle. In the wild, their water may be a bit silty, but there’s always plenty of daytime sunlight that filters through.

Give them ample tank light for at least eight and up to twelve hours each day. The best lights are the ones that are closest in color to real sunlight. Ensure you’re also shutting the light off for the appropriate times at night.

An overabundant combination of tank lighting and ambient light can harm your fish.


Filtering your water in an aquarium is usually pretty simple. Modern filters are efficient and very good at keeping the water clear. Use a filter that’s appropriate for the size of your tank.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and cleaning.

Overall, consider that your freshwater angelfish will prefer relatively gentle currents as you’d find in swamps. If the water moves too quickly, you may have to scale down your filter to a smaller size.


Heating your tank is easiest with an automatic element that features an integrated thermostat. This way, you can maintain the ideal tropical temperature and make minute adjustments as needed.

Angelfish with Long Fins


Freshwater angelfish eat a diet of live, small prey in the wild. So, you should look to a high-protein, high-fiber diet featuring tubifex worms, brine shrimp, and water fleas.

Good quality fish flakes or pellets also work well, as does a small amount of plant food. You can even use a bit of blanched green veggies, like spinach.

As a rule, give one pinch of food at a time, ensuring that there is enough to eat for two full minutes with nothing leftover. Always remove uneaten food to keep the water clean. Two feedings per day work best under most conditions.


Freshwater angelfish become sexually mature before they are one year old. They breed very easily but require a bit of assistance.

First, identify a breeding pair by observing which fish set territories together. Then, increase their feeding to four times per day with high-protein foods, and prepare a separate tank of at least twenty gallons.

Match the water to your original tank while ensuring the water is at least 82 degrees and offers a slanted surface, like a rock, plant, or PVC pipe. Then, move your breeding pair to their new tank.

Look for the female to hang out near the spawning surface and eventually release a large clutch of up to 400 eggs. The male will fertilize these eggs.

Then, in a few days, you’ll see the fry hatch and begin to swim. The parents should be allowed to swim with their fry for four weeks. Then, remove them to the original tank to prevent predation.

Now, feed your fry a diet of shrimp larvae for at least six weeks. When they’re large enough, start using your dry food sources as well. Finally, they’re ready to be introduced to your main tank or a new community environment.

White Angelfish with Green and Pink Plants

Common Diseases

Freshwater angelfish are mainly susceptible to three diseases.


Dropsy is caused by a bacterial infection that makes your fish look bloated. Sometimes, it may also cause scales to stand up, eyes to bulge, a panting behavior, and lethargy. The fish may also stop eating.

The best treatments are antibacterial medicines you can find through a veterinarian or a fish supply store.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is another type of bacterial infection. It’s often the result of a lack of consistent water conditions. The signs of fin rot develop at the edges of the fins and work inward, causing them to become milky or shredded in appearance. The result is less capable swimming.

You may want to consult with a vet about using an antibacterial treatment but start by performing an immediate water change of at least half the tank’s volume. Perform additional water changes as needed for two weeks.


Ich, short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis and also known as white spot disease, is a stress reaction. It’s usually brought on by poor conditions in the tank.

Due to a protozoan parasite, the fish will develop small white spots that cause significant itching, as well as poor appetite and listlessness.

Treat it by increasing your tank maintenance. It may require quarantining the sick fish in a warmer tank with a bit of saltwater.

Black and White Orange Angelfish

Potential Tank Mates

The best tank mates for freshwater angelfish are similar to them. If you decide to mix angelfish with others, look for species that are similarly tempered, with a tendency toward peacefulness but a touch of aggressiveness.

Ensure there is enough room for them all to co-exist peacefully.

Stay away from tiny species that are easily intimidated, eaten, or bullied by your angelfish. Any fish that likes to nip at fins or is very aggressive is also on the list of incompatibles, as the angelfish’s long fins are easily damaged, and they are not built for combat.

A list of suitable swimming mates:

  • African Leaf Fish
  • Bolivian Ram
  • Discus
  • Dwarf Cichlid
  • Dwarf Gourami
  • German Blue Ram
  • Molly
  • Platy
  • Rubbernose Pleco
  • Silver Arowana
  • Silver Dollar

Wrap Up

Now that you know all the essential facts, you’re ready to get going with your aquarium. Buy an appropriate tank for your fish, with plenty of room for them to swim and ample hiding places. Don’t wait, buy your angelfish today!