Are Angelfish Cichlids?

Angelfish are a species of cichlid. They are members of the Cichlidae family. Even though they look quite different from African and South American cichlids, they share many of the same characteristics and behaviors. They are territorial and aggressive, especially during the breeding season.

Understanding the angelfish’s typically cichlid behavior can help you create the perfect tank environment for your fish. Putting them in a tank with other cichlid species is not a good idea, and tank mates that are too small quickly become an angelfish’s lunch!

Are Angelfish Considered Cichlids?

Freshwater angelfish are classified as cichlids because they are part of the Cichlidae family. This family of fish is extremely diverse. There are over 2000 different species of cichlids in the world!

With their long, flowing fins and triangular silhouette, angelfish do not look like your average African or American cichlid. However, if you look a little closer, they do have quite a lot in common with other cichlid species.

Angelfish Characteristics That Are Typical Of Cichlids

Cichlids are well known for being territorial and aggressive, especially during the breeding season. When they pair off to mate, males defend their females and their territory against any other fish.

This typically cichlid behavior around mating time is clear in angelfish. That is why it is not a good idea to keep angelfish in a tank with other aggressive or semi-aggressive fish.

Angelfish are omnivorous, like many other cichlid species. They patrol the upper and middle levels of their tank and will make a meal out of any small fish or crustacean that they come across.

In terms of their body shape, angelfish have round bodies that are typical of cichlids. Their bodies are thin and laterally compressed. They have long dorsal and anal fins and small mouths.

Yellow Green Angelfish Protecting Eggs

Where Do Angelfish Come From?

All three of the main species of freshwater angelfish come from the tropical rivers of South America. If you want to see freshwater angelfish in the wild, you must travel to Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, or French Guiana.

The common freshwater angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) is native to the Amazon Basin, especially the regions in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

The Altum angelfish (Pterophyllum altum) is native to the Upper Rio Negro and the Orinoco River Basin. Leopold’s angelfish (Pterophyllum leopoldi) comes from the Amazon, Essequibo, and Rupununi Rivers.

How Big Do Angelfish Get?

Angelfish are tiny when you buy them from the aquarium shop, but these fast-growing cichlids grow fast, and they get large!

If you want to keep angelfish, you need a big, high tank because, on average, they grow to about 8 inches tall and 6 inches long.

In the wild, angelfish get even larger. In their natural habitat, angelfish can grow up to 10 inches long and 12 inches tall!

It is important to get a tank that is large enough if you want to keep angelfish. These large, active fish need plenty of space.

To accommodate their long, trailing fins, you must keep angelfish in an aquarium that is taller than it is wide. If their fins keep dragging along the gravel, they can get ripped and infected.

Can You Keep Angelfish In A Community Tank?

Angelfish do not shoal together like schooling fish, but they are social and prefer to live in groups of five or more. This is the best way to keep angelfish.

However, because angelfish are so large, you would need a gigantic tank to accommodate a group of five angelfish as well as other species in a community tank.

Therefore, many aquarists choose to keep angelfish-only tanks. It also helps to avoid any issues with other species in the tank.

However, if you have a large enough tank, you can keep angelfish in a community tank. If they have enough space to have their own territory and you choose their tank mates wisely, you should have no problems.

Can Angelfish Share A Tank With African Cichlids?

Many African cichlid species are notorious for being very aggressive. Therefore, it isn’t a clever idea to let angelfish share a tank with certain African cichlid species.

Do not keep angelfish with Buttikoferi cichlids, Mbuna cichlids, Malawi hawks, or Chipokae cichlids. These species are too aggressive to keep with angelfish.

It is safe to keep angelfish in a tank with small, placid African cichlid species. For example, they can happily cohabitate with Kribs, Multies, Shell Dwellers, and other dwarf cichlids species.

Can You Keep Angelfish With South American Cichlids?

Angelfish can live in a tank with certain South American cichlid species. They can cohabitate with smaller species that are less aggressive.

Bolivian Rams, German Blue Rams, Yellow Lab cichlids, Blue Acara cichlids, and Keyhole cichlids are good tankmates for angelfish, as long as the fish have ample space in the tank.

Do not keep angelfish in a tank with Oscars, Dovii cichlids, Umbee cichlids, Sieve cichlids, or Nasty Black cichlids (the name should be enough to tell you it is not a good idea!).

Other aggressive Central and South American cichlids to avoid keeping with angelfish are the rare Nandopsis Beani, Red Devil cichlids, Jaguar cichlids, and Flowerhorn cichlids.

What Fish Can Share A Tank With Angelfish?

Angelfish have appetites that are typical of many cichlid species. Not only do angelfish eat plants and algae, but they feed on other fish too! Therefore, it is important to choose tank mates that will stay off your angelfish’s menu.

Angelfish are most active in the upper levels of a tank, so the ideal tankmates for angelfish are peaceful bottom-dwellers.

The following species are good tankmates for angelfish:

  • Cory catfish
  • Pictus catfish
  • Zebra loach
  • Kuhli loach
  • Bristlenose pleco


Even though angelfish do not look like typical cichlids, they are a species of cichlid and should be treated as such. Like many other cichlid species, angelfish can be aggressive and territorial towards other fish in the tank. Therefore, it is unwise to let them share a tank with other semi-aggressive or aggressive cichlid species.