Do Angelfish Have Scales?

Freshwater angelfish are part of the genus Pterophyllum and part of the Cichlidae family, meaning they have scales covering their entire bodies except for the face. The scales protect their skins and also provide their vibrant colors. Without scales, angelfish are a dull grey color.

Angelfish are some of the world’s most recognizable fish species and are a firm favorite with aquarists and are kept in most freshwater aquariums. Their shiny, colorful skins make it hard to see if they have scales. We’ve researched and answered the question more for you in this article.

Do Angelfish Have Scales?

Freshwater Angelfish belong to a small genus Pterophyllum of freshwater fish. From the family Cichlidae. All Pterophyllum originate from tropical South America, specifically from the Amazon and Orinoco basins and various rivers of the Guiana shield.

The most common varieties of angelfish color are silver with dark to black stripes running vertically down the body, although various color variations and patterns abound, including white. Angelfish have tiny scales that form a protective layer covering the skin.

The scales and skin carry the color pigments that give the fish distinctive color patterns. Hidden underneath the scales is the skin, a dull gray color that you would never see in healthy fish.

A large variety of angelfish (85 to 90) belonging to the Pomacentridae family occurs in the warmer oceans around the world. Although sharing the same name, angelfish, the two species differ significantly in appearance, size, and habitat requirements.

Close Up of White Black and Orange Angelfish

What Do Angelfish Look Like?

The genus Pterophyllum meaning “fin-leaf,” is an excellent description of the angelfish’s body shape. Their regal appearance in an aquarium is pronounced by their slender disc-shaped bodies bearing long dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins and a broad, flowing tail.

Freshwater angelfish tend to be less colorful than their marine counterparts, generally lacking the vibrant pinks, greens, and yellows that make the marine species highly visible. The freshwater angelfish are stunning in their own right, with detailed markings in various patterns and colors.

Freshwater angelfish are divided into three subspecies: scalare, leopoldi, and altum. All three sub-species are similar in appearance but are differentiated by their distinct color markings and behavior.

Angelfish are generally sedate, preferring to glide casually around the aquarium, although, during spawning season, they can be seen darting about to impress the ladies. Angelfish rarely exceed six inches (15.2cm) in length, even at ten years of age, which is their life expectancy.

Male angelfish tend to grow larger than the females but share the same stunning coloration, unlike some fish species where the male and female look very different. Interestingly, angelfish pair up for life but accept a new mate when separated.

Reasons Why Angelfish Have Scales

Like most fish species, the angelfish’s body is covered in a layer of scales. The scales form a protective layer of the fish’s skin that prevents accidental injury and keeps bacteria and parasites from infesting the angelfish.

The scales are coated with a mucus substance that further insulates the fish while also giving the scaled body a smooth finish, significantly reducing resistance as the fish swims through the water.

Fish scales come in various shapes, but most are disc-shaped and attach to the skin. The scales overlap, forming a solid barrier while allowing free movement of the angelfish as it goes about its daily routine.

Scales consist of two layers, an inner and an outer layer. The inner layer, nearest to the skin, consists mainly of collagen, while the more rigid outer layer contains hydroxyapatite and high levels of calcium carbonate.

Do The Scales Of An Angelfish Grow Back?

Healthy angelfish would ordinarily never shed or lose scales. If your angelfish has lost a patch of scales, or the scales protrude outwards from the skin, it’s a sure sign that it has sustained an injury or infection.

Scales can grow back after being lost, provided the underlying tissue and skin have not been excessively damaged.

Why Would My Angelfish Lose Its Scales?

The following common causes of angelfish shedding scales:

  • Injury caused by angelfish swimming into an obstacle in the tank can cause scales to dislodge. The scales will grow back provided that no severe damage is caused to the skin.
  • Parasites can cause scales to drop off or lift as the skin below becomes inflamed. Parasites can be introduced into an aquarium inadvertently by introducing new aquatic plants or fish.

Some parasites cause skin irritation which the angelfish then tries to scratch by rubbing itself against structures inside the aquarium. When the scratching continues for too long, scales can easily be dislodged, rendering the angelfish open to infection if the source is not treated.

  • Infections of the skin below the scales would initially start lifting the scales, which would be visible. Should the condition continue, scale loss may occur, which would be seen as irregular dull patches on the angelfish.
  • Disease such as Scale Shedding is a significant cause of scales becoming dislodged. A water sample would need to be sent for testing through your local veterinarian to identify the cause and course of action to be taken.
  • Fighting or attacks from other fish can occur, mainly if space is limited within the aquarium. Careful consideration should always be given when adding different fish species to avoid undue competition for space and food.

Early problem identification is essential to reduce any permanent scale damage. Observing each angelfish in the aquarium is very satisfying and vital to caring for the fish.

Can An Angelfish’s Color Change?

Angelfish are pretty unique in that they can change color. An angelfish’s ability to change color depends on melanosomes and melanin development. Environmental factors, their mood, stress levels, and spawning season affect how they’ll be “dressed.”

The shine of the angelfish is caused by irridocytes which are basically tiny reflective spheres in the skin. The actual coloration of the fish is determined by the mixture of three pigments called Xanthin (Yellow), Melanin (Black), and Erythin (Red). Each of the colors occurs in different chromatophores.

When no chromatophores are present in the skin, the fish’s color will be white.

Color pigments are not grown but sourced from the fish’s food. Thus, fish food is scientifically formulated to be nutritious and critically to provide the right ingredients to enhance an angelfish’s colors.

Angelfish originated from wild river systems and developed this trait as camouflage to avoid predation. Being able to blend into their environment makes them harder to find when danger lurks.

In an aquarium, the chances of being eaten are minimal, so the color-changing ability is evident during spawning and an indicator of the mental and physical health of the fish. A once colorful angelfish that becomes dull in color is a good indication that something is wrong.


Freshwater angelfish have a very smooth and often shiny finish, making it difficult to identify individual scales. Angelfish are covered in tiny scales that serve as a protective layer for the skin to reduce the risk of injury and bacterial and parasite infestation.