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Fish of the Month
Issue: March 2004

Pterophyllum scalare

LICHTENSTEIN 1823


Tony Terceira

Common Names: Angelfish

Type Locality: Lower Amazon River, Brazil

Range: Much of the Amazon drainage, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, French Guiana, and Guyana.

Taxonomic Troubles: Described as Zeus scalaris. The number of species in the genus Pterophyllum is uncertain, and it is very likely that the aquarium angelfish originates from a hybrid of two or more species. The frequent importation of wild fishes of perhaps different spe

Size: To 15 cm (6 inches), males typically larger than females. Note this is a horizontal measurement. These fish are typically taller than they are long. It is also based on normal body type; veiltail specimens are correspondingly larger.

Preferred Water Chemistry: Freshwater. Tropical. Temperature 24 to 30 degrees Celsisus (75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit), pH 6 to 8; soft to hard, 30 to 225 ppm.

Difficulty: A very hardy and adaptable fish.

Tank Setup: Angels are often kept in undersized tanks. A 20-gallon high is the minimum size for an adult specimen. In a 10-gallon aquarium, many mature angelfish are unable to fully extend their fins.

Feeding: Largely carnivorous, and typically a voracious feeder. An adept hunter of small fishes. Few livebearer frysurvive in an aquarium containing angelfish.

Breeding: Bred by many hobbyists, and commercially by tens of thousands. One of the most common species bred by home hatcheries. Members of a group will pair off and spawn on a vertical surface. Both parents tend eggs and young with typical cichlid fervor. Eggs can be removed and hatched artificially, which increases the spawning frequency for the pair.

Description: Probably the most-recognized tropical fish, even by non-aquarists.  The wild type is silver with dark vertical stripes and a red eye.  The distinctive body shape is compressed and roughly triangular, with the dorsal and anal fins stepped progressively taller front to back.  There are several established mutations in both coloration and finnage, making possible dozens of different domesticated strains.

Notes: The natural habitat of this species is heavy underwater vegetation, and their body shape is ideal for wending through stems of plants, where they painstakingly hunt down small creatures. Angels are highly visual and are acutely aware of anything going on in or around their aquarium. Although tame for cichlids, their highly predacious nature makes them poor community tankmates in many cases. Often bought as a cute dime-sized specimen, a growing angel will consume mall tetras and livebearers as it grows. Particularly dangerous is the very frequent angel and neon tetra combination. At the same time, angels can be harassed by fin nippers like some barbs, as their long, trailing fins present an easy target. It is a rare aquarist who has not kept angelfish, and many go on to specialize in breeding fancy strains, sometimes devoting their entire fishroom to this stately animal. The beauty and fascination of a pair raising a brood in a 20-gallon or larger aquarium is an aquaristic thrill that is very hard to get.

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