Freshwater Fish

Scalar or Angelfish: Care in the aquarium

Angelfish, also known as Scalars, are a group of freshwater cichlid fish. You can find a wide variety of colors and patterns. They are native to South America, and often inhabit slow-moving waters.

They are fairly easy to care for, but do not react well to excessive variations in water chemistry. Although they are not very active swimmers, their relatively large size means that they need a tank with great depth.

The angelic character in them seems to diminish as these fish feed on small fish and show their aggressiveness as the breeding season approaches.

Their unique body shape, light swimming style, and territorial slant make them a joy to watch.

Their appearance, lifestyle, eating habits and parenting style will be covered in this article. In addition, you will also be able to read about the things necessary to keep them in the home aquarium.

Angelfish or Scalar

The unusual shape and unique coloring have made this species very popular in freshwater fish aquaria. In addition, they show interesting personality traits and require little maintenance, apart from the correct water parameters and a healthy diet.

Scientifically known as Pterophyllum, this genus belongs to the Cichlidae family. They were first introduced to Europe in 1920 and in 1930 they were first bred in the United States.

Three species of angelfish have been identified called:

  • Pterophyllum scalare
  • Pterophyllum leopoldi
  • Pterophyllum altum

Of the three species, Pterophyllum scalare is the most commonly kept in aquariums, followed by Pterophyllum altum.

However, it is difficult to find Pterophyllum leopoldi in trade, which is also the smallest and most aggressive. They are often sold very young, but they grow quickly and need a large tank to house them.

Natural habitat of Angelfish

These fish are indigenous to tropical South America, primarily the Amazon River, the Orinoco basin, and tributaries to Brazil, Peru, and eastern Ecuador.

They inhabit slow-moving waters and prefer areas with minimal lighting, such as those under dense vegetation and among rocky outcrops, where they may feed on small fish, plants, insects, and spineless species.

Scalar Fish Appearance

In terms of appearance, they look minimally like any other fish in the cichlid family. They have a winged leaf appearance, for which they are given the genus name Pterophyllum.

They have round, disc-shaped bodies with elongated triangular-shaped dorsal and anal fins that make it easy for them to hide among plants.

The caudal fin is fan-shaped and the pectoral fins are prolonged in long filaments. In the wild, these fish are striped along their length, allowing for greater camouflage.

Angelfish are silver in color with a slight brown tinge and four black vertical stripes. The first stripe goes in a curve from the nape to the beginning of the ventral fin, the next goes from the dorsal to the anus, the third crosses the dorsal and anal fins, and the last crosses the beginning of the caudal fin.

Angelfish are now mostly captive bred and with selective breeding, several color patterns and long finned varieties of these fish can now be found.

There are several types of beautiful angelfish with different colors, including:

  • Golden Angelfish: These are a bit difficult to breed, but they are magnificent and can develop an orange crown.
  • Silver Angelfish: These fish have red eyes and a silvery body with four vertical black bars running through the body. The first passes through the eye and the other three through the upper and lower fins. Some of the fish also have black spots on the upper half of the body.
  • Albino angelfish: The fish have pink pupils similar to those of albino animals, and lack pigmentation.
  • Leopard Angelfish: This variety of fish has spots all over their bodies when they are young, and as they mature, the spots get closer.
  • Blushing Angelfish: They have a white body with a red cheek area and are considered the most exquisite of all varieties.
  • Marbled Angelfish: They have a broken pattern of vertical silver and black stripes. Undertones of gold and white tones can also be found in the head region, while the fins appear to have black and white colored rays.

The least bred species; Pterophyllum altum has a notch at the top of its nose with a pronounced forehead compared to the rounded forehead of two other species. Adult P.altum fish have red spots and a bluish-green hue to their fins.

While Pterophyllum scalare can grow to a maximum length of 15 cm; Pterophyllum altum, which is considered the largest of the three species, can reach up to 30 cm at maturity. Some of the varieties may appear taller due to their fins.

Angelfish Behavior

Angelfish are carnivorous, tending to hunt smaller fish. This does not mean that they are very aggressive, characteristic of any other fish; Angelfish are also opportunistic, eating anything they can fit in their mouths.

They are usually peaceful fish but tend to become territorial at breeding time. They have the habit of mating and developing a stable family nucleus to defend their territory.

They inhabit the middle of the tank and are known to be active swimmers. The good thing about angelfish is that they do not disturb or damage plants.

How long do angelfish live?

Angelfish can live up to 12-15 years in a well-stocked aquarium. Plant health and water parameters are often related to angelfish health.

Tank requirements for the Scalar Fish

They can become sensitive to changes in water conditions, so chemical levels in the water need to be constantly monitored.

The tank to keep angelfish should be a minimum size of 100 liters that can hold a pair comfortably. It would be better to have a tall aquarium to accommodate the body shape of the fish.

It should be noted that if angelfish are kept in small tanks, they can become unhealthy and aggressive.

A large tank will give them plenty of room to swim, and they tend to become less territorial, which is good for other fish. Another advantage of a larger tank is that when these fish spawn, they will feel safe and will not eat their eggs.

Angelfish Care

Captive angelfish can survive in a wide range of water conditions, although they are still a tropical fish. It should be kept in a warm tank with an ideal temperature of around 27 degrees Celsius.

The pH of the water should be 6.8 to 7.8 with a hardness of 54-145 ppm. It should be noted that these parameters should be kept stable as much as possible to avoid stress to the fish.

If the aquarium is kept in a room with a temperature below 25 degrees Celsius, an aquarium heater should be used to increase the heat. Make sure to change 10-25% of the water at least twice a month to maintain good fish health.

Before adding new water to the aquarium, make sure the glass is cleaned to remove algae and that the water is dechlorinated. You must use a good water conditioner to provide a safe environment for your fish.

In case the water is not clean, the gills of your angelfish can burn, which will eventually lead to their death.

Fish need dim lighting, good water movement, and efficient filtration. Since angelfish are big eaters, there will be a lot of food waste in your tank. Make sure you buy a good filter that is ideal for this fish.

In its natural habitat, angelfish have abundant vegetation. You should include live plants in your freshwater aquarium as the quality of the water can be easily determined by these plants. Live plants add oxygen to the water, keep it clean, and also inhibit algae growth.

Angelfish like plants like Nymphaea micrantha and Amazon Sword with broad leaves so they can lay their eggs on them.

You can also add some logs of wood and vertical rocks to his tank. Also, because they provide places to hide, they help keep your fish stress-free and happy.

Angelfish are native to large areas of South America, so they are familiar with sandy substrates. When a tank is established, a substrate of sand or just gravel can be added. Although sand will provide a more natural look to your aquarium, it can be difficult to clean.

On the other hand, gravel can trap a lot of debris and doesn’t need regular cleaning. Either way, it’s also important to regularly remove any debris that has settled in the gravel/sand before it breaks down, which will keep ammonia, nitrate and nitrite in order.


Angelfish are omnivores and will eat all kinds of food in a tank, including frozen food and live food.

Make sure to give your angelfish a healthy, balanced diet of dry food and meat. You can feed them high quality flakes and occasionally give them blood worms, glass worms and brine shrimp.

Food can be given 2 or 3 times a day, but only give them as much as they can eat in 60 seconds.

Don’t give them a large amount of food as uneaten food can dirty their tank. Angelfish feed on the surface or mid-level of the tank, however, they also sometimes dwell on the bottom looking for worms and small insects.

Since angelfish are gluttonous, you should always make sure not to overfeed them in any conditions. This should be taken into account especially when feeding bloodworms and mosquito larvae to fish , as they can have terrible flatulence. These fish are aggressive eaters and tend to gorge themselves too much.

Overeating will result in fat buildup and inactivity that can kill your fish. It is better to rely on brand name food and keep live food to give as treats from time to time. Also, you should decrease the amount of frozen food once the fish start to age.

In their natural habitat, Angelfish obtain up to 80% of their fiber from their food, it is essential that you provide them with a proper balance of protein and fiber in their diet.

You can find many brand foods that include a raw plant in their products to maintain and enhance the color of the fish. Alternatively, you can simply add fresh lettuce and spinach to foods to easily meet your fiber needs.

The health of the fish depends mainly on the quality of the food, so to avoid any infection in the tank, make sure you feed your fish a variety of different types of food. With a varied diet, fish will thrive and be much more apt to reproduce.

Compatibility and tank mates for Scalars

Younger fish are kept in groups until they mature. They then form pairs and try to chase away the other fish. To appease their somewhat aggressive nature, it would be best to introduce tankmates while the angelfish are still small so they can be raised together.

Angelfish companions can be a variety of medium and large sized fish which can include Platies, Corydora, Bristlenose Pleco, Dwarf Gurami, Swordtails, Kuhli Loach and many more.

You should totally avoid small sized fish like Cardinal Tetra or Neon Tetra or any other fish that can fit in the mouth of an Angelfish.

Also, be sure to watch out for fish that have a tendency to pinch their fins as they can spoil the aquarium environment. As a basic rule for any aquarium, do not add any species more aggressive than angelfish.

Scalar Fish Breeding

At maturity, they continue to breed continuously and this needs to be taken into account before deciding to breed your angelfish. You’re going to have to deal with a large number of fry.

In the same way that other cichlids do, angelfish take care of their eggs during breeding, even while they are young and continue to develop, the parents continue to take care of them until they have grown enough to swim.

Since these fish choose their mates on their own, it’s best to go for six or more minnows and let them grow together so they can select their respective mates.

When choosing these six angelfish, be sure to choose those with perfect, straight dorsal and anal fins with no kinks in them. These fish are active feeders and grow very fast; In addition, the females lay large quantities of eggs. You must collect fish that are healthy and active.

Once you have selected the fish, house them in a tank of at least 20 gallons and feed them well so they can grow to breeder size.

When the fish are mature, breeding can be stimulated by altering the pH level of the water and raising the tank temperature to 27 degrees Celsius.

Freshwater angelfish reach their reproductive age between 9-12 months and that is when they can lay eggs every 8/10 days. When they reach three years of age, the frequency of spawning begins to decrease and eventually stops after a while.

By observing the fish, you can tell if they are ready to spawn by checking the appearance of the pair’s genital papillae. At the time of spawning, the pair usually drive away other fish.

When spawning takes place, the female places the eggs on a flat surface for the male to fertilize. Both male and female circle the spawning site several times until there are several hundred eggs.

The parents will continue to circle over the eggs fanning with their fins to create more water circulation around the eggs. Those unfertilized eggs that turn white and are later removed by the parents.

Angelfish Fingerlings

Newly hatched shrimp can be fed to angelfish fry 2-4 times each day for the first month. Afterwards, they can be given good quality flakes and also bloodworms. You can still feed the fish brine shrimp occasionally.

In order to maintain better health of the fry, it is advisable to give them a variety of food once they are past the first month. You can feed them fingerlings and a combination of flakes, bloodworms, and frozen brine shrimp for the next four weeks.

To filter a tank with fingerlings, a protector must be placed on the filter to prevent the fingerlings from being sucked into the filter.

Unfortunately, some of the captive angelfish lose their parenting instinct and eat their eggs. This can happen if the fish spawn in a community tank and become stressed or if the pair is inexperienced.

In such cases, if it is planned to incubate the eggs away from the parents, then a 75 liter tank would be needed with a piece of slate inverted into a jar that can be used by the fish to lay the eggs.

Having a jar will make it easier for you to extract all of the spawn in one go. With slight changes in the water, hatching usually occurs within 36-48 hours. After hatching, make sure to increase aeration so all the fry get enough oxygen.

Once the fry start swimming, which is usually after 3-5 days, you can feed them brine shrimp.

Disease in Angelfish

The most common problem is Ich, which is known as white spot disease, caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.

When there is a high level of ammonia in the water, it causes a lack of oxygen. In such a condition, the fish get stressed and have higher chances of getting Ich. However, this can be treated by raising the water temperature to 30 degrees Celsius for a couple of days.

Angelfish are also prone to cloudy eye disease, which is characterized by sores, dark spots, loss of fins, and cloudy eyes. This ailment is caused by internal parasites, fungi and bacteria, in addition to poor tank maintenance.

Other common diseases are Hexamita, dropsy, influenza, velvet disease and fungus of the mouth.

Knowing all the signs and symptoms of common tank illnesses is crucial, as catching them early can make a big difference.

You should always keep in mind that anything you add to your aquarium can also bring disease. To avoid these deadly diseases, be sure to first clean anything you add to your tank, including plants, substrates, and decorations.

Angelfish FAQ

How long does an angel fish live?

Angelfish will live up to 10 years in captivity, and even 15 years or more, if aquarium conditions are optimally maintained. It should be noted that they thrive in a well-stocked aquarium with a water temperature between 26 and 30ºC and a pH value between 6.5 and 7.5.

Are angelfish aggressive?

Angelfish are peaceful species. But, as they are cichlids, it is not uncommon to see them exhibit some degree of territoriality where they could become increasingly aggressive. In addition to this, angelfish are also intolerant of aquarium fish species that are smaller for them as they sometimes feast on these fish.

How big are Scalar fish?

On average, angelfish can grow to about 15 cm (in length) in the home aquarium. However, one can find an angelfish that is about 25 cm long even when in captivity. One factor that plays a big role in their growth, with regards to size, is the size of the tank they are housed in.

What do Scalar fish like to eat?

Angelfish are omnivorous in their feeding orientation, which means they will do well with both plant and animal foods. In this sense, foods such as frozen shrimp, zucchini, peas, lettuce and insects should be enough. However, it is important that these foods are mixed to ensure that the fish receives a balanced diet.

Conclusions about angelfish for the aquarium

If you have been looking for a unique and beautiful freshwater species, then angelfish would be the perfect choice for you. Although beginners may face some challenges with angelfish, they are easier to handle compared to other cichlids.

With a large tank, a balanced diet, and clean water, angelfish can thrive within a tank. With the variety of colors and patterns, these fish are an enchanting sight to behold when they swim elegantly in an aquarium.

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