Angelfish – the magnificent sail fin

Angelfish are also called sail fins. They are impressive cichlids which are a real enrichment for every aquarium. The angelfish is a freshwater fish and one of the most popular ornamental fish in the aquarium industry.


Life expectancy: 8-12 years
Size: up to 15 cm length and 25 cm height
Weight 200 to 400 g
Water: medium hard
pH value: 6-7,5
Water hardness 5-15° dGH
Temperature: 24-30°C
Planting: hard, thin-leaved plants
Behavior: peaceful
Origin: South America
Posture: Group
Aquarium size: large > 200 litres
Swimming zone: Middle
Family: Cichlids (Cichlidae)
Order: Perciformes
Genus: Angelfish (Pterophyllum)

Appearance and naming

Admiral_Lebioda / Pixabay

Already the name “angelfish” reveals a lot about the appearance and appearance of the fish. Literally translated Skalar means “like a ladder”. This name is due to the vertical black stripes of the fin. Admittedly, these stripes can only be seen when the angelfish itself is not completely black. Especially in the original wild form the stripes are very well visible. Especially at the beginning the angelfish grow rapidly to a stately size. After half a year they have reached about 2/3 of their full size. After about 2-3 years the angel fins are fully grown.

Characteristic for the majestic ornamental fish is the triangular shape and the fins, which resemble sails. By the way, there are also breeding forms with veil fins. Adult males can often be recognized by their bulbous head. An expert would recognize the distinction by looking at the genital papilla. The papilla is round in females and pointed in males. The angelfish cannot be distinguished by their colours.

Angelfish – attitude in the aquarium

The angelfish is a particularly demanding ornamental fish. In contrast to other inhabitants, you have to pay attention to a particularly good water quality in addition to the right size. The large ornamental fish is very sensitive to bacteria in the water. Particularly affected are the wild-caught fish and the tall angelfish. So that one does not have to fear for the health of the fish here, it is absolutely necessary that a regular water change takes place. You can also think about working with a UV filter to destroy the bacteria. By the way, a current is an advantage, because in nature the sailfin lives in particularly slow-flowing water areas.

Common diseases of the angelfish are dropsy, fin rot, tumbling sickness, fish tuberculosis, white spot disease / Ichthyo andflagellates.

Hard, thin-leaved plants such as Vallisneria plants are highly recommended for planting. Here, the sailfins can swim through very well. Especially large roots as hiding places and retreats are also very popular.

The suitable aquarium size

Even though angelfish are still quite small and cute in the tank at the pet shop, this will change after a few weeks. Most important is a particularly high aquarium tank, because otherwise the animals suffer from a lot of stress and fear. A negative consequence are behavioural problems, susceptibility to diseases and a short life. Some guidebooks recommend a minimum height of 40 cm, I rather recommend 60 cm. Especially with the Altum, i.e. the high angelfish, a particularly high tank is mandatory. That way you can be sure that the proud animals feel comfortable. A good guideline for a sufficiently large tank is a capacity of at least 200 litres. Here, as mentioned, the most important factor is the suitable height. In width and depth the angelfish are less demanding. A width of 90 cm and a depth of 50 cm should be completely sufficient in most cases.

High-quality nutrition

As food ordinary fish food with high protein content is served. You can choose all common forms like dry food, frozen food and live food. It is important to make sure that you do not feed too much under any circumstances, as this will cause the food to settle on the bottom and lead to heavy water pollution. If you notice that you have fed too much, you should suck off the excess feed. Otherwise, the heavy water pollution could cause even more “bad” bacteria. As with all aquarium inhabitants it is particularly important that the food is of high quality. Bad and cheap food cannot be completely processed by fish, which results in larger residues. Also make sure that your fish do not overeat.

Water quality

As already mentioned, this ornamental fish is not the easiest task and not necessarily the right choice for a beginner. For the right care, besides the weekly partial water change (small tanks) to 1/5 or three-week change (large tanks) and the right nutrition, the right water quality is also important. To strengthen the immune system of the fish, you can add various natural helpers to the aquarium water. These include:

]This is about providing humic acid to the fish. For this purpose you can use the natural products just mentioned or a suitable liquid preparation. This is naturally more expensive. Please remember that the dose must be renewed after the water change.

Scalar species

The common angelfish populates the entire Amazon river system and Guyana. The tributaries as far as Peru and eastern Ecuador are also home to the king of ornamental fish. Here they live in white water, black water and clear water rivers. Although the ornamental fish looks different depending on the area, not every different appearance is also its own species. One speaks here of location variants. Breeders have taken advantage of the different looks and have thus produced vast numbers of cultivated forms for more than 100 years.

Skalar Colours

Through the breeding process, a variety of colours and colour combinations have also been created, such as:

  • black angelfish
  • Smoke Scales
  • Gold Scales
  • Semi-black scalars
  • Zebra scalars (striped)
  • Marble Scales
  • Gold Head Scales
  • Red Devil (reddish-black)
  • Veil Scales
  • Platinum (silver white)
The following colours are very popular:
  • nature
  • gold
  • red
  • blue
  • silver
  • white
]But there are also pure-blooded wild frogs like Manacapuru ange
These wild forms are offered both as wild caught and cultivated forms. The dumerils are mainly wild catches. The Altum is sold both as wild catch and from breeding stocks.

High angelfish, often simply called “Altum”, are mainly sold as wild catch, but recently also increasingly as offspring. Dumeril’s angelfish is traded almost exclusively as a wild catch.

There are tons of colors and drawings of angelfish, butofficial species are only three:

  • Common (true) scalar Pterophyllum scalare
  • High scalar Pterophyllum altum
  • Dumerils Scalar Pterophyllum leopoldi

Small angelfish species

Often, especially small types of angelfish are offered in specialty shops. That's bullshit. The probably smallest species is the Leopoldi. But this species is not really small either. Furthermore, I find this angelfish species not very pretty. The Altum is a particularly large angelfish. You need a high pelvis here.

Society angelfish

In order to socialize angelfish, you have to follow some rules. This is the only way to ensure that the keeping is not only species-appropriate, but also that the fins develop their behaviour in the best possible way.

A problem with socialisation is when the new pelvic members pluck the fins of the angelfish. The fins, which are longer than average, have a particularly attractive effect on many ornamental fish. This causes stress for the sail fins. An extreme candidate for this are all barbels, the tiger barb, Rio red and the blood tetra. They are particularly biting.

We also strongly advise against using small fish (such as neons) as aquarium neighbours, as they are considered prey by the angelfish. There are also exceptions, for example if the fish have grown up together from a very young age. Then it is possible that they are accepted as conspecifics. Catfish, which stay at the bottom, and larger tetras are very good company and can be socialized without hesitation.

Since angelfish like it very quiet, one should not choose too hectic and agile fish.

Angelfish breeding and reproduction

To breed angelfish you need sexually mature animals. The normal angelfish is sexually mature after about 6 months, the tall angelfish after 12 months.

Like all fish in the cichlid family, angelfish also form a territory during the reproductive period. Otherwise they swim in schools, i.e. loose associations. From this they form pairs, which stay together for a lifetime. At one place they deposit their spawn as open brooders and then defend their territory. For spawning, leaves or large stones are chosen on which up to 1,000 eggs are laid. The young animals hatching after two days are also defended. After five days, the young swim around freely and can be fed with Artemia nauplii.

In order for reproductive behaviour to occur, it is imperative that the pelvis is properly set up. When setting up the aquarium, you should make sure that the tank is well sorted. Aquatic plants, reed plants, roots and stones help here. Sand is the ideal choice for the substrate. A strong external filter with increased flow helps the fish to feel comfortable.


While the angelfish are normally kept at a water temperature of 24-25°C, the temperature is increased up to 30°C for breeding.

As open breeders the fish spawn on leaves or large stones. The clutch of eggs and the brood hatching after two days is intensively guarded and supervised by the parents. After about five days the larvae swim free and can be fed with Artemia nauplii. During the spawning period, the angelfish peck the fungal, non-developing eggs from the clutch after spawning. The parents fan the spawn with their pectoral fins with fresh water. Larvae are partially freed from the egg shells by the parent fish by chewing and spat back onto the leaf. Here they then remain in threads.

Many breeders take the fresh brood, i.e. the young from the parents and put them in a separate tank. This is to improve the food intake. Against it speaks that the fish probably learn important behaviours just in the beginning, similar to children. Often problems with breeding occur when it is the first brood of the parents. Here it is better to just wait for the next spawning instead of separating them.

Before you go to buy angelfish, you should make a checklist, if your aquarium is suitable for keeping them at all. Especially wild caught angelfish are very susceptible to bacteria. If you don't want to worry about this, you should prefer to use offspring when buying. This is comparatively less susceptible. At the time of purchase the angelfish are often only 4 cm large. Remember that this changes quickly. Look at all the colours that can be bought beforehand, so that in the end you can choose the fish that suits you best.

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