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About Angelfish



The angelfish is one of the most, beautiful, popular, and sought after freshwater aquarium fish in the industry.  Just one look at this beautiful fish gracefully gliding through an aquarium, one could only then come to realize just how it received its name. This beautiful fish is a cichlid, pronounced (sick-lid).  Conservative estimates that the number of cichlid species range over 1300 to possibly even hundreds more.  People donít realize just how incredible the cichlid actually is.  All cichlids provide some form of parental care, meaning that one or both parents tend to the eggs and young.  Cichlids are devoted parents, and watching a pair caring for there young is a fascinating sight.  They are found only in freshwater, although a few are found in brackish waters.  There are no live bearing cichlids, and the males are always larger then the females in this species. One easily identifying characteristic of a cichlid is they only have one pair of nostrils.

The Angelfish

Around the world there are currently three valid, recognized species of the angelfish.  The Pterophyllum scalare pronounced (tare-oh-fill-um), (Lichtenstein, 1823), Pterophyllum Altum (Pellegrin, 1903), and Pterophyllum leopoldi, (Gosse, 1963).  They are easily recognized by their relatively flat or laterally compressed body, triangularly shape, (created by the elongated dorsal and anal fins), silvery color with black or brownish vertical bars, and their long ventral fins.  They can reach the size of approximately 9 inches long and 10 or 15 inches high.  Abundant fish, along the rivers of South America specifically, the Amazon, Rio Negro, Rio Orinoco and the Guyana rivers. After the discovery of  P. scalare in 1823, experts believed this species, would not breed in captivity.  As the angelfish popularly increased, so did the knowledge and methods of keeping this wonderful fish and were then later bred in captivity. 

The P leopoldi is definitely the least seen of the three angel species. People deemed this fish the dumpy angelfish, in reference to its more squatted appearance.  The dorsal and anal fins of the leopoldi arenít as dramatically extended as the altum or scalare.  They are rarely imported and very little information has been gathered on their care, breeding habits or water chemistry requirements.  The fish is characterized by silver and black bands, typical of all the wild examples of the genus, but sports a dark spot found at the base of the dorsal fin, and has a longer nose then the other two species.  For a true identification, it has 26-30 scales in a horizontal line immediately above the lateral line, and a straight pre dorsal contour.  This fish has not been bread in captivity to date.

The P. Altum is a wild caught angelfish in the hobby.  It is easily the most beautiful of the three species.  Anyone who has seen an altum will attest to the fact that they are quite distinct from the leopoldi or scalare.  Its body shape is similar to the scalare but the forehead is more steeply sloped and the body is taller.  The fins are also more elongated on this fish.  The body is a silver gray with greenish iridescence.  Four dark brown to cinnamon colored bands cover the body, and one or two faint bands are also present. They grow quite a bit larger then the average scalare, reaching vertical heights, anal fin to dorsal fin 12-15 inches, and lengths  7-9 inches.  To properly identify the altum, it has 46-48 scales in a horizontal line immediately above the lateral line, and a notched pre dorsal contour.  The altum has been successfully bred in captivity but only a few times.  The altum likes warmer waters typically 86-88 degrees Fahrenheit.

The P. scalare has a silver body with 4 dark black vertical bars running along its sides. It was imported approximately 85 years ago (about 1920). Now through selective breeding, and the interests of improving coloration and fin size, there are now numerous mutations of the domestic P. scalare. Albino, golden, gold-marble, black, black-marble, Smokey, half black, stripe less, zebra, blushing, pearl scale and veil tail.  I wonít attempt an in-depth discussion on the genetics of the angelfish, but if interested, the angelfish society at   http://www.theangelfishsociety.org/genetics.htm  has articles by DR. Joanne Norton.  A must read for the serious hobbyist.  The size of the P. scalare is about 5 inches long and 9 or 10 inches tall.  The water parameters for the Wild scalare and the domestic scalare are quite a bit different.  The wild has a pH range of 6.5 Ė 7.2, and 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit.  The domestic has a pH range from 5.5-8.0 and 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit.  To properly identify the scalare it has 30-40 scales in a horizontal line immediately above the lateral line and a notched pre dorsal contour.

My final thought

There are many angelfish hobbyist that believe you must continually breed in wild caught angelfish.  I would have to disagree with that statement.  We have enough angelfish in the hobby, and around the country to ever have to remove a scalare from the wild for the hobby and any breeding purposes.  I do, however, believe we should be allowed to remove the p. altum and p. leopoldi, but only under strict regulations and guidelines.  Another disagreement I have is that the parental instinct has been bread out of this fish.  I personally have never experienced this in over 25 years of keeping angelfish.  Sometimes a pair just may take a little longer than others, but when a pair is ready to raise there fry, they will.  I can confirm the life span of the angelfish which has been reported to be approximately 10 years.  The oldest angelfish I have kept lived well into its twelfth year.  With proper care and the right foods these beautiful fish can give you years of enjoyment, and a hobby that is enjoyable as well as educational.  Angelfish seem to reach maturity and start pairing off around 5 to 6 months of age, although the first few spawns are often eaten its not uncommon they get it right the first time around.  Once angelfish pair up, they will continue being a pair until one is removed from the tank or dies.  I have witnessed angelfish pairs staying together even when one becomes sick, moving on only after the other is gone.  The angelfish is a very peaceful fish, that is when there not protecting territory, eggs or fry, but it is such a fascinating sight to watch a pair chase away any intruders.      



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Westland, Michigan
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