The backbone of the aquarium trade was long built on just a few varieties of fish. One of the most popular among them, Pterophyllum scalare, is still kept in tanks around the world. The adaptation of the angelfish to freshwater aquaria is magnificent, but there seems to be a bewildering variety of them out there. Read on, and we’ll discuss the types of angelfish and how to care for them.
First Things First: They’re the Same Species
While the various types of angelfish are visually different, they’re all members of the same species. For those who can’t quite wrap their head around that fact, think of it this way: a pug and a Great Dane are both the same species. Instead, they’ve been selectively bred in a different way.
There are two other species within the genus, however.
Pterophyllum altum is sometimes available. This species of angelfish is enormous, reaching up to 15″ tall. They’re rarely available and generally wild-caught. Their care is specialized, requiring a low pH and extremely soft water to thrive. They can sometimes be found captive-bred, but they lack the history of the regular variety.
The other species is only found on rare occasions. Pterophyllum leopoldi is sometimes known as the “dwarf Angelfish.” These little guys only hit around 4″ in length, at most, and require soft, acidic water like the Altum Angelfish.
No one is going to sell you either of these two angelfish by accident. Both command a much higher price than P. scalare and are scarce in the trade.
Types of Angelfish
P. scalare has been in the trade for a long time. That means the colored mutations which they’ve been put through have become well-established in the species. It helps to know what you’re looking for before you begin to collect them. The following types are all well-established in the trade and are readily found.
1. Zebra Angelfish
Zebra Angelfish are as close to wild P. scalare as you can find. They come in varieties with three to five bold vertical stripes. The main difference from the natural form is how much the stripes stick out from the background.
There’s a bit of debate about them actually. Some consider those with three to four stripes “silver angelfish” and those with more as the true “zebra” variety. Keep that in mind if you’re going for a specific look.
Zebras are common, cheap, and often have some sort of deformity due to the mass breeding they go through. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of the heavy inbreeding that these fish go through. Still, they’re a beautiful fish, and if you’re creating a biotope, this is the variety you’re looking for.
2. Black Lace Angelfish
A personal favorite of mine is Black Lace Angelfish. They have slightly different genetics than Zebras, which causes them to have much more black than you’d find in the natural variation. They typically have a black and silver lace pattern, generally heavier on the black.
Some people separate these from “Black Angelfish”, but in my opinion, they’re pretty much the same. Black Angelfish are produced through the mating of two Black Lace Angelfish. They can still be seen to still display stripes in strong lighting.
Regardless, both variations are gorgeous and entirely distinct from the wild species.
3. Koi Angelfish
The Koi Angelfish has an orange, black, and silver coloration that resembles their namesake fish. They’re in a bit of a muddy area of genetics: they can easily be confused with marbled Angelfish depending on how they were bred.
Most that are sold as Koi look the part. They’re a very-variable breed in looks. They range from muddy “sort of Koi” messes through angelfish that look indistinguishable from koi colors.
They’re rather common, especially those that aren’t particularly high-grade. They make an excellent addition to tanks, however, so keep an eye out if you’re trying for a more traditional look.
4. Blushing Angelfish
Blushing Angelfish are mostly silver, but they have more coloration in their gills than others. The “blushing gene” can cause anything from pink to orange to red colors to show up behind their front fins. On the body of an angelfish, they look close to “cheeks” so… blushing angelfish.
Most sold under this name are solid colored, either silver or gold. The gene doesn’t show well in striped or marbled variations, so it’s a mixed bag if the genetic lineage of a Blusher is present in the majority of these fish.
5. Half Black Angelfish
Half-black Angelfish are notoriously hard to breed. Not because they won’t mate, but because the exact combination of genetics to cause such a clear color line is hard to reproduce. They look great, however.
Half-blacks will have the rear portion of their body… solid black. The front is often only silver, but they can be found with different patterns if you look hard enough. Any fish with the “half” will be sold under this name, however, since the pattern is highly sought-after.
6. Leopard Angelfish
If stripes aren’t your thing, then you may want to look for a Leopard Angelfish. They have the same silver color as normal angelfish, but instead of stripes, they have spots. These spots only come out in the proper lighting, however, and it can be hard to tell in the store what the pattern will look like.
These spotted variations are relatively hardy, and many are bred distinctly from others. They are usually, but not always, in good health. That said, the primary draw for most is simply the differing pattern, so keep an eye out.
7. Pearlscale Angelfish
Pearlscales are hands down, my favorite variety. While most of the various angelfish leave some wiggle room in their classification for breeding, there’s no doubt when one is a pearlscale. This is due to a slight mutation in the scales, which causes their scales to “shimmer.”
The differing texture is what defines them. Most of them aren’t well-bred and will be some combination of silver and gold, but pure colors can be found. The most prized for many is the Platinum Pearlscale. They ‘rea distinct, shiny white that combines with the textured, tin foil-like scales of this morph.
They’re quite different, but care is the same across the board. You’ll recognize them at first sight; there’s something great about their scales and the texture they have on their sides.
8. Marbled Angelfish
Whether or not you call Marble Angelfish their own type or not… It really depends on whether you like the ones you have. Often Marbles are the result of outbreeding without a clear goal in mind. It’s not a bad thing, and I’ll concede that some are good-looking fish, but it’s a crap-shoot.
Marbles encompass the majority of angelfish sold in big box pet stores. Often there’s no rhyme or reason to their colors or texture; one fish from the same batch may be beautiful and the other may just be an ugly blob.
They’re the “mutts” of Angelfish. If you see one you like, pick it up, but I don’t think chasing them, as a particular type, is something most aquarists do.
Veiltails occur in every single one of the above varieties of Angelfish. These fish have an elongated tail and pectoral fins, creating a long and flowing look that many people adore.
I think they look lovely… but there are some problems. Angelfish are already prone to being nipped, and veiltails will get it even worse. That means being extremely careful about tankmate selection. You can’t even keep them with other angels safely in some cases.
Still, the high-end veiltails offer a dramatic difference from regular Angelfish. And they can be found in most coloration types easily.
Far be it from me to suggest that you should look for an Angelfish based solely on looks. Instead, you need to be careful when choosing them.
Angelfish have been in the aquarium trade for a long time, but the effects of inbreeding in fish haven’t always been well understood. Angelfish, guppies, and some other species all suffer from problems related to inbreeding.
It’s not a huge problem when done for five to six generations before outbreeding is done. But many breeds of angelfish have been inbred for decades which causes problems. On top of that, many of those you’ll find in pet stores are rejects. They’re culled from the higher grade Angelfish that the breeder sells themselves.
You should always observe angelfish in person if you’re not working with a reputable breeder. The fish should be lively and active. Lethargy is a good sign that a fish isn’t going to be healthy in the long run.
In addition, you need to look out for deformities.
Look for curled in fins, missing patches, or any bumps that might appear on the fish. Far from adding character, these are often signs of an impending problem. Ventral fin problems are the ones I’ve seen the most often, take a close look. They’re used as rudders by the fish so that it can cause mobility problems.
This is doubly important if you’re looking to breed angelfish in the future. Allowing a deformed angel to breed, especially if you plan to sell or give them away, weakens the species as a whole. You need to take care in selection.
I advise against “saving” deformed fish as well.
The main problem for angelfish with deformities, or heavy inbreeding, is a weakened immune system. They’ll get sick often and die quite young, which is both a tragedy and a waste of money in the long run.
Keeping Angelfish Healthy
Angelfish don’t have stringent requirements for the most part. The problem most people have is finding suitable tank mates.
That said, they are a little bit more challenging to keep than your run-of-the-mill fancy guppies that most people start with.
You’ll need to have a large tank for even a single angelfish. They top out at about 6” long and 12” tall. 30 gallons is recommended for one, 55 gallons for a trio. Size up accordingly when you’re choosing a tank.
Make sure that you pick the design of the tank as well. In this case, taller tanks are preferable, especially since angelfish have fins that extend much farther than many fish of the same length.
They prefer heavily planted tanks. The plants allow them to feel more secure and their natural environment has thick vegetation.
You’ll want to try for the following water parameters:
- Temperature: 76°-82°F
- pH: 6.0-7.5
- Hardness: 5-13 dH
That said, angelfish have been tank bred for a long time. They’re able to easily deal with it if those parameters are slightly off. Temperature is the most important, but most cheap heaters will maintain 78°F easily.
Angelfish should be fed a varied diet. They’ll eat pretty much any commercial fish food, luckily, but you’ll want to switch to a higher emphasis on large pellets and frozen food as they grow older.
Care is rather easy, especially if you’ve selected a good fish in the first place.
Ready for Your Angels?
With all of the information out there, it can be hard to settle on what types of Angelfish are best suited for your tank. The truth is that the vast majority can be raised in the same manner as any of the others, so it’s really just a matter of aesthetics and health. Which are you going to choose for your tank?