About the Altum Angelfish

Species Type: Freshwater Fish
Category: Cichlids

Care Level: Moderate. May tolerate only a narrow range of water parameters, have specific dietary requirements including frozen or even live foods, may have behaviors that severely limit potential tankmates or may require a specialized aquarium setup.

Origin: Occurs in tributaries of the upper Rio Negro and upper Rio Orinoco in Columbia and Venezuela. Found along the banks among thick aquatic vegetation, fallen logs, branches and overhanging terrestrial plants, where the water flow is very minimal.

Compatibility/Temperament: Generally peaceful. Except for a mated pair being maintained specifically for spawning, angels should be kept in a group of four/five or more. Males are territorial and a hierarchy will be formed within a group; all fish in the group should be acquired at the same time to avoid territorial aggression (subordinate fish can be bullied to death) when new fish are added to an existing group. Active tankmates may intimidate angelfish and the stress can make them prone to disease and may cause them to refuse to eat; this is especially true for this species. Good tankmates are non-aggressive catfish, small to medium sized loaches, medium-sized characins such as many of the Hyphessobrycon species such as those in the Rosy Tetra clade, Trigonostigma species of rasbora, Phenacogrammus interruptus (Congo Tetra), Moenkhausia pittieri (Diamond Tetra). Not suitable with anabantids (gourami, betta), active swimming fish (such as danio) or small fish such as many of the tetras and similar fish; should not be kept with discus (for the good of the discus). Angelfish are slow and sedate, and fish inclined to fin nip must be avoided.


This is the largest of the three angelfish species. Given that they are wild-caught, careful attention must be given to the water parameters as noted below. In a sufficiently large tank with their preferred environment, they do well with fish such as those mentioned under Compatibility. This species will readily eat any fish that will fit into its mouth.

The aquarium should contain plenty of wood and standing branches and be well planted; Echinodorus bleherae and similar plants in the sword family are ideal, along with Sagittaria, Brazilian Pennywort, etc. Floating plants should always be used to shade the aquarium and provide the dim light natural to this fish. Given the fish's vertical length and sedate manner, the height of the aquarium is important. The filter should not produce a strong flow; a sponge filter is sufficient to circulate the water, or in larger tanks a canister with minimal flow, as this species is particularly intolerant of water movement. A sand substrate suits the fish's tendency to sift through it. Nitrates must be kept very low, which can be achieved with live plants and regular partial water changes. Loss of appetite and the frequent "hunger strike" which is more likely with this species should not occur in a well maintained aquarium and a good variety of live and frozen foods.

This species only occurs in its natural form, silver with black/brown vertical bars. It may be distinguished from the other two species by the sharper incline of the front of the head, the dorsal line, and a more pronounced dip or notch above the nose. The white space between the vertical bars is narrow than the bars; the bars are more brownish and the intermediate bars are more prominent than on P. scalare.

Difficult to sex except when spawning; the male genital papilla (breeding tube) is more slender than the female. Otherwise, the more dominant behaviour of males will usually be suggestive. Spawning in aquaria has been recorded, but it is not easy; this species prefers sunken tree branches and roots as a spawning medium. This species is somewhat more prone to ich and parasitic disease than its cousin, P. scalare.

Pterophyllum altum was described by J. Pellegrin in 1903; the genus name comes from the Greek meaning "winged leaf" and the species name altum comes from the Latin for tall, referring to the fish's vertical span. In 1979, Warren Burgess considered P. scalare and P. altum to be variants of the same species, and for a time in the literature they were subspecies known as P. scalare scalare and P. scalare altum respectively; P. leopoldi remained a distinct species. In 1986, Sven Kullander determined there are three valid and distinct species in the genus, P. scalare, P. altum and P. leopoldi, and this placement is deemed valid.

In 1998, Dr. Kullander erected the subfamily Cichlasomatinae for several genera including Pterophyllum.


Burgess, Warren E. (1979), "The Species of Angelfish," Aqualog IV.

Kullander, Sven O. (1986), "Guide to South American Cichlids," Aqualog IV.

Kullander, Sven O. (1998), "A phylogeny and classification of the South American Cichlidae (Teleostei: Perciformes)," in Malabarba, L., et al. (eds), Phylogeny and Classification of Neotropical Fishes, pp. 461-498.

Altum Angelfish Diet

Initially, wild foods such as artemia (brine shrimp), daphnia, insect larvae, blackworms may be required, and the fish weaned onto frozen bloodworms, daphnia and shrimp. Prepared foods may be accepted in time, more likely with tank-bred fish.


Attains 7 inches (18 cm) in length, and normally 8-10 inches (20+ cm) vertical height in the aquarium. Wild specimens measuring 50 cm (20 inches) in height have been recorded.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length; height should be no less than 24 inches, and preferably 30 inches.

Ideal water parameters for Altum Angelfish

Soft (1-5 dGH) and acidic (pH 4.8 to 6.2) water, temperature 27-31C/81-88F. Available fish will likely be wild-caught so strict adherence to the given parameters is important. Soft water is mandatory. Nitrates must be kept very low.

Views: 136

Comment by Robert Jango on August 7, 2012 at 1:45am

Had to check this out. Was hoping you had some personal experience with Altums Rizal, but that's OK. This species is my DREAM fish. Can't get any until the winter though because the roads in Venezuela and Columbia are too muddy to navigate this time of year and I've been told nobody in the US is breeding them - or can. I can't wait to pick some up and throw them in my 30 foot pond next summer. The sun, space, O2, live food, and clean,soft rainwater may be just the thing to induce spawning. I have Scalares and Discus in the pond now and they love it. The only guy who's bred Altums (as far as I know) had them in a 4000 gallon tank in Missouri. 

Think about it: an Angelfish that spans the height of a 55 gallon tank and sports beautiful brown stripes instead of the standard black. Throw in a little blue tint and you've got a fish that rivals the Discus.

Comment by Rizal on August 7, 2012 at 9:17am

o robert

in my humble exp

been rearing them more than 5 years but not spawning......till 7 of them died 1 after another...

now i had only 3.......

Comment by Robert Jango on August 7, 2012 at 11:01am

I spoke to a Discus breeder who said say they are the most difficult cichlids to breed. I'd have to admit I'm more hoping to breed them than expecting to. I'm assuming they'll need a huge tank and with tons of water changes. I can collect enough rainwater from the roof of my house to bring them indoors for the winter and I've got a huge reservoir of live food. Its worth a shot.

How do you care for your Altums?

What size tank?

What kind of water?

How many water changes?


Do they pick on each other too much? (I heard they do)


Comment by Rizal on August 9, 2012 at 1:01am

i used to have them in my 120g heavily planted tank that is.

taking care is similar to discus but ,done my water changes once a month... 30% only at  a time.i 'm not doing weekly water change because i don't wanna remove good stuff from my water often....

water parameters PH 6.5- 6.7.

food. frozen brine shrimp (juv)     (adults) neon tetras.

honestly in my exp they do pick on each other, till some of them broke their long fins

Comment by Rizal on August 9, 2012 at 1:15am

5 of them was wild caught, the other 5 was tank raised.i noticed that (when they acclimate to your tank) the wild one are much better in color ...for example they will have this bronze/copper color.

i'm not saying that the tank raised one doesn't....but its lighter than the wild  ones...

Comment by Robert Jango on August 9, 2012 at 2:40am

Thanks for the info Rizal. I'm so glad someone on this site has experience with Altums. Unfortunately, my local fish store guy, who specializes in rare South American imports, agrees with you that Altums can be nasty - sometimes killing each other if they're shipped together in the same bag. Intra-species aggression won't be a problem in my pond however because its so big (30' X 25'). But overwintering them In my 180 is where I'll run into problems.

This year I'm keeping Scalares in the pond just to see what I might expect from the Altums. In the pond the Scalares are very aggressive toward each other but there's no suffering because they can always escape in 20,000 gallons of space. This is the one thing I don't like about tanks - something as harmless and natural as a pecking order can be lethal. In the pond Scalares swim around freely in loose schools based on size and pair off near the shoreline where I keep my Amazon Swords. Unfortunately the Koi and Comets are so big they disrupt their breeding and probably eat the eggs. Maybe I'll have to pen off a section for the Altums.

A diet of neons sounds expensive so I'll probably stock up on female guppies. The Scalares hunt along the shoreline in search of baby fish. (I also keep Swordtails, Mollies and Guppies in the pond). Interestingly the Scalares and goldfish shy away from areas inundated with floating plants. My guess is that this is because animals like frogs and Herons like to lie here in ambush.

The bronze/copper tint sounds beautiful and I'm betting the sun will really make these colors pop. Wish I had some now that I could talk about...

By the way, where did you get your tank-raised specimens? I can't find Altums anywhere on the internet 

Comment by Rizal on August 10, 2012 at 10:03am

in my country, i could get neon tetras 10 bucks for 50pcs,which is cheap here in singapore.

about the tint you could view it in my photos....it follows the season for us to have the fish....with limited stock....you won't see the fish every now & then in fish stores....gosh i forgotten bout the seasons lol. Robert try to get some if you can.....& if u wanna breed them, do so by having a all altum species in the tank,in that way u are sure not to cross breed them.As we all know keeping altums pure blood is quality by itself.....how  i got tank breed u asked? well 1 of my buddies manage to breed them & its from him of course.....discounted buddy price .... lol

  by keeping them  in a pond you will lose the sight  of their long fins (only view from the top)

whereas in tanks 360 view,,, anyways that was only my views....its up to individuals.

For your scalares hope  they will breed soon in the pond......if so do update....your profile........

Comment by Rizal on August 10, 2012 at 10:30am

from what is read from you robert, altum need large space... hmmmm not at all.....to me depth is important...

example my buddies breeder.... had 10 of them in a 120g high tank.....as soon as he spotted a pair,he move them to a 50g high tank......in two years time magic happens .....4months after that 5pcs of magic was in my tank..... 

Comment by Robert Jango on August 12, 2012 at 1:34am

I definitely won't cross breed my Altums. The Scalares in my pond will be netted in the fall and any that escape the net will freeze to death this winter. Next spring the pond will be dedicated the to Altums - and unfortunately Koi and Comets which I can't get rid of.

I understand what you're saying about not needing a huge tank for Altums and I don't doubt that they can be bred in a 55. But having a pond has taught me that fish thrive in large spaces and they especially love living outside in the sun. They revert to their wild ways and breeding becomes a cinch. Most of the fish we get here in America - neons, danios, livebearers, etc are bred in huge outdoor containers or ponds in Florida. Discus, of course, are a different story. They're "hand-made" like like a Ferrari or Bentley.

I'll definitely get the word out if I breed Altums. Right now I'm breeding German Blue Rams. After  leaving the parents in with the eggs 9 times and having them (or the fry) eaten, I finally removed the parents from the eggs and it appears that I'll have a healthy batch of Rams this time.  


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