What Is a Dwarf Angelfish?

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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
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The dwarf angelfish is a freshwater aquarium fish from the Pterophyllum genus, which is often confused with small varieties of saltwater angelfish of the Centropyge genus. They originate from only three freshwater river regions in South America, including the Amazon river. The Pterophyllum leopoldi, or Leopold angelfish, is the smallest variety in the genus and grows to 4 inches (10 centimeters) in size.

Freshwater angelfish are considered a good choice for someone just starting out with the practice of having a home aquarium. They are a popular fish species in pet shops, so are easy to find, and one of the most colorful and aesthetically beautiful of freshwater fish in general. Dwarf angelfish also tend to have strong personalities and will interact with people by trying to attract their attention when near the aquarium. The three species of tropical freshwater angelfish available for adding to aquariums are Pterophyllum leopoldi, Pterophyllum altum, and Pterophyllum scalare, in a wide variety of colors and markings.


The genus in general has a very flat, triangular-shaped body with large decorative dorsal and ventral fins that make them immediately recognizable. The most common coloring for dwarf angelfish is that of a silver body with black vertical stripes, but species such as leopoldi are gold with silver stripes, and altums are gold with black stripes. They can also have a marble effect where there are swirls of black and silver on the body, or be solid black, pearlescent gold, or red with white patches similar to the colors of goldfish and koi.

A freshwater angelfish tank should be fairly tall, as dwarf angelfish like to swim vertically in the tank, and, if the tank is large enough, they won't display territorial or aggressive behavior. Other fish that can complement a tank with dwarf angelfish in it should be those also found in South America, such as cories or bristlenose catfish, but the common tetras and plecos found in pet shops are also a good choice. A good rule of thumb for tank size is at least 11 gallons (40 liters) per dwarf angelfish, and a height minimum of 20 inches (50 centimeters), but the more space and height to the tank, the better.

Angelfish, in general, are peaceful if they are bought and raised together in groups of six or more. They can be aggressive and territorial within the group, however, and leopolds have a tendency to display these traits the most, so the aquarium environment for them must be more precisely controlled. They are a social fish in general and tend to stick together in a group. When spawning, there may be rivalries within the group, and the spawning pair will have to be separated out from the rest of the tank. A single spawning can produce up to 1,000 eggs, which hatch in only a few days time, so preparations should be made beforehand, such as obtaining sufficient brine shrimp to feed the young angelfish fry.


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