Pterophyllum leopoldi

Of the angelfish, the Pterophyllum leopoldi is the smallest. They are also slightly rounder than the Pterophyllum scalare and altum. An easy-to-spot feature is the black spot at the base of the dorsal fin at the top of the fourth stripe on their flank.

Pterophyllum leopoldi

The genus name Pterophyllum comes from Greek and means “Fins like a leaf”. The species name leopoldi is a reference to the Belgian King Leopold III. The species was described by Gosse in 1963, making it the last described species within the genus.

In the meantime, there has been some disagreement about the division of the family. In 1979, Warren Burgess described Pterophyllum scalare and Pterophyllum altum as variants of the same species. The names P. scalare scalare and P. scalare altum were therefore used in the literature. It was not until 1986 that Sven Kullander rewrote the family so that there were officially three species of Ptherophyllum again.

They are sometimes also offered commercially under the incorrect name Pterophyllum dumerilii. To the general public, the three species are also simply called Angelfish.

Synonym: Plataxoides leopoldi


The shape of Pterophyllym leopoldi roughly resembles a leaf. The body is almost round, the dorsal and anal fin extend far from the body. The pelvic fins are strongly elongated and terminate in long filaments. Due to their tall build and long fins, they can reach a total height of about 25 to 35 centimeters.

The basic color is silver with brown/red on the back, the dorsal fin, in the caudal fin and anal fin. Depending on the mood of the fish, there are black stripes on the flank, not all of which are equally deeply colored.

Of the angelfish, Pterophyllum leopoldi is the smallest. They are also slightly rounder than the Pterophyllum scalare and altum. An easy to spot feature is the black spot at the base of the dorsal fin at the top of the fourth stripe on their flank.

The difference between male and female is difficult to see, just like with the other Pterophyllum species. The distinction is easiest when a pair lays eggs. The female’s ovipositor is rounder than the male’s sexual organ, which ends more in a point. The male is usually also slightly larger than the female.

Because this species feels most comfortable with more conspecifics, it is advisable to keep a group of at least 6 specimens. Without or with too few others of their own kind, they often do not feel comfortable and the colors will often fade. Within the group they will establish a ranking, for this they can hold mock battles. They also squabble over territory from time to time. The stripes are one of the ways in which the Pterophyllum leopoldi communicate with each other.

Pterophyllum leopoldi character

Pterophyllum leopoldi, like the other Angelfish species, has a very calm character. They move slowly and stately through the aquarium. Therefore, do not keep them together with very active or aggressive species. Also, avoid fin biters such as some tetra species. They can easily be combined with non-aggressive catfish, not-too-large loaches (including Botias), characins, Trigonostigma and Rasbora species, or, for example, the Congo Tetra. In any case, avoid Bettas and Gouramis.

However, it is still a cichlid, smaller fish species that fit in their mouth are therefore seen as food. Adult Neon tetras and Cardinal tetras sometimes survive. Young and small specimens of tetras are often offered in the store. There is a good chance that you will see them disappear one by one.


Pterophylum leopoldi has a large distribution area. They occur in the Amazon River basin, in the Rio Solimões between Manacapuru and Santarem; in the Rio Rupuni and the Rio Essequibo in Guyana.

They inhabit the slow-flowing rivers and streams. They live among the roots and branches. You will not find Pterophylum leopoldi in fast-flowing water. The water in their habitat is soft and acidic.


Pterophyllum leopoldi is omnivorous. Specimen bred in captivity will actually accept any food offered. Wild-caught fish will usually not initially accept dry and dead food. You can then feed them with live brine shrimp, daphnia, mosquito larvae, and tubifex. Alternate the live food with frozen food and occasionally some flakes to slowly get them used to the food you normally give. In any case, give them varied food to keep them in good condition.

Make sure you feed them sparingly. They are generally voracious eaters who tend to overeat themselves, resulting in overweight fish. This will definitely shorten the lifespan of the fish. So feed them no more than once or twice a day as much as they can eat in a few minutes.

The Aquarium

The height of the aquarium is almost as important as the length for Pterophyllum leopoldi. Because the fish itself can grow up to 35 centimeters in height, the water height must match this somewhat. Therefore, keep them in an aquarium with a minimum water height of about 50 centimeters. For a group of 6 fish, an aquarium length of 120 centimeters is sufficient, but preferably 150 centimeters.

Use sand on the bottom, they often bite into the sand in search of something edible. You can further furnish the aquarium with wood and roots, etc. They love to hang between the stems of Valisneria, for example. Large-leaved plants such as Echinodorus bleheri or other sword plants are often used.

The fish do not like too much light. So provide some subdued light and use some floating plants, for example. This gives them a natural darker place where they feel safe.

In any case, a filter should not cause too much current in the water. The water must of course be filtered, but current is not appreciated. Change small amounts regularly. They are sensitive to sudden fluctuations in water composition. Wild-caught fish are even more sensitive than captive-bred fish. In any case, make sure that the nitrate level remains low. You can achieve this by using plants and changing water regularly.

In the wild, they live in very soft (GH 3 to 8) and acidic water with a pH that can drop below 5. Maintain a pH of 5.5 to 7.0 in the aquarium. For wild-caught fish, it may be advisable to maintain a slightly lower pH. Filtering over peat gives the water a darker color that is natural for this species.

Water parameters:
Temperature: 25-31 ºC
PH: 5.5-6.8
GH: 3-8 ºDH

To get Pterophyllum leopoldi used to your water parameters after purchase, it is best to get them used by using the drip method. To do this, place the fish in a large bucket with the water you brought from the store or hobby breeder. Take a piece of air hose and tie a loose knot in it. Now let water from the aquarium drip slowly into the bucket. Let this water drip for an hour or 2 and the fish are ready to move to the aquarium. Leave the water in the bucket and move only the fish to the aquarium.

Breeding aquarium and conditioning

To get a good breeding pair you can do two things. Buy a proven breeding pair from another breeder or start with a group of young fish and wait until a good pair emerges. The first is probably a bit more expensive and does not provide a 100% guarantee that they will want to breed in your aquarium. The second method takes a little longer.

When they reach the age that they want to mate, a couple will separate from the group. They look for a territory to lay their eggs. A suitable location for this is the leaf of a sword plant, for example, or you can give them a helping hand by placing a flat stone at an angle in the aquarium. Make sure that it is sturdy and cannot fall over.

To stimulate spawning you can lower the pH to below pH 6.0 and raise the temperature slightly to about 30 degrees Celsius.

Breeding and then raising is easiest in a special breeding aquarium without other inhabitants and without substrate. The aquarium itself does not have to be very large. An aquarium from 100 liters is sufficient for a couple. Make sure that the aquarium is high enough. Filter this aquarium with a sponge filter. The young are quite small and cannot withstand too much current.

Give the angelfish good and varied food. Alternate the dry food with frozen or live food such as black and white mosquito, tubifex, etc.

The spawn

Once the pair is ready to spawn, they become interested in a flat object such as a sword plant leaf or a flat stone. The surface is cleaned very thoroughly. All other fish present are very skillfully kept at a distance. The colors of the fish become darker and more intense.

The female’s ovipositor becomes visible. When she is satisfied with the location where the eggs should be placed, she first makes a few test runs over the location with the laying tube just touching the surface. The man follows the movement closely. After this, the female lays the eggs in a series of 8 to 9 eggs. The male follows her and fertilizes the eggs.

The number of eggs is considerably smaller than that of the Pterophyllum scalare. A nest usually consists of about 70 to 150 eggs. Laying the eggs takes no more than 2 to 3 minutes, depending on how often it is necessary to chase away other fish.

The couple will take turns fanning the eggs to provide them with fresh oxygen-rich water. The eggs themselves are slightly yellowish, 1 to 1.5 mm in size, and not transparent. Although they both fan the eggs, the female does most of this work, and the male guards the territory more often and chases away the other residents. The parents remove the unfertilized or moldy eggs to prevent them from damaging the other eggs.

Raising the fry

The eggs hatch after 36 to 72 hours. They then remain stuck in place for another 6 days and feed on their egg yolk. If they fall off the surface prematurely, they will remain on the bottom for those days. That is why it is better to work with a bare soil.
After about seven days the larvae are sufficiently developed to be able to swim. They still live off their egg yolk sac.

Once their egg yolk sac has been digested you can start feeding them. Make sure you have a steady supply of freshly hatched brine shrimp on hand. Feed this 4 or 5 times a day so that they can grow well.

The young grow fairly quickly as long as they receive enough food. To do this, feed small portions regularly. After about 5 weeks they are big enough that you can feed them with dry food.

The young resemble small tetras for the first few weeks. Only after about 6 weeks do they start to gain some height and also get the vertical stripes.
Young angelfish are sensitive to polluted water. Refresh very regularly and siphon off the dirt from the bottom. With enough food and fresh water, they will be big enough after about 3 months to return them to their parents or offer them for sale.


Pterlophyllum leopoldi is a stately species that looks best when it is the main resident of the aquarium. Decorate the aquarium according to the wishes of this species and it will show you a very interesting spectacle.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Gert Blank


Additional information





First described by

Jean-Pierre Gosse


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