Pterophyllum altum – Altum Angel

Pterophyllum altum is very similar to the Pterophyllum scalare, but there is a difference. Pterophyllum altum is even flatter and higher than Pterophyllum scalare.

Pterophyllum altum – Altum Angel

Pterophyllum altum - First description
Pterophyllum altum – First description

Pterophyllum altum was first described in 1903 by J. Pellegrin. He states in his description that they can be distinguished from the Pterophyllum scalare by their higher build and that Pterophyllum altum has smaller scales. The genus name Pterophyllum comes from ancient Greek and means “fins like a leaf”.

The genus Pterophyllum is part of the family of the Cichlids (Cichlidae). A very large family with about 221 genera and more than 1670 species. The genus Pterophyllum itself has only 3 species. Pterophyllum scalare, Pterophyllum altum and Pterophyllum leopoldi. Most aquarium enthusiasts just call all three of them Angelfish.

Note: sometimes fish are offered under the name Peruvian Altum or Peru Altum. These are not real Pterophyllum altums but local variants of the Pterophyllum scalare.


Pterophyllum altum is very similar to the Pterophyllum scalare, but there is a difference. Pterophyllum altum is even thinner and higher than the Pterophyllum scalare. They can reach a height of about 35-40 centimetres while the length is not much more than 15 centimetres. Pterophyllum altum can be distinguished at the top of the head, it has a sharp inward kink at the top of the eye, this is often called a saddle nose. The stripe drawing of the black bands is the same as that of the Pterophyllum scalare, but between bands 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, we see a lighter greyish-green band. These are missing from the other species.

Telling males from females

The difference between the male and female is normally not visible in Angelfish. Only when pairing you see a difference in behaviour. Males are more aggressive and territorial. When laying the eggs, the females ovipositor becomes visible. The ovipositor is a small tube that emerges from their vent to deposit the eggs.


South America, Pterophyllum altum is most common near the Orinoco River in Venezuela, especially in the calmly flowing waters.

The aquarium

Because Pterophyllum altum gets so high and you keep them in a school, we recommend a spacious aquarium of at least 180 centimetres long and 70 centimetres high. Especially when a pair has eggs, they scare away all other fish. If their nest is accidentally placed in the middle of the aquarium, the other fish will have some space left and right.

They also love to hang between Vallisneria and other stem plants. Also make sure to create enough open swimming space, which they would appreciate.


If the water quality is good, the Pterophyllum altum will display its deep dark stripes nicely. Think of slightly more acidic water with a pH of 5 to 6 and a temperature of 24 to 26 degrees Celsius.

The stripes not only indicate whether the Altum Angel is comfortable, but it is also a way to communicate.


The Pterophyllum altum that eats just about everything, flakes, live food, dried red mosquito larvae. Make sure you alternate the food. They get more eager when they get different types of food.


It is a calm species that moves gracefully through the aquarium. They are friendly towards other species, but if added with Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon innesi) they will see them as live food. So do not keep them with too small fish. Pterophyllum altum is also likes a calm aquarium, so do not combine them with too active species.  When combined with very active fish, they will lose their colour and become very shy.

Breeding Pterophyllum altum

If there are a number of Altum Angels in the aquarium, a pair will eventually form. The female can be recognized by a thicker belly and ovipositor. Once they are ready, the female will lay her eggs on a solid leaf or a breeding cone, the male will follow her and fertilize the eggs. When there are fish in the aquarium that come too close, they are chased away. Once the eggs have hatched, they are still protected by the parents. The parents also raise the fry. You can feed the fry with brine shrimp.



Miko (Sander), John de Lange

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John de Lange

Last Updated on 31 December 2021 by John

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