Altum Angelfish Care Guide

Are freshwater angelfish easy to keep?

Altum Angelfish Care Guide7 mins read

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Tal Halperin
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Altum angelfish care guide

Do you want to care for altum angelfish? Freshwater angelfish species like the altum angelfish are actually a type of cichlid. This means that despite their delicate appearance, they are actually related to other cichlids like the whopping Oscar fish!

The altum angelfish, like other freshwater angelfish, comes from tributaries of the Orinoco in Brazil and Venezuela, where their flattened bodies allow them to hide amongst submerged wood and plants.

They are territorial and hierarchal, showing complex social behavior and distinct personalities. If you want to know more about this, plus answer common questions like ‘how big do angelfish get’, read on for how to care for these fascinating fish.

Breed Overview

OriginOrinoco river headwaters
Lifespan10-15 years
Size6-12” (15-30 cm)
ColourWhite with dark grey/Black stripes
Tank SizeMinimum 55 gallons/208 liters
TemperamentSemi-aggressive, social, hierarchical
Water TypeFreshwater
Water Temperature74-82F/23-28C
Water pH5-7.5
Difficulty LevelIntermediate

Tank Setup For Altum Angelfish

Tank setup for altum angelfish
Altum angelfish are actually some of the biggest angelfish and tend to easily reach this full height. Image from Flickr

To start, your altum angelfish will need a tank. But how big do angelfish get?

If you are asking ‘how big do angelfish get?’, remember that the unusual shape of freshwater angelfish means that tank height is also really important.

Angelfish tend to reach 8 inches (20 cm) in height and 6 inches (16 cm) in length. In fact, altum angelfish are actually some of the biggest angelfish and tend to easily reach this full height.

It’s generally a good idea to have a tank that is longer than it is tall, so your fish can swim freely up and down. However, sufficient height is still important, ideally, double your fish’s maximum possible height.

Water parameters and specifications

Ideal SizeMinimum 55 gallons for a pair with an additional 10-15 gallons per extra fish
Suitable SubstratesGravel or sand with aquarium soil underneath to allow plants to take root
Filtration systemsFlow rate of 5-10x tank size
Ammonia and nitrites0
pH level5.8-6.8
Temperature82-90 F/ 26-29 C

What Size Tank Do Freshwater Angelfish Need?

What size tank do freshwater angelfish need?
A minimum of 55 gallons is recommended for a community tank.

A minimum of 55 gallons is recommended for a community tank. To stay on the safe side, you can set up this type of tank for a single pair.

Then, add an additional 10-15 gallons per extra fish depending on your space and resources. This is because as they are territorial, freshwater angelfish will prefer a larger tank to minimize competition.

Tank Maintenance

How often to clean your angelfish tank? As a rule, altum angelfish have a social hierarchy and communicate with each other by scent and pheromones within the water. Some fishkeepers have found that frequent water changes can increase aggression, as removing these pheromones encourages your fish to re-establish the pecking order.

A good rule of thumb is to change the water maximum every week to minimum every 3 weeks depending on your tank size. Larger tanks, with lower density of fish, will need a less frequent water change.

Less frequent water changes decreased aggression in the closely related freshwater angelfish pterophyllum scalare. Likewise, your altum angelfish will also benefit from you leaving the water slightly longer than you might be tempted.

Setting Up A Community Tank

Setting up a community tank of angelfish
As angelfish like to hide amongst plants and decoration, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind when setting up your tank.

There are two things that make wild caught angelfish like the altum angelfish or Leopold’s angelfish stand out even from the more commonly seen pterophyllum scalare. This is their need for soft, acidic water, and a warm temperature as listed in the parameters section above.

If your water is too hard, you can fortunately use a CO2 injector to lower both water hardness and pH until it is at it’s optimum. Another natural way for maintaining these conditions is the use of tannin-heavy driftwood. This is because altum angelfish live in riverine environments that are naturally saturated with organic matter from fallen logs, leaf matter, and decaying vegetation from the surrounding rainforest. By introducing driftwood into your tank, tannins leach into the water and help mimic these conditions.

Author’s Note: You may have heard that angelfish can be aggressive. However, fish aggression tends to depend on a variety of factors and isn’t set in stone. Stress will make your fish more aggression, but tank setup also has a huge influence. The larger and more varied the tank, and the lower the tank density, the better chance you have of reducing aggression.

1. Arranging Plants And Decoration:

As angelfish like to hide amongst plants and decoration, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind when setting up your tank. Plant aquatic plants in drifts and create tunnel arches and corridors with plants, stones, and driftwood to minimise stress. Keep in mind the question ‘how big do angelfish get’, to ensure you get a balance between providing decor, and not overcrowding the tank. Anticipate for how your fish will grow.

2. Appearance Of Altum Angelfish

If you have not kept them before, you may be struck by the number of colors of freshwater angelfish. In fact, most of these are selectively bred variants of a different species, pterophyllum scalare. The altum angelfish is generally wild caught and comes in one color, that is, a pattern of clear/white/pearly scales with dark black or charcoal grey stripes. However, these fish nevertheless look very striking and are great for a minimalistic tank.

Availability Of Altum Angelfish In Pet Stores:

Most good sized aquatics stores should stock altum angelfish. However, as this is a wild caught species, availability is not as stable as with the captive bred pterophyllum scalare. If you can’t find any in your local pet store, you can look online for a dealer, but just be sure to research them first!

Best Tankmates For Altum Angelfish

Best tankmates for altum angelfish
Never mix shrimps and snails with your angelfish!

Now you have your tank set up, it’s time to think about some angelfish tankmates! As altum angelfish have long flowing fins, it’s best to avoid fin nipping or aggressive fish. The following fish are all a safe bet for an angelfish tank:

  • Neon tetra
  • Rummynose tetra
  • Congo tetra
  • Epistogramma cichlid
  • Electric blue ram
  • Cory catfish
  • Zebra loaches
  • Gouramis
  • Zebra danios

Never mix shrimps and snails with your freshwater angelfish! Your fish will very likely see these small invertebrates as food and quickly gobble them up.

Author’s Note: This article covers smaller tankmates intended for a tank that mainly contains angelfish. However, did you know angelfish also get on well with discus fish? Both are part of the cichlid family and can be fed the same food. In addition, colorful discus and black and white angelfish make a striking contrast!

Behavior And Temperament

Behavior and temperament of altum angelfish
Some Angelfish are shyer and prefer hanging around in aquatic plants, whereas some are bolder and prefer free swimming.

One of the reasons many aquarists love freshwater angelfish is because they all have unique personalities and interact with their environment a lot. Simply put. The more you observe these fish, the more they will reveal to you! However, this also means that their behavior is strongly connected to their environment. For example, higher temperatures can increase competition.

Angelfish are known for having preferences. Some are shyer and prefer hanging around in aquatic plants, whereas some are bolder and prefer free swimming. Some enjoy feeding at the top of the tank, and some at the bottom. They even have different food preferences!

Feeding Altum Angelfish

Feeding altum angelfish
The safest way to feed your altum angelfish is by starting with a pellet based cichlid food. Image from Flickr

The safest way to feed your altum angelfish is by starting with a pellet cichlid food, which is often also appropriate for discus fish and can work for tankmates such as ram cichlids.

However, it’s best to enrich your fish’s diet, which you can do with the following food once or twice a week:


  • Brine shrimps
  • Tubifex worms
  • Bloodworms
  • Daphnia

Vegetable Matter:

  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Half a shelled pea
  • Duckweed

What To Do If Your Angelfish Is Not Eating

If your angelfish is not eating, this can be for a variety of reasons. Although they are omnivorous, altum angelfish do prefer a bit more protein and it might be that they are fed up with their food. In this case, you can try other proteins like black soldier fly larvae (and adult flies) as well as fruit flies, chopped earthworms, and bean beatles and larvae. However, it’s always important to rule out other factors like stress, illness, or your angelfish carrying eggs.

Remember also in terms of how big do angelfish get, a fish that is malnourished will necessarily have stunted growth.

Pests And Diseases

Pests and diseases in altum angelfish
Your fish losing its stripes can be a sign of general stress, as maintaining stripes takes energy. Image from Flickr

1. Ich

Ich, or white spot disease, is common in many freshwater fish and likewise can also affect your altum angelfish. It is a small parasite and one of the first signs that your fish is infected is behavioral changes, including lethargy. You can treat it by isolating the fish and giving specialist over the counter medication.

2. Color Change

You may occasionally see your angelfish change its’ color, with stripes fading and reappearing. This can be alarming, and you may wonder if your fish has a disease.

Your fish losing its stripes can be a sign of general stress, as maintaining stripes takes energy. Therefore, to conserve energy to manage poor water conditions, your fish may actually lose it’s patterning. It can also be a sign of more serious diseases.

3. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections generally stem from poor water conditions and can include treatable infections such as fin rot, through to swim bladder disease, and serious illnesses like dropsy (generally caused by a bacterial infection of the kidneys)

The biggest risk with your angelfish is getting the balance right when knowing how often to change their water. You can treat bacterial infections by isolating the sick fish and giving them an antibacterial medication, however, it’s best to prevent them in the first place by always keeping a kit on hand. This way, you can test the level of ammonia and nitrates as soon as you see fish developing signs of lethargy, refusal to eat, or other signs it is sick or dying.

Breeding Your Altum Angelfish

Breeding your altum angelfish
If you only want a certain selection of your fish to breed, you can breed in a separate tank.

Although the altum angelfish is an intermediate fish to keep, breeding them can be slightly more challenging. This is because as they are wild species, they still have very strong instincts. They are marginally more sensitive than their captive counterparts. It’s best to take a hands off approach because these fish prefer to choose their own mates!

1. Breeding In A Separate Tank

If you only want a certain selection of your fish to breed, you can breed in a separate tank. Make sure you have room for this and have set it up so that the environment is as similar to their home tank as possible.

Breeding in a separate tank can be a good idea as when breeding, it’s best to give your fish a different diet as well as change the water more frequently. A separate tank can prevent these changes from affecting your other fish.

2. Using A Tank Separator

Altermnatively, a tank separator can be added to an existing tank to cut off the breeding pairs from the rest of the tank. This can help them feel less stressed, which encourages breeding.

Either way, you’ll start noticing lots of signs when they are ready to mate, such as changes in their swimming pattern. You will also be able to see a specialised organ, the papilla, near the ventral fin of the female.

You can keep 4-8 pairs set aside to breed and let the fish choose their own partners, which will become obvious as you watch them follow each other around and even lock lips.

3. Breeding Altum Angelfish Tips

When breeding, your freshwater angelfish will need more protein than usual because of the extra energy they are using. Another thing you can do is to feed them little and often (twice as opposed to once a day or even three times). This keeps their energy levells up and means you are more likely to breed them successfully.

When breeding fish it’s always important to ensure you have enough space and don’t overstock. Did you know, tank density can actually affect your fish’s growth, well-being, and survival? This is especially so for hierarchical fish like the angelfish, for whom their surrounding social group is very important. A female fish can produce over 500 eggs, and so you will get a significant amount of fry, even if not all eggs hatch.

Either way, a huge draw to breeding angelfish is that these fish are great parents and it is a delight to see them nurturing their eggs and fry. This guide is by no means exhaustive and there is plenty more you can know about how angelfish mate, however, for an intermediate to advanced aquarist, altum angelfish breeding is a fantastic project.

Author’s Note: breeding time is when your altum angelfish are most likely to be aggressive. This is because they are territorial, and this instinct will be even stronger as fish seek to defend their eggs and split up into breeding pairs. This is why having a large tank with plenty of ‘areas’ separated by rocks, plants, and wood is so helpful.

Final Thoughts

Altum angelfish can be described as wild species.

Altum angelfish is a minimalist and natural-looking fish to keep, especially if you want to recreate a river environment in your tank. They have different requirements to captive-bred angelfish like the koi angelfish or pink angelfish. But as a result, they can make an underrated and head-turning pet to care for, especially when you see a whole shoal of them swimming in unison.

Hopefully this article will have answered common questions like ‘how big do angelfish get’, as well as cleared up feeding, breeding, and setup. These fish are not for everyone. But if you are confident, it may now be time to take the plunge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are altum angelfish a wild species?
Altum angelfish can be described as wild species as they have not been selectively bred from their wild form. In fact, any fancy breeds of freshwater angelfish you see will be variants of pterophyllum scalare. However, there’s a good chance your altum angelfish was actually wild caught, which also influences it’s different needs.
How are freshwater angelfish different from saltwater angelfish?
Yes, freshwater angelfish like the altum angelfish are different from saltwater angelfish, which fall into the genus pomacanthus. Apart from this, the fact that your altum angelfish is freshwater and pomacanthusi species are saltwater means that they need totally different conditions!
Are freshwater angelfish easy to keep?
Although tropical fish can be slightly harder to keep than coldwater ornamental fish, the altum angelfish is one of the easier kinds to keep and overall is recommended for intermediate fishkeepers. In fact, due to their ease of care, they are one of the most commonly kept cichlids. And they are one of the best ways to get started with caring for warm water fish if you already have experience with cold water tanks.
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Sydney Perry

Sydney Perry has loved fish since she was a child and has enjoyed keeping many varieties over the years, ranging from black moors and shubunkins to betta fish. As a lover of nature and of Japanese culture, her dream tank is an Iwagumi aquascape, combining fish with carefully crafted aquatic landscapes in miniature.