10 Best Angelfish for Freshwater Aquariums

Silver and green striped angelfish swimming in tank with underwater foliage

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Tall, pointed fins and distinctive markings on its scales give the angelfish its signature look. Varieties of this fish are some of the most popular picks to feature in freshwater aquariums. With marbled patterns, stripes, spots, and even all-white albinos, there are many different types of angelfish to choose from within this species.

What is an Angelfish?

Angelfish are a species of cichlid fish found throughout the Amazon River system and in several South American countries. The unique appearance of the angelfish comes from its long fins that flow gracefully through the water as it swims, and varieties are typically identified based on different types of stripes or markings.

The group of freshwater angelfish is comprised of three different native species in the genus PterophyllumP. scalareP. leopoldi, and P. altum. Those sold as domestic aquarium pets are usually varieties of the P. scalare species, although they can be somewhat hard to identify genetically, as they readily cross-breed between P. scalare and P. altum.

Fun Fact

Domestic freshwater angelfish are the result of many years of selective breeding of various attributes such as background body color, stripes, spots, marbled color (orange and black), and even operculum (gill cover) pigmentation.

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    Silver Angelfish

    Closeup of a silver angelfish

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Silver angelfish have long been the backbone of the freshwater angelfish trade. They are the color variation that most closely resembles the "wild type" of the species, P. scalare. They are quite hardy and among the easiest of the angelfish to care for. The three vertical black bands can fade or darken depending on the mood of the fish.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches (10 inches wild maximum)

    Physical Characteristics: Silver body with red eyes; three main dark black bands—one through the eye and two more through the body

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    Zebra Angelfish

    Closeup of a zebra angelfish


    This interesting variation is known as a zebra angelfish. The presence of four to six bands distinguishes the zebra from the silver angelfish, which has only three bands. The red eye in angelfish is a sign of full maturity and good health. Not all varieties will develop the red eye, however.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: A total of four bands; one through the eye and three to five more on the body

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    Koi Angelfish

    Freshwater Angelfish Koi phenotype

    Visa Kopu / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The koi angelfish has been bred to have coloration resembling that of the Japanese koi, a white body with black and orange/red patches. When young, the fish may have a red hue below the eyes that fades with age. The amount of orange seen varies according to the stress level of the fish; the orange color will darken under higher stress. The koi variety is similar to the gold marble variety​ but without the stripes.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: White with mottled black coloration; varying amounts of orange on the head, depending on the selected genes; black marbling varies from 5 to 40 percent coverage

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    Black Lace Angelfish

    Black lace angelfish

    ivandan / Getty Images

    The black lace variation is a silver or zebra angelfish in which extra black genes are present. It is black colored with flowing, lacy fins. It is considered one of the most attractive of all of the angelfish. The lace angelfish was first bred in the 1950s.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: A very dark fish with an elegant lace pattern to the fins

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    Golden Angelfish

    Golden angelfish swimming

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    In the late 1960s, an Angelfish breeder in Milwaukee was surprised to find an oddly colored fry in a single spawning of black lace angels. The recessive gene in that single fish eventually resulted in the naja gold, which became the first gold angelfish in the aquarium trade. Golden angels are now relatively common and are cross-bred with other varieties to create unusually-colored specimens.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: A light golden body with a darker yellow or orange hue on the crown

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    Blushing Angelfish

    Blushing Angelfish

    The Spruce / Lucy Arnold

    In these angelfish, the blushing gene is in full display. The term "blushing'" refers to a lack of pigmentation on the gill cover (operculum), thus allowing the red color of the gills to show through. Many other color variations feature the blushing gene in some measure, but the variety known simply as "blushing angels" typically have no dusky markings at all and no hint of bands. The only coloration is under these transparent cheeks of the fish.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Silver or white in color, blood-colored cheeks

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    Marble Angelfish

    Marble Angelfish

    Ali B. / Getty Images

    There are many color variations that include genes for color marbling—a mottled arrangement of coloring that forms a unique pattern in every fish. The classic marble angelfish will show the distinctive marbling on the body, coupled with banding on the fins. This specimen has a dash of gold thrown in, making it particularly attractive.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Unique marbled body of black, white, gold,

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    Golden Marble Angelfish

    Closeup of a Golden Marble Angelfish

    culbertson / Getty Images

    Marbled angels show a wide range of marbling in the color markings—no two fish will be exactly alike. Gold marbles are often considered a subtype of koi angelfish.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Gold patches alongside unique marbled patterns

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    Half-Black Angelfish

    Half-black angelfish swimming

    Lai Hangyu / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Known as a half-black angelfish, this type has been around for well over a half-century. The caudal part of the body is black, rather than just having a black band. Additional color traits, such as marbling or blushing, are sometimes also seen. Half-black angelfish can be challenging to breed.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Silver in color with a darker rear portion

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    Altum Angelfish

    Altum Angelfish in Tank

    Jerry Young / Getty Images

    Pterophyllum altum, more simply known as the altum angelfish, is not commonly seen in the aquarium trade. It is larger, deeper, and flatter than the common species, P. scalare, and all of the cross-bred hybrids. Altum angelfish are more sensitive to changes in water conditions, and they require larger, deeper tanks.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 7 inches long and 9 inches tall

    Physical Characteristics: Silver body, with brown or black vertical bands; body shape stretched vertically, with height being longer than the length

Whichever angelfish you chose to add to your aquarium, be sure they are in a large enough tank to accommodate their full size and any other fish you may add with them. They prefer warmer, soft water, so make sure that suits the other aquarium inhabitants as well.