10 Best Angelfish for Freshwater Aquariums

Koi Angelfish - Pterophyllum scalare
Koi Angelfish. Visa Kopu

The group of freshwater angelfishes 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 the species readily cross-breed. Some varieties may even be crosses between P. scalare and P. altum.

Fun Fact

Domestic freshwater angelfish are the result of many years of selective breeding of various color 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

    Silver Angelfish in home tank

    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 stripes 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 stripes—one through the eye, and two more through the body

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    Zebra Angelfish

    Zebra Angelfish
    Zebra Angelfish

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

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 6 inches

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

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    Koi Angelfish

    Freshwater Angelfish Koi phenotype
    Visa Kopu/ Roxeteer/Wikimedia Commons

    The koi angelfish has been bred to have coloration resembling that of the Japanese koi. 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: Mottled black and white coloration; varying amounts of gold on the head, depending on the selected genes; black marbling varies from 5 to 40 percent coverage

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    Black Lace Angelfish

    The black lace variation is a silver or zebra angelfish in which extra black genes are present. 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

    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
    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 stripes. 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./FOAP/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 stripes 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

    Golden Marble Angelfish
    Golden Marble Angelfish

    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

    Known as a half-black angelfish, this type has been around for well over a half-century. 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/Dorling Kindersley/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 mutations. 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 stripes; body shape stretched vertically, with height being longer than the length