Two unrelated groups of fish go by the name “angelfish.” This includes saltwater fish from the family Pomacanthidae and freshwater fish in the genus Pterophyllum, members of the cichlid family. These two fish come from very different habitats in very different parts of the world.
Saltwater angelfish have come from a very large geographic range, spanning the tropical Atlantic, Indian and western Pacific oceans. Most marine angelfishes restrict themselves to the shallows of the reef, seldom venturing deeper than 50 meters (160 ft). The recently described Centropyge abei is known to inhabit depths of 150 m (490 ft).
Freshwater angelfish are found across a large area in South America. Their range includes the countries of Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Peru and Brazil. They live in the drainage of several different river systems, including the Amazon, Negro and Orinoco rivers.
Freshwater angelfish and saltwater angelfish have lifespan from 10 to 15 years.
Freshwater angelfish grow to a length of about 15 cm (6 in). They are commonly silvery with vertical dark markings but may be solid or partially black; there are also many other color variations.
Saltwater angelfish range in size from 15 to 60 cm (5.9 to 24 in). With their bright colors and deep, laterally compressed bodies, marine angelfishes are some of the more conspicuous residents of the reef.
Freshwater angelfish are ambush predators and prey on small fish and macroinvertebrates while saltwater angelfish diet consists mainly of algae.
Some species are saltwater angelfish solitary in nature and form highly territorial mated pairs; others form harems with a single male dominant over several females. As juveniles, some species may eke out a living as cleaner fish.
All freshwater angelfish species form monogamous pairs. Eggs are generally laid on a submerged log or a flattened leaf. As is the case for other cichlids, brood care is highly developed.
In many species of both groups, coloring of the young differs greatly from that of adults.
Angelfish are one of the most commonly kept freshwater aquarium fish, as well as the most commonly kept cichlid. They are prized for their unique shape, color and behavior.
Most strains of freshwater angelfish available in the fishkeeping hobby are the result of many decades of selective breeding.
The freshwater angelfish was described in 1824 by F. Schultze.
It was not until the late 1920s to early 1930s that the angelfish was bred in captivity in the United States.
The scientific name for freshwater angelfish – Pterophyllum is derived from the Greek πτερον, pteron meaning “fin/sail” and φυλλον, phyllon meaning “leaf”.
The scientific name for saltwater angelfish – Pomacanthidae; from the Greek πομα, poma meaning “cover” and ακάνθα, akantha meaning “thorn”.