Pterophyllum altum

Aquarium fish: Pterophyllum altum (Pterophyllum altum)
Size: 18 cm
Origin: South America
Water temperature: 27-31 ° C
Aquarium volume: 500 l

Pterophyllum altum (Pterophyllum altum ) – larger and taller than the commonly found P. scalare . Rarely available and most desired by cichlid lovers, which unfortunately affects its price, which reflects its uniqueness.


South America. It is found exclusively in the Orinoco River basin, including the Inirida and Rio Atabapo tributaries, and in the upper Rio Negro in southern Venezuela, They live in quiet parts of rivers, marshes and floodplains.

These waters are, above all, rich in oxygen, with negligible hardness and conductivity, despite their tannin coloration, they are almost always perfectly transparent. Unlike P. scalare , they prefer the proximity to the roots rather than the plants.

Characteristics and disposition

The largest and tallest of the Pterophyllum family,in the aquarium, it reaches up to 18 cm in length and 40 cm in height, in the natural environment, individuals as high as 50 cm have been reported. Body of a silver color with three brown and black vertical stripes.

Red stripes on the fins. In adults, red and bluish-green small dots may be visible on the back, black spots may be seen when stimulated. A characteristic feature of this species is the sharp notch above the nostrils (supraorbital cavity). All real specimens exhibit a trait that may disappear or be invisible in hybrids. Depending on the place of occurrence, the Orinoco, Atabapo, Inirida varieties are distinguished and the disputed Rio Negro, which is not fully researched / classified.

The Atabapo form has the most red color on the fins and back, some individuals may have red stripes. Wild forms are also knownP. scalare very similar in appearance to P. altum ( P. sp.

Santa Izabel, P. sp. Santa Gabriel, P. sp. Rio Cuiuni – from the names of places or rivers), in trade it is often mistakenly marked as e.g.

Altum red, Peru or Rio Negro. Distinguishing the correct form from the similar form is sometimes difficult and often debatable. Compared to P. scalare , they are much taller, have an unusually high “forehead”, and the distance between the eyes and the dog is much shorter. The stripes on his body are clearly wider, spread more evenly to each other, and between them you can see additional faded brownish stripes.

The sex of scalars is difficult to tell. Females have elongated and blunt-ended genital warts, the so-called ovipositor, in males it is short and sharply ended. During the breeding season, viewed from above, the female bearing the eggs will be wider behind the pectoral fins, while the male will be wider at the point where the pectoral fins meet the body. Males may develop a slight fatty hump during the spawning period. Considered by many to be gentle, however, they are fish with character , you can even say that they are “double-faced”.

In the presence of an observer, they can behave impeccably, and when they disappear from view, they show their true face, raising their gill covers on their companions and placing smaller fish in the corners of the aquarium. There are frequent skirmishes between scalars, often they swim sideways to the rival, stretching the body in an arc towards him. It is believed that by using the scales in this way, they focus a beam of light, which they direct into the opponent’s eyes. On many occasions one of the fish is seen to be suddenly stunned, as if it has been shocked. Despite their pugnacious nature, they are group fish with complex relationships.

Compliance with the rules prevailing in the group increases the chances of survival, e.g. during an attack by a predator. They are also happy to cooperate with each other. They learned to defend themselves against fish nibbling and nibbling, e.g. piranhas.

In times of danger, they form a kind of defensive formation, they hide their tails inwards, and their mouths are ready to attack. They are one of the few fish that can count. Having a choice of shoals that look similar at first glance, they will consistently and instinctively choose the more numerous. In nature, the stock can cover a large area of ​​hundreds of fish. It is recommended to keep a group of min.

5 individuals or a matched pair. They feel safer, look prettier and exhibit more interesting behaviors. They are not masters of swimming, they move slowly, mainly with pectoral fins, which in combination with a tall body have little chance of escaping. In situations of danger or hunting, their striped camouflage is helpful, which they use by hiding among roots or tall vegetation.

Nutrition and feeding

Feeding wild specimens can be problematic.

You should be prepared for regular feeding of live food and even in their case you cannot be sure that they will be eaten. For some reason, they are more likely to eat waste left by other fish. After acclimatization, if they start eating live foods, they can gradually be taught to eat frozen foods by feeding them mixed with live foods. Breeding altums will also accept dry foods. Live and frozen foods, such as daphnia, bloodworm, cyclops or shrimp, are eaten with great vigor, and any change in food activity can be a sign of spawning or worse health problems.


They require min. 120 cm long aquarium for a selected pair and min. 150 cm for a group and a height of min. 60 cm. Now that biotope tanks are hot, some growers say that this is the only way to go about furnishing a dwelling for tall scalars.

The substrate should be soft, sandy and fine-grained. Fish like to pick them up and they can easily choke on larger pebbles. Unlike P. scalare , altums feel better around roots than with plants. For decoration, you can use dry wood, roots and twisted branches, as well as dry leaves.

Plants in natural habitats are also present, but in smaller numbers. You should also remember to leave space for the fish to swim. They have much higher requirements than the common scalar, first of all , the water quality must be impeccable . Even small concentrations of nitrates can harm them. They are also extremely vulnerable and prone to disease and stress.

The water must be very soft and acidic in the range 4.8-6.2 pH, with low conductivity. They also require higher temperatures, about 27-31 ° C. It will be necessary to use efficient biological and mechanical filtration, with a simultaneous limited water flow – the use of long sprinklers can be helpful. In nature, they inhabit white and black waters, always transparent, without visible turbidity. When they are young, they do not pay attention to their smaller roommates, but when their mouths grow, the curiosity for new tastes increases.

It can often seem that the social aquarium is living in harmony, only to notice the lack of stock the next day. If only the fish can fit in their mouths, we can predict with high probability that it will be eaten one day. Angelfish is best kept in a species aquarium , but they can also be in “general” with milder fish with a higher body, such as the Black Phantom ( Hyphessobrycon megalopterus ), Perez ‘s Bull ( Hyphessobrycon erythrostigma ), Hyphessobrycnison pulchripnison pulchripnison . You should avoid the company of species with a low, torpedo shape, such as the Red-headed Ginger ( Hemigrammus erythrozonus ) or Cardinal, whose structure is practically designed for the anatomy of the scalar’s mouth. Fish nibbling fins will also be undesirable company.

Behavior often found in e.g. tiger barbs. The long, drooping pelvic fins of the scalars can also be tempting to even peaceful species. The safest choice will be the slightly larger, peace-minded cuiras, which will also help to keep the tank clean by eating uneaten food remnants from the bottom.


Until recently, it was believed that they did not breed in captivity, but this art was successful for breeders from Germany and the Czech Republic, which was confirmed by DNA tests.

Wild specimens are very difficult to reproduce, the stage of egg development is problematic, as it requires unprecedented water quality. First of all, we need a well-matched pair to reproduce. Angelfish are monogamous fish and form strong bonds with each other . It is best to buy a group of 6-8 young fish and let the pair come together. When a pair is formed, the rest of the fish must be moved, as it will fiercely defend its territory, chasing out potential rivals.

It will also be necessary to create appropriate water conditions. Water hardness is a key factor, scalar eggs have micro-cracks that clog in hard water. The conductivity should be around 100–150 µS / cm, and the pH should be 5.5–6.0. The optimal temperature for breeding is around 28-30 ° C. We can additionally encourage fish to spawn by giving live and frozen food more often, increasing the temperature or softening the water a bit (the use of an RO or peat filter may be helpful).

Spawning can take up to two hours. The female uses an oviposition to stick the eggs to the selected place. It can be a tall wide leaf, a root, or a piece of glass. The male, following the female, fertilizes the eggs. During spawning, the female on average lays 600-800 eggs .

Under optimal aquarium conditions, the selected pair may wear up to 8 times, but usually less frequently, in the period from October to July. In the wild, in the periods from April to June and from October to November. Once the eggs are laid, the parents can be left to care for them. Other fish will be chased away and the eggs will be fan-fanned, thus providing them with adequate oxygenation. The first few attempts are unsuccessful and often one of the parents eats the eggs.

It can be influenced by e.g. sudden change of lighting or sudden movement in front of the tank glass. Taking eggs by the parents with their mouths does not always mean losing them, because in this way the parents can only clean it. If spawning takes place in a “general” aquarium and we want to raise fry, it is best to remove the roe with the deposit (leaf, stone, cone, etc.), transfer to a separate tank and oxygenate the water in it well. Rotten grains should be carefully removed immediately.

To prevent mold from the roe, you can add a few drops of methylene blue to the water. Hatching, depending on the temperature, takes about 3 days, after which the larvae either sink to the bottom of the reservoir or slightly float in the water. For the first few days, they take food from the yolk sac (3-5 days). After 6-8 days, they begin to swim freely in the aquarium. In the first period, it is best to feed freshly hatched Artemia larvae.

After starting feeding, an important activity is to change the water daily. From the fourth week on, the fish will be able to take Artemia or Cyclops. After 10 weeks, the cubs are 8-10 cm long. After 6 months, they can be 20 cm tall, and when fully grown and 40 cm tall, they reach about 3 years.


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