These little fish take me back to my teenage years. To be top dog in the school requires mouth-wrestling and clubbing (the violent kind), and they get angry if you clean their room too often. Otherwise known as the Orinoco or deep angelfish, these flitty, shiny critters with elongated whiskery fins are found (shockingly) in the Orinoco River and other parts of Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.

Cheating a bit here because this is an old drawing, but you can let me off for the first one.

Your local pet shop probably sells the hybrid version Pterophyllum scalare, because these guys are hard to breed in captivity. I would say it’s because they look after their young and therefore take parenthood seriously, but it could also be because they can’t resist the delicious taste of their own babies and decide to stay celibate for the sake of their soul. Maybe.

Do you remember that monster barracuda that ate most of Nemo’s family? Well it’s kind of related to these guys, because “angelfish” includes several species of the “Perciformes” order. Other relatives of note include swordfishes, tuna, and the massive sunfish.

It’s lucky it has such a big family, because if the altum angelfish can fit something in its mouth, it will most probably eat it. It’s a fish after my own heart.

Speaking of romance, it’s the ladies who tend to (river)bed-hop, and the chaps don’t tend to show they’re chaps until they develop their sexy nuchal hump around breeding time. Funnily enough, it’s the aquarium owners who get the headache.

Aside from a gruff tank-dweller in the aforementioned Disney film, the altum angelfish also makes an appearance on Venezuelan money. If you squint at a 5,000 bolívar note, you can just about see a pair gliding suspiciously away into some reeds.



Latin: Pterophyllum altum

What? Freshwater fish

Where? South America

How big? Up to 18cm/7” long and 20cm/8” high

Endangered? No, but its habitat is


They sound cool. Do they need my help at all?

We all know the Amazon Basin is being wrecked, so here are some organisations trying to stop that:

WWF: The Amazon

Amazon Aid Foundation

International Rivers

and a shout-out to the Aquarium Welfare Association too, for any rough and gruff tank-dwellers.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing

Angelfish.” N.d.

Freihofer, Warren Curtis, Lin, Maung Wai, and Parenti, Lynne R. N.d. “Perciform”.

Kumar, Pallav. 2018. “Angelfish in your aquarium getting angry? Try changing their water less often”.

Pterophyllum Altum, Altum Angel.” 2018. Seriously Fish.

Pterophyllum altum  Pellegrin, 1903”.N.d.

Featured image creditJeff Kubina.