Are Angelfish Cichlids?

Yes, the freshwater angelfish is an American cichlid that is popular with many amateur and professional aquarists. Their beautiful looks and less aggressive nature place them on many novice keepers’ wish lists for a community cichlid tank, but is it advisable?

The common freshwater angelfish is a cichlid

We get asked this question often, and our answer is yes, under the proper conditions.

We have spent years learning what does and does not work with various types of cichlids. We want to share this knowledge to keep our hobby thriving and to help it grow with keepers just like you.

While we explore the subject of freshwater angelfish, we’ll cover things like:

  • What they are
  • How they interact with other cichlids
  • Discuss some compatible cichlid tank mates
  • Some of the more frequently asked questions

Are Angelfish Cichlids

Scientific Classification

Why are angelfish cichlids when they behave and look different than the types of cichlids you have seen in most aquatic shops or online? Freshwater angelfish (not to be confused with the marine species with the same name) have the scientific name of Pterophyllum scalare.

These fish are in the order Cichliformes, a taxonomic rank that includes the Cichlidae family. Cichlidae is one of the larger families of vertebrates with over 1.350 species, including Pterophyllum scalare. All cichlids share one trait that groups them; the lower pharyngeal bones holding their teeth have fused into a single structure, giving them a second set of jaws to chew various foods.

Natural Habitat

Your angelfish are South American cichlids originating from the waters of the Amazon Basin in South America. Simulating the water quality of the Essequibo, Oyapock, and Ucayali rivers is crucial for your angelfish to thrive. It also provides baseline parameters for the types of tank mates you might consider keeping with your pets.

That unusual body shape that makes these fish look like anything but a cichlid? The native waters of these rivers are slow-moving and filled with roots and fallen timber. Their thin body developed to move between this debris, and those delicate-looking fins are enough for movement in slow currents.

Water Conditions

Since you are a kind angelfish keeper and use a large aquarium, you will likely have filtration that generates lots of currents. You can use simple valve modifications to reduce air or water flow back into the tank (depending on the type of filtration). Turning power heads towards the wall dampens water movement, as do spray bars and other modifications for external filters.

You can ideally match Amazonian temperature conditions by keeping the angelfish tank between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit (a degree or two on either end is survivable but not recommended).

In the Amazon, the abundant rainfall infuses the rivers with carbon dioxide-rich water, dropping the ph. Keeping your aquarium water between 6.5 and 7.5 is best for angelfish, but they can tolerate water conditions between 6.0 and 8.0 ph.

The acidic tributaries feeding the Amazon will make the waters a bit soft. Aim for soft water between 5 and 12 dH to mimic these conditions at home.

Angelfish With Cichlids

Can you put angelfish with African cichlids?

Keepers like yourself often want to know are angelfish cichlids because they want to keep angelfish with cichlids. More than 500 vibrant species of African cichlids hail from lakes Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria.

Is it possible to keep angelfish with African cichlids? We would not recommend it in most cases.

Water Conditions

Remember those water conditions for your angelfish? These are different than those for African cichlids to thrive, representing an obstacle to keeping them with American cichlids like angelfish.

The home lakes to these species offer a more basic water ph between 7.5 and 8.6, depending on the types of cichlids you are keeping. Many amateur and professional keepers of African cichlids go between 7.8 and 9.0, ph ranges that are too basic for angelfish.

You will also find that cichlids from the African continent prefer harder water than waters in Central and South America. The 12 dH representing the top-end parameters for your angelfish are on the lower end of the 9 to 18 dH their African cousins enjoy (some species enjoy the water with even higher dH ratings).

If you are looking for commonality, African cichlids thrive in temperatures between 76 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a range that falls within the parameters for your angelfish. You would need to force all your fish to live with extreme water quality ranges to take advantage of a similar temperature range.


Angelfish often become aggressive (find out more here) toward one another when establishing hierarchies within the tank, over territory disputes, and during mating season. They are peaceful cichlids, however, and are usually not aggressive with other tank mates outside their species (you can reduce aggressive behaviors with tricks like changing the water less often).

Most African cichlids, on the other hand, are notorious for being aggressive. That can be a problem.

Your angelfish might be constantly chased around the tank, causing unhealthy stress to your pet. Many African cichlids get as large as an angelfish and swim more quickly. Angelfish can become victims of fin nipping and other forms of aggression from their African counterparts.


We do not recommend housing angelfish with cichlids from the African continent. There are keepers finding success by introducing the other cichlids into their angelfish tank when they are juveniles. The theory is that they learn to avoid angelfish when small and tend to leave them alone after they become full-sized adults.

We believe that you should try to find smaller species from the region to begin with. The term dwarf cichlids denote species less than five inches for most hobbyists. Finding one with a compatible water column is the trick.

For example, Kribensis cichlids (Pelvicachromis Pulcher) represent an option if you must try housing African cichlids with your angelfish. These bottom dwellers hail from Nigerian waterways and the coastal areas of Cameroon. Kribs have acceptable water parameters and are known as more peaceful cichlids from the continent.

Compatible Cichlids

You will find that the Central and South American cichlid species provide more less-aggressive options for tank mates. Another advantage to keeping angelfish with cichlids from the New World is they have similar water condition ranges for ph and water hardness.

Bolivian Ram

The Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) is an American cichlid from the Amazon River Basin known for its mellow temperament. These omnivores average around 3.5 inches as adults, with colors ranging from a flat brown to a bluish-gray. A bonus is that these are beginner-friendly dwarf cichlids, making them easier to care for when compared to some cichlids.

Flag Cichlid

Flag cichlids (Mesonauta Festivus) are an American cichlid species found across the Amazon River Basin. It has an omnivore diet and can reach six to eight inches as an adult. The mild-mannered fish is ideal for your community tank with its green and gold-colored back and dark vertical bars.

Electric Blue Acara

The electric blue acara (Adinoacara pulcher) are not aggressive cichlids either and are a hybrid of species from Central and South America. These omnivores grow six to eight inches as adults and are hardy enough to handle a variety of water parameters. These colorful fish have blue and metallic coloring across the body, with bolder highlights on the fins.

Keyhole Cichlid

The keyhole cichlid (Cleithracara maronii) is a timid species native to South America that tops out less than five inches as an adult. These are omnivores and enjoy water conditions similar to your angelfish. Keyhole cichlids are yellow-cream with various hues on the fins (their colors fade with age).


Are angelfish cichlids? Yes, they are.

Pterophyllum scalare is one of nearly 1,350 species within the Cichlidae family, identified by their fused pharyngeal bones that act as a second set of chompers for food processing. These American cichlids come from the Amazon River Basin, where their unique body shape allows them to move through submerged roots and downed trees.

It enjoys slow-moving currents in softer water that does not exceed 12 dH. You can mimic the lower ph of their native habitat by keeping ph levels between 6.5 and 7.5. Warm waters between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit will help your angelfish thrive.


  • If you must house African cichlids with angelfish, go for smaller species with similar water parameters
  • Several American cichlid species can live peacefully with angelfish
  • All fish, including angelfish, can be aggressive in certain circumstances

If you have any questions, please comment so we can help you!


Can angelfish live with cichlids?

Freshwater angelfish can coexist with some cichlids, but the more aggressive cichlids will make poor tank mates. Keeping angelfish with African cichlids is not a good idea because African cichlids are highly aggressive, fast-moving fish.

Conversely, some South American cichlid species would make a decent choice for your angelfish tank. You will find species originating from the same habitats that have less-aggressive personalities.

Can angelfish be aggressive?

Yes, angelfish can be aggressive. These displays are often towards other angelfish but can extend to others in the aquarium. Things that can contribute to this include establishing a tank hierarchy, territorial disputes, mating, and water conditions (including water temperature).

Using a spacious aquarium, providing ample food, and monitoring the water column can help reduce aggression amongst your angel fish or with other species in the tank.

Can peacock cichlids live with angelfish?

While peacock cichlids are known to be less aggressive than other African cichlids, you should avoid housing these two species together. Peacocks are territorial and require adequate space, as specimens can reach six inches.

Water parameters are also an issue. Peacock cichlids hail from Lake Malawi and thrive in waters with a ph between 7.5 to 8.5. While your angelfish could handle the lower end of that range, a more acidic range as low as 6.0 mimics their natural environments in South America.

Are convict cichlids compatible with angelfish?

Convict Cichlid swimming

Convict cichlids come from Central American waters with similar ph ranges, but they make poor tank mates for cichlids in most situations. They are a highly aggressive species that your angelfish may find impossible to coexist with.

Those planning to try housing both species together should provide ample aquarium space with plenty of hiding spots to reduce agitated behaviors. There are no non-aggressive guarantees, however, even with these accommodations met.

Can angelfish eat cichlid fish food?

Yes, freshwater angelfish can eat cichlid fish food. Most commercial products target their omnivore diet and suspend near the surface or mid-water column.

A product like TetraCichlid Cichlid Flakes is popular among cichlid keepers like yourself. The flakes can fit into your aquatic pet’s mouth and provide it with a protein-rich food source for daily use.

Are saltwater angelfish cichlids?

No, saltwater angelfish are not cichlids. Marine angelfish are perch-like fish belonging to the perciform order, the most numerous order of vertebrates.

There are several differences between marine and freshwater angelfish beyond water conditions. Some of these become obvious when compared head-to-head.