All The Smoke

Posted by Aquatropic Staff on November 20, 2023

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What is the most famous fish species you can think of? People will make arguments for marine clownfish, because of that movie, and some people who can't tell mammals from fish may bring up Willy. On a more serious bent, a good case could be made for Goldfish or Koi, but may we suggest another candidate for a top five list? One that didn't jump out at you immediately, but makes sense? A fish that you've seen in pretty much every aquarium store you've ever been in; a fish that is bred around the world for aquariums everywhere they exist. One of the fish that is the poster child for thousands of planted aquarium pictures. There is a good argument that the freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) belongs on this list.

The wild form of Pterophyllum scalare is a silvery fish with long flowing fins and dark vertical bars (four to seven of them depending on age). They are taller than they are long, and some can get up to six or seven inches tall! These fish are so easily bred in captivity that wild fish are almost never seen in home aquariums anymore. There have been decades of hybridizing, and selecting for mutations that we find attractive, and as a result, today we offer over 50 different strains each with their own unique coloration, stripes or lack thereof, and even fin lengths.

One of these strains is called the Smokey Paraiba Angelfish. They have the traditional fin length, but don't have anybody stripes. Some individuals will retain traces of the stripes in their dorsal fin, and speaking of fins, the Paraiba Angels have the “normal” fin length. They are generally silver which fades to gray/black in an ombre fade that looks a bit like smoke. They'll could get up to about six inches tall and about four inches long, but a more common adult size would be four or so inches tall and two and a half or three inches long.

A fish of this size needs a reasonable amount of space in the aquarium. Pairs of them are frequently kept for breeding in 30-gallon tall aquariums, but a better size for a display tank would be 55 gallons. We don't give this advice often, but for Smokey Paraiba Angels, your aquarium should be tall, footprint matters very little. For those of you with space, we always suggest buying these fish in groups of five or more, and thus larger tanks are better. 90 and 110 tall tanks make an amazing display for Angelfish, and since these aquariums are only four feet long, they take up barely more floor space than a 55 gallon does. Flow should be gentle, and décor should be tall. They love cover, and an abundantly planted tank, with lots of driftwood or roots for them to hunt through is a perfect display. They will prefer subdued lighting, and so some floating/surface plants can help provide them with the shade they seek.

In regard to water quality, Pterophyllum scalare is a very adaptable fish, and their extensive history of captive breeding has softened any of the water parameter requirements the wild fish once had. These fish thrive in very warm water, even by tropical aquarium standards, and so we suggest keeping your tank between 75 and 85 degrees. Outside of this one quirk, they will accept water that is either quite hard or very soft without detriment, and as long as your display's pH is somewhere between six and eight, you shouldn't have a problem there either. While they aren't overly susceptible to problems with nitrogen-based pollutants, you should still try to control the nitrate levels in your aquariums. Any tank that is this high in temperature can be hard to maintain adequate oxygenation in, and high nitrate loads can exacerbate this.

There is some debate in the aquarium world as to whether this is the perfect community showpiece, or if they shouldn't be considered a peaceful community fish at all. We here at AT say this fish is one of the ultimate peaceful aquarium fish, because they are. The debate surrounds the Smokey Paraiba Angel's ability to hunt. They are excellent at tracking down small fish and eating them, I know, you'd never expect such a delicate looking fish, with such long flowing fins to be a wildly successful hunter, but do not underestimate them. Making this worse is that it seems like half the photos of this fish on the internet, shows them in planted displays (good) with a huge school of neon tetras (bad for tetras). This aquarium looks amazing, but full size Pterophyllum scalare will definitely eat the tetras and any other fish that are small enough and slow enough to be caught and consumed. Why we stick to them being a model community member is that they are super peaceful with anything they can't eat, so just stick to larger tetras if you want them.

Feeding your Smokey Paraiba Angels is about as straight forward as any aquarium fish could be. Their long history of aquaculture has made them entirely accepting of pelletized and flake foods. Here we feed them a sinking pellet from Nutramar called Freshwater Complete. The sinking is important as these fish like to stay in the middle of the tank, though they will come up to the surface for feeding time, a sinking pellet helps ensure that enough food gets past the swarm at the top for the less aggressive fish below. These pellets are available in two sizes so you can keep feeding them once your fish gets to adult size. Pterophyllum scalare will also relish frozen and live foods. When trying to get them into breeding condition, many aquarists will supplement their fish's diets with bloodworms, tubifex, mysis, and brine from Gamma Foods.

If you have a pair of Smokey Paraiba Angels, have good water quality and feed them well, they are pretty likely to breed in your aquarium and freshwater Angels are great parents. They'll lay eggs on any available vertical surface, broad leaves of plants, even aquarium glass. Breeders often use a piece of slate leaned up against the side of the tank. The breeding pair will defend each other, the eggs and the fry as they grow. This is likely the only time you'll see any behavior that could be called territorial out of your angels, and it isn't anything like a lot of other cichlids (yes, Pterophyllum scalare is in the cichlid grouping). Make sure the parents stay well fed during this time, to prevent them from seeing their new fry as a snack. Hey, it happens. The fry will be able to take fairly large food as soon as their yolk-sac is depleted, which takes couple days, and should be able to eat newly hatched brine shrimp by then.

Pterophyllum scalare keeping and breeding has been an aquarium hobby mainstay for a long time, and all of us who keep these fish are very passionate about it. Whether you're interested in breeding the next amazing color form of these fish, or you just want to see the amazing parenting in action, or you just love the flowing fins, and gorgeous colors of them, the Smokey Paraiba Angelfish is a fish you should consider for your next breeding project or as a showpiece group for your large, planted tank! Head to your Local Fish Store and ask them about getting some Smokey Paraiba Angels from Aquatropic today!