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October 04, 2013

Good afternoon, folks. I’m sure you miss Anthony’s newsletters as much as I do; however, he’s off giving another talk on Geophaginae this week. He will return early next week and I’ll make sure he writes you folks some excellent newsletters.

Almost everyone in the freshwater aquarium hobby knows of Pterophyllum scalare, the Angelfish.  Angelfish are probably the most common cichlid in the home aquarium and most easily recognizable, despite the vast difference in their body shape from most other members of the Cichlidae family.  

P. scalare is available in a wide range of selectively bred color morphs such as black, marble, koi, silver, and blue neon as well as fin morphology such as the long-finned veil varieties.  After doing some quick research, one can discover that the genetics relating to the various phenotypes of domestic angels were fairly thoroughly researched in the early 1980s to mid-1990s by a Dr. Joanne Norton.  Most, if not all, color morphs can be attributed to 13 identified unique gene pairings.  Each gene pairing has three possible combinations – essentially “on/on”, “on/off”, and “off/off”, much like a double light switch. 13 pairings equate to 313 possible combinations of genes, or over 1.5 million combinations.  Thanks to dominance of certain genes over others, such as dark coloration over albinism, we don’t have 1.5 million varieties of Angelfish to keep track of.

Aside from the lovely color phenotypes available through selective breeding, there are regional differences between wild populations of Angelfish.  These, unfortunately, are not clearly documented.  While I’m excited to tell you about one of our gorgeous wild Angelfish, I can’t provide many hard facts other than location of origin and a comparison of the specimens as they currently present.

P. scalare “Mocajuba Wild” originates from the Rio Tocantins watershed in northern Brazil. These specimens are the brownest of the varieties we’ve received with significantly warmer tones than the Colombia angels.  The forward edge of the dorsal fin is significantly red compared to the others as well.  The first stripe of the Mocajuba angel is significantly fainter than the others, as is the fourth stripe, which occasionally appears to be completely absent.

Pterophyllum scalare Mokajuba

The secondary striping of these specimens is quite faint with only the marking between second and third stripes visible, however, it runs anywhere from half to the full depth of the body.  The Mocajuba’s eye is lighter than that of the Peruvian and Colombian angels with distinct cherry red coloration on the back of the iris.  The fin striping on these specimens is clear and clean and consists of quite narrow translucent dark red and transparent banding.  These are quite unusual in the hobby – I’ve not been able to find any information on them whatsoever.  They are, in my opinion, the loveliest of our wild Angels.

All this talk of Angels begs the question – if you are going to house tankmates with these beautiful wilds, what should they be? Most hobbyists are familiar with Otocinclus arnoldi “Common Otocinclus”.  This little loricariid is an industrious worker and suitable for many smaller aquaria.  However, I’m an avid fan of a different species of OtocinclusO. cocama “Zebra Otocinclus”.  The Zebra Oto is very slightly larger than the common Oto and unlike its brown and black mottled cousin, O. cocama features amazing patterns of black and white stripes and spots. Personally, I have found them to be slightly hardier than the common Oto, however, this may be due to the fact that they arrive at our store in such exceptional condition.  Zebra Otos are schooling fish and best kept in a group. A small group of five O. cocama will suit a fifteen to twenty gallon aquarium perfectly, and a pair of Zebra Otos would be suitable for a ten gallon aquarium.  Larger schools are perfectly capable of keeping a more sizeable aquarium spotless as well – as one needs much more space to house Angelfish, perhaps a group of fifteen or more could be housed in that 55 gallon or larger aquarium.

Otocinclus cocama Zebra Otocinclus

Many folks like to keep schooling fish with their angels to provide a bit more interest to the aquarium.   I’ve seen Paracheirodon axelrodi “Cardinal Tetra” time and again and, indeed, they make an excellent complement to wild-type Angelfish.   I’d like to suggest instead some other beautiful tetras. Hyphessobrycon megalopterus “Black Phantom Tetra” occurs in the Rio Guaporé and upper Rio Paraguay in Bolivia and Brazil.  It is slightly larger than P. axelrodi, topping out at 1.8”.  Black Phantoms have a very silver body with darkened edges and tail.  The large spot on the body center appears to be smeared vertically and edged on the sides with bright silver.  Their fins are black, fading to transparent as they near the body.  The males’ fins are much longer and more rounded, but the female’s ventral and anal fins are tinted with a lovely red tone.  Their natural habitat is slow-moving and tannin-stained waters.  Black Phantom tetras are peaceful, non-competitive and prefer the presence of dense vegetation for cover.  To bring out their best color, frozen and live foods are recommended.

Hyphessobrycon megalopterus

Hyphessobrycon megalopterus female

Thanks and have a great weekend, friends!

Jessica Supalla