Scalare, Leopoldi or
Natural Hybrid ?
By Michelle Ricketts
May 28,2000- As some of you know, I
have been trying to collect information on the possibility of natural
hybridization in the wild. It has become clear that there is no evidence of
this occurring. There are however, many local variants of species, and for
them to cross breed or be selectively bred is not the same thing as creating
What has become evident is that some experts feel that there are many
species yet to be discovered, in more than one genus. Some feel that what we
call scalare might be in fact a number of different, but similar species. (Dr.
Sven O Kullander, Senior Curator, Dept. of Vertebrate Zoology, Swedish
Museum of Natural History). See "Guide
To South American Cichlidae".
I contacted Dr. Wayne Leibel, Dept. of Biology, Lefayette College, Easton,
PA. also an ACA Chairman. This is what he had to say in an e-mail he sent me
regarding the possibility of hybridization in the wild: "Sorry to say, all I
know about wild angelfish was summarized in a multipart for Aquarium Fish
Magazine a few years back in my "Goin' South" series. As for hybrids I have
read nothing in the scientific/ichthyological literature. There was some
recent controversy when the Peruvian scalare made an appearance with its
altum like facial profile, but it is not altum. My friend Dave Schleser who
has been to the Peruvian Amazon probably 20-30 times just this weekend
showed a slide of the fish and said it is a restricted population in the Rio
Nanay, I believe. I know that Marc Weiss the discus king has written
extensively on the subject of apparent natural hybridization between S.
heckel and S. aequifasciata, so it may well happen between angel pops that
come into contact, though certainly there is geographic variation in P.
scalare that makes them look like distinct species when, really, they are
After speaking with Dr. Leibel, I contacted Dr.
David Schleser about his peruvian angel. He has lead tropical
fish studies and collecting trips to the Amazon region every year for the
past 20 years. From speaking with David, I was able to understand the story
behind this mysterious Peruvian Angelfish. What he had to say was extremely
interesting and thought provoking.
"Peruvian Angelfish" A scalare with an
"Red Spotted Angelfishes" Parasitic or not?
Sept. 7, 2000
A member of the Angelfish Society had posted to the forum about his wild
dumerilii and wild juvenile leopoldi and stated that they varied in
appearance. He mentioned that the two species were synonymized with one
another and should be similar in appearance, but they were not. It is true
that they were synonymized with one another by Schultz in 1967. However, Dr.
Sven O Kullander reviewed the genus in 1986 and synonymized P. Dumerilii
with P. Scalare. Then recognized the P. Leopoldi as a distinct specie (see
to South American Cichlidae"). Many of today's angelfish hobbyists have
been unaware of Kullander's review.
I had discovered Dr. Kullander's site a few months earlier and had
learned of this review. When this subject finally came up in September, I
shared this information in a response to the poster. This generated much
more discussion on the status of our wild populations. To further inform
everyone of the "state of confusion" I mentioned the conversations I had
with Dr. David Schlesser and referred people to his comments I had posted on
"In my attempt to explain "local variants of the Pterophyllum species"
(ie...coloration, body shape, freckling, ...some have a spot behind the eyes,
some don't, etc.), it became apparent that the best way for people to
understand was to show them in a photographic format. I gathered photographs
from a few magazines and books that I had lying around. The photographs
clearly showed one of two possibilities. Either the fish that were printed
in these books were variants or they were miss-identified.
The possibility of them being miss-identified brought on further
discussion. It was thought by conservationist and hobbyist alike, that our
domestic angelfishes were 100% scalare. Breeders were implementing wild
blood into their domestic lines and thought that they were using the P.
scalare specie. However, people did not know that the P. scalare specie is
defined by having a notched pre-dorsal contour. Most of the wilds that
breeders used in their breeding program did not have this characteristic. In
fact, when they were compared to other breeders wild stock, they all varied
significantly in appearance. Some thought that P. scalare did not have to
possess the notched pre-dorsal contour to be a scalare. It was thought that
these types of fish were most likely a scalare variant. It is possible that
they might be a variant, but there is not any conclusive evidence to say
that they are. What they also did not know was that, according to Dr. Sven O
Kullander, that there was obviously other species of angelfishes yet to be
discovered. In knowing this, we can only conclude that any wild angelfish
that 1.) does not poses the "notched pre-dorsal contour", 2.) are obviously
"not" an altum, but could either be a leopoldi, or an "unknown" specie.
Therefore, it became evident, that many of the wild angelfish that had
been imported were miss-identified and that there truly was the possibility
of other "unknown" angelfish species." By understanding this, we cannot
positively identify our domestics as being of pure scalare bloodlines. The
probability of them being hybrids between two or more species is very high.
Sept. 7, 2000
Below are some closing statements from Steve Rybicki.
The Angelfish Forum
Classification of wilds
Posted By: Steve Rybicki
Date: Thursday, 7 September 2000, at 10:39 p.m.
I wanted to add my thoughts on this subject.
First, I'd like to say that fish are frequently mislabeled when they are
imported, so we really can't use that to determine what we have. Just
because you import it as a P. scalare doesn't mean that it is one. To
attempt to categorize an angel you will have to go to the classification
literature and look at the meristics data. If your fish matches that, it
still doesn't mean it's that specie (but is at least closely related).
Even after a fish is classified there is no way to be sure it is correct.
The science of cladistics is full of assumptions and guesses. As new data
becomes available, they are renamed and reclassified frequently.
In the past a systematist typically used hard structures (meristics) to
classify an animal. Today they have the tool of DNA profiling to help and
even this presents it's own set of problems in interpreting the DNA sequence.
Another useful tool is analyzing behavior, though is difficult to do with a
specimen that's been simmering in preservative for 50 years. All this makes
for some heated debate among the scientists who do this for a living.
What this boils down to is that we have multiple wild-types that appear
to be physically different. When I say this, I'm not referring to color.
Typically classification is determined, by bones, scales, fins, etc.
differences. A scalare without a strongly concaved predorsal contour is not
a scalare. It may be labeled a scalare but it is something else according to
our current classification - possibly a subspecie or maybe something that
should have it's own specie name. So, they are physically different, but we
only have 3 names to apply at this point. I believe after the scientists get
through studying this more thoroughly we will have more species named, but
even if we don't, we will still have the problem of applying correct specie
names to the many different looking fish available to us.
As to what our domestics are - it is common to see those with notched
predorsal contours, those with straight predorsal contours and those
somewhere in the middle. Scale counts vary quite a bit, and I don't doubt
the fin ray counts are variable. This doesn't even take into consideration
that many structural mutations have taken place in our ornamental
populations. I think it is almost inconceivable that they are anything other
than a mix of many different genes, both wild-type of different species and
those mutated and perpetuated in captivity.
As for the fish I'm labeling as P. leopoldi. I really don't know if that
is accurate. All I do know for sure is that it is clearly not a scalare or
an altum. They do not match the meristic data for those two.
More information on wild angelfish and domestic angelfish can be found at
All text and photos copyright by TBA and DPH.