Pterophyllum is a genus of the subfamily Cichlasomatinae, tribe Heroini, most closely related to Mesonauta





Sven O Kullander


Swedish Museum of Natural History, NRM

Pterophyllum Heckel


Pterophyllum Heckel, 1840. Annln wien. Mus. Natges. 2, p. 334 (type by monotypy Platax scalaris Cuvier). — Neuter.
Plataxoïdes Castelnau, 1855. Anim. nouv. rares. Poissons, p. 21 (type by monotypy Plataxoïdes dumerilii Castelnau). — Masculine.

Pterophyllum sp., from Peru. Living specimen in aquarium. Photo © S.O.Kullander
Pterophyllum sp., from Peru. Living specimen in aquarium. Photo S.O. Kullander


Heroine cichlids with characteristic body shape. The body is strongly compressed laterally, with strongly arched dorsal and ventral contours. The dorsal and anal fins are high, contributing to a triangular overall outline. The dorsal and anal fin spines increase gradually in length from a minute first spine to a long last spine, and a few anterior soft rays are very long. The height between the tips of the longest rays of the dorsal and anal fin exceeds the length of the body. The scales are small, about 27 to 48 along the middle of the side. The preopercle is scaled on the horizontal limb. Dorsal fin with 11-13 spines and 19-25 soft rays. Anal fin with 5-6 spines and 19-28 soft rays. The pelvic fin is considerably elongated, a synapomorphy with Mesonauta. The colour is silvery or whitish with broad contrasting black vertical bars. See Kullander (1986) for a recent review of species, Kullander & Silfvergrip (1991) and Kullander (1998) for relationship analyses.

Included species

Pterophyllum altum Pellegrin, 1903
Pterophyllum altum Pellegrin, 1903. Bull. Mus. Hist. nat. 9, p. 125 (Atabapo (Orénoque))
Pterophyllum leopoldi (Gosse, 1963)
Plataxoides leopoldi Gosse, 1963. Bull. Inst. r. Sci. nat. Belg. 39 (35), p. 4, pl. I, fig. 2 (Furo du village de Cuia (rive gauche du Solimôes à environ 90 km en amont de Manacapuru))
Pterophyllum scalare (Lichtenstein, 1823)
Zeus scalaris Lichtenstein, 1823. Verz. Doubl. Mus. Berl. p. 114 (Or. Brasil)
Platax? scalaris Cuvier, 1831. In Cuvier & Valenciennes, Hist. nat. Poiss. 7, p. 237 ([No locality information])
Plataxoïdes Dumerilii Castelnau, 1855. Anim. nouv. rares. Poissons, p. 21, pl. 11, fig. 3 (Para)
?Pterophyllum eimekei Ahl, 1928. Aquarium, Berl. 1928, p. 31, fig. p. 31 (Mündung des Rio Negro in den Amazonenstrom)

Species level systematics is problematic. There may be more species than the three now considered valid (Kullander, 1986). The type locality of P. scalare (Lichtenstein) (eastern Brazil) is imprecise, and there may be no type specimen preserved of that species.

Primary types

Pterophyllum altum. Syntypes, MNHN 87-571-574, 4: 58.6-70.1 mm SL; MNHN 87-579, 5: 59.9-63.0 mm SL; MNHN 87-580, 5: 41.0-61.2 mm SL; BMNH 1904.6.28.2-3, 2: 59.0-60.3 mm SL. Orénoque. No date. Chaffanjon.
Plataxoides leopoldi. Holotype, IRSNB 649, 44 mm SL. Furo du village de Cuia (rive gauche du Solimôes à environ 90 km en amont de Manacapuru. 24 Nov 1962. Léopold and J.P. Gosse.
Zeus scalaris. None known; possibly ZMB 1347 is part of the type series.
Platax scalaris. Holotype, ZMB 1347, ca 44 mm SL. No collecting data.
Plataxoides dumerilii. Holotype, MNHN A.254, ca. 46.8 mm SL. Para. No date. F. de Castelnau
Pterophyllum eimekei. Syntypes, ZMB uncatalogued, 4: largest 73.5 mm SL; MNHN 29-12, 1: 53.8 mm SL. Mündung des Rio Negro in den Amazonas. No date. Ded W. Eimeke

Identification guide to species

Pterophyllum altum has 46-48 scales in a lateral row, and notched predorsal contour.
Pterophyllum leopoldi has 27-29 scales in a lateral row, and straight predorsal contour.
Pterophyllum scalare has 30-39 scales in a lateral row, and notched predorsal contour.


Pterophyllum, from the Greek pteron, feather, sail, and phyllon, leaf, apparently in reference to the tall, wide, triangular dorsal fin.
Plataxoides, from the Alexandrian Greek name, platax for a fish, possibly the cichlid Oreochromis niloticus, now also used for a genus of the margine fish family Ephippidae; and -oides, a Greek suffix meaning look, appearance, etc., and referring to similarity.
altum, from altus, -a, -um, Latin adjective meaning high, tall.
scalaris, from the Latin scala, with adjectival ending, -is, -is, -e.
dumerilii, after the French anatomist, Auguste Duméril
eimekei, after Wilhelm Eimeke, Hamburg, aquarium fish importer who donated the type series
leopoldi, after King Léopold III of Belgium (1901-1990), collector of the type series

Geographical distribution

Pterophyllum altum is known only from black and clear water tributaries of the upper Rio Negro and upper Rio Orinoco in Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. Pterophyllum leopoldi has been collected in only a few localities along the middle Amazon River and in the upper Essequibo drainage. Several Pterophyllum species confused under the name of P. scalare are known from the Amazon drainage lowland floodplain in Colombia, Brazil and Peru, and also from the Oyapock (French Guiana) and Essequibo (Guyana) drainages.

Natural history

Peruvian Pterophyllum occur chiefly in white-water or turbid black-water; mostly in lakes or otherwise lentic habitats.

Local names

To be added.


AHL, E. 1928. Pterophyllum eimekei E. Ahl. Das Aquarium, Februar 1928: 31-32.
AHL, E. 1928. Übersicht über die Fische der südamerikanischen Cichliden-Gattung Pterophyllum. Zoologischer Anzeiger, Leipzig 76: 251-255.
CUVIER, [G.] & [A.] VALENCIENNES. 1831. Histoire naturelle des Poissons. Tome septième. Paris, xxix + 531 pp. [Regular ed.]
GOSSE, J.-P. 1963. Description de deux Cichlides nouveaux de la région Amazonienne. Bulletin Institut royal des Sciences naturelles de Belgique 39 (35): 1-7.
HECKEL, J. 1840. Johann Natterer's neue Flussfische Brasilien's nach den Beobachtungen und Mittheilungen des Entdeckers beschrieben. (Erste Abtheilung, die Labroiden.) Annln wien. Mus. Natges. 2: 327-470.
KULLANDER, S.O. 1986. Cichlid fishes of the Amazon River drainage of Peru. Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, 431 pp.
KULLANDER, S.O. 1998. A phylogeny and classification of the South American Cichlidae (Teleostei: Perciformes). Pp. 461-498 in Malabarba, L.R, R.E. Reis, R.P. Vari, Z.M.S. Lucena, & C.A.S. Lucena (eds), Phylogeny and Classification of Neotropical Fishes. Porto Alegre: Edipucrs.
KULLANDER, S.O. & A.M.C. SILFVERGRIP. 1991. Review of the South American cichlid genus Mesonauta Günther with descriptions of two new species. Revue suisse Zool. 98: 407-448.
LICHTENSTEIN, H. 1823. Verzeichniss der Doubletten des zoologischen Museums der Königl. Universität zu Berlin nebst Beschreibung vieler bisher unbekannter Arten von Säugethieren, Vögeln, Amphibien und Fischen Berlin, x+118 pp.
PELLEGRIN, J. 1903. Description de Cichlidés nouveaux de la collection du Muséum. Bulletin, Muséum d'Histoire naturelle 9: 120-125.