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Wild Caught Altum Journal


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One week ago, after over a year of waiting, I got the text from my LFS - the altums were landing at the airport that day. They'd told me a week ago they were ordered, so I already had my QT tank up and ready. It was the LFS' first time ordering Altums from Colombia, and he wasn't sure how they would come in. It would also be my first time seeing Altum angels in person. 

I'm no expert by any stretch. I enjoy my few tanks, and seem to do well with plants and discus. Most importantly, I really enjoy the hobby. The point is, this is just my journal about what I did, and is not meant to be a guide in any way. 

It was difficult for me to find any info on how to acclimate these delicate wild caught beauties. One site says keep them 78f to minimize bacterial infections, since bacteria multiply faster at higher temps. Another says 86f is best. Most just say only buy tank raised Altums, as wild caught are impossible for a non-professional. Some recommend a PH of 5.5 and half a dozen indian almond leaves. Others say a PH that low is dangerous, and 6.5-7 should be the goal. So, I'm gonna document here what I did, and what the results were- and continue to be. 

Here's what my altums look like today, a week after I got them:


STATS- QT tank is a bare bottom 20 gal high, running between 80-81F with an inkbird temp controller, a pre-cycled ziss filter, & a UV sterilizer. PH is about 6.6, TDS is 30-40 (these are parameters from my tap, I have very soft water from a well), GH & KH are both 1ish. I decided not to try chasing any values and just acclimate them to my tap water, since it's already very soft.

I do two daily water changes of 30%, and vac the bottom every day. My tap water has very little ph swing, so I don't age it.

**I will be moving these fish to a 75 gal aquarium once they're done with QT, and have larger tanks available if needed down the road. I'm fully aware a 20 gal is not suitable long term for altums. But it is a good option for me for medicating and keeping water quality perfect over the next few months, and these fish are small right now.**

I started with 7 wild caught Colombian Atabapo Altums, 6 small (quarter) size and one larger (3") size. 


Day 1-

I asked the store owner to let me meet him as he arrived from the airport, and to not even open the bag of altums. I didn't want him to acclimate them to his water, then have me stress them again with another switch to my water. My LFS is also an importer, so these Altums came directly from an exporter in Colombia. When I got home I drip acclimated them. Before opening the bag, I made sure to have a few drops of prime ready detox the ammonia. 

For acclimation, I considered the "plop and drop" method that is has been recommended to me by discus sellers in the past, but decided to go with drip acclimating for 1 hour. Since I didn't know the chemistry of the water they were coming from, I didn't know how big of a shock a "plop and drop" would be. The downside to the drip acclimation is that the fish would be in the high ammonia shipping water for longer. I hoped the prime would detox the ammonia, so added that immediately after opening up the bag, and dripped acclimated them for an hour. I also had an airstone running in the bag during this time, with very low pressure. Would plop and drop have been better? Not sure. 

Meds- After drip acclimation, I did a 30 minute methylene blue dip in a separate container, both for it's benefits of helping with nitrite poisoning and to kill any external parasites & fungus, then added the fish to the tank. In the tank (20 gal) I had 2 large Indian Almond leaves, 4 tablespoons of API aquarium salt, Seachem Stressguard, and Seachem Sulfaplex. I chose sulfaplex because I've had success with it in discus, and I've read it's among the most gentle medications on fish. I do plan to de-worm, but I'll start that week 2. I didn't want to add too much stress with multiple medications, and my main concern in the first days are bacterial infections. 

Food- By 2pm on day 1 I had the altums acclimated and in the tank. Around 6pm that evening, I offered them a few live black worms from my own culture. Only 3 of the 7 ate a few blackworms. 

Condition- All had beat up fins and ammonia burns, but all were swimming well. They were terrified of their own shadow, and spent most of the first 24 hours hidden in the back of the tank. A few brave fish would dart out for a blackworm, then go back to hiding. I kept a towel over half the tank to keep it dark and help minimize stress. 

Altums on day 1: 


Day 2- 

I woke up to one altum oozing what looked like pus from it's gill plate, but otherwise swimming normally. I separated the sick fish into a specimen container and dosed the container with a few drops of methylene blue. Within 2 hours the fish was swimming erratically & headstanding. It passed a few hours later (RIP little altum), and I buried the little guy in my rose garden. 

Photo below is the sick altum. The white stuff seemed to ooze out, and squiggles of what looked like pus fell from the fish every few minutes. I suspect this was some kind of internal infection. Maybe I should have hit them with more antibiotics on day one? This fish died about 3 hours after the photo was taken. 



The other 6 altums were all doing okay. They still had fin damage, ammonia burns, and one fish (pictured below) had a red spot and issues with it's slime coat that were concerning to me. I continued my regimen of aquarium salt, sulfaplex and stressguard, redosing after every water change. 



I began feeding live baby brine shrimp on day 2, which they all devoured until their bellies bulged. I think the boost in nutrition was huge in healing up these little guys. 

Day 3-6

Feedings of live baby brine shrimp and live blackworms continued. They all became more active daily, and on day 3 removed the towel covering the tank. I did dip the fish with the red spot in a methylene blue bath for 30 minutes on day 3 and day 4, to help sterilize and clear up any infections in the wound. 

Day 7

All six altums are doing well. They've also started eating freeze dried Australian blackworms, which they are munching on in the video below. I can no long pick out which fish had the red spot – it has completed healed up. Their fins still look a little ragged, but are on the mend.

If there's interest, I'll keep updating this over the coming weeks and months. Thanks for reading. 


Edited by Jessica.
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I'm interested in following your journey in keeping these beautiful fish.  I got altums in years ago, the LFS I worked part time at would import fish from South America, and I got some. I let the store owner quarantine and treat them first before I took them home as I was young in my fish keeping hobby. I am thinking about getting them again as I have a 93 cube tank, its like 28" tall so I think the tall altum angels would look great in it.

Good luck and be sure to update how they are doing!

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54 minutes ago, Jessica. said:

Thanks for the interest, all. I will keep updating. 

@Andy's Fish Den, How did your altums do for you years ago? Any surprise challenges, or were they fairly easy? Did you keep them with any tank mates? 

They did great for me. I had a 180 gallon tank that I had them, wild discus, a bunch of misc tetras, and corydoras catfish in. I tried for a while to get the altums to spawn but was never successful, but they were great fish. 

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Week 2 Update- 

Everybody's still alive. Whew.

We lost power for 3 days this week due to a windstorm, and just got it back on yesterday. Luckily we do have a generator, so once we noticed the power was out we were able to get things back up and running. The power went out at about 1am on Thursday morning, and I didn't notice it until I got up at 7ish.  By that time the temp in the Altum tank dipped to 75f. I withheld feedings for 24 hours after the outage to give the filters a chance to catch up, and did a 30% water change that day with temp matched water (as I do every day). 

My regimen for week 2 is:

Still doing a 30% water change every morning. I'll also use the python every evening to vac up any debris in the tank at night, usually about a 10% water change, so they go to bed with a super clean tank. Every 3 days I wipe down the glass during the water change. 

I removed the indian almond leaves that I was using in week one and haven't replaced them. 

I've also added a little HOB for mechanical filtration, and I rinse out the sponges on that every other day. I would use a sponge filter, but I like keeping the floor of the tank totally empty for easier cleaning. 

I'm still dosing:

  • aquarium salt (1 tablespoon per 5 gals), replacing what is removed every water change. 
  • Sulfaplex, per package directions, replacing what is removed during WC
  • Stressguard
  • Added this week dewormer combo for metro and prazi, currently on day 5 of a planned 10 days of treatment


I feed live baby brine almost daily. It's by far their favorite food. They also enjoy frozen blood worms and freeze dried Australian black worm cubes. 


I'm starting to notice some weight gain and growth. Their heads don't look quite so boney. Most still have some split and damaged fins from shipping, which are slowly healing.  I'm still concerned about bacterial & fungal infections taking hold, especially in the frayed fins, so plan to keep the salt, stressguard and sulfaplex going in the tank until the fins look back to normal. The daily water changes and wipe downs are also in response to my concerns about infections- working to keep as clean an environment as possible. 

One of the little guys lost most of his ventral fins in shipping (ammonia burn is my best guess?). I'm starting to see the regrowth on them.

My hope is that in 4-6 weeks they'll be ready to move to a planted tank with weekly water changes. I'm also thinking of keeping powerfeeding them in a bare bottom tank for a few months to grow them out more. We'll see. It might come down to how much patience I have for the water changes every day.  🙂

Here's the little guys enjoying brine shrimp. There is a lot settled on the bottom, but within 15 minutes they'll have it all eaten.  


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  • 7 months later...

Dream fish! I love albums! It appears you’re out of the woods. They look spectacular!

Regarding acclimation, I lean toward the plop and drop more and more these days. Ammonia at low pH is relatively non-toxic (because it’s ammonium). Once you start adding water, you can raise the pH and turn the ammonium to toxic ammonia. 

I’m always surprised at the relatively harsh seeming acclimation methods that importers and suppliers use. But it seems the science supports that method. 

I bet your use of Prime during acclimation had a lot to do with your success. I’d love to see some definitive research on this topic!

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