Butterfly fish: Characteristics, types, habitat and more….

The Chaetodontidae family or butterfly fish are a group of conspicuous marine tropical fish. Found mostly in Atlantic, Indian and Pacific reefs, they are somewhat small, 12 to 22 cm long the largest species, such as Chaetodon lineolatus, reach 3 dm.

There are around 127 species in twelve genera which  shouldn’t   be confused with the Freshwater butterfly fish (Pantodon buchholzi) of the Pantodontidae family.

These beautiful fish that many people know due to their  butterfly-like appearance, are currently in danger of extinction.

That’s the reason  why today we wanted to show you everything about them, because unfortunately, we will soon stop appreciating them, and we will only have the TV documentaries, and the specialized magazines to watch them if the necessary measures are not developed to avoid this tragedy.

Taxonomybutterfly fish: taxonomy categories

Kingdom: Animals Phylum: Chordata  Class: Actinopterygii Order: Perciformes  Superfamily: Percoid Family: Chaetodontidae

The Butterflyfish  Main Characteristics

The butterfly fish belongs to a species of small marine fish, and they are found in tropical and subtropical waters, mainly surrounding coral reefs.

It can be distinguished very easily, due to its bright and colorful body, and its well-made brands that give it its particular appearance, and for which it receives the name of butterflyfish.

At present, more than one hundred species of butterflies are known that are distributed in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans; so this is only a salt water species

It’s usually very small, so it can only grow from four to five inches in length, that is, it seldom reaches ten centimeters long.

However, one or another species of this family can reach eight inches, and others even up to thirty centimeters in length.

These fish, like the goldfish can live up to ten years in an aquarium, and giving it the care it requires. But in its natural habitat, it only comes to live seven years.

On many occasions the butterfly fish has been confused with the angel fish,(int) since they are very similar in color, although, the latter is usually much larger.

Moreover, the butterfly fish can be also distinguished by the dark spots on his body; the dark bandages around his eyes, and the mouth that is much more pointed than that of the sea angel fish.

Although most people want to have them in their personal aquariums to be able to enjoy their beauty, this fish is very difficult to maintain, since it requires very specific water conditions, so you need to have constant monitoring.

It’s for this reason that butterfly fish should only be in the specific conditions that nature can offer in their habitat.

It’s very important to point out that they are diurnal animals, since they feed during the day, and rest in the coral throughout the night.

Most species feed on plankton, coral and anemones; and on certain occasions they can also eat crustaceans.

The largest species of butterflyfish are very lonely, and have the property of being monogamous, since they remain with a single mating pair for life, or until either disappears.

These small fish are usual prays of species such as wolfish, snappers, eels and sharks. The fortune or advantage of these little fish is that thanks to their tiny size, they can dive into coral cracks in order to escape danger, and avoid being eaten.


The butterfly fish has an oval body, which is extremely thin laterally, this fact along with its outstanding muzzle allows it to move between the rocks in the coral reef, and find its food inside the corners and recesses.

It also has a continuous dorsal fin, and its fin tail is rounded or truncated, but in no case, forked.

Many of the butterflyfish species have bright colors, and black drawings, but some of them also have more discreet patterns. However, black, white, red, blue, orange, and yellow are the most common patterns.

Many of them have a dark mask around their eyes or a dark bandage around them; and at night, when they hide in the reef to rest, they can show a very different range of colors.

Get your pop corns and get ready to learn all about this wonderful fish

How Butterfly Fish Reproduce

The butterfly fish make-up a couple for life or until either disappears. Their behavior is unique and very interesting, because once the females lay their eggs in the water, they become a part of the plankton; and for this reason, and many of these eggs are accidentally eaten by animals that live in the plankton.

Once the eggs hatch, the fry develop armored plates on their bodies, which are intended to take care of their bodies while they are vulnerable; but as the butterflyfish begins to grow, these plates disappear.

These fish have an average lifespan of eight to ten years, but some of the largest species are known to live longer, such as the black tetra fish.

Curious Facts About Butterfly Fish

Surely there are many things you don’t know about this wonderful fish:

 √  They choose their partner for a lifetime, unlike the rest of the fish.

 √  They usually swim backwards.

 √   In search of food they perform stunts, such as standing upright or upside down and planning on the surface.

 √  It’s classified as a species that is in danger of becoming extinct.

Now, that you know everything about the butterflyfish, you will appreciate more, this extraordinary species that inhabits the ecosystem.

Types of Butterfly Fish:

Let’s meet different members of this family

Chaetodon capistratushe: Foureyed Butterflyfish

This is an extremely attractive fish, so aquarists are attracted to its bright colors, and the elegance they show when swimming.

It’s one of the few species of butterflyfish that can live in the depths of the ocean. They are usually seventy meters away, but specimens living at a depth of one hundred and eighty meters have been caught.

Although this is a fish coveted by many people it’s really difficult to catch due to the depths where it lives, so it has a high cost.

It’s a very small species, reaching only fourteen centimeters.

It has a fairly triangular shape with strong yellow, black and orange markings; and the arrangement of their distinctive marks creates a vivid pattern of color that leads to the comparison of a decorative headdress or a band.

He likes to swim freely and generally spends much of his time in the open water, moving in and out of the cracks of corals and reefs. This species can be kept alive for several years, having the documented record of twelve years.

Sunburst butterflyfish, Sunburst butterflyfish, (Chaetodon kleinii)

Although this is not the most striking butterfly fish, it’s one of the most resistant and cheap.

It’s one of the smallest of the family, since it seldom reaches more than twelve centimeters in the aquarium.

Chaetodon kleinii also exhibits the same grace and elegance of its relatives; its body is oval shaped and with an attractive yellowish brown color.

It should be noted that it has one or two wide white bands on the sides and a dark black vertical stripe that crosses the face.

This band has a metallic blue tone just above the eyes in adult specimens.

This is one of the few fish of the butterfly fish species, which can be recommended for beginners, because it’s very durable, and resistant.

He likes to swim freely, and in the aquarium it works well with a wide variety of fish tank mates. Sunburst butterflyfish can be included with other butterfly fish, except that they all must be introduced at the same time, to prevent the formation of hierarchies between them.

Longnose Butterflyfish

It’s a fish that can be admired while maneuvering in the aquarium looking for food. This fish has a very bright yellow body, highlighted with a black mask and an eye or point on the tail.

But the characteristic that distinguishes it from other butterfly fish is its elongated snout, which is part of the 22 centimeters of its anatomy.

This is extended and inclined, and has strong jaws that can be compared with a pair of pliers, which are very useful for hunting worms, and shrimp that are hidden among the cracks of the coral.

They are peaceful fish and suitable for a community tank with other peaceful inhabitants. However, the longnose butterflyfish

Can also get along with moderately aggressive tank mates, as long as you acclimatize to the tank before entering the inhabitants. This fish feeds on coral polyps, worms, shrimp, echinoderms, and sea urchins among other things.

Let’s enjoy it

Raccoon butterflyfish

This fish can be recognized very easily by its masked face that makes it look a lot like the common raccoon. It’s very suitable for night hunting activities, so it only remains hidden during daylight hours, when it’s in its natural habitat, while at night it goes out to get its food.

Like the mammal, the masked fish has large eyes that very possibly mutated because of its lifestyle.

In addition, it worth mentioning, that it has a golden color with a brown background, accented with black bars. The black bar in the eyes, backed by the white band, creates the mask by which it bears his name.

When they are in an aquarium, at first they are usually shy, but after adapting they will accept food during the day, and they will spend a large part of the day swimming, becoming increasingly resistant.

It’s an ideal species for fish tanks, because they are very peaceful; although when they are introduced with specimens of the same species, they tend to chase and nibble, but only when the fishbowl is very small.

They feed on tentacles of worms, polychaetes, and sea urchin legs, but they can also eat anemones, shrimp, crabs, fish eggs, and more.

Teardrop butterflyfish.

This is a very widespread species, and it’s a very large and handsome fish that reaches twenty centimeters in length.  The Teardrop butterflyfish has strong jaws with which it can eat almost anything.

In addition, it worth pointing out that this species has very attractive colors with a bold pattern that is easily recognized, since it has a white body with bright yellows along its entire back, and on the dorsal and anal fin.

These fins are accentuated with a black vertical band that runs along the back edge and a black one that crosses the eye.

But the most distinctive feature of this fish is the tearing eye spot on the upper part of its body, which is much more evident in juvenile specimens; since as the adult specimens become more robust, the tearing spot fades, and only black spot remains.

In the same way, the mouth of adult specimens also begins to deform by their voracious eating habits. This is a very resistant fish, capable of adapting easily to life in captivity, making it a very good option for beginner fans.

Bennett butterfly

This fish can be easily obtained, and its price is very accessible, but it’s one of the most difficult butterfly fish to keep in captivity.

The coral is part of their primary diet, and this is extremely expensive.

In addition it worth pointing out that this species is very difficult to feed.

This fact along with its poor adaptability to aquariums, make this fish an inappropriate species for fish tanks; since he needs many rocky hiding places and enough open areas to be able to swim freely.

Chaetodon adiergastos Seale: Philippine butterflyfish

This is a shy and reserved fish in its natural habitat, so it’s a challenge for divers to find it in the Red Sea, and the western Indian Ocean.

It only measures sixteen centimeters, but it has a distinguished beauty by which it’s easily recognized.

It’s completely white to the front, and has a pale bluish gray face with a dark vertical black band that pierces its eyes.

The rest of his body has a slightly darker tone, with thin vertical black stripes and his tail fin has a white band near the base being the rest black.

It’s a solitary and shy fish that requires a lot of space, but also has a belligerent attitude, so it’s a very flaky pond mate, so it’s better to have it alone. He feeds on coral and other types of fish that live on the reef; and for this reason, it’s best to leave it in its natural habitat, so as not to have it alone in a fishbowl.

Saddleback Butterfly – Chaetodon ephippium

This is a very beautiful fish with an unmistakable shape and color, so it’s the favorite of most divers and aquarists.

It’s also one of the easiest butterfly fish to keep in the fishbowl, although some care is required for its maintenance.

However, once it adapts, it’s able to go up to take food from the hands of its owners.

It has a combination of features, which makes it a work of art.

Its body is shaped like a laterally compressed disc, and a more pronounced snout than most species, which gives it a more ornamental appearance.

It can reach thirty centimeters long, although in the aquarium they are a little smaller.

Saddleback Butterfly has a yellowish gray body, adorned with a large black area at the back, which is defined by a wide white band.

It can have several wavy blue lines on the sides, and strong red markings that accentuate the rear fins, as well as the base of the tail. However, the most characteristic feature of this fish is an extension of long pennant-like filaments, which flows from its dorsal fin in adults.

It’s a bit difficult to keep in the fishbowl, because the little ones don’t feed well, and the larger ones require a lot of space to stay comfortable; and they also like to be swimming all the time in open water in search of their food.

The record of captive life of this fish is more than 25 years in the Aquarium of Nancy in France.

let’s enjoy this striking species.

Habitat and Distribution

Before they were in serious danger of extinction, these fish were found in all the oceans of the world. Its abundance reached the maximum in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters.

As for their habitat, they like to live near the rocky and coral reefs.

The depth at which they swim is usually below 20 meters. Some species of butterflyfish prefer to live at depths of up to 180 meters.

During the day they feed near the reefs. It’s there where they find their food and hiding against predators.

At night butterfly fish swim through the crevices of the reefs to sleep and avoid being hunted.

Although most of these fish are solitary, they can be found in pairs. Only some of them can be found making up large groups to feed on the zooplankton.

Butterflyfish in Aquariums

As mentioned before, butterfly fish are able to survive for longer in fish tanks than in their natural habitat.  The aquarium has to simulate its natural habitat, although if we place a reef it will pinch it until it breaks.

Most of them can feed on algae, sponges and corals. Some can feed on small animals and plankton, since they are omnivorous.

They should be offered a wide range of live foods such as scales, live brine, frozen foods of all kinds and spirulina.

There are also frozen sponge-based foods that can help in their diet.

These fish are very sensitive with food. If it’s not fed correctly, it could die easily.

Younger fish are easier to acclimatize to the conditions of the fish tank.

They have to feed several times a day so they can develop well. The aquarium they need must be large enough to have space. In addition, butterfly fish also need many spaces and corners where they can hide.

This is done to simulate their natural habitat. They are quite shy behavior, so it’s ideal to put it with calm and non-aggressive partners.

These fish are solitary or go in pairs. However, when they go as a group they are a danger. It’s better not to put many specimen of the same species in the aquarium.

Let’s enjoy them

Reproduction in Aquariums

As for reproduction, we have not talked about it because they have not been able to reproduce successfully in captivity. It’s expected to learn how to breed them in captivity and that they adapt perfectly in their environment.

These fish need a good sized tank with a lot of hidden spaces created with corals or rocks, preferably live rock, but also open space for swimming.

They are generally shy fish that need peaceful tank mates. However, some species especially those forced to feed of coral feeders, can become very territorial.

These fish are fine when kept alone, in pairs, or in small small groups, but mixing them with other butterfly fish can be a problem.

Great care is needed when it comes to including different butterfly fish in the same tank, so it’s better to avoid it.

Let’s enjoy them one more time


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