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The Butterflyfish: Gorgeous additions to your aquarium

Black Back Butterflyfish (Chaetodon melannotus)

What are Butterflyfish?

Think Angelfish, but smaller. However, unlike Angelfish, Butterflyfish, or Chaetodontidae, as they’re scientifically known, lack the preopercle spines at the gill covers.

What they do have in common with the Angelfish, though, is that they are absolutely gorgeous additions to your aquarium. Graceful and beautiful, these fancy species come with striking patterns on their bodies, with varied species bearing shades of black, white, blue, red, yellow, and orange. The reason for their whimsical name is due to the eyespots on their flanks and the dark bands across their eyes, akin to the patterns on their airborne namesakes, actual butterflies.

Fact: These incredible fish change their colors automatically depending on various circumstances. Their bright colors fade and dim during nighttime, helping them to blend into their surroundings while sleeping. In contrast, they become brighter and more intense when the Butterflyfish feels antagonized. When swimming, these beautiful species are loved for how their elongated white dorsal filament is akin to a banner in the wind. Gondor calls for aid, anyone?

Speckled Butterflyfish (Chaetodon citrinellus)

Tank conditions for Butterflyfish

Chaetodontidae grow up to a maximum size of around 8.5 inches, and therefore need a tank capacity of at least 125 gallons. Consider having a tank with plenty of small hiding places, as these species like to be active during the day and use crevices and small spaces for napping and hiding out during the night.

At the same time, keep in mind that certain species of Butterflyfish are not considered to be reef safe, and depending on the species, aquarists would be wise to research the specific conditions required by some of these species.

Maintain water temperature between 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and you should have yourself a happy Butterflyfish.

Latticed Butterflyfish (Chaetodon rafflesi)

What species are good tankmates for the Butterflyfish?

Other peaceful species make for excellent mates for the Butterflyfish. The aquarist would do well to introduce them all into the tank at the same time. Some Butterflyfish constantly find company in schools, but it is not uncommon for many to be solitary until they find a partner, with whom they mate for life.

With some species, like the Saddleback Butterflyfish, it is not recommended that they be kept with their own species within an aquarium, unless one male and one female are introduced into the tank together. Some excellent tankmates for the Chaetodontidae include Gobies, Parrotfish, and Clownfish, but keep in mind that certain species can be more territorial than others.

What do Butterflyfish eat?

The Butterflyfish are omnivores and can be given a standard diet of tropical fish food and flakes, complemented with a mixture of plants and meat.


Butterflyfish are an absolutely gorgeous addition to anyone’s aquarium, and as they happen to be peaceful for the most part, they make for excellent species for even beginner aquarists to house in their aquariums. However, take care to do ample research on the specific species of Butterflyfish you plan on getting, as understanding their specific tank conditions will go a long way in making sure that they live a long life gracing your aquarium.

Tankmates are easy enough to find for these whimsical species, and most peaceful species will do just fine. Just make sure not to have multiple Butterflyfish in the same habitat, as this will result in territorial aggression.

Saddleback Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ephippium)


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