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The Many Kinds Of Butterflyfish You Can Raise

Do you have what it takes to raise one of the most gorgeous saltwater fish species – the Butterflyfish? This elegant fish is difficult to keep in captivity, but that’s not to say that it can’t be done by expert fishkeepers. If you’re looking for an easier saltwater fish to raise as a newcomer, you might want to check out our beginner’s guide, here.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about raising this delicate saltwater fish. You’ll be getting along swimmingly in no time.


Butterflyfish Background

There are over 114 recorded Butterflyfish species, and while some of these are easy to keep, others are more challenging. You’ll want a large fish tank, plenty of experience, and lots of spare time on your hands in order to raise one of these unique fish.

Part of the Chaetodontidae family, the Butterflyfish is a member of the same family as coral fish and bannerfish. These colorful, gorgeously patterned fish are just one of the many species of saltwater fish that can add color and a new dynamic to your fish tank.

A small marine fish, the Butterflyfish is normally found in the coral reefs of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. It can be found in both subtropical and tropical waters, growing from 5 to 12 inches in length. Some species, like the Saddle Butterflyfish, grow exceptionally large!

Types Of Butterflyfish

You will be able to choose from several types of Butterflyfish when you are deciding how you want to stock your fish tank. We will break them down for you below, and we’ll also give you more information on how to care for each one.

1 Auriga Butterflyfish

Auriga Butterflyfish
Photo by Ülar Tikk

This fish is found in colors of black, yellow, and white, and is often referred to as the Threadfin Butterflyfish. It is easy to care for and has a peaceful, calm temperament – but it must be kept in a tank of at least 125 gallons. This is one of the most popular types of butterflies as it is hardy and shy. You will need to give it plenty of hiding spots, making a live rock tank ideal. It can be fed meaty items like crustaceans and shrimp.

2 Copperband Butterflyfish

Copperband Butterflyfish
Photo by Stavros Markopoulos

This fish is also known as the Orange Striped Butterfly and the Beaked Butterflyfish. With a long nose and vertical orange and black stripes, this fish also has a false eyespot on its dorsal fins. It can be quite difficult to care for, despite its peaceful temperament, because it is quite sensitive and is challenging to feed. It needs a large variety of food in its diet or it won’t eat at all.

3 Sickle Butterflyfish

Sickle Butterflyfish
Photo by AliceInTW

This Butterflyfish is moderately difficult to care for, but is nevertheless a good choice for a tank that is at least 125 gallons. This fish can be challenging to feed, as you might find with other Butterflyfish, too. However, you can easily convince them to eat by starting with live foods and gradually transitioning to dried and frozen foods. This fish has a white body and a yellow dorsal fin. It also has black stripes on both sides, which are somewhat narrow. Also known as the Falcula Butterflyfish, this species can grow up to eight inches in length.

4 Tinker’s Butterflyfish

Tinker's Butterflyfish
Photo by Klaus Stiefel

This kind of Butterflyfish is also known as the Hawaiian Butterflyfish and can grow up to five and a half inches long. A peaceful fish, it should be housed in a tank that is at least 120 gallons in volume, ideally with temperatures no warmer than 78 degrees Fahrenheit. It is usually found in deep waters where there is plenty of black coral. This is a rare species of butterflies, so it can be quite expensive.

5 Fourspot Butterflyfish

Fourspot Butterflyfish
Photo by zsispeo

This unique species has a yellow bellow, a black dorsal fin, and white spots on both sides of its body. It is moderately easy to care for and has a peaceful demeanor. It is best kept in a tank of at least 75 gallons, making it one of the few Butterflyfish you can keep in a smaller tank. Active but shy, this fish is a good jumper so you will want to make sure you have a solid, secure-fitting tank lid. This fish is generally peaceful but can be territorial around other small fish.

6 Blacklip Butterflyfish

Blacklip Butterflyfish
Photo by zsispeo

Also referred to as Klein’s Butterflyfish, the Orange Butterflyfish, and the Sunburst Brown, this fish is easy to care for and can live in a tank of around 125 gallons. It is a golden yellow hue with blue and blue eyes bands. Hardy and easy to care for, this fish is a good choice for fish keepers who are new to Butterflyfish. It will eat just about any meaty food, but it should be fed three times every day.

7 Lemon Butterflyfish

Lemon Butterflyfish
Photo by juredel

This fish is mostly yellow, as the name implies, with dark spots and vertical stripes. It has a black line that dashes through its eyes and is often referred to as the Millet Butterflyfish. It is peaceful and can thrive in a smaller tank of around 75 gallons. It’s relatively hardy and can be kept with other species of non-aggressive fish. It transitions easily to tank life and can be fed color-enhancing, vitamin-enriched foods to stay vibrant.

8 Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish

Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish
Photo by Brandon Jellyfish

Not to be confused with the Lemon Butterflyfish, the Yellow Longnose is a moderately difficult fish to care for. It is entirely yellow, with a head that is divided between black and white shades. It can grow up to nine inches in length and although it is peaceful, it can be aggressive to other fish if it was introduced first. It’s best to keep this fish by itself or with only its mate.

9 Lined Butterflyfish

Lined Butterflyfish
Photo by Kris Bruland

This species is white with narrow black lines. These lines come from the dorsal fin down, and it also has a yellow anal, dorsal, and tail fin. This fish is moderately easy to care for. Although it can be aggressive with members of its own species, it generally gets along well with others and should be kept in a large tank of 150 gallons or more. It should be noted that this fish has delicate fins that can be nipped and that this is also one of the largest, most aggressive species of Butterflyfish.

10 Pearlscale Butterflyfish

Pearlscale Butterflyfish
Photo by Rickard Zerpe

As the name implies, this Butterflyfish has a luminescent pearly white body with a net-like design in black. It has anal and dorsal fins that are bright orange and yellow, along with an oval spot beneath the eye band. It’s small, only growing to around six inches in length, and is mostly peaceful. You can keep this fish with other peaceful fish as long as they are introduced at roughly the same time. It will eat just about anything.

11Pebbled Butterflyfish

Pebbled Butterflyfish
Photo by SeattleChris

This Butterflyfish is one of the tiniest species, reaching less than four inches in length in most cases. It has a white body with tan lines, along with small spots that lead to vertical and horizontal lines. It’s often referred to as the Many Banded Butterflyfish and the Hawaiian Pebbled Butterflyfish. It will thrive in a tank that is around 75 gallons in volume, and while it eats coral polyps, it will also eat some of the other more common tank foods, too.

12 Raccoon Butterflyfish

Raccoon Butterflyfish
Photo by Tom Barnes

This species has a yellowish orange body with a darker upper half. It has a black patch around both eyes along with a thick white stripe behind the eyes. Easy to care for, this fish should nevertheless be kept in a tank that is at least 125 gallons in volume. It does not do well in a reef tank and it can be tough to encourage to eat. However, you can often convince it to eat by offering fresh anemone.

Butterflyfish Appearance And Behavior

Photo by Michael Rubenstein

These lovely species are some of the brightest and strikingly patterned fish in the entire ocean, which is part of what makes them so attractive to novice and expert fishkeepers. However, you should not attempt to keep a Butterflyfish as a new fishkeeper just because you admire its appearance – you need to make sure you have the skills and experience necessary to raise one of these fish before attempting to do so.

Most Butterflyfish are found with bright patterns in various shades of red, white, blue, orange, black, and yellow, but there are a few types that have dull colors with the same intricate patterns. Besides those colors, the rest of the Butterflyfish’s appearance can vary, too. Some species have dark bands surrounding the eyes, while others have round dots on the flanks. The purpose of these dots is to confuse predators, as they look a lot like eyes.

Most butterflies have long noses, which allow them to reach tiny crevices in which their food will hide. They look like angelfish except for in this regard, so the nose is often the only way people can tell the two families apart. Butterflyfish also tend to be much bitter, and they don’t have spines on their gill covers, like some angelfish do.

Butterflyfish have flat, thin, disk-like bodies. They also have a dorsal fin that runs continuously along their bodies.

The fry of this fish species have armored plates. These plates are designed to help protect the fry from predators at this small, impressionable stage of life. These typically disappear as the fry grow into juveniles and then reach maturity.

These fish are unique in that they are diurnal, unlike many species of saltwater fish that are nocturnal. Butterflyfish do most of their feeding during the daytime hours, feeding on plankton, sea anemones, and coral during the day and sleeping on the coral at night.

Butterflyfish are small fish that like to stay in groups. Although some large species will prefer to spend time by themselves or to swim only with their mate, they often remain in groups. Butterflyfish often mate for life.

Butterflyfish have a tendency to stay with others unless they are one of the few territorial types of these species. They often travel alone while looking for a mate, but then live, travel, and hunt with that mate for the rest of their lives.

These fish are excellent swimmers, making swift strokes with their pectoral fins as they move about the water. They are quite small and can easily hide inside crevices. This helps them find food as well as to hide from predators. Butterflyfish definitely like to hide, and tend to be quite shy.

Butterflyfish Tank And Water Requirements

Lined Butterflyfish
Photo by Tom Barnes

Butterflyfish should be housed in fish-only tanks or live rock tanks. You should not keep them in a reef tank, but in some cases, you may be able to find a Butterflyfish species, like a Merten or Raccoon, that can thrive in this environment.

A Butterflyfish should live in an aquarium with lots of hiding places. These can be made of live rock or, in rare cases, coral. You will need an exceptionally large tank for your Butterflyfish. While some species can get by with a 75 gallon tank, others will need more than 150. This is because the fish not only need lots of hiding spots, but they also need open spaces in which to swim.

You will need to do some research on your specific type of Butterflyfish to figure out the exact water conditions it requires. In general, your Butterflyfish will prefer a temperature that averages between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The carbonate hardness should be around 8-12 and the pH should be between 8.1 and 8.4.

What Do Butterflyfish Eat?


Butterflyfish are uniquely adapted with long, pointed snouts. These noses help make it easy for the Butterflyfish to sneak their mouths into narrow crevices to find food. These fish mostly eat corals, algae, and sponges, although some are omnivores and will eat small crustaceans and plankton.

There are some species of Butterflyfish who prefer to eat coral polyps. These can be expensive to buy and hard to find to even purchase, so you may want to avoid these specific species if that’s a concern. In addition, the types of Butterflyfish who tend to eat coral polyps are the same ones that behave more territorially, so it might just be easier to avoid them anyway.

Butterflyfish require a diverse diet in order to stay happy and healthy. Too much of one type of food is rarely a good thing, and can make your Butterflyfish sick. Feed your fish a diet that consists primarily of frozen foods (you can even purchase sponge foods that are frozen), plankton, and live brine shrimp. You can also feed flakes. Some people make their own fish food, too. While this isn’t always cheaper, it can sometimes be more convenient if you don’t always have access to an aquarium store.

No matter what you choose to feed, remember that you must feed your fish several times a day. Watch them as they eat, and remove any food that remains after a few minutes to prevent contaminating your tank.

Butterflyfish Tank Mates

As long as your fish tank is large and has plenty of hiding spots, you shouldn’t have to worry about them feeling threatened by other fish in your saltwater tank. While some species are more territorial and prone to attacking, they can usually get along fine in small groups or even in pairs. Be careful about mixing too many species of butterflies in the same tank, as this can cause some fighting.

There aren’t many restrictions on species you can house with your Butterflyfish, but good options include damsels, hogfish, gobies, tangs, parrotfish, and clownfish.

Common Butterflyfish Diseases

It’s difficult to recommend the best species of Butterflyfish to raise, as each has unique traits that can change and affect the ease of care. For example, some Butterflyfish species are hardy and live easily in an aquarium, while others are extraordinarily difficult to keep. Butterflyfish are difficult to raise in captivity and even harder to breed, so you will need to take certain steps to make sure your fish can thrive in captivity.

Like many captive fish species, Butterflyfish are prone to parasitic infections. Keeping your tank as clean as possible, whether it’s through conducting regular water changes and cleanings or housing cleaner fish in your tank, is one of the best ways to prevent parasites from harming your fish. However, you should remember that parasites aren’t the only diseases that can befall your vulnerable saltwater fish species.

Dropsy, for example, is a common bacterial infection that infects your fish from the inside out. This disease causes severe swelling around the stomach area of the fish, making the scales protrude and the stomach to bloat. This is usually caused by poor conditions in the water as well as overuse of salt and an improper diet. In rare cases, dropsy can also be caused by internal injuries or even tumors.

Dropsy is often detected early on, but if it is allowed to progress, it can sadly become fatal. If you notice the kind of severe swelling mentioned above, you may not be able to treat dropsy in your fish. The treatments for this disease are only effective if administered early.

Nitrite and nitrate poisoning is often a common issue among saltwater aquariums. This typically occurs when conditions in the tank are not ideal and water has not been properly maintained. This issue causes loss of appetite, rapid gill movement, listless behavior, loss of balance, and more. In some cases, the fish may even appear to curl up.

To treat this kind of poisoning, you will need to begin performing small water changes to clean up the quality of the tank. Reduce the feeding of your fish and increase the aeration, which will get rid of some of the contamination.

Remember that nitrate and nitrite contamination did not happen overnight, and your fish won’t get better with rapid solutions, either. Therefore, you need to do everything gradually. Perform regular maintenance and conduct changes gradually to keep your fish healthy. Avoid overcrowding your tank and be vigilant about providing proper feeding and cleaning regimens.

Is A Butterflyfish For You?

Are you looking for a gorgeous and diverse new species for your saltwater tank? If you’re a beginning fishkeeper, the Butterflyfish may not be for you. However, if you’ve been raising fish for quite some time and rear ready to take things to the next level, why not give the Butterflyfish a try?

This gorgeous fish comes in a whole range of sizes, patterns, and activity levels. You can easily find a Butterflyfish to fit any kind of saltwater aquarium you might have, along with any potential tankmates you might be interested in pairing it with.

So what are you waiting for? Pick your favorite kind of Butterflyfish, and get your tank set up and ready to go for your new addition.

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