Butterfly Fish

Butterflyfish Care Guide

The great thing about saltwater fish is that they display some of the most exquisitely beautiful colors possible. The butterflyfish is no different and perhaps, one of the most sought after saltwater breeds because of their beauty.

Caring for the butterflyfish, however, takes both time and effort on your part. If you’re keen on having this breed in your aquarium with the goal of breeding them, then here’s what you should know about the type. Note: butterflyfish care is strictly for an expert-level aquarist.


If you’re familiar with the angelfish, then this is more or less how the butterflyfish looks like. They thrive in saltwater with around 120 species in all.

They are mostly found in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Their main home is in the coral reefs and with the current destruction of such, the number of butterflyfish isn’t the same as it used to be.

This is why aquarists who wish to keep these in their tank are advised to be very stringent with their care, keeping very specific environmental conditions to ensure that the fish not only thrives but also breeds.

Wild Butterfly Fish
Wild Butterfly Fish

Care and Tank Conditions

When it comes to butterflyfish, the general rules are severely limited as every species thrives on different conditions, making it difficult for aquarists to combine two or more in the same tank.

Ideally, you should be perfectly aware of the breed/specie you have and go from there. Still, following are some of the typical guidelines followed when caring for tropical fish:

Tropical fish thrive best in temperatures between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’re unsure, try checking out the native environment of your specie. For example, if it’s from the Indian Ocean, you might want to check the typical temperature in that particular area.

Butterflyfish are strictly FOWLR type or “Fish Only with Live Rock” Keep your tank BIG since the fish can be quite territorial. Multiple places for hiding is essential


When it comes to feeding, the butterflyfish requires a wide variety of food options. In the wild, they often feed on invertebrates and crustaceans you can find in the corals.

They can be quite hardworking, often spending 12 hours a day just hunting food. In captivity however, aquarists supply this breed with different food types – all of which are available through your local aquarium shop.

This includes: flakes, frozen foods, live brine, spirulina, and Angel Formula.

Note that you CANNOT just choose one type of food and feed this to your school on a daily basis. Rather, you should have all of these in stock and feed a different one on a routine basis. In the interest of accuracy, here are the best possible food choices depending on the butterflyfish you happen to own:

  • Bannerfish – characterized by a long dorsal fin, this type of butterflyfish feed mostly on algae dried food and other meaty substitutes. There are several ways to offer algae to your fish: allowing them to grow on the corals or simply buying a veggie clips through local aquarium and pet stores.
  • Pakistan Butterflyfish – this specie loves algae and invertebrates so you can also provide them with veggie clips.
  • Auriga Butterflyfish – algae and invertebrate eaters, this type of fish are kept in fish-only tanks. They require a large tank size and can handle other breeds well, provided that you offer the right conditions.
  • Long Nosed Butterflyfish – they prefer to hunt for their food and must be fed frozen or dried food items.
  • Brown Butterflyfish – this is a favorite among aquarists and is the perfect specie if you’re just starting with the tropical butterflyfish care. They can either be planktivorous or feeding on invertebrates. Try not to put soft corals in the tank since there’s a good chance they will also feed on those if given the chance.

Check out the snout of the fish. The narrower they become, the higher the chances that they scavenge for food and eat coral polyps. Be careful with those and avoid them as a new aquarist of the breed.

Life Span

Under the right conditions, butterflyfish can live between 8 to 10 years. In the wild, they’re only capable of living up to 7 years of age.

Common Diseases

Unfortunately, improper care of the butterflyfish could severely limit their lifespan to less than the 7 years typical in the wild. Typically, this breed is also prone to common diseases found in other saltwater fishes kept in saltwater tanks:

  • Dropsy – a symptom of bacterial infection, dropsy is characterized by a swelling of the belly area. They are often fixed through proper water maintenance and if this doesn’t get results, over the counter medication is available
  • Nitrite or Nitrate Poisoning – symptoms include lethargy of the fish, often just sitting in one part of the tank. Check the nitrite levels with your kit and if the numbers are in the high mark, perform a water change immediately
  • Black Ich – this is a culmination of many problems found in the tank. Fish with this problem often sport a black spot on their sides. Check everything in the aquarium to make sure that they’re within normal levels.

Always pay close attention to anything different or unusual in the tank and do some research before addressing it!

Ideal Tank Mates

The specific specie of the butterflyfish determines what kind of tank mate best goes with them. Generally, the fish has no problem living with other breeds or species provided that the tank is large enough. Some fish however can be quite territorial and will attack others if they encroach into their zone.


Butterflyfish mate for life. This means that they choose a partner and stick with that one particular fish for as long as the two are alive. Mating season is the same time every cycle with the female laying her eggs and the Baby Butterfly Fish male proceeding to fertilize them. Unfortunately, butterflyfish aren’t exactly great parents since they don’t take the time to hatch and care for their young. Once the fertilization occurs, the fish continues on their way, leaving the environment to complete the new life.

This is one of the reasons why breeding butterflyfish is so hard. Adults already require very strict environmental control – the presence of fertilized eggs only makes things harder. So far, breeding butterfly fish is a touch-and-go process with aquarists having more success in caring for newborn fish than hatching the eggs themselves.

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