a beautiful yellow Butterflyfish in a dark aquarium

Butterflyfish are beautiful tropical fish that come in many different colors and patterns. They are usually kept in community tanks, but some families keep them by themselves. They are known for their colorful fins, and are one of the easiest fish to maintain.

Butterflyfish are a great choice for a saltwater aquarium because they are hardy, active, and can be a variety of beautiful colors. They are easy to feed, and they are a pleasure to watch. They’re also relatively easy to breed in captivity. 

They’re one of the most colorful types of fish that you can keep in your home aquarium. They are brightly colored with shades of orange, yellow, black, blue and purple on their bodies. 

One of the most beautiful parts of these fish are their fins. They have long, slender, colorful fins that are a delight to admire. Butterflyfish get their name from their “wings”, which are actually their pectoral fins. They’re fins have a range of colors and patterns, but the design most common on them is a thin black stripe across the leading edge of their fin. 

The pectoral fins are usually about the same size and shape as the rest of the fish’s fins, but they can also develop into large, colorful fans. They are smaller, more peaceful fish, and usually get along well with other fish.

If you are thinking about adding a Butterflyfish to your aquarium, here are some things to think about. Butterflyfish are rare, colorful fish that add a fun splash of color and activity to any aquarium. They’re also surprisingly easy to care for, and will thrive in most home aquariums. If you’re thinking about getting a new pet fish, consider the Butterflyfish.

Butterflyfish Information

  • Average Length: 4.7 to 8.7 inches
  • Scale Colors: Yellow, White, Blue, Red and Orange.
  • Attention Needs: High
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: Yes
  • Good with Other Butterflyfish: No
  • Good with Other fish species: Depends on Butterflyfish species.
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Health Concerns: Nitrate poisoning and Dropsy.
  • Average Life Span: 8 to 10 years

Physical Appearance of Butterflyfish

a Butterflyfish swimming in a dark aquarium

Butterflyfish look very similar to Angelfish but lack the elongated nose that Angelfish have. They are one of the most colorful saltwater fish species which makes them a popular fish for fish tank owners. These fish can have a wide variety of colors and patterns, with more than 114 recognized types.

Most Butterflyfish species will have bright shades of white, yellow, orange, black and blue, while few species can also have the same colors but a lighter shade. They have dark bands across their eyes and round dots on their bodies. The dots are sometimes mistaken as eyes by predators, making it difficult for them to guess in which direction the fish will swim.

Threadfin or Auriga Butterflyfish are one of the popular species kept in fish tanks. They have a bright white shade on the front which transitions into a bright yellow shade towards their rear. The dorsal, anal, tail and fins are also yellow. They have several black lines on their body that are perpendicular to each other. It looks like a chevron pattern.

Another popular variety is Klein’s Butterflyfish, also known as Sunburst Butterflyfish. They have a yellowish-brown color with one or two broad white bands running down their body. Klein’s also have several stripes and white spots on the sides of their body.

These fish have thin, disk-shaped bodies with a single dorsal fin. They have a small mouth with bristle-like teeth. Their bristle-like teeth help them look for food and grab it from narrow openings in rocks, coral and substrate.

Young Butterflyfish have armored plates that protect them from predators. Once the young fish matures, the plates are absorbed into their body.

Temperament and Behavior of Butterflyfish

a close up of a Butterflyfish

Their temperament varies between different species. Most are peaceful and will not be aggressive with other fish in their tank. Klein’s Butterflyfish and Auriga Butterflyfish are popular peaceful species. They are also easy to care for and great for beginner fish tank owners. Because they are non-aggressive, they should have a lot of hiding places inside the tank to make them feel safe from other fish.

Some species tend to become territorial and attack other fish who invade their area. These territorial species will mostly be fine living with their mating pairs or in a small group of their species. Mixing them with other Butterflyfish species can make them aggressive and violent.

The smaller fish species tend to stay in pairs or a small group while the larger species are solitary. Larger species tend to look for a mate, and once they find a mate they will move around, hunt for food, feed and breed together for the rest of their lives. This type of monogamous behavior is found in very few other fish species.

Best Habitat for Butterflyfish

Butterflyfish are generally found in the coral reefs. Coral are a source of food and also have a lot of hiding places for them. We always suggest that aquarium owners add coral in their Butterflyfish tanks because it helps mimic the conditions found in their natural homes.

Different species of Butterflyfish need different tank conditions. Half of the 114 recognized species are suitable to be kept in captivity. Find out about the specific conditions needed by the type of Butterflyfish you get before setting up a tank for them.

Tank size

a close up of a yellow and white stripped Butterflyfish

They should be kept in a large tank because they need a lot of space to swim. Some species are territorial which makes it even more important to keep them in a large tank. For smaller Butterflyfish like the Fourspot Butterfly, at least a 75-gallon tank is needed. Larger species like the Auriga Butterfly need a minimum of 125-gallon tank.


Most species will do fine in temperatures between 72 to 78°, but it can slightly vary for different types of Butterflyfish.

Water Hardness and PH

The hardness of the water should be kept between 8 and 12 dKH and pH should be in the range of 8.1 to 8.4.


These fish are awake and stay active during the day. Regular lighting should be installed at the top of your tank. A natural day and night cycle should be maintained to replicate their natural environment. Adding a timer to your lighting setup makes it easy to set up the day/night cycle.


Butterflyfish need a lot of hiding spaces. There should be plenty of small caves, rocks or coral inside their tank. For rocks, we recommend using live rocks.

Live rocks are rocks taken from the ocean waters. These have skeletons of dead coral, bacteria, algae and invertebrates that act as biological filters for aquariums. Live rocks help to introduce bacteria, invertebrates and algae into the tank, which replicate the natural environment of Butterflyfish. Besides giving them a place to hide, live rocks can also be a good source of food because they are home to algae and other aquatic organisms.

a close up of a Butterflyfish in a bright aquarium

Adding decorative or living plants will also make your tank look good and create more places to hide from other fish.

Tank conditions

Depending upon the species, Butterflyfish can be difficult to care for. Measure the temperature, pH level and water hardness every day. The level of dissolved ammonia, nitrates and salt in the water should also be measured regularly. Keep a water testing kit that helps you measure all the above water conditions.

Tank Maintenance

A10% water change needs to be done every week to keep the level of ammonia and nitrates in control.

A deep clean with a 25% water change should be done once a month. Use a soft brush to remove the algae cover and other waste from the tank walls. Clean the filter regularly to make sure it works properly. Most filters can go at least two months between cleanings or filter replacements, but it’s best to clean it each month.

Best Tank Mates for Butterflyfish

The non-aggressive behavior of most Butterflyfish species allows them to be kept with other peaceful fish. A large tank with lots of hiding places will help your Butterflyfish feel safe inside the tank. 

Some ideal tank-makes for Butterflyfish are: 

Health Issues

Butterflyfish are susceptible to parasite infections. Cleaning the tank regularly and performing regular water changes can help prevent the fish from having health issues. In their natural environment, they generally live up to 7 years. With proper care they can live between 8 to 10 years in captivity.

Some common diseases in Butterflyfish are mentioned below:

Nitrate Poisoning

Marine Nitrate poisoning is a common issue that affects saltwater fish. Nitrates occur naturally in the water as byproducts of organic waste and decomposition, but they can also accumulate due to improper aquarium maintenance. When nitrate levels exceed safe limits, fish can become stressed and eventually die from nitrate poisoning.

Symptoms of Marine Nitrate Poisoning

Symptoms of Marine Nitrate Poisoning can vary depending on the severity of the poisoning. In mild cases, fish might have symptoms of lethargy, appetite loss, and decreased activity levels. As nitrate levels increase, fish can develop respiratory distress, gill damage, and could even die.


Dropsy is a common disease that affects saltwater fish. It’s caused by a bacterial infection that leads to fluid accumulation in their body, resulting in swelling and bloating. This disease can be fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Marine Dropsy

Symptoms of Dropsy include:

  • Bloating
  • Scale and eye swelling
  • Lethargy
  • Appetite loss
  • Difficulty swimming

The fish may also have protruding scales that look like a pinecone.

Feeding Butterflyfish

a colorful pile of fish flakes

Butterflyfish are omnivores and feed on a variety of plants, crustaceans, coral and tubeworms in the wild. Their long and pointed noses help them scavenge for food from small crevices inside the rocks or coral. They have bristle-like teeth that allow them to nip their prey.

The dietary needs of the Butterflyfish depend upon the individual species. Most will feed on algae, invertebrates and crustaceans.

Some species will strictly feed on algae, coral or sponges. If you are unable to add coral to your tank, do not get Butterflyfish species that feed only on coral.

Others that do not have a coral only diet, can be fed frozen food like sponges or other fish food. Flakes, live brine shrimp and plankton can also be given to them. If you are giving them meat-based food make sure you chop it into fine pieces before feeding it to them

They should be fed 2 to 3 times a day. Avoid overfeeding them because it can result in health issues like their stomach swelling (Dropsy).

Related Questions:

Are Butterflyfish Easy to Care for?

The specific feeding needs of different species and tank conditions can make it difficult for beginner fish tank owners to care for them. With the increased difficulty, Butterflyfish are only recommended for experienced tank owners.

Are African Butterflyfish Different from Saltwater Butterflyfish?

Many people seem to confuse the two because of the similarity of their names, but they are different. Saltwater Butterflyfish are in the Chaetodontidae family that includes Coralfish and Bannerfish, consisting of hundreds of marine fish species. African Butterflyfish are in the Pantodontidae family which is a group of freshwater fish. The African Butterflyfish are also called Freshwater Butterflyfish.

Is it Easy to Breed Butterflyfish?

When they breed, the female will release the eggs into the water but will not take care of the eggs or wait for them to hatch. The male will also not look after the hatchlings. It can result in the eggs being eaten by other fish which makes breeding a difficult task for even an experienced aquarist.

If you see eggs in the water and you have another tank to move them to, it would be a good idea to move them if you want them to survive.

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Maryna is an animal expert that has had dozens of animals in her life over the years. She has never found an animal that she didn't love immediately. It seems like every year she finds kittens that have been abandoned by their mom and she nurses them to health and finds homes for them. She contributes her vast knowledge about animals and family pets to our website and we're forever grateful to have her working with us. She's also an amazing graphics designer and has designed all of the social media images that we use across all platforms.