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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

May 5, 2011

Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) are very difficult to keep alive in captivity (?)

By Patrick Donston


In the wild, butterfly fish hunt for small prey upon coral reefs. Many eat algae, but most feed on coral polyps and sponges. In spite of their alluring appearance, professionals and hobbyists write they are the most sensitive of fishes, thus beginning aquarists should avoid them.

I slightly disagree with this theory. While it is true a lot of butterfly species are strictly coral eaters and should not be brought into captivity, many species we see in shops eat prepared foods and can do quite well in aquariums. I credit this to advanced technology, collection sites and equipment that enable us to keep better fish—longer. Older books and articles were written before the time of Berlin-systems, as well as innovations in ultraviolet sterilizers, protein skimmers, ozone and wet dry filters. I can’t help but think some of these authors would write differently today, knowing what we know now.

I deal with customers who won’t even think of trying some of these common butterflies because of generalizations they’ve read or been told. On the other hand, they won’t blink an eye at trying a flame angel, queen angel, Achilles tang, clown tang or an assortment of other commonly seen fish in local stores. Through our experience, I’ve noticed that certain species of butterflies actually have a lower death rate than most Centropyge, Holocanthus or Pomacanthus angels, batfish and some tangs. I’m not trying to say all butterflies do better than all tangs or angels. I’m merely trying to point out that specific species are actually hardier than many species in other families. A good aquarist knows information should be notated on the nature of a specific species-- not the families. As with all fishes, one should choose the right one appropriate for their systems. Rely on data and facts conveyed by professionals. Below I have suggested easier-to-keep butterflies that we have found to be better-than-average in marine-fish only aquariums.

C. auriga (threadfin), C. xanthurus/mertensii (pearlscale), C. kleini, C. tinkeri, C. milliaris (lemon), C. lunula (raccoon), C. ulietensis, H. polylepis/zoster (pyramid) and all Heniochus species.

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Butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae) are very difficult to keep alive in captivity (?)

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The key is for retailers to research the feeding requirements before ordering species in for stock. Most species that are not obligate coral feeders will eat a variety of foods in the aquarium and many butterflies are suitable for advanced beginners. They are hardy, attractive and reasonably priced. Most of them can also be kept in pairs or small groups. I'm always amazed at the number of shops I visit that don't have butterflies in stock. This is trulty a missed sales opportunity and the hardier species can be a great addition to the offerings of most shops.
Mark, Bensalem, PA
Posted: 5/31/2011 5:32:42 PM
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