News / Species Spotlight / Look-A-Likes: Vagabond vs Black Finned (05/06/15)

Look-A-Likes: Vagabond vs Black Finned

Both Chaetodon vagabundus and Chaetodon decussatus have dominantly white bodies with similar perpendicular lines. One is commonly known as the Vagabond Butterfly and the other is frequently called the Indian Vagabond Butterfly. They both have a black band down through their eyes and black and yellow stripes near their tail. Both are on that list of very hardy butterfly fish. But are they the same fish? Science says no.

They can be differentiated by the back portion of the fish. The Blackfin (C. decussatus) has a nearly solid black back half with a yellow tail. The tail as a single black bar on it. In contrast the Vagabond (C. vagabundus) has a nearly solid yellow backside with two black lines. The Vagabond also gets about an inch longer, but that is about it. There are a few behavioral and range differences, but they are pretty minor. If you can't get one of these, the other should suffice quite nicely.

Chaetodon vagabundus - Vagabond Butterfly

The Vagabond is one of the hobby's best butterfly fish. In the wild they eat pretty much everything they can fit into their mouths, which may be why they take to prepared foods so well. Sadly, it is also the reason they absolutely shouldn't go into reef aquariums.

A common Butterfly fish all over the Indian and Pacific Ocean, they are found in a wide range of depths, from the surface down to almost 100 feet. Adults are usually found in correlation to some kind of reef, and juveniles are found just about anywhere. They have even been found in some estuarine environments. Adults are frequently found in pairs, and will cover a large home range and reportedly will return to the same location every night.

Juvenile specimens will have a black spot on the rear of the dorsal fin. They reach a maximum size of about 9 inches.

Chaetodon decussatus

The Black Finned Butterfly (aka Indian Vagabond) is also a fantastic aquarium fish. While it's wild diet isn't quite as varied as the True Vagabond butterfly, but it is still definitely a threat to likely all the inverts in a reef aquarium system. But, on the plus side, they do take to prepared foods very well.

These are also usually found in pairs at least as adults, juveniles are usually solitary. They don't have quite as expansive of a range as the Vagabond. The home range is more tightly centered around Sri Lanka, where it is very common. They are found at very similar depths and in very similar surroundings as the Vagabond, being nearly always reef associated. - Chaetodon vagabundus - Chaetodon decussatus

Scott W. Michael, Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, 1st ed. (T.F.H. Publications Inc, New Jersey, 2004).

Gerald R. Allen, Roger Steene, Mark Allen, A Guide To Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, 1st ed. (Odyssey Publishing / Tropical Reef Research / Vanguard Press, Perth, WA, 1998)