A Butterfly Unlike The Rest

Posted by Aquatropic Staff on October 29, 2021

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The African Butterflyfish (Pantodon buchholzi) is the only member in its family, Pantodontidae. It is more loosely related to (within the same order, Osteoglossiformes, as), the “Boney Tongues” which includes fish such as Arowana & Elephantfish! All of these fish have a boney tongue that they use to eat their prey! The Butterflyfish is beautiful despite its somewhat tame, mottled brown and black coloration. It boasts some of the most intricate fins in the aquarium world, giving it its common name, the butterfly fish. They reach a maximum size of about five inches.

African Butterfly fish are found in Central and Western Africa, from the Congo basin & upper Zambezi basin. They live in still water whether its small, slow flowing creeks, swamps or ponds. They stay close to the surface and enjoy floating vegetation which they camouflage in with perfectly and protects them from predators from above. Backwaters filled with vegetation and other forms of cover is their ideal home.

As these fish will only use the surface of the aquarium, the footprint size matters more than the gallons. An aquarium three times their adult length in width (at least 15”) is the smallest anyone should consider; a 40 gallon breeder or a 75 gallon aquarium would be a good place to start. Dense vegetation, driftwood, and floating plants should be used to recreate the wild environment for these fish. They are predators, with a large mouth, and so anything small enough to fit in their mouth should be excluded from a list of potential tankmates. Likewise, their ornate fins can become an easy target for nippy fish, so keep them away from anything that might be tempted by that. While they cannot use their wing like fins to glide through the air like some fish do, African Butterflyfish do like to jump, and are good at it, so some sort of cover or barrier above the aquarium is recommended to prevent them from jumping out of the tank. African Butterflyfish also can breathe air; so leave a gap at the top of the aquarium for them to do so if they want or need to!

African Butterflyfish will usually take any meaty food from the surface, even pellets or flakes. Small pieces of shrimp, mysis or other frozen foods can be offered, and make a good food for African Butterflyfish, but should be fed slowly to ensure that they catch it all before it sinks to the bottom. It shouldn’t be too difficult to wean them onto a quality fish food, but floating foods work best because they almost exclusively feed from the surface! If you can catch any flies or want to buy crickets or other small insects from your LFS your butterfly will chase them down with great enthusiasm!

A 75 gallon aquarium would suffice to breed a pair of African Butterflyfishes. They are sexually dimorphic (males and females do not look the same) with the back edge of the anal fin being straight in females and convex (curved) in males. Lots of floating plants and soft, acidic water is the best environment for triggering spawning behavior which can be done by lowering the water for a period of time and then raising it, simulating the beginning of the rainy season. The eggs will be laid over a few days, and float, where they should be collected and moved to a separate aquarium as these fish are known to be cannibalistic eating their own eggs and young. The young fish will require good water quality and live food that is presented very close to the surface where they will stay.

African Butterflyfish are unique and beautiful; a fascinating and easy to keep predator to keep that won't destroy your planted display or require a massive tank. Ask your LFS to order one from Aquatropic today and enjoy years of observing one of the most stunning predators in the aquatic world!