Butterflies of the Coral Sea
By Jim Wolf, Marine Biologist
ODYSSEA ( MASLA ) Volume 1, Issue 4
Perhaps no other group of fish better symbolizes the beauty of a coral
reef than the butterfly fishes. Their intense color, wide flat bodies and
graceful movements makes them one of the most popular salt water fishes.
They are extremely well adapted to a reef, and consequently need lots of
special attention to thrive in captivity.
There are 7 genera with over 110 species. All enjoy a well lit and established
aquarium with good water quality and algae to graze upon. An ultra violet
sterilizer helps to prevent disease in a tank that has many closely related
species (such as tangs and angels). They range from the hardy to the impossible
to keep alive in captivity. An examination of the mouth can reveal a lot
about their feeding habits. Some have pointy mouths for eating small crustaceans,
others have small mouths will rows of brush like teeth to graze on reef
organisms. The easiest species have a comparatively large mouth and consequently
eat a variety of foods. All enjoy frequent small feedings (at least once
a day) and a well established aquarium will provide ample grazing fodder.
Lets look at the different butterflies to gain more insights into maintaining
these dazzling beauties.
Genus Chaetodon: The largest and most variable of the group. Reference
the manual by Dr. Allen for more information on you specific Chaetodon.
Genus Hemitaurichthys The Pyramid or Zoster butterflies are hardy schooling
species that eat lots of plankton. Give them frequent small feedings of
mysis and other planktonic food and they will thrive.
Genera Chelmon, Chelmonops, Caradion and Forcipiger. These are the long
nosed butterflies. Their long snout is used to extract small crustaceans
from crevices. Avoid placing them in tanks with lots of fast feeding tank
mates, as they might no get their fill. Mysis, brine shrimp, and even small
guppies are a good diet, They also relish, Tubifex worms, and chopped clams
and mussels. Feed them frequently and directly and you will greatly increase
their chances. The Australian Chelmonops and Coradion despite their high
price are usually very hardy.
Genus Heniochus. The conspicuous banner fish do best in a large aquarium
(100 + gallons) in small schools of three or more. There feeding is similar
to the long nosed butterflies, but over time they will adjust to a variety
of prepared foods, and even accept flake foods. They are sensitive to water
quality so insure that the tank's chemistry is in good shape. There are
a few other genera in this group, but I want to give you a few general
Acclimate new introductions gently, and insure that your specimen is
eating prior to purchase. There are excellent references regarding the
specifics of your particular choice of butterfly. Check out the numerous
references available and ask lots of questions of your local fish person.