Home | Tag Archives: Freshwater Butterfly Fish

Tag Archives: Freshwater Butterfly Fish

Feed Subscription

The Freshwater African Butterfly Fish – Care, Breeding, Behavior

 In habits, appearance, and evolutionary history, the African Butterfly Fish, Pantodon buchholzi, is one of the most unusual of all aquarium species.  Yet despite having been in the trade for over 100 years, this “freshwater flying fish” (a misnomer, see below) gets little attention.  Captive breeding is challenging but possible, and its fantastic hunting behaviors are thrilling to observe.  I helped to set up an African Butterfly Fish exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, and was not at all surprised when it became a great favorite.  Most of the visitors I spoke with were astonished to learn that such an “exotic” creature, worthy of a large zoo exhibit, was available at many pet stores! 


The yellowish-green to silvery-tan body is marked with an intricate pattern of speckles and lines.  The huge pectoral fins, reminiscent of those of marine flying fishes, lend an uncanny resemblance to a dead, floating leaf when viewed from above.  Long rays extending from the tail and the pelvic fin add to its remarkable camouflage.

FW Butterfly Fish

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Toniher

The African Butterfly Fish’s mouth is noticeably upturned, an adaptation for feeding on insects at and above the water’s surface.  Less noticeable is the mouth’s large size and the many teeth it bears; although it tops out at 5 ½ inches, this specialized predator can take quite sizable insects and fishes.

Utilizing its wing-like pectoral fins and unique musculature, the African Butterfly Fish can explode from the water’s surface to snatch low-flying dragonflies, moths and other insects, and to escape predators.  It does not, as far as we know, glide above the water as do marine Flying Fishes (please see photo). Read More »

A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 2

Frank Indivlgio here.

Check out: A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

Water Quality

Great care must be taken with water quality…in fact, the elephant noses’ sensitivity is such that they have been used to monitor water quality in industrial situations.  They should only be introduced to well-cycled aquariums, and the test kit mentioned earlier should be employed regularly to test ammonia levels and other water quality parameters.  That being said, when cared for properly the elephant nose will reward you with many years of enjoyment…I know of no one that regrets adding them to their collection.

African or Fresh-Water Butterfly Fish, Pantodon buchholzi

Inhabiting the same waters as the elephant nose and well suited to the same aquarium is the African butterfly fish.  Living on the surface and active by day, the butterfly fish is the elephant nose’s polar opposite.  The two rarely interact and nicely illustrate diverse and very unusual survival strategies. 


An Unusual Appearance and Lifestyle

Wing-like pectoral fins lend this oddball its common name, and long rays trailing down from the pelvic fin add to its unusual appearance.  When viewed from above it does indeed bring a butterfly to mind, but it is more likely a dead, floating leaf that the fish is imitating. 

This well-camouflaged predator spends its life floating quietly on the surface, where its appearance and upturned mouth suit it admirably as a specialized hunter of terrestrial insects that fall into the water.  In West African rivers teeming with competitors, the butterfly fish, much like the elephant nose, has evolved a unique way of exploiting a food source not available to most other fishes.

Feeding African Butterfly Fishes

African butterfly fishes feed only at the surface and will not dive for food.  While most individuals will accept flake and freeze dried diets, they really come to life when offered live insects.  Their reactions at such times will leave you with no doubt as to their dietary preferences.

Being highly evolved to feed upon a unique food source (land-dwelling insects), butterfly fishes do best when provided with the same in captivity.  They will take a variety of foods, but I have found them to fare best on diets comprised largely of small live crickets, newly molted (white) mealworms, mealworm beetles, wax worms and wild caught moths, spiders and other invertebrates (the Zoo Med Bug Napper  is a very useful insect trap). 

Canned insects  provide a convenient of increasing dietary variety.  Zoo Med’s Anole Food  contains small freeze dried flies – another great way to provide a natural food item to this most interesting denizen of tropical West African waters. 

As you might gather from the foregoing, butterfly fishes rarely thrive in typical community aquariums.  However, when fed properly and established in an appropriate environment, they are very hardy – living well in groups and not at all shy about revealing their unique hunting skills.  The powerful pectoral fins enable this fish to skitter across the surface when threatened and to jump well, so be sure that your aquarium is securely covered.

Further Reading

Please see my article The Use of Electrical Impulses in Elephant-Nosed Fishes  for further information on a newly discovered mode of elephant nosed fish communication.

You can read about the natural history of the African butterfly fish at http://www.fishbase.com/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=2075&genusname=Pantodon&speciesname=buchholzi

Next time we’ll take a look at some interesting invertebrate and amphibian members of the “West African Oddities Community Aquarium”.  Until then,   please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.