Butterflyfish Care: Tank Setup, Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases & More!

Butterflyfish are a popular choice among marine aquarium enthusiasts due to their vibrant colors and fascinating behaviors. With over 120 species to choose from, there’s a butterflyfish that’s perfect for every saltwater tank.

In general, most butterflyfish require a tank size of at least 75 gallons, with a temperature range of 72-78°F and a pH range of 8.1-8.4. They are carnivores and need a varied diet of high-quality frozen or live foods such as brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, and krill. They also require a well-lit aquarium with plenty of hiding places and live rock.

Caring for butterflyfish can be challenging, but the rewards are well worth the effort. I remember when I first added a butterflyfish to my tank – it instantly became the star attraction with its mesmerizing patterns and movements. With the right information and a bit of dedication, you can successfully maintain these beautiful creatures in your home aquarium.

To ensure your butterflyfish thrive, it is crucial to understand their specific needs for diet, habitat, and tank mates. By providing them with the appropriate environment and nourishment, you can enjoy their enchanting presence for many years to come.

Butterflyfish Care 2

Species Summary


Butterflyfish are native to the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific region. This colorful and diverse group of fish inhabits coral reefs and seagrass beds.

They are iconic marine animals that are often seen in the aquarium hobby. I remember the first time I saw a butterflyfish in a local aquarium, I was amazed by its vibrant colors and unique shape.


On average, butterflyfish live for about 5-7 years, but with proper care, some species can live up to 10 years in captivity.


Butterflyfish have distinct, laterally compressed bodies, and their round shape resembles, you guessed it – a butterfly.

Their bright colors and patterns, which can range from yellows, reds, blues, and blacks, are used as camouflage and defense against predators. Butterflyfish have long snouts, which they use for reaching into crevices for food.


Most butterflyfish species grow to be about 4-6 inches in length, with several species reaching up to 8 inches.

Growth Rate

The growth rate of butterflyfish is highly variable, depending on the species and aquarium conditions. With optimal care, young butterflyfish can grow approximately 1-2 inches per year.

Behavior & Temperament

Butterflyfish are generally peaceful and make great additions to community tanks with other non-aggressive species. However, some species can become territorial, especially when paired with other butterflyfish.

Male vs Female

Sexual dimorphism is not prominent in butterflyfish, making it challenging to differentiate between males and females. However, during mating, males can become vibrant in color, and their fin rays extend, making them more prominent.

Tank Setup

Tank Size

Butterflyfish are active swimmers, so a minimum tank size of 75-gallons is essential. When I first set up my aquarium, I didn’t account for their size and growth, causing stress on the fish.


Butterflyfish thrive in moderate to bright lighting conditions. Install a quality LED aquarium light that can mimic natural sunlight cycles.

Filtration & Aeration

A good filtration system is crucial to maintain water quality. Choose a suitable canister filter for efficient filtration and aeration.


These fish require a stable temperature between 72-78°F. I had to invest in a reliable aquarium heater to maintain the perfect climate.


A mix of sand and crushed coral creates a comfortable and natural environment for Butterflyfish, giving them a sense of familiarity.


Rockwork and caves provide hiding spaces, stimulating their natural behavior. Make sure to arrange them without obstructing their swimming paths.


Introduce some hardy, saltwater plants to enhance the tank’s aesthetics and provide natural shelter. Some Butterflyfish also use these plants as food sources.

Water Quality

Water Temperature

Butterflyfish thrive in warm tropical waters. It’s crucial to maintain a consistent water temperature of 76-82°F (24-28°C). I personally use a reliable aquarium heater to achieve this, and I highly recommend using one too.

Water pH

When it comes to pH levels, Butterflyfish prefer a slightly alkaline environment. Aim for a pH of 8.1-8.4. Regularly test the water and adjust as needed to ensure their comfort.

Water Hardness

Butterflyfish aren’t too picky about water hardness. However, an ideal range would be 8-12 dKH. Investing in a good quality test kit makes it easier to monitor and maintain these levels.

Water Changes

  • Regular water changes are essential to keep the water quality pristine.
  • Aim for a 10-20% water change weekly to remove any unwanted pollutants.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to providing a suitable environment for your Butterflyfish to flourish. Remember, a healthy habitat leads to happy fish!

Tank Maintenance

Proper tank maintenance is essential for keeping Butterflyfish happy and healthy. A well-maintained tank can be the difference between a thriving community and a tank with an unhealthy ecosystem.

Firstly, it’s essential to maintain a stable water temperature. Butterflyfish thrive in water temperatures between 72°F and 78°F. I personally use a reliable heater and a thermometer to monitor temperature, as I find it easier to maintain the optimal range.

Proper filtration is another aspect that’s crucial for their well-being. Choose a filter that can handle the tank size and the bioload generated. Regularly clean the filter media and its components to ensure its efficiency.

Water quality is of utmost importance for Butterflyfish. They are sensitive to chemical fluctuations and require a consistent water environment. Conduct weekly water tests to check the levels of pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite; strive to keep the pH between 8.1 and 8.4. Since I follow this protocol, my Butterflyfish seem to be less stressed than before.

Performing regular water changes is also necessary for maintaining a healthy tank. Here’s a quick overview:

  • 10-15% weekly water change for tanks up to 55 gallons
  • 20% bi-weekly water change for tanks between 55 and 100 gallons
  • 30% monthly water change for tanks above 100 gallons

When it comes to tank decor and hiding spots, Butterflyfish appreciate live rock, coral, and a variety of other decorations. Use caution when selecting decor to avoid sharp or pointy edges that could potentially harm them. In my own tank, I have seen my Butterflyfish enjoy a mix of live rock caves and smooth artificial coral structures.

Lastly, remember to feed a balanced diet of pellets, frozen or live foods like shrimp, and some algae. Butterflyfish love variety and it helps keep their immune systems strong. Regular feeding is also essential for the overall health of the aquarium.

By following these tips, you’ll provide a clean, stable, and safe environment for your Butterflyfish to flourish.

Tank Mates


Compatible Fish Species

One day, while I was setting up my aquarium, I discovered that not all fish can coexist peacefully. Butterflyfish are generally peaceful; however, some species are territorial. Here are some compatible tank mates:

  • Surgeonfish: This hardy species can tolerate similar water parameters.
  • Dwarf Angelfish: They’re less aggressive than larger angelfish species.
  • Clownfish: These colorful fish are easy-going, making them suitable tank mates.
  • Cardinalfish: Like butterflyfish, they prefer calm waters.

Incompatible Fish Species

Some species are not suitable tank mates due to aggression or different water requirements:

  • Triggerfish: Known for territorial behavior, they may cause stress.
  • Lionfish: Their venomous spines pose a risk to butterflyfish.
  • Large Angelfish: They can compete for similar food sources.

Remember to always research compatibility before making a final decision.


What To Feed

Butterflyfish primarily feed on coral polyps, worms, and other small invertebrates. To keep them healthy in a home aquarium, provide a varied diet of:

  • High-quality flakes and pellets
  • Frozen food like mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, and copepods
  • Finely chopped live foods (for fussy eaters)

I still remember the first time I introduced live brine shrimp to my butterflyfish; their excited swimming and feeding were delightful to watch.


Feed your butterflyfish 2-3 times per day. Smaller, more frequent feedings are better for their health and help maintain water quality. Be cautious not to overfeed, as this can lead to health issues and polluted tank water.


Here are some helpful tips for feeding your butterflyfish:

  1. Soak dried food in aquarium water before feeding to soften it and improve its palatability.
  2. Use a feeding clip to position food near the corals, encouraging natural feeding behavior.
  3. Introduce a vitamin supplement to bolster their immune system and promote vibrant colors.

Remember that each butterflyfish species has its unique dietary requirements. Be sure to research the specific needs of your butterflyfish for optimal care.

Common Diseases


Butterflyfish are prone to a few common diseases, such as White Spot Disease (also known as Ich) and Marine Velvet.


White Spot Disease presents as tiny white spots all over the fish’s body. For Marine Velvet, the fish’s skin may appear gold or rusty, and breathing can become labored.


For White Spot Disease, I treated my own Butterflyfish by raising the tank’s temperature and using a copper-based medication. For Marine Velvet, I used a copper-based treatment, followed by a freshwater dip.


To prevent these diseases:

  • Maintain excellent water quality
  • Quarantine new fish before introducing them
  • Feed a varied and nutritious diet

Signs Your Fish Is Sick

One day as I watched my Butterflyfish, I noticed it was acting strange. That’s when I discovered it was sick. Caring for a sick Butterflyfish requires keen observation and swift action.

  1. Loss of appetite: If your fish stops eating, it can be a sign of illness. Keep an eye on your fish during feeding times to ensure it’s eating properly.
  2. Clamped Fins: Healthy fish have open, relaxed fins. If you notice your fish’s fins are clamped close to its body, this could indicate sickness.
  3. Gasping for air: Butterflyfish should breathe normally. If you notice it gasping at the water surface, it could be a sign of poor water quality or an illness affecting its gills.
  4. Abnormal swimming: Watch for erratic movements or difficulty swimming, as this can indicate a health issue.
  5. Discoloration or spots: Look for any changes in your fish’s appearance, like unusual spots, patches, or discoloration. These could signal a skin infection or parasite.

When dealing with a sick Butterflyfish, it’s essential to act quickly. Learn more about how to care for your Butterflyfish and keep them healthy and happy.


Breeding Setup

When I set up my butterflyfish breeding tank, I made sure to provide plenty of hiding spots and rockwork for them to feel secure. I maintained a stable water temperature of around 78°F and slightly higher salinity levels to encourage spawning.

  • Tank size: Minimum 30 gallons
  • Temperature: 78°F
  • Salinity: Slightly higher than normal

How To Breed

Breeding butterflyfish can be a challenge, but with patience, it’s definitely possible. I observed that a well-conditioned pair will begin to display courtship behavior, such as chasing and nuzzling each other. Spawning typically occurs at dusk when they release their eggs and sperm into the water column.

  1. Observe courtship behaviors
  2. Maintain stable water conditions
  3. Wait for spawning at dusk


After the eggs are released, they will hatch within 48 hours, and the fry will emerge as tiny larvae. I found that daily live food feedings, such as rotifers and copepods, are crucial for the survival and growth of the larval stage.

  • Feeding: Live foods like rotifers and copepods
  • Larval stage: Daily feedings
  • Growth: Monitor and adjust feeds accordingly

By following these guidelines and sharing my own personal experiences, I believe it will be beneficial for those attempting to breed their butterflyfish successfully.

Product recommendations for Butterflyfish:

  1. Hikari Marine S Pellets: This fish food is specially formulated for marine fish, including Butterflyfish, and provides a balanced diet for optimal health.
  2. Seachem Stability: This product helps to establish a healthy biological filter in your aquarium, which is important for maintaining good water quality for Butterflyfish.
  3. Fluval Sea Protein Skimmer:  This protein skimmer helps to remove organic waste from your aquarium water, which can be harmful to Butterflyfish.
  4. Hydor Koralia Nano Aquarium Circulation Pump: This circulation pump helps to create a natural water flow in your aquarium, which is important for the well-being of Butterflyfish.
  5. Instant Ocean Sea Salt: This sea salt mix is perfect for creating a healthy marine environment for Butterflyfish and other saltwater fish.
  6. API Aquarium Salt: This product helps to promote healthy gill function and reduce stress in fish, including Butterflyfish.
  7. Seachem Prime: This water conditioner helps to detoxify ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in aquarium water, which can be harmful to Butterflyfish.
  8. Marina Floating Thermometer: This thermometer helps you to monitor the temperature of your aquarium water, which is important for keeping Butterflyfish healthy.


Caring for Butterflyfish can be an enjoyable and fulfilling hobby. I’ve personally found it exciting to observe these beautiful creatures thrive in my own aquarium. By providing a suitable environment, proper nutrition, and consistent water quality, these fish can flourish in a captive setting.

It is essential to research the specific needs of the Butterflyfish species you wish to keep. Different species have their own requirements regarding diet, water parameters, and tank mates. If these considerations are well-managed, you can enjoy the beauty of Butterflyfish in your home aquarium for many years.

A supportive community of fellow Butterflyfish enthusiasts is also beneficial. This can provide you with valuable insights and shared experiences. Finally, always remember that in caring for these delicate creatures, patience and attention to detail are key factors in ensuring their well-being and happiness.


What should I feed my Butterflyfish?

Butterflyfish mainly thrive on a diet of crustaceans, small invertebrates, and algae. It’s essential to provide them with a varied diet for their health. I remember when I first started caring for Butterflyfish; I found that incorporating frozen mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, and spirulina greatly improved their well-being.

How big do Butterflyfish grow and what size tank do they need?

Butterflyfish can grow up to 12 inches, but most species remain smaller, at about 4 to 6 inches. As a rule of thumb, a 75-gallon tank is suitable for a single fish or a bonded pair.

Can I keep multiple Butterflyfish together?

While it’s not impossible, keeping multiple Butterflyfish can be challenging due to their territorial nature. If you decide to keep more than one, introduce them simultaneously into a large tank with plenty of hiding spots.

How long do Butterflyfish live?

With proper care and attention, Butterflyfish can live up to 10 years. Consistency in monitoring water quality, providing appropriate nutrition, and maintaining a stress-free environment contribute to their longevity.

Are Butterflyfish reef safe?

Butterflyfish are considered semi reef safe. While some species coexist well with corals, others may nip at or consume them. If you plan to include them in your reef tank, research your specific species’ compatibility with corals to ensure a harmonious environment.

Reference: Wikipedia.


Hi there! My name is Jacob, and I'm the founder of this Pet people blog that talks all about aquarium and fishkeeping. I've been passionate about fish and aquatic life since I was a kid, and I've spent countless hours learning about different species, their habitats, and how to create the perfect environment for them to thrive in.

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