African Butterfly Fish Care Guide

African Butterfly Fish


The African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) is a fascinating species known for its unique characteristics and behavior. Originating from West and Central Africa, including countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, and Congo, this fish has captured the interest of many aquarium enthusiasts.

With an average size of 4-5 inches (10-13 cm), the African Butterfly Fish possesses elongated pectoral fins that resemble butterfly wings, hence its name. These specialized fins allow it to glide gracefully on the water surface, adding to its charm and beauty.

Unique Characteristics

One of the most captivating features of the African Butterfly Fish is its surface-dwelling behavior. It spends a significant amount of time near the water’s surface, where it waits patiently for prey to pass by. This hunting strategy, coupled with its unique wing-like fins, makes for a captivating sight in the aquarium.

Additionally, African Butterfly Fish have a long, slender body and a mouth adapted for surface feeding. This adaptation enables them to feed on small insects and insect larvae that fall onto the water surface. Their diet primarily consists of live or frozen foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and small crustaceans.

The African Butterfly Fish is also known for its peaceful temperament, making it suitable for community aquariums. However, it may exhibit territorial behavior during breeding or if kept with smaller fish that can fit in its mouth. Proper tankmates and an adequately sized aquarium are crucial to ensure a harmonious environment for this species.

Summary Table

Common NameAfrican Butterfly Fish
Scientific NamePantodon buchholzi
Origin / DistributionWest and Central Africa
Size4-5 inches (10-13 cm)
Aquarium SizeMinimum 20-gallon tank
Water ParametersTemperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C). pH: 6.0-7.5. Hardness: Soft to moderately hard
Feeding FrequencyOnce or twice a day
TankmatesSuitable tankmates include other peaceful species of similar size
BreedingMales build bubble nests at the water surface. After spawning, remove adults
Lifespan3-5 years
Care LevelIntermediate
Unique Features / AppearanceElongated pectoral fins resembling butterfly wings
Conservation StatusNot evaluated (NE)
Additional NotesRequires a tank with a tight-fitting lid due to jumping behavior


  • Common Name: African Butterfly Fish
  • Scientific Name: Pantodon buchholzi
  • Family: Pantodontidae
  • Order: Osteoglossiformes

The African Butterfly Fish belongs to the family Pantodontidae and the order Osteoglossiformes. Its common name, as the name suggests, is the African Butterfly Fish. The scientific name assigned to this species is Pantodon buchholzi. This classification helps to categorize the fish within the broader system of biological taxonomy, allowing for a better understanding of its evolutionary relationships and placement in the animal kingdom.

Natural Habitat & Distribution

The African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) is native to the freshwater habitats of West and Central Africa. It can be found in various countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, and Congo.

Within its geographical range, the African Butterfly Fish inhabits different types of environments. It is commonly found in slow-moving or stagnant waters such as streams, creeks, and shallow pools. These habitats often have dense vegetation, including floating plants and submerged roots, providing the fish with ample cover and places to rest.

In the wild, African Butterfly Fish are well-adapted to their specific habitat. Their surface-dwelling behavior and specialized fins enable them to navigate through the dense vegetation and snatch prey from the water surface. They are particularly skilled at capturing small insects and insect larvae that fall onto the water, which form a significant part of their natural diet.

Understanding the fish’s natural habitat and distribution helps aquarium enthusiasts recreate suitable conditions in captivity. By replicating the appropriate environment, aquarists can provide the African Butterfly Fish with a setting that closely resembles its natural habitat, promoting its overall health and well-being.

Physical Appearance

The African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) displays unique physical characteristics that contribute to its captivating allure in the aquarium. Here are some key features of its physical appearance:


As adults, African Butterfly Fish typically reach a size of around 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) in length. This size makes them suitable for medium-sized aquariums, where their graceful movements and distinct features can be appreciated.

Coloration and Patterns

The African Butterfly Fish exhibits a striking coloration and pattern. Its body is usually silver or brown, which helps it blend in with its surroundings in the wild. The scales may have a shimmering effect, adding to the fish’s visual appeal. Along its body, there may be dark vertical bands or markings, providing camouflage and further enhancing its natural aesthetics.

Body Shape and Fin Structures

The body of the African Butterfly Fish is elongated and slender, allowing it to move effortlessly on the water surface. Its most notable feature is its elongated pectoral fins, which resemble the wings of a butterfly. These fins are supported by long rays and are used for gliding along the water surface, giving the fish its unique and graceful appearance.

Sexual Dimorphism

There are slight differences between males and females of the African Butterfly Fish species. In some cases, males may have longer and more elaborate dorsal fins compared to females. Additionally, during the breeding season, males may exhibit more intense coloration and brighter fin displays to attract females.

Behavior & Temperament

The African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) exhibits specific behaviors and temperament that are important to consider when keeping them in an aquarium. Here are some key aspects of their behavior:

General Behavior

African Butterfly Fish are generally known to be peaceful in nature. They spend a significant amount of time near the water’s surface, gliding and observing their surroundings. They are primarily surface dwellers, which means they prefer to stay close to the top of the aquarium.

Social Interactions

While African Butterfly Fish are generally peaceful, they can become territorial, especially during breeding or if kept with smaller fish that can fit in their mouths. It’s important to monitor their behavior and provide ample hiding spots and territories to minimize any potential aggression.

Suitable Tankmates

When selecting tankmates for African Butterfly Fish, it’s crucial to consider their peaceful temperament and surface-dwelling behavior. Suitable tankmates include other peaceful species of similar size that can tolerate the same water conditions. Good options may include other surface-dwelling species, such as hatchetfish or small peaceful characins.

Avoid keeping them with small, delicate fish that may become targets for predation. Additionally, aggressive or fin-nipping species should be avoided to prevent any stress or harm to the African Butterfly Fish.

Aquarium Requirements

Creating a suitable environment for the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) is essential for its health and well-being. Here are the key aquarium requirements to consider:

Minimum Tank Size

A minimum tank size of 20 gallons is recommended for a single African Butterfly Fish. Providing a larger tank can offer more swimming space and accommodate additional tankmates if desired.

Water Parameters

  • Temperature: Maintain the water temperature between 75-82°F (24-28°C) to replicate their natural habitat.
  • pH: Keep the pH level within the range of 6.0-7.5.
  • Hardness: The water should be kept soft to moderately hard.

Regular water testing and monitoring are crucial to ensure stable water parameters, as fluctuations can stress the fish.

Filtration and Aeration Needs

Efficient filtration is important to maintain good water quality. A gentle to moderate water flow is ideal, as the African Butterfly Fish prefer calm waters. Incorporating a sponge or pre-filter can help prevent any harm to their delicate fins.

Aeration is beneficial to maintain oxygen levels in the water. Consider using an air pump and air stone to provide adequate aeration.

Substrate Preferences

The African Butterfly Fish does not have specific substrate preferences. However, a dark-colored substrate, such as fine gravel or sand, can help showcase their vibrant coloration and provide a natural aesthetic to the aquarium.

Lighting Requirements

Moderate lighting is sufficient for the African Butterfly Fish. Avoid intense or direct lighting, as it may cause excessive stress. Floating plants or the presence of surface cover can help diffuse light and create shaded areas for the fish.

Decorations and Hiding Places

Providing ample hiding places and structured areas is essential for the well-being of the African Butterfly Fish. They appreciate floating plants, such as Amazon frogbit or water lettuce, which offer cover and mimic their natural habitat. Additionally, driftwood, rocks, and carefully placed artificial plants can provide hiding spots and create a visually appealing environment.

Strive to create a well-balanced aquarium setup that considers the fish’s natural behavior and requirements. Maintaining stable water parameters, appropriate filtration, and providing suitable hiding places will contribute to the overall health and happiness of the African Butterfly Fish in captivity.

Diet & Feeding

To ensure the optimal health and nutrition of the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi), it’s important to provide a suitable diet. Here are key considerations for their diet and feeding:

Type of Diet

The African Butterfly Fish is primarily a carnivorous species. In the wild, they feed on small insects and insect larvae that fall onto the water surface. In captivity, it’s best to replicate their natural diet by offering live or frozen foods. Suitable food options include bloodworms, brine shrimp, small crustaceans, and other small aquatic invertebrates.

Feeding Frequency

Feed the African Butterfly Fish once or twice a day, offering an amount that they can consume within a few minutes. Avoid overfeeding, as it can lead to water quality issues and potential health problems. Adjust the feeding frequency based on their appetite and overall condition.

Tips for a Balanced Diet

To ensure a balanced and varied diet, consider incorporating the following tips:

  1. Live and Frozen Foods: Provide live or frozen foods to mimic their natural prey. This offers essential nutrients and helps satisfy their hunting instincts.
  2. High-Quality Pellets or Flakes: Supplement their diet with high-quality commercial pellets or flakes specifically formulated for carnivorous fish. Ensure the food is suitable in size for their mouth.
  3. Dietary Supplements: Occasionally, you can enrich their diet by offering vitamin or mineral supplements designed for freshwater fish. Consult with a knowledgeable aquatic specialist for appropriate recommendations.

Variety is key to meeting their nutritional needs. Rotate between different food sources to provide a diverse range of nutrients and prevent dietary deficiencies. Monitor their feeding behavior and adjust the diet accordingly to maintain their health and vitality.

Remember to remove any uneaten food after each feeding to prevent water quality issues. Observing their feeding habits can also provide insights into their health and overall well-being.

Tank Mates

When considering tank mates for the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi), it’s important to choose compatible species that can coexist peacefully. Here are some guidelines for selecting tank mates:

Compatible Species

  1. Peaceful Surface-Dwelling Species: Choose peaceful species that primarily occupy the middle or lower regions of the aquarium, allowing the African Butterfly Fish to claim the surface area. Suitable options include hatchetfish, peaceful characins, and certain species of gouramis.
  2. Non-Competitive Feeders: Select fish that won’t compete aggressively for food. Since the African Butterfly Fish primarily feeds at the water surface, it’s best to avoid species that prefer the same food sources or exhibit aggressive feeding behaviors.
  3. Similar Size and Activity Level: Opt for species that are of similar size and have compatible activity levels. This helps to prevent any undue stress or aggression caused by differences in size or energy levels.

Incompatible or Potentially Problematic Species

  1. Aggressive or Fin-nipping Species: Avoid aggressive or fin-nipping species, as they may harass or injure the African Butterfly Fish.
  2. Small Fish that Fit in Their Mouth: Steer clear of small fish that can fit in the mouth of the African Butterfly Fish, as they may become targets for predation.
  3. Territorial Species: Some territorial species may clash with the African Butterfly Fish, especially during breeding or when establishing territories.

Recommendations for a Harmonious Community Tank

To create a harmonious community tank, consider the following recommendations:

  1. Adequate Space: Provide enough space in the aquarium to minimize competition and territorial disputes.
  2. Hiding Places: Incorporate ample hiding places, such as plants, driftwood, or rock formations, to allow fish to establish their territories and retreat when needed.
  3. Proper Introductions: Introduce all fish to the tank simultaneously or add new tank mates gradually. This reduces the chances of aggression due to territory intrusion.
  4. Monitoring and Observation: Observe the interactions between the African Butterfly Fish and tank mates closely. If any signs of aggression or stress are observed, be prepared to make adjustments or provide alternative housing arrangements.


Breeding the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) can be a rewarding experience. Here are some key aspects to consider when it comes to their breeding behavior, ideal conditions, and care requirements for raising the fry (offspring):

Breeding Behavior

During the breeding season, male African Butterfly Fish exhibit interesting behaviors to attract females. Males construct bubble nests at the water surface using bubbles produced from their mouths. These nests serve as a safe place for the female to deposit her eggs.

Once the bubble nest is constructed, the male will court the female by displaying vibrant colors and fin displays. After successful courtship, the female will release her eggs into the bubble nest, and the male will fertilize them externally.

Ideal Breeding Conditions

To encourage breeding in African Butterfly Fish, create the following ideal conditions:

  1. Separate Breeding Tank: Set up a separate breeding tank to provide a controlled environment for the breeding pair.
  2. Calm Water Surface: Ensure the water surface is calm to allow the male to build and maintain the bubble nest easily.
  3. Suitable Water Parameters: Maintain optimal water parameters, including a temperature range of 75-82°F (24-28°C) and soft to moderately hard water with a pH of 6.0-7.5.
  4. Adequate Hiding Places: Provide floating plants or other suitable floating materials to provide hiding places for the female during the breeding process.

Raising Fry and Specific Care Requirements

Once the eggs are fertilized and deposited in the bubble nest, the male takes on the responsibility of guarding and caring for them. It’s recommended to remove the adult fish after spawning to prevent predation on the eggs.

After hatching, the fry will remain in the bubble nest for a few days until they become free-swimming. At this stage, it’s important to ensure the availability of suitable food for the fry. Infusoria, freshly hatched brine shrimp, or specialized fry food can be provided initially. As they grow, gradually introduce small live or frozen foods.

Maintain good water quality in the fry tank, perform regular water changes, and monitor their growth and overall health. Provide appropriate hiding places and ensure a steady supply of small, nutritious food to support their development.

Raising fry requires attentiveness and diligence, but it can be a rewarding experience. As the fry grow, you can gradually introduce them to larger tanks or rehome them to suitable aquariums.

Remember, breeding can be a complex process, and success may vary. Patience and careful observation are key to maximizing the chances of successful breeding and raising healthy fry.

Health & Disease

Maintaining the health of African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) involves understanding common diseases, recognizing their symptoms, and implementing effective prevention and treatment strategies. Here are key points to consider:

Common Diseases and Their Symptoms

  1. Fungal Infections: Symptoms include white or cottony growth on the skin or fins, lethargy, loss of appetite, and frayed fins.
  2. Bacterial Infections: Signs may include redness or inflammation, open sores, cloudy eyes, loss of appetite, and abnormal swimming behavior.
  3. Parasitic Infestations: Symptoms can include scratching or flashing against objects, excessive mucus production, visible parasites on the body or gills, weight loss, and abnormal behavior.
  4. Ich (White Spot Disease): Recognized by the presence of small white spots resembling grains of salt on the fish’s body and fins. Affected fish may display increased scratching, flashing, and respiratory distress.

Prevention and Treatment Strategies

  1. Maintain Optimal Water Quality: Regularly test water parameters and ensure appropriate filtration and aeration. Perform routine water changes to maintain clean and stable conditions.
  2. Quarantine New Fish: Quarantine new fish before introducing them to the main aquarium. This helps prevent the spread of diseases to other tank inhabitants.
  3. Provide a Balanced Diet: Proper nutrition enhances the fish’s immune system, making them more resistant to diseases. Offer a varied and nutritious diet to promote overall health.
  4. Observe and Isolate Affected Fish: Promptly isolate any fish displaying signs of illness to prevent the spread of disease. This allows for closer observation and targeted treatment.
  5. Medications and Treatments: Consult a veterinarian or knowledgeable aquatic specialist for appropriate medications or treatments specific to the diagnosed disease. Follow dosage instructions carefully and complete the full treatment course.

Prevention plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of African Butterfly Fish. By providing optimal care, a clean environment, and a balanced diet, you can minimize the chances of disease outbreaks. Regular monitoring, early detection of symptoms, and timely treatment are vital for successful disease management.

Care Level

The care level for African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) is considered intermediate. While they require specific conditions to thrive, they can be successfully kept by aquarists with some experience. Here are some key considerations for their care:

Difficulty of Care

Intermediate care level indicates that African Butterfly Fish may require more attention and specific conditions compared to beginner-level fish species. They have unique surface-dwelling behavior and feeding habits that need to be accommodated in their aquarium setup. Additionally, maintaining stable water parameters and providing a suitable diet are important for their overall health and well-being.

Special Considerations or Requirements

To ensure the proper care of African Butterfly Fish, consider the following special considerations and requirements:

  1. Surface Space: Providing ample surface area is crucial as they are surface-dwelling fish. Ensure the aquarium has enough space for them to glide and exhibit their natural behaviors.
  2. Live or Frozen Foods: They have a carnivorous diet, requiring live or frozen foods. Providing a varied and nutritious diet is important for their health.
  3. Water Parameters: Maintaining appropriate water parameters, including temperature, pH, and hardness, is essential. Regular water testing and monitoring are necessary to ensure stable conditions.
  4. Tank Mates: Carefully select compatible tank mates and avoid keeping them with aggressive or fin-nipping species. Ensure the tank mates can tolerate the same water conditions and won’t compete for food or territory.
  5. Secure Aquarium Lid: African Butterfly Fish are skilled jumpers, so a secure lid is necessary to prevent escapes.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) according to the IUCN Red List or other sources is currently not evaluated (NE). This means that there hasn’t been a comprehensive assessment of their conservation status, and their population status in the wild remains uncertain.

It’s important to note that even if a species is not listed as endangered or threatened, responsible and sustainable practices should be followed in their care and trade to ensure the long-term survival of the species and their natural habitats.

Regarding legal restrictions on keeping the species in captivity, it’s essential to consult local laws and regulations specific to your region or country. Some countries may have restrictions or require permits for keeping certain fish species, including the African Butterfly Fish. It is important to familiarize yourself with and adhere to any applicable regulations to ensure compliance and contribute to the conservation of the species.

Additional Information & Fun Facts

Here are some interesting facts and additional information about the African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi):

  • Surface-Dwelling Behavior: The African Butterfly Fish is known for its unique behavior of gliding and staying near the water’s surface. Its specialized pectoral fins enable it to move gracefully on the surface, resembling the flight of a butterfly.
  • Predatory Feeding: With a carnivorous diet, the African Butterfly Fish primarily feeds on small insects and insect larvae that fall onto the water surface. Its ability to snatch prey from the surface is truly remarkable to observe.
  • Jumping Abilities: African Butterfly Fish are skilled jumpers and can propel themselves out of the water. A secure aquarium lid is necessary to prevent escapes, as they may jump if startled or feel threatened.
  • Bubble Nest Builders: During breeding, the males construct bubble nests at the water surface using bubbles produced from their mouths. These nests serve as a safe haven for the eggs until they hatch.
  • Popular in Aquaria: African Butterfly Fish have become popular among aquarists due to their unique appearance and surface-dwelling behavior. They can add a captivating and dynamic element to a well-maintained aquarium.
  • Personal Experiences: Many hobbyists have shared their experiences of observing African Butterfly Fish glide effortlessly on the water surface and their interesting feeding behaviors. Some have found success in breeding this species, sharing their joy and challenges along the way.

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