African Butterfly Fish – Care, Tank Mates & Full Details!

Often referred to as the Freshwater Butterfly Fish, the African Butterfly Fish is an enchanting species that aquarists adore.

These fish, increasing in popularity in recent years, inhabit many aquariums worldwide, each one a captivating sight to behold.

Regrettably, misinformation about these unique creatures is rampant on the internet, largely due to their distinct habitat requirements and uncommon behavioral traits.

Our mission here is to clear up any confusion, providing you with the most accurate information about African Butterfly Fish care.

The African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) has been a mainstay in the freshwater aquatic world for many years. Originating from the expansive water bodies in West Africa, it prefers calm or almost still waters, replicating the conditions in its natural habitat.

Possibly the most astonishing feature of this species is their ability to leap and glide over water, attributed to their large pectoral fins resembling butterfly wings. This airborne movement acts as an escape strategy from predators and a clever hunting method, allowing them to survive largely unchanged for millions of years.

Ever wondered how to provide optimal care for these aquatic wonders? This comprehensive guide ensures you become a pro at caring for African Butterfly Fish!

Quick Stats About African Butterfly Fish

Scientific name Pantodon buchholzi
Common names African butterflyfish, freshwater butterfly fish
Distribution West Africa
Size 4–5 inches long
Life expectancy 5–6 years
Color Brown, gray, or green mottled pattern
Diet Insectivore
Temperament Semi aggressive
Minimum tank size 40 gallons
Temperature: 75–86°F (23–28°C)
pH 6.5–7.0
Hardness 8–12 dGH
Care level Advanced
Breeding Egg scatterer

African Butterfly Fish Appearance

An exotic sight in the freshwater fish realm, the African Butterfly Fish flaunts an unusual yet captivating appearance. Its body, resembling an elongated teardrop, displays a mix of brown or grey tones that efficiently camouflage it with the water surface, keeping predators at bay.

The lighter undersides are adorned with tiny spots that enhance their unique visual appeal.

Two standout characteristics define the African Butterfly Fish. The first is its large, butterfly-like pectoral fins that are instrumental in their gliding ability.

These wing-like fins, when spread out, create a stunning silhouette that is reminiscent of an elegant butterfly. The second is its upward-facing mouth and eyes located at the top of the head.

This peculiar trait enables it to observe and snap up its prey with remarkable ease.

The swim bladder, another notable feature, allows the African Butterfly Fish to maintain buoyancy, letting them float motionlessly near the water surface—an intriguing characteristic that adds to their charm.

Natural Habitat of African Butterfly Fish

The African Butterfly Fish are denizens of the tropical freshwater environments spread across the vast expanses of West Africa. They are typically found in tranquil, slow-moving bodies of water that are dense with vegetation.

These fish are surface dwellers, staying near the water’s surface to hunt for insects and small creatures. They exhibit a preference for quiet waters with floating vegetation that provides a perfect cover for their hunting expeditions.

Their natural habitat is often dimly lit due to the dense canopy of tropical trees, making them comfortable in lower light conditions.

This understanding of the African Butterfly Fish’s natural habitat helps aquarists replicate suitable conditions in their aquariums, ensuring the fish feel right at home.

Origin and Distribution

The African Butterfly Fish, or Pantodon buchholzi, is indigenous to the freshwater bodies in West Africa. They have a wide distribution, spanning the Nile, Niger, Congo, Cameroon, and Volta river basins.

These regions, brimming with aquatic biodiversity, offer a near-perfect environment for these surface-dwelling species.

Being excellent adaptors, the African Butterfly Fish are able to survive in various water conditions, but they invariably prefer warm, still waters dense with vegetation.

Their wide distribution in different regions attests to their adaptability, making them an intriguing addition to freshwater aquariums around the world.

Growth, Size & Lifespan of African Butterfly Fish

Understanding the African Butterfly Fish’s growth pattern, size, and lifespan is crucial to providing them with optimal care. Under ideal conditions, these freshwater marvels can reach an adult size of about 5 inches in length.

Their unique body structure, broad at the front and tapering towards the back, gives them an illusion of larger size, especially when the pectoral fins are spread wide.

The growth rate can vary based on several factors, including genetic traits, diet, and the quality of care. A well-cared-for African Butterfly Fish fed a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can reach its maximum size within a year.

The lifespan of the African Butterfly Fish is another point of interest for aquarists. Generally, they can live for 5-6 years in a well-maintained aquarium.

However, instances of these fish living longer are not uncommon when provided with excellent care, diet, and environmental conditions. Providing them with a habitat that closely mimics their natural environment can significantly contribute to their longevity.

In conclusion, the African Butterfly Fish’s intriguing appearance, natural habitat preference, wide distribution, and fascinating growth journey make them a captivating inclusion in any aquarium.

These unique fish, with their butterfly-like fins and peculiar hunting tactics, offer an enticing peek into the underwater world’s wonders.

African Butterfly Fish Behavior and Temperament

African Butterfly Fish are often hailed as fascinating yet peaceful aquarium occupants. They exhibit a fairly calm temperament, preferring to hover quietly near the water surface, awaiting their next meal.

Their predatory nature comes to the forefront during feeding times, when they exhibit swift, agile movements to snap up their prey.

Despite being relatively peaceful, African Butterfly Fish can be territorial, especially when they feel their space is being invaded. Therefore, maintaining ample room for each fish is essential to prevent disputes and foster a harmonious environment.

African Butterfly Fish Tank Setup

A well-planned tank setup is crucial to ensure the wellbeing of African Butterfly Fish. This involves careful consideration of various aspects, including the tank size, substrate, decorations, water parameters, filtration, aeration, lighting, suitable tank mates, and feeding.

Tank Size

African Butterfly Fish require ample surface area to swim, making wider tanks a preferable choice. For a single fish, a tank size of 30 gallons is typically suitable. For each additional fish, increase the tank size by 10 gallons to ensure enough surface area.


A darker substrate is often recommended as it mimics the dimly lit conditions of their natural habitat. This can be achieved using dark-colored sand or fine gravel.

The substrate plays a minimal role in their lifestyle as they primarily inhabit the surface, but it adds to the overall aesthetics of the tank.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

African Butterfly Fish appreciate the presence of floating plants and vegetation that offer hiding spots and mimic their natural habitat.

However, they require open surface space for feeding. Decorative items like driftwood and rocks can be added at the bottom for added visual appeal.

Water Parameters

Maintaining optimal water parameters is vital for the African Butterfly Fish’s health. The temperature should be kept between 75-86°F (24-30°C), with a pH level of 6.0-7.5. Water hardness should ideally be within 5-19 dGH.

Filtration and Aeration

Good filtration is essential to keep the water clean and free of waste. However, the water movement should be minimal as these fish prefer still waters.

Aeration is less of a concern for this surface-breathing fish, but good oxygenation benefits the overall aquarium environment.


African Butterfly Fish prefer dimly lit conditions, akin to their natural habitat under a dense canopy. Use subdued lighting to mimic this environment. Floating plants can also be used to naturally filter the light entering the tank.

Tank Mates

While they are generally peaceful, their predatory nature makes them unsuitable to house with small fish or fish that occupy the top layer. Suitable tank mates include medium to large-sized, non-aggressive species that inhabit the lower levels, such as catfish or cichlids.


African Butterfly Fish are carnivorous and prefer live or frozen food. Their diet can include insects, small fish, shrimp, and bloodworms. Ensure a varied, nutrient-rich diet to promote their health and longevity.

In conclusion, setting up a suitable environment for African Butterfly Fish requires understanding and catering to their specific needs.

By replicating their natural habitat as closely as possible and offering a balanced diet, these beautiful creatures can thrive and bring endless fascination to your aquarium.

Tank Maintenance of African Butterfly Fish

A well-maintained tank is a key to the overall health and happiness of your African Butterfly Fish.

Here, we will delve into the specifics of maintaining the ideal conditions for your fish.

Regular Water Changes

One of the essential parts of tank maintenance is regular water changes. It helps in removing waste products and maintaining water chemistry.

Aim for a 25-30% water change every two weeks. Use a gravel vacuum to remove uneaten food and waste, preventing it from decomposing and affecting water quality.

Also, make sure to match the temperature and pH of the new water with the existing tank water.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Cleaning the tank and decorations maintains a healthy and aesthetically pleasing environment for your African Butterfly Fish.

Use a tank scrubber to clean algae off the glass and rinse decorations in warm water to remove any build-up. Avoid using soap or detergents, as they can be harmful to your fish.

Filter Maintenance

A clean and efficient filter is crucial for maintaining a healthy tank. Rinse or replace the filter media as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Avoid cleaning all the media at once, as it can disrupt the beneficial bacteria that help break down waste.

Monitor Fish Health

Regularly monitor your fish’s health. Watch out for changes in eating habits, signs of stress, unusual behavior, or visible signs of illness. An early response to potential health issues can prevent more serious problems.

Maintaining a clean, healthy tank environment requires dedication but ensures your African Butterfly Fish can live a long and healthy life.

Your effort helps provide a home that closely resembles their natural habitat, making them comfortable and content.

Acclimating African Butterfly Fish

Acclimating African Butterfly Fish into a new aquarium is a process that requires patience and precision. It’s crucial to gradually familiarize your new fish with the tank’s conditions to minimize stress and promote their overall well-being.

Start by floating the sealed bag containing the fish in your aquarium for 15-20 minutes. This allows the water in the bag to match the tank’s temperature.

Next, gradually add small amounts of your aquarium water into the bag every 5 minutes over the next half hour. This helps the fish acclimate to the water chemistry.

Once done, gently net the fish out of the bag and introduce it into the aquarium. Avoid pouring the bag water into your tank, as it might contain pollutants.

Monitor the fish closely for the first few days to ensure it adjusts well to its new surroundings.

African Butterfly Fish Diet and Feeding

Feeding African Butterfly Fish requires a clear understanding of their dietary needs. These fish are carnivorous, having a preference for live or frozen foods.

Here’s a detailed look at their diet and feeding:

Variety is Key

Like humans, African Butterfly Fish benefit from a varied diet. A combination of different food types not only satisfies their nutritional requirements but also keeps them engaged and excited for meal times.

Live and Frozen Foods

  • Insects: Being natural insectivores, African Butterfly Fish enjoy various insects, including flies and mealworms. Live insects stimulate their predatory instincts, encouraging natural hunting behavior.

  • Fish: Small fish like guppies can be part of their diet, too. Ensure any live fish are quarantined before feeding to prevent disease transmission.

  • Shrimp: Shrimp, especially brine shrimp, make for a protein-rich meal, contributing to your fish’s health and vitality.

Frequency and Quantity of Feeding

African Butterfly Fish usually feed in the evening, imitating their natural hunting pattern. They should be fed once or twice daily, providing only as much food as they can consume within a few minutes. Overfeeding can lead to water quality issues and affect the fish’s health.

Special Considerations

  • Floating Foods: Since these fish are surface feeders, floating foods are best. Their upward-facing mouth is designed to snatch prey from the water’s surface.

  • Supplements: Nutrient supplements can be considered to ensure your fish gets all necessary vitamins and minerals, contributing to their coloration and overall health.

In conclusion, feeding your African Butterfly a varied, balanced diet replicates their natural eating habits and provides the nutrients needed for a healthy, active life.

African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates

Selecting the appropriate tank mates for African Butterfly Fish involves considering their natural behavior, feeding patterns, and habitat preferences.

With their predatory tendencies, cohabiting them with the right species can be tricky but not impossible.

Here are some species that can peacefully coexist with the African Butterfly Fish:

  1. Corydoras Catfish: These bottom dwellers stay out of the Butterfly Fish’s surface-level territory and possess a sturdy build, reducing the risk of predation.

  2. Plecostomus: Also known as Plecos, they are another species of bottom-dwelling fish. Their large size and armor-like scales keep them safe from the Butterfly Fish.

  3. Bristlenose Catfish: Known for their peaceful nature and robust scales, they are an excellent choice. They occupy the bottom regions of the tank, maintaining a safe distance from the Butterfly Fish.

  4. Medium to Large Tetras: Larger species of Tetras like Congo Tetras can live with Butterfly Fish due to their speed and size.

  5. Medium to Large Barbs: Species such as Tinfoil Barbs or Rosy Barb can coexist well due to their larger size.

  6. Gouramis: Larger Gouramis, such as the Blue Gourami, can be suitable tank mates due to their similar size and peaceful nature.

  7. Rainbowfish: They are fast swimmers and can escape any potential predatory attempts.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Avoid pairing African Butterfly Fish with the following species:

  1. Small Fish: Small species like Neon Tetras or Guppies will likely become prey.

  2. Slow Swimmers and Top Dwellers: Species such as Betta Fish and fancy Guppies are easy targets due to their slow-moving nature and preference for the same surface area.

  3. Aggressive Species: Avoid keeping them with aggressive or territorial fish like Cichlids or large Catfish, which may bully or harm the Butterfly Fish.

  4. Invertebrates: Shrimps and snails are likely to be viewed as food.

  5. Large Predatory Fish: Species such as Oscars or Arowanas can pose a threat to the Butterfly Fish.

Breeding African Butterfly Fish and Fry Care

Breeding African Butterfly Fish in a home aquarium can be challenging but immensely rewarding.

Here are some key steps to encourage breeding and ensure proper fry care:

Set the Stage for Breeding

  • Tank Conditions: Maintain optimum water parameters with a slightly acidic pH. Increase the water temperature to around 28°C to mimic their natural breeding season.

  • Feeding: Provide a high-protein diet with plenty of live and frozen foods. This diet stimulates the breeding process.

  • Environment: Create a calm environment with dim lighting and floating plants to provide cover for the eggs.

Spawning and Egg Care

  • Spawning: Males pursue females around the tank, leading to the females laying eggs on the underside of floating plants or in quiet corners.

  • Egg Protection: After spawning, it’s best to remove the parents to prevent them from eating the eggs. Ensure the eggs are in a secure and undisturbed location.

Fry Care

  • Initial Food: Once the fry hatch, they should be fed infusoria or newly hatched brine shrimp.

  • Growth and Protection: As the fry grow, gradually introduce them to larger foods like daphnia or finely chopped bloodworms. Protect the fry from any potential predators.

With patience and the right conditions, you can successfully breed African Butterfly Fish and watch a new generation thrive in your aquarium.

Signs of Stress in African Butterfly Fish

Stress can have a significant impact on your African Butterfly Fish’s health and lifespan. Noticing the early signs of stress can aid in their quick recovery.

Here are a few indicators:

Behavior Changes: African Butterfly Fish usually float near the surface, eagerly awaiting their next meal. If they suddenly start swimming at the bottom or hide, they might be under stress.

Loss of Appetite: A common sign of stress is a lack of interest in food. This is not to be confused with their choosy eating habits, though.

Discoloration: Butterfly Fish exhibit vibrant colors when healthy. A stressed fish may lose its color and appear faded.

Rapid Breathing: Increased gill movement can indicate stress. It could be due to poor water conditions or disease.

Common Health Issues and Treatments for African Butterfly Fish

Maintaining African Butterfly Fish health requires vigilance. Some common health issues include:

Ich: Also known as White Spot Disease, this parasitic infection causes white spots on the body and fins. It can be treated using over-the-counter medications and raising the tank temperature slightly.

Fin Rot: Bacterial infection leads to the degradation of the fins. Early detection can help treat it with antibiotics.

Fungal Infections: These appear as white or gray growths on the fish. Antifungal treatments are effective against this.

Dropsy: This bacterial disease causes a swollen belly due to fluid accumulation. Medication and clean water conditions can help treat Dropsy.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

A healthy aquarium means healthy fish. Some handy tips include:

  • Regular water changes: Keep the water fresh and the toxin levels low.

  • Monitor water parameters: Maintain the temperature, pH, and hardness within suitable ranges.

  • Avoid overcrowding: Overcrowding leads to stress and disease outbreaks.

  • Balanced diet: Ensure your fish receive a varied, nutrient-rich diet.

Should You Get an African Butterfly Fish for Your Aquarium?

African Butterfly can be an exciting addition to your aquarium. They exhibit unique behaviors and have a distinctive appearance. However, their care can be challenging, requiring a well-maintained tank and a carefully selected diet.

Before getting an African Butterfly Fish, consider if you can provide the right environment and care for them.

If you’re prepared to meet their needs, these fascinating creatures can prove to be a captivating addition to your aquatic family.

Conservation Status

African Butterfly are not currently considered endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has not classified them under any threat category.

Their wide distribution across Africa and prolific breeding in the wild contribute to their healthy population status. However, it’s essential for hobbyists and breeders to sustain ethical practices, ensuring the well-being of these unique species.

Availability & Pricing

The African Butterfly, due to their exotic appearance and unique behavior, are quite popular in the aquarium trade. You can usually find them in local pet stores or online aquarium trade platforms.

They’re generally affordable, but prices can vary based on factors like size, age, or color patterns. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, they typically range from $10 to $20 each.

However, it’s always a good idea to compare prices across multiple sources.

Frequently Asked Questions About African Butterfly Fish

To further your understanding of the African Butterfly Fish, here are a few commonly asked questions:

Q1: Can African Butterfly Fish live with other fish species?

Yes, they can live with other peaceful, non-aggressive species. However, smaller fish may be viewed as prey, so choose tank mates wisely.

Q2: What do African Butterfly Fish eat?

Their diet primarily consists of insects. In captivity, they can be fed live or frozen foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and mealworms.

Q3: How long do African Butterfly Fish live?

With proper care, these fish can live up to 10 years in captivity.


The African Butterfly Fish is an intriguing species, bringing a piece of the African waters into your home aquarium. They offer a rewarding experience for aquarists, presenting an opportunity to observe and engage with their peculiar behaviors.

While they require specific care and a well-maintained environment, their unique appeal makes the effort worthwhile.

Whether you’re an experienced aquarist or a curious beginner, the African Butterfly can add an exotic touch to your aquarium life.