African Butterfly Fish – Care, Tank Mates, Feeding, Breeding & More

The African butterfly fish (Pantodon buchholzi) was described in 1905, after being discovered in West Africa. It prefers living in acidic waters, and its populations have been found in Lake Chad, Upper Zambezi, Ogooue, and the Congo Basin. The fish likes water with no current, but it loves densely planted regions.

It got its name from its appearance when observed from the surface. Its large pectoral fins give it a butterfly-like resemblance, which it uses to glide over small distances. The fins have a silvery brownish-green hue with dark markings.

African Butterfly Fish

African Butterfly Fish (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

The African butterfly fish is a bit fussy when it comes to tank conditions, and it will suit experienced aquarists.

African Butterfly Fish Care Guide

You can use the guide below to ensure your butterfly fish are healthy and they are kept in the right condition:

Tank Size for African Butterfly Fish

Tank Size for African Butterfly Fish

Tank Size for African Butterfly Fish (source)

The butterfly fish can reach four inches in length, and it will need adequate space in the tank. Invest in an aquarium that is at least 30 or 40 gallons.

The tank’s length and width are more important than the gallons with this pet, and it should measure at least 90 × 30 cm. The fish will do well in depths of 6 to 8 inches. Column tanks are, therefore, not ideal with this species.

African butterfly fish appreciate a large surface area, and they mostly live at the top of the tank. The tank should be covered as it uses its tail fins to jump out and its pectoral fins to glide on any surface.

Aquarium Setup

Anubias Plant

Anubias Plant

The decor of an African butterfly fish should mimic a riverbank with a lot of plants, wood, and steep inclines. Live plant species you can consider include Bolbitis and Anubias.

Floating plants are also a great option, but there should be an open area at the center. The plants selected should reach the water’s surface for the fish to use as cover.

The fish prefers a dark substrate, and you should avoid using colored gravels or light colored sand.


The African butterfly fish likes dull and subdued lighting. It is a crepuscular species meaning that is inactive when the sun is intense. If your tank is particularly bright, the fish will stay dormant for a long while.

This also means that you will have to get plants that do well in low lighting, like those in the genera Crypocoryne and Anubias. A lot of floating plants and shading will encourage the pet to roam freely.

Filtration System

The African butterfly fish demands excellent water quality, and you should thus equip your tank with an effective filter. The filter should not be too powerful as the fish likes still water.

Water Parameters

The African butterfly fish will thrive in temperatures between 73 to 86 °F. It prefers slightly soft and acidic water, which can be stained with stannis. The PH range for the butterflies is 6.4 to 6.8.

The aquarium should not have strong water movement. Regular water changes will prevent any ammonia, nitrate, or nitrites spikes, which will keep the fish healthy.

African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates

African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates

African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates (source)

Tank mates for the African butterfly fish should be chosen carefully. The fish are not active predators in an aquarium, but it will feed on small species that venture close to it.

The butterflies can be hostile to other species that live at the top of an aquarium. If you want to get tank mates, choose the ones that dwell at the bottom or in the middle.

Its fins are also attractive to fin-nipping fish.

Good tank mates include larger barbs and tetras, and bottom-dwelling catfish, cichlids, and mormyrids.

You can keep them with other African species, including Congo tetras, Ctenopoma species, African knife fish, small to medium-sized West African cichlids, and elephant nose fish.

Feeding the African Butterfly Fish

In the wild, the butterfly sustains its carnivorous diet with smaller fish and aquatic insects. It is adapted to hunting on the water’s surface.

Its upturned mouth captures prey while its eyes are always prying the surface. The mouth is also huge, and it will suck anything that fits in it.

The fish will accept insects like roaches, crickets, spiders, flies, moths, earthworms, and mealworms.  You can try and catch these insects in your home to give them.

You can give it brine shrimp, small fish, bloodworms, and prawn. For non-floating insects, use forceps to feed the butterfly.

The pet will also accept pellets and flakes, although this should not form the basis of their diet. It will do well with several meals every day.

African Butterfly Fish Common Diseases

The African butterfly fish has developed impressive resilience and hardiness. Be careful with anything you add to your aquarium, however, as it can introduce diseases to the setup.

Plants and other tank’s contents, including rocks and substrates, can contain bacteria.

The fish is vulnerable to bacterial illnesses, parasitic infestations, skin flukes, and ichthyobodo infestations. If you catch any of these diseases at the early stages, the infestations will only be limited to a few of the tank’s population.

The butterflies will rarely get sick in a well-maintained tank. Quarantine any addition to your aquarium to protect the pets.

Breeding African Butterfly Fish

Breeding African Butterfly Fish

Breeding African Butterfly Fish (source)

The African Butterfly fish is an egg-scatterer, and you will need a tank with a large surface area to breed them. Equip the aquarium with lots of floating plants and give the butterflies high-quality live and frozen meals. Additionally, ensure the water is soft and acidic.

Inducing healthy fish to spawn is not hard, and most aquarists will rely on a cool water change. You can also reduce the amount of water to only several inches for a couple of weeks. Top it up with fresh water to depths of 6 to 8 inches.

The African butterfly fish will typically engage in constant chasing of the female. The male will then clasp the female between its fins, and spawning will occur over several days among the plants. The pair can release more than 100 eggs daily during the spawning period.

The opaque white eggs immediately float to the surface. It is best to relocate the eggs since the butterflies show no parental care, and they can even consume the eggs and the fry.

The eggs become dark after 24 hours and begin to sink, and they hatch after three to seven days.

Feeding is among the major problems of raising African butterfly fish fry. They are not efficient at hunting and are not very mobile. Their fins are under-developed, and they will rise up to settle on the floating plants after they hatch. While in this position, they will only consume the live food that floats to their hunting range or touches their face. Any food that sinks below them will, therefore, not be eaten.

You should ensure that the tank is densely-planted with floating plants. The live food will often be trapped in small spaces with the baby butterflies, which makes it easy for the fish to feed. You can give the fry daphnia and brine shrimp.

To make the feeding easier, reduce the water level until the floating plants are settled at the bottom. You will have to change your tanak’s water frequently if there is a lot of uneaten food.

The fry will soon start looking for food as they grow. Cannibalism is common among the baby butterflies. Since the animals eat prey that is smaller than them, larger siblings will instinctively feed on the smaller fish that they come into contact with.

This will lead to the population reduction of the fry to just a few. If you want just a few butterflies, let the cannibalism unfold naturally, so that you get a few strong juveniles. If you want many juveniles, on the other hand, distribute the fry in multiple tanks.

The pectoral fins start to grow at about two weeks. You can give them pinhead crickets and wingless fruit flies in addition to the daphnia and brine shrimp at this stage. The fry will graduate to freeze-dried foods and floating pellets when they are about six weeks. You can add them to adult tanks when they are a few months old.

Are African Butterfly Fish Aggressive?

The African Butterfly fish are aggressive to top-dwelling aquatic species since this where they like to stay. The pet can also eat smaller fish, although they will thrive in a community tank with bigger species.

Do African Butterfly Fish Jump Out of the Tank?

African Butterfly fish are notorious as active jumpers. They rely on their tail fin to propel them out of the aquarium, and they can even glide short distances with their distinctive pectoral fins. Ensure your setup is well sealed to avoid such events.

What is the Lifespan of African Butterfly Fish?

In optimum conditions, the butterfly fish will live between 5 to 10 years.

Is African Butterfly Fish Good for Beginners?

The African butterfly fish is a high-maintenance when it comes to tank conditions. They need a mature tank and an experienced aquarist.


The African Butterfly fish is an interesting aquatic species from West Africa. They dwell at the top of an aquarium, and they will harass any species that live at the top as well.

African butterfly fish are sensitive to water conditions, and they can challenge beginner aquarists. Ensure any decorations, plants, and food you add to the setup are disease-free to keep the fish healthy.

Freshwater Butterfly Fish   Updated: November 11, 2019
avatar Hey, I'm Fabian, chief editor at Aquarium Nexus. I really enjoy the aquarium hobby and love sharing my experience with others. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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