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African Butterfly Fish

By | Last Updated : 12th October 2020

African butterflyfish belong to the Pantodontidae family occupying the water bodies of West Africa. Their large colorful pectoral fins, that they wiggle when gliding in the water, makes them strikingly similar to a butterfly hence their name.

African Butterfly Fish

Quick Information

Scientific NamePantodon buchholzi
Other NamesFreshwater butterflyfish
OriginLake Chad, Congo Basin, Cameroon, Lower Niger, upper Zambezi, and Ogooue
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (by the IUCN)
Behavioral CharacteristicsPeaceful and cooperative when they get to dwell in their desired territory (top of the tank) uninterrupted but could get aggressive in defending their domain if other top-dwellers are coexisting with them
School Size3 -4 (prefers to live with bottom-dwelling fish)
Physical TraitsSmall-sized, flat head, and body; upturned mouth with sharp teeth; big, pectoral fins; fan-shaped ventral fins resembling thread-like projections; large anal fins and broad caudal fins helping it to propel out of the water with ease
ColorsLight brown or greenish body with silvery of brownish-green fins and dark markings along the edges of the fins and undersides
Size5 inches (12.7 cm)
Lifespan5 – 6 years
Sexual DimorphismPresent; Males are slimmer and have one of their anal fins’ rays to be a little longer than the remaining ones; females are heavier with a straight, flat, and uniformly arranged anal fin
Probable DiseasesBacterial and fungal infections
Approximate Price$15 – 20
African Butterfly Fish Size
Freshwater Butterflyfish

Tank Setup & Care Sheet Details

Care LevelIntermediate  
Tank Size30 – 40 gallons (114 – 151 liters)

Water Parameters

pH Level6.5 – 7.0
Temperature77 to 82° F
Hardness8 – 12 dGH
Aquarium Water FlowSlow

Tank Ambience

Lighting Low, subdued
Substrate TypeSand, gravel, rocks, driftwood, live plants
Tank MatesCompatible with: Fish that are bigger or of a similar size to them, mostly dwelling at the middle or  bottom are their most suitable tank mates like bigger barb (particularly those that do not nip fins) and tetra fish,  dwarf gourami, African species like African knife fish, Congo tetra, West African cichlid, catfish and elephantfish species; other African butterflyfish, mostly male-female combination

Incompatible with: Dalmatian mollies, tiger barbs, and angelfish (since they are fin-nippers and could target the African butterflyfish’s long, flowing fins); any fish that are small enough to get into their mouths should also not be housed with them
Suitable Position in the TankTop


DietFloating foods like pellets and sticks, flaky foods, small prawns, brine shrimps, alongside a whole lot of canned or live insects like flies, and crickets
Frequency2 – 3 times a day
Freshwater African Butterfly Fish
Full Grown African Butterfly Fish

Important Things to Know For Fish Keepers

  • They are notoriously reputed for their ability to jump and can use their tail fin in leaping out of the aquarium, especially if the water is fast flowing. So, fixing a tight lid on the fish tank without any gaps in between is a must. If you find any of the African butterflyfish missing out of the blue, look for them well around the tank area.
  • If you find your fish getting paler or losing color, the reason could be stress, inappropriate water conditions, or even the lack of a nutritious diet.  Changing about 15 – 20% of the aquarium water or eliminating any element from the aquarium that makes them anxious could perhaps help. If it does not get back its color, then do consult a fish vet.


Q. How does the African Butterflyfish capture its prey?

The African Butterflyfish is known for its hunting ability. Their alert eyes help them keep track of their prey, while their upturned mouth is designed to help these fish capture smaller preys the moment they are spotted on the water surface.  Their enlarged pectoral muscles also help them in wiggling their pectoral fins as they glide along.

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