African Butterfly Fish: Expert Insights & Care Essentials

Pantodon buchholzi African Butterfly Fish Top view
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 17, 2024
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Choosing the ideal fish for your aquarium can be tough, but the **African Butterfly Fish** sure adds some magic to your tank. This fish stands out in the world of home aquariums with its unique beauty. But caring for it needs special attention. Our guide gives **valuable tips** on keeping this amazing fish happy. Learn about the **best tank mates**, the **perfect environment**, and the **cool behaviors** that make them special. Dive into the secrets of the African Butterfly Fish and **turn your aquarium** into a colorful masterpiece!

Article Summary

  • African Butterfly Fish are easily distinguishable by their prominent pectoral fins, unique mouth structure, and eye placement.
  • They have evolved unique adaptations for surface feeding, including an upward-pointing mouth and specialized fins.
  • These fish are native to West Africa and are found in slow-moving streams, lakes, and swamps.

Species Overview

The African butterfly fish, scientifically known as Pantodon buchholzi, belongs to the family Pantodontidae. This unique species stands out not only within its own family but also in its genus. Native to Africa, the African Butterfly Fish, also known as Butterfly Fish, Butterflyfish, or African Leaf Fish among various other names is a unique and captivating species widely recognized for their distinctive appearance and remarkable gliding ability.

These freshwater butterfly fish possess a long and slender body with large pectoral fins resembling delicate butterfly wings. Their coloration typically consists of black and brown shades with a lighter underbelly, allowing them to blend into their surroundings both from above and below.

Originating from West Africa, these freshwater butterfly fish are found in slow-moving streams, lakes, and swamps. Their natural habitat plays a crucial role in their survival and behavior as ambush predators. These areas provide them with ample opportunities to hunt for prey on the water’s surface.

To facilitate surface feeding, these fish have developed a distinctive mouth adapted specifically for this purpose. Their upward-pointing mouths enable them to snatch prey from the water’s surface effectively. They have specialized ventral fins that aid in maintaining stability while gliding.


One of the most fascinating aspects of African leaf fish is their ability to glide effortlessly above the surface of the water. This evolutionary adaptation sets them apart from other species and showcases their unchanged evolution over millions of years. Their unique features include adaptations for surface hunting and breathing.

In terms of identification features, African butterfly fish can be recognized by their prominent pectoral fins, unique mouth structure, eyes positioned towards the top of their head, and well-defined dorsal and anal fins. These characteristics make them easily distinguishable among other aquatic species.

These freshwater fish typically reach a length of up to 5 inches (12.7 cm). However, exceptional cases have been reported where individuals grew larger under optimal care conditions. Factors such as suitable tank size, appropriate diet, and water conditions can contribute to their growth potential.

With proper care, the African freshwater butterfly fish have an average lifespan of 5-6 years. However, exceptional genetics and meticulous care can extend their lifespan even further. By providing a well-maintained environment, balanced nutrition, and regular monitoring of their health, these fascinating creatures have the potential for longer lifespans.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

The African leaf fish, also known as Pantodon buchholzi, are fascinating creatures that require specific habitat and tank conditions to thrive in a home aquarium.

These fish are typically found in slow-moving freshwater habitats such as rivers, streams, and swamps.

Tank Set Up

It is crucial to replicate their natural surroundings. These fish are typically found in slow-moving freshwater habitats such as rivers, streams, and swamps. To mimic these conditions in your aquarium:

Water movement: African butterflyfish prefer minimal water movement to prevent them from being pushed around. Consider using a gentle filter or adjusting the flow rate accordingly.

Tank size: Due to their active nature, a minimum tank size of 40 gallons is recommended for African butterfly fish. Providing ample space allows them to swim freely and exhibit their natural behaviors.

Wide and shallow tank: African butterfly fish are surface-oriented creatures that spend most of their time near the top of the water column. Opting for a wide and shallow tank provides them with ample room to explore while ensuring they have easy access to the surface for breathing.

Secure aquarium hood: These agile jumpers may attempt daring leaps out of the water if given the chance. To prevent any escapades, make sure your aquarium has a secure hood or cover.

African butterfly fish gliding on the surface of the tank

Water Parameters

Maintaining stable and specific water parameters is crucial for the well-being of these freshwater butterfly fish:

Temperature and pH level: These freshwater fish thrive in warm water temperatures between 75°F and 82°F (24°C – 28°C). Maintaining a pH level within the range of 6.0-7.5 is essential for their optimal health.

Water hardness: Aim for a hardness level between 8–12 dGH (degrees German hardness) to replicate their natural habitat. Regular monitoring and the use of reliable testing kits are essential to ensure these parameters remain stable.

Water quality: African freshwater butterfly fish require clean water conditions with low levels of ammonia and nitrite. Regular water changes and proper filtration will help maintain excellent water quality.

Substrate and Decor

Creating a comfortable environment with suitable substrate and decor is vital for African butterfly fish:

These fish appreciate plenty of hiding spots within the tank, surface floating vegetation such as plants or driftwood.

Hiding spots: These fish appreciate plenty of hiding spots within the tank, surface floating vegetation such as plants or driftwood. Adding rocks, caves, and driftwood can provide additional hiding places for them to explore.

Vegetation: Plants play a crucial role in replicating their natural habitat. Tall plants like Amazon swords or Vallisneria provide coverage near the surface, allowing the fish to feel secure. Floating plants, such as Water lettuce or Duckweed, mimic their natural environment while also diffusing light entering the tank.

Tankmates and Temperament

African Butterfly Fish, known for their unique behavior and exceptional jumping abilities, are fascinating creatures to keep in an aquarium. However, due to their aggressive nature, they are best suited for species-only tanks. Let’s delve into the African Butterfly Fish behavior and explore suitable tank mates that can coexist peacefully.


African Butterflyfish have a surface-oriented behavior that sets them apart from other fish species. They spend most of their time near the water’s surface, patiently waiting for prey to pass by. This ambush predator behavior makes them excellent jumpers as they swiftly launch themselves out of the water to catch insects or small aquatic organisms.


In terms of temperament, these freshwater fish tend to be aggressive towards other small fish. They have a preference for conspecifics but can potentially cohabitate with other small fish if certain conditions are met. Males may exhibit territoriality, especially during breeding periods; however, they rarely cause serious injuries.

Compatible Tank Mates

When considering tank mates for African Butterflyfish, it is crucial to choose species that will peacefully coexist with them. Factors such as tank size, coverage, and diet influence compatibility.

Angelfish: These graceful fish occupy different areas of the tank compared to African Butterfly Fish, reducing competition.

Barbs: Active swimmers that primarily inhabit the middle levels of the aquarium.

Dwarf Gouramis: Peaceful and beautiful small labyrinth fish that can share the same space as African Butterfly Fish without causing conflicts.

Danios: Fast-moving schooling fish that generally stay away from the surface area where African Butterfly Fish prefer.

african butterfly fish grazing the surface of the water

Cories: Bottom-dwelling catfish species that complement African Leaf Fish by occupying different regions within the aquarium. Small species of Corydoras catfish are bottom-dwellers and can peacefully share the tank with Butterfly Fish.

Tetras (with caution): Some tetra species can be compatible if chosen carefully based on size and temperament.

Tank Mates to Avoid

To ensure the well-being of African Butterfly Fish, it is essential to avoid keeping them with small or delicate fish that may become prey. Species that occupy the surface area should be avoided to prevent territorial conflicts.

Aggressive Cichlids: Large, aggressive cichlids, such as Oscars or Jack Dempseys, should be avoided as they can intimidate and harm the smaller and more peaceful African Butterfly Fish.

Fast-Moving or Nippy Fish: Species that are known for their fast movements or nipping behavior, like Tiger Barbs or Serpae Tetras, can stress out the slower-moving Butterfly Fish.

Any fish that can potentially fit the Butterfly Fish in its mouth should be avoided..

Large Predatory Fish: Any fish that can potentially fit the Butterfly Fish in its mouth should be avoided, as they pose a direct threat. Examples include larger predatory catfish and puffers.

Bottom-Dwelling Aggressive Fish: Aggressive bottom-dwelling fish like Red-Tailed Sharks or aggressive plecos can disrupt the peaceful nature of the Butterfly Fish.

Fast Surface-Dwelling Fish: Fish that primarily occupy the upper levels of the tank and are very active, such as Danios, may disturb the Butterfly Fish’s calm surface habitat.

African Butterfly Fish Care

Taking care of African Butterfly Fish requires advanced knowledge and experience. These unique creatures have specific needs that must be met to ensure their well-being.

Food and Diet

The African Butterfly fish diet is a predator diet, primarily consisting of live meaty foods. They are known to feed on various insects such as spiders, flies, crickets, and mealworms. In captivity, it is important to provide them with a varied diet to mimic their natural feeding habits. This can include live or frozen foods like brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Special feeding considerations should be taken into account when caring for these fish. Since they are surface feeders, it is best to offer food at the water’s surface or use tongs for hand-feeding. This will help ensure they receive adequate nutrition without any difficulty in reaching their food.

Feeding frequency is also crucial for the health of African Butterfly Fish. They should be fed 2-4 times a day to meet their dietary requirements. It is important to note that live food offers higher nutritional value compared to flakes and pellets commonly used for other fish species.

Common Diseases

As with any freshwater fish, African Butterflyfish are susceptible to common diseases found in aquariums. It is essential to understand these diseases and take preventive measures to keep your fish healthy.

Stress plays a significant role in disease susceptibility among fish species. Providing optimal conditions and minimizing stressors in the aquarium environment can greatly reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks.

Care Recommendations

Keep the tank securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers who may attempt escape.

To ensure the well-being of your African Butterfly Fish, maintaining optimal water quality and conditions is paramount:

  1. Regularly monitor water parameters using test kits to ensure optimal conditions for your fish.
  2. Perform regular partial water changes as needed to maintain water quality.
  3. Keep the tank securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers who may attempt escape.

By following these care recommendations, you can provide a suitable environment for your African Freshwater Butterfly Fish to thrive and enjoy a healthy life.

Breeding the African Butterfly Fish

Breeding African Butterfly Fish, also known as freshwater butterflyfish, can be a challenging task due to their specific requirements for successful reproduction. However, with the right approach and proper care, it is possible to breed these unique fish in a home aquarium.

To set up an ideal breeding environment for African Butterfly Fish, certain habitat requirements should be met. A spacious fish tank of at least 20 gallons is recommended to accommodate their active nature. The water temperature should be maintained between 75-82°F (24-28°C), with a pH level ranging from 6.5 to 7.5.


During spawning periods, African Butterflyfish exhibit territorial tendencies. Males become more aggressive towards females as they prepare to breed. It is essential to provide them with adequate space and suitable tank mates during this time.

The breeding process of African Leaf Fish involves males building bubble nests at the water’s surface where females deposit their eggs during spawning. These nests are created using saliva and plant materials collected by the male fish. Once the eggs are laid, males guard and protect them until they hatch.

To ensure successful egg protection and incubation, it is advisable to provide floating plants such as Java moss or Amazon frogbit in the breeding tank. These plants serve as attachment points for the eggs and offer protection during the incubation period.

Once the fry hatch from their eggs, proper care becomes crucial for their survival. They require small live food sources like baby brine shrimp or wingless fruit flies as their primary diet. Feeder fish can also be used occasionally but should not be relied upon solely due to potential health risks.

Maintaining stable water parameters is vital for fry care in order to prevent stress-related issues or diseases. Regular water changes should be performed while ensuring that ammonia and nitrite levels remain at zero throughout their growth stages.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are African Butterfly Fish Hard to Keep?

African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi) can be moderately challenging to keep in aquariums. They have specific care requirements, including a warm and stable water temperature, proper tank setup, and a diet that can be difficult to replicate in captivity. Adequate space, live or frozen food, and a secure lid to prevent jumping are essential for their well-being. While they may not be ideal for beginners, experienced aquarists can successfully maintain African Butterfly Fish with careful attention to their needs.

Are African Butterfly Fish Aggressive?

African Butterfly Fish are not inherently aggressive towards other fish, but they have a predatory nature. They are known to eat smaller tank mates, especially if those fish are small enough to fit in their mouth. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose tank companions carefully. Peaceful, non-aggressive fish that are too large to be considered prey are the best companions for African Butterfly Fish.

What Can African Butterfly Fish Live With?

African Butterfly Fish can coexist with peaceful, non-aggressive fish that are not small enough to be considered prey. Some suitable fish tank mates include larger tetras, gouramis, peaceful cichlids, and other non-aggressive community fish. It’s essential to provide adequate space and hiding spots to reduce potential stress for all tank inhabitants.

Are African Butterfly Fish Peaceful?

African Butterfly Fish are generally peaceful towards other fish of appropriate size that do not resemble prey. However, they are predators and may attempt to eat smaller fish that can fit in their mouth. Therefore, peaceful tank mates should be selected carefully to ensure the well-being of both the African Butterfly Fish and their companions.

What Do African Butterfly Fish Eat?

African Butterfly Fish are carnivorous and primarily eat insects and small aquatic organisms in their natural habitat. In captivity, their diet should consist of live or frozen foods, such as small insects, mosquito larvae, brine shrimp, and other aquatic invertebrates. Providing a varied diet is essential to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients for optimal health. Additionally, offering food that floats on the water’s surface mimics their natural feeding behavior, making it easier for them to feed.

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