African butterfly fish

The African butterfly fish, also known as the Freshwater Butterfly Fish, is an all-round freshwater species, but people sometimes confuse it with the marine butterfly fish due to their similar name. They can live up to 6 years, but sometimes longer with proper care and diet. Due to their ‘perfect’ design they have been around for millions of years, so you could say they are true living fossils!

A flying fish

The African butterfly fish belongs to the family of Pantodontidae, within the Osteoglossiformes order, of which the other surface dweller, the silver arowana, belongs to. It is a unique looking fish: they are streamlined and equipped to glide small distances through the air when necessary. They have large pectoral fins that look like the wings of a butterfly, hence the name. Once airborne they fan their fins out – just like the old F-14 Tomcat military jet used to do – to gain as much surface area as possible, in order to stay in the air longer. They use this unique ability to escape from predators in the wild. As a surface dwelling species (a surface hunter) their body is designed to have maximum performance at the top of the water with their eyes facing upwards and a flat body on top.

Just like the arowana, their mouth has an upward hunting angle allowing to catch prey (small insects) from the air. They are one of the few fish that can breathe air from the surface using its swim bladder. When looked at from above the fish looks like a butterfly due to the shape of their fan-like fins.

Their natural habitat

They are found in West Africa, central Congo and lower Niger, in bodies with still water or very slow current. From lakes, to ponds, to side banks of rivers and creeks. A species of fish that likes to hover at the surface constantly.

The ideal environment

As said before, these fish can live a long life and grow up to 12 cm when cared for properly. Good water parameters are the most important factors in dealing with butterfly fish. They need a stable and consistent water conditions – a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius is ideal – a pH between 6,5 and 7,0 and a GH of between 1 and 10.

They like plants in the aquarium, especially drifting plants. In nature they hide in between these plants. They like shaded areas in the tank, which these floating plants can provide as well. The middle and bottom decoration of your tank is less important as these fish pretty much spend all their time at the surface. It is important to keep the water calm, so do not install powerful powerheads, filters or streaming pumps aimed at the surface. Lastly, keep the aquarium lid closed as these fish can and will jump.

Pantodon buchholziUp to 12 cm
Ponds, lakes, swamps and side banks of rivers with slow moving water in West-AfricaTemperature: 24 – 30 °C
pH: 6,5 – 7,0
GH: 1 – 10
They can jump out of the water and glide for some time due to their wing shaped fins.

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