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Butterflyfish

Butterflyfish (family Chaetodontidae) are medium-sized oval fish which seem to dart everywhere on the coral reef, their bright bodies looking busy and beautiful.  Mostly yellow, black and white with various bars and stripes, these fish easily catch the eye of the snorkeler.  All of the more than 40 species of butterflyfish are laterally compressed (meaning they look flat when viewed from above, in front or behind) and they have small, protruding mouths for feeding on small invertebrates.  Adults tend to live alone or in pairs, never ranging far from their home reef. They occasionally school in search of food.  Many butterflyfish have a black line over the eye, and many have two dark spots on the dorsal fin or caudal (rear) end.  This extra "eye" is nature's way of confusing predators who then have a hard time determining which end of the fish they're looking at.  (Slide down this page to see how many have bars, and how many have dark spots!)

The location in parentheses tells where the shot was taken.  Most information was taken from Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific by Allen, Steene, Humann, and Deloach and Reef Fish of the Maldives by Dr. Charles Anderson (now out of print). For more on the books we use, click here.  All photos, large and small, are copyrighted Hackingfamily.com, with credits mostly to Christopher Hacking unless otherwise noted.

The Chevroned butterflyfish is aptly named The Chevroned Butterflyfish Chaetodon trifascialis gets its name from the angular markings on its side.  Many other butterflyfish have similar markings, but the Chevroned is the most elongate of these fish.  The others are far more triangular, or have other distinctive markings.  The black tail with yellow margin is characteristic of the Chevroned Butterflyfish, as are the dirty-yellow rear dorsal and anal fins that are rimmed with blue or white.  These fish are all over the Indo-Pacific, and though we only got this picture in Indonesia, we fist saw one in Tonga.  They're territorial, and will chase other butterflyfish out of their coral homes.  (Komodo, Indonesia)
Inhabiting coastal and outer reefs from the Red Sea and E.  Africa all the way to Hawaii and French Polynesia is the Threadfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon auriga.  So named for the filament trailing off the the dorsal fin, this fairly large butterflyfish (up to 8 inches, or 23 cm) may be found to 130' or 40 meters deep.  The black spot on the rear dorsal does not appear on the fish in the Red Sea. (Fiji) Threadfin Butterflyfish
Face-on view of the loverly Spot-Nape Butterflyfish In Komodo National Park, Indonesia we saw our first Spot-nape Butterflyfish Chaetodon osycephalus.  These white fish with alternating black and yellow tails have a characteristic black bar through the eye, and a separate broken black bar, giving them the name of spot nape.  Their range is nominally from the Maldives (Indian Ocean) to Indonesia and from the N. Philippines to the great Barrier Reef, but we have a photo of one (taken by friends on Cookie Cutter) from Tonga in 2004.  (Komodo National Park, Indonesia)
Two Vagabond Butterflyfish Chaetodon vagabondus flit about the reef in search of worms, exposed polyps, or other food.  Like other butterflyfish, the vagabonds often travel in pairs.  A distinguishing mark is that the black band on the rear of the body does not extend all the way to the anal fin, nor does it cover the entire rear dorsal fin.  They are found to depths of 100' or 30m. (Fr. Polynesia) Vagabond Butterfly fishes
Black-backed Butterflyfish (New Caledonia)
The Black-Backed Butterflyfish Chaetodon melannotus feeds on live soft and hard corals.  The black back bordering the yellow dorsal fin and a black saddle on the tail are characteristic.
(New Caledonia) Photo by Sue Hacking
The Blue Spot Butterflyfish shot in New Caledonia
An oscillated spot on the tail and the rectangular blue blotch on the side of this yellow butterflyfish help identify the Blue-Spot Butterflyfish Chaetodon plebeius.
(New Caledonia) Photo by Sue Hacking
Blacklip Butterflyfish Chaetodon kleinii is one of the less sharp-lined butterflyfish on the reef, with its dirty yellow back and almost smudged bar behind the pectoral fin.  It has a blue forehead and a black bar over the eye, plus black lips.  They range from Hawaii to East Africa, and we've seen then from Tonga through Indonesia.  This photo was taken on a dive in Fiji.  The individual in the background could be a juvenile, as its coloring is not as distinct.  (Fiji) Photo by Chris Hacking. Two Black-Lip Butterflyfishes on the reef in Fiji
Raccoon ButterflyFish
The Raccoon Butterflyfish Chaetodon lunula is often found on the lagoon reefs of French Polynesia.  It clearly demonstrates the common black band over the eyes of many butterflyfishes.
Saddled ButterflyFish
The Saddled Butterflyfish Chaetodon ephippium is stunning with its contrasting black saddle and white band with orange trim.  These fish may be solitary or in pairs. (Moorea)
Pacific Double Saddle Butterfly Fish
The Pacific Double-saddle Butterflyfish Chaetodon ulietensis carries two diffuse black saddles across its back.  It may be solitary, in pairs, or groups.  (Fr. Polynesia)
Dot and Dash ButterflyFish
The Dot and Dash Butterflyfish Chaetodon pelewensis is one of the more appropriately named fish.  I can almost hear the Morse code going!  These fish live on outer reefs to 30 m.  (Moorea)
The Yellow-Bodied Snout-Fish
The Longnose Butterflyfish (aka Forcepsfish in the Indian Ocean) Forcipiger flavissimus is distinctive with its elongated snout and brilliant yellow body.  It can be distinguished from the Big Longnose Butterflyfish by its open beak and shorter snout. (Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia)
Big Longnose Butterfly fish with longer, and closed snout
It doesn't seem much larger to me, but the Big Longnose Butterflyfish Forcipiger longirostris does have a snout longer than its cousin, the Longnose Butterflyfish (left).  It can be identified by its long closed snout and the small spots under the chin (not visible in this shot).  It also has an all-brown variation, which looks remarkably like a leaf.
Face-to-face with a speckled (millet seed) butterflyfish. Speckled Butterflyfish Chaetodon citrinellus are called Millet Seed Butterflyfish in Hawai'i and are distinguished by the many small rows of faint bluish dots on a pale yellow to whitish body.  The black margin on the anal fin is also characteristic. They are usually found on shallow reefs in 3-10' or 1-3m.
(New Caledonia and Moorea, Fr. Polynesia)
Speckled Butterfly Fish
Indian Redfin Butterflyfishes, with their red tails. At first these butterflyfish (left and right) with their subtle stripes and dark rectangular spot on the body look identical, but to tell the two species apart you must look closer - and know where you are in the world!

To the left are two Indian Redfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon trifasciatus. They have similar facial and body markings to the Redfin Butterflyfishes (right), including the reddish anal fin, but have a yellow/red tail base. These are found from East Africa across the Indian Ocean to Bali, Indonesia.
(Butang Islands, Thailand) Photo by Chris Hacking

The Redfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon lunulatus (right) we have seen all through the Pacific Ocean.  Its name must have been derived from the reddish anal fin, for its pectoral fins are clear and its dorsal and tail whitish or pale blue.  They are found from the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia across the Pacific to French Polynesia.
(Komodo, Indonesia) Photo by Amanda Hacking.

Redfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon lunulatus
Ornate Butterfly fishes
Two Ornate Butterflyfish Chaetodon ornatissimus pick at the algae on a coral head in French Polynesia.  These bright fish are bluish with yellow bands, and narrow black and yellow margins on their dorsal fins.  They are usually in pairs in coral-rich areas, to 115' or 35m. (French Polynesia)
The yellowback butterflyfish is a bright fish on the Tongan reefs
The Yellowback Butterflyfish Chaetodon mertensii grows to about 5 inches (14cm) and lives on outer reefs and lagoons to as much as 400' or 120 meters deep.  It is characterized by chevron markings, a broad yellow patch on the rear body, and a white and yellow tail.  A black stripe covers the eye, with a black patch on the nape.  (Tonga)
Reticulated ButterflyFish The Reticulated Butterflyfish Chaetodon reticulatus shows the black band over the eyes, and while it lacks the specific "eye spot" near the tail, its complex patterning probably succeeds in confusing its predators.  (Tahiti)
Face-to-face with an oval spot butterflyfish in New Caleonia
The Oval-spot Butterflyfish Chaetodon speculum is found in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, including Indonesia and Malaysia, to as far east as Tonga.  We first saw them in western Fiji.  They are normally found in 8 to 30 meters in coral rich lagoons or outer reefs. (New Caledonia)
In Chagos, Indian Ocean, this is known as the Zanzibar Butterflyfish
The Zanzibar Butterflyfish is not in our fish ID books (thus we have no Latin name for it) and neither is this charming fish.  We identified it from a CD slideshow of Chagos Archipelago, which is where we first saw it.  It's distinguished from the Oval-spot Butterflyfish (left) and others like it by the horizontal lines on its back. (Peros Banhos, Chagos)
Photo by Amanda Hacking
The Eclipse Butterflyfish with its occluded "sun"
The Eclipse Butterflyfish Chaetodon bennetti is characterized not only by its black oval (appearing occluded, as in an eclipsed sun) but by the two very distinctive blue/white lines running diagonally on the lower body.  Like many other butterflyfish it has a dark band through its eye. Its range extends from E. Africa to Indonesia, and across the Pacific to Polynesia. We've seen it in Tonga, Fiji and the Maldives. (Tonga)
Teardrop Butterflyfish
Almost like a reverse image of the Eclipse Butterflyfish is the Teardrop Butterflyfish Chaetodon unimaculatus with its white body and teardrop-shaped mark mid-back. this white fish with yellow back makes a bright spot on the reef.  It is found from Indonesia to French Polynesia. (Fiji)
Eastern Triangular Butterflyfish
The Eastern Triangular Butterflyfish Chaetodon baronessa ranges from Cocos-Keeling in the Indian Ocean as far east as Fiji, where we first saw this fish with its unusually red snout and nape.  It tends to hang out near Acropora plate coral in depths up to 35 feet or 10 m. (Fiji)
The Triangular Butterflyfish, Thailand
The Triangular Butterflyfish Chaetodon triangulum is very similar to its Eastern cousin.  It is distinguished only by its black tail (the Eastern has a dirty yellow tail) and its location - purely the Indian Ocean.  It is also attracted to Acropora coral, and is often found in pairs. (Butangs, Thailand) Photo by Chris Hacking

The Singular Bannerfish Bannerfish, genus Heniochus are one of the 7 genera within the butterflyfish family. Differing a bit in shape from the Chaetodon genus, they are more triangular than oval, with more brown and black.

 

The Singular Bannerfish Heniochus singularius (left) is a black fish with a small white bar over the face, a wide white bar behind the eyes and a sweeping white bar on the body which extends onto the vertical white dorsal filament. The rear dorsal and tail fins are yellow. It ranges from the Maldives and Indonesia, across to Micronesia, Samoa and Fiji. (Fiji)

Two Pennant Bannerfish Heniochus chrysostomus swim by the side of a coral boulder.  They tend to live in pairs, both inshore and on outer reefs in 10-150' or 3-45m.  They appear to be completely un-hydrodynamic, making one wonder how they can swim at all.  (Moorea)

Pennant Banner Fish
Longfin Bannerfish
This lovely Longfin Bannerfish Heniochus acuminatus we found swimming around the coral on the walls of Tonga's undersea cliffs. Basically white, with a pair of black bands and yellow tail and rear dorsal.  The long white dorsal filament gives the fish its name. They range from the Red Sea across to French Polynesia. (Tonga)

Masked Banner Fish
TheMasked Bannerfish Heniochus monoceros is brighter than its relative, the Pennant Bannerfish (above).  These may be solitary, in pairs or small groups in lagoons and outer reefs in 6-80' or 2-25m. (Moorea)

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