Angelfish and Butterflyfish

In this post, we will understand and discuss the relationship between Angelfish and Butterflyfish. We will also learn more about their biology and some of their curiosities. 

Angelfish and Butterflyfish

Angelfish and Butterflyfish are two very adored and common species in the aquarium hobby. In general, Angelfish and Butterflyfish can be kept together in a community tank. However, larger Angelfish is not a good match, once they are usually aggressive. 

Both species have a body with a disc shape with small fins. Their main differences refer to anatomical structures and colour patterns. They belong to different fish Families.


Butterflyfish are awesome tropical fish. They are small marine species that live in tropical and subtropical waters, near coral reefs. They are popular for having distinguished markings and bright colours. There are more than 100 species of Butterflyfish across the planet.

Butterflyfish general characteristics

Butterflyfish are usually small and measure on average 9 inches in length. However, some species of Butterflyfish can measure up to 12 inches in length. such as the Striped Butterflyfish and the Seat Butterflyfish. In nature, they can live for about 7 years, but in aquariums, they can reach up to 10 years.

They are genetically related to marine Angelfish. They have similar colours, but the Angelfish is much larger than the Butterflyfish. They are distinguished from the Angelfish by the spots they present on the body, the dark bands around the eyes, and the sharper mouth. As well as by some anatomical differences found in their operculum and fins.

Background colours can be blue, red, orange, or yellow. Other species have opaque colours. Many have spots on the sides and dark bands in their eyes.

Butterflyfish live in tropical waters around reefs, often at depths of 18 metres, although some species can inhabit depths down to 180 metres.

Butterflyfish are distributed all over the planet, which is why they are present in almost all oceans. They can be found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. In the Indian and Pacific, several species are members of the enormous genus called Chaetodon.

Butterflyfish behaviour

Butterflyfish are diurnal fish, as they feed during the day and rest on the reefs at night. When night falls, they hide in the crevices of the reefs and show a markedly different colour.

Smaller species can be seen in larger groups and larger ones are usually solitary or keep their mate for life.

Butterflyfish feeding habits

Butterflyfish generally feed on zooplankton, algae, seaweed, corals, and sea anemones. Occasionally, they also feed on small crustaceans.

Butterflyfish predators and threats

Butterflyfish have other larger fish as predators, such as eels and sharks, for example. Also, they are very threatened by humans that hunt them for aquariums, as they are quite difficult to breed in captivity.

Butterflyfish reproduction

Butterflyfish are monogamous, in other words, they keep their partner for life. They release eggs into the water, they float until they become part of the plankton. Many of these eggs will be eaten by other animals that live in or consume plankton. When the eggs hatch, the fries develop armoured plates to protect themselves, as they are very vulnerable. As the fries grow up, these plates disappear.

Butterflyfish conservation status

Butterflyfish are considered an endangered fish group. The main reasons are water pollution and loss of habitat. In recent decades, reefs have been destroyed due to pollution and trawling, and without coral protection, Butterflyfish have difficulties in surviving, because they are exposed to predators and food becomes scarce.

Butterflyfish relationship with humans

Butterflyfish are frequently captured or bred to live in saltwater aquariums. Butterflyfish require very specific conditions with constant monitoring to simulate the particular conditions of the saltwater environment they live in.


Angelfish are a fish group that can be divided into two types: those that live in freshwater and those that live in saltwater. Saltwater species are the most numerous. However, freshwater species are more popular as they are easier to keep in aquariums. There are about 100 different species of Angelfish in total (including freshwater and saltwater species). Here, we talk about the saltwater Angelfish species.

Angelfish general characteristics

Angelfish are bright coloured fish that can grow to up 12 inches in diameter. They have a triangular flat body with a small caudal fin and long dorsal and anal fins. They resemble a lot the Butterflyfish, only differing in a few anatomical features.

This group of fish inhabits reef areas with an average depth of 5 to 30 metres. Although, few Angelfish species can be found down to 50 metres.

Most species are found in the Indo-Pacific, although there are also angelfish in the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Angelfish behaviour

Angelfish are in general very peaceful fish. However, the larger Angelfish can become a bit aggressive towards other fish species. Smaller ones are more social and tend to swim in small schools, while larger ones are prone to be solitary.

Angelfish feeding habits

In the wild, the Angelfish diet is based on bryozoans, zoanthids, gorgonians and tunicates. As omnivores, they can also eat sponges, corals, algae, invertebrates, and other fish species.

In the tank, their food can be based on small invertebrates as worms, larvae, and also on other items as fish flakes.

Angelfish predators and threats

Their main predators are sharks and other larger fish species. Some marine mammals may also feed on them. Human interaction is also a big threat to them.

Angelfish reproduction

Angelfish can lay more than a hundred eggs per spawning period. Male and female are responsible for protecting the egg. The female organizes the eggs and then the male fertilizes each egg and, if the process is successful, the fries begin to move their tails after 2 days. After just 5 days, the fries will begin to swim freely, 2 days later they start eating alone.

Angelfish conservation status

The conservation status of Angelfish varies according to the species, but most are classified as threatened. Saltwater species are threatened as they tend to live on reefs that are disappearing due to climate change and water pollution.

Angelfish relationship with humans

Angelfish are bred in captivity by some aquarists. Saltwater Angelfish are very difficult to breed in home aquariums as they require special water conditions. They are very sensitive to changes in water such as salt and pH levels.

Can Angelfish live with Butterflyfish?

Yes, smaller Angelfish make awesome tank mates to Butterflyfish. They inhabit similar reef areas, and thus, require similar water and tank conditions. 

Larger Angelfish species can become an issue due to the size difference and also because larger Angelfish are prone to be a bit aggressive, which could lead to some stressful situations in a community tank.


In this post, we understood and discussed the relationship between Angelfish and Butterflyfish. We also learnt about their biology and some of their curiosities.

If you have any thoughts or doubts, feel free to drop us in a comment below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Angelfish and Butterflyfish

Do Angelfish and Butterflyfish get along?

It will depend on which type of Angelfish you own. Larger Angelfish are more aggressive and thus, Butterflyfish could easily be chased and bullied. However, smaller Angelfish are peaceful and would match easily with Butterflyfish in a community tank.

Is Butterflyfish an Angelfish?

No, although they belong to the same Order, they are from different fish Families, and thus, different species. They have anatomical differences that make it easy to identify them:

–       Colouration patterns;

–       Angelfish always have protruding spines on the posterior edge of the gill cover, while Butterflyfish have spiny dorsal fins;

–       Angelfish have a rounded shaped head while Butterflyfish have a beak-like snout.

How long do Butterflyfish live?

Usually, in tanks, when receiving ideal care under good conditions, Butterflyfish can live up to 10 years. However, in their natural habitat, they live only 7 years.

What is the relationship between Angelfish and Butterflyfish?

The relationship between Angelfish and Butterflyfish is strictly genetic, as they belong to the same Order. They are similar in colour, but the Angelfish is much larger than the Butterflyfish. Butterflyfish are distinguished from the Angelfish by some patterns in their body colouration as well by few anatomical differences involving the fins and head shape.

What are the most frequent colours of Butterflyfish?

Butterflyfish’s most common colours have a blue, red, orange, or yellow background. Many of the Butterflyfish species have spots on the sides and dark bands in their eyes.

Are Butterflyfish omnivores?

Yes, Butterflyfish are omnivores. They can eat many types of algae and seaweed, as well as crustaceans and zooplankton.


Jason, 2020. 15 Awesome Types of Saltwater Angelfish.

Irons, D. K. (1989). Temporal and areal feeding behavior of the butterflyfish, Chaetodon trifascialis, at Johnston Atoll. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 25(1), 187-193.

Roberts, C. M., Shepherd, A. R. D., & Ormond, R. F. (1992). Large-scale variation in assemblage structure of Red Sea butterflyfishes and angelfishes. Journal of Biogeography, 239-250.