How to take care of African butterfly Fish?

We will talk about African butterfly fish care in this blog post.We will also discuss important factors such as their habitat, types,lifespan, tank set-up,water parameters and healthcare, etc.Everything you need to know about african butterfly fish care will be briefly discussed.


In this blog

  • Key specifications of african butterfly fish care
  • Why is African butterfly fish care important?
  • How many African butterfly fish should you start with as a newcomer?
  • Habitat of African butterfly fish
  • Types of African butterfly fish
  • Different strains or colors of African butterfly fish
  • General and physical attributes of African butterfly fish
  • African butterfly fish lifespan
  • African butterfly fish tank set-up
  • African butterfly fish diet and feeding requirements
  • African butterfly fish healthcare and health conditions
  • African butterfly fish daily care and Bi-weekly care
  • Summary

How to take care of African butterfly Fish?

You can take care of your African butterfly fish by doing the following:

  • Feed them 2-4 times a day but never overfeed them.
  • They have the habit of  jumping out of the tank, so put a tight lid on top of the tank.
  • Monitor water pH and temperature regularly.
  • Gravel siphons can be used to remove uneaten food from the tanks on a daily basis without disturbing the fish.
  • Don’t keep any pointy objects in the tank, as it can hurt the fish.
  • Check all the tank equipment if they are working or not.

African butterfly fish bi-weekly care tips

  • 20 % water changes should be done every week.
  • Quarantine new fish for 2 weeks before introducing them to the main tank.
  • Since African butterflies mostly prefer live food in their diet,it is advised to quarantine the live food for a few weeks in a separate tank before feeding them. 
  • Tank plants should be trimmed and washed either weekly or twice in a month to avoid overgrowth and infections.
  • Clean gravels and other decorative items weekly once to avoid bacterial infections.

Key specifications of African butterfly fish

Scientific name Pantodon buchholzi
HabitatConservation statusWest AfricaNot listed
Lifespan5-6 years
Body sizeBody shapeColorSexual dimorphism4-5 inches in lengthRound and flat bodyGray or brownYes
Another nameFreshwater butterfly fish
Optimum temperatureOptimum pHWater hardness75F-86F6.9 – 7.11-10 KH
TemperamentBeginner or experienced Semi-aggressive and Predatory Experienced aquarists
Care levelModerate to Difficult
Tank sizeTank type40 gallonsPlanted community tank
Preferred plantsLive floating plants
CompatibilityPlecos, loaches etc
No. of african butterfly fish species found 2
Gestation periodFertilizationNo.of eggs
Egg layer-Large translucent floating eggs on the surface7 daysInternal fertilization3000-4000 eggs

Why is African butterfly fish care important?

African butterfly fish have special diet requirements and are sensitive to pH and temperature fluctuations.So utmost care should be taken to handle them in aquarium settings.

How many African butterfly fish should you start with as a newcomer?

As a newcomer I would suggest you to start with just 1 african butterfly fish,because they have special diet requirements and as a beginner it is not easy to understand their behaviours.They are recommended for experienced aquarists.

Note- African butterfly fish look similar to saltwater lionfish.So don’t get confused in pet shops while buying them.

Habitat of African butterfly fish

  • Native – Africa
  • Distribution-Lake-chad,congo-basin,lower-niger,cameroon,oogoe and upper zambezi
  • Water movement- still and calm water.

Types of African butterfly fish

There are 2 types of African butterfly fish:

  • Congo basin African butterfly fish
  • Niger basin African butterfly fish

Different strains or colors of African butterfly fish

  • African butterfly fish are gray or brown in color.
  • They come in two different color forms in pet shops- green and tan.

General and physical attributes of African butterfly fish

  • Characterized by large fan-like pectoral fins,similar to butterfly wings.Single lung and a large swim bladder,which helps them to breathe at the water surface.
  • Skilled surface hunters due to their eyes and upward mouth position.They have the ability to glide over short distances too because of their powerful build.
  • African butterflies have a flat head and a flat back(light brown or greenish),fins and bellies have dark markings.
  • Male african butterfly fish are larger than females and are devoid of black markings 

African butterfly fish lifespan

Average lifespan is between 5-6 years if maintained well in the artificial environment.

African butterflies need a proper protein rich carnivorous diet like their natural habitat and thrive well in stable pH and temperatures.

If these parameters are maintained well then they will surely entertain you with their antique behaviors for long 6 years.

African butterfly fish tank set-up

Tank sizeLight intensitySubstrateWater parametersTemperatureTank plantsTank mates

Tank size for african butterfly fish

  • Minimum tank size- 40 gallons (181L)
  • Tank type-Tall,spacious and shallow tank with more length and width is recommended.Such tanks provide greater surface areas like their natural habitat.
  • Tank zone-They spend their time in the top regions of the tank.
  • Tank cover-Tanks should be covered properly with a strong hood because african butterfly fish are great jumpers.

Light intensity for african butterfly fish

  • Subdued lighting is preferable,because they become inactive when the light is too bright.
  • The tank should be kept in a place where the intensity of light is not high and away from direct sunlight.

Substrate/Decorations for african butterfly fish

African butterfly fish don’t need special substrate in their tanks because they are surface dwellers.More focus should be on the surface of their aquarium.

But If you are keeping bottom dweller with them in the same tank then you can go for dark sandy substrate.Avoid coloured gravels, because it can be poisonous for your fish. 

They prefer lots of hiding spots in their tank to hide and rest so you can use live rock works and corals to give that touch of their natural habitat.

Water parameters for african butterfly fish

  • A tropical fish which prefers warm water conditions in their aquarium.
  • Water movement – butterfly fish come from still and slow moving water areas, so it is important to maintain the same water movement in aquarium conditions.
  • pH- 6.9-7.1-African butterfly fish cannot thrive in neutral water conditions,slight acidity in water is important.
  • Filtration- African butterfly fish are found in still water, low water currents, so a powerful filtration is not required.
  • Place the filter as far as possible from the surface,install them at the bottom of the tank and over the substrate.It should provide proper aeration to the tank that’s all.

Temperature for african butterfly fish

African butterfly fish are sensitive to temperature fluctuations,so it is advised to maintain a stable temperature in their aquarium.

The overall growth of African butterfly fish activity depends on a stable aquarium temperature.If temperature fluctuates or suddenly dips from the required temperature then surely their immune system will become weak and due  to it they will become less active.

A sudden drop can shock your fish or even kill them.Use a thermometer attached to the aquarium to monitor the temperature on a regular basis.

  • Ideal temperature- 75 F-86F
  • Breeding temperature- 80.0F 

Tank plants for african butterfly fish

African butterfly fish like densely planted aquariums.So cover their tanks with tall live plants and surface floating plants that mimic their natural habitats.

Select plants which can adjust in subdued lighting conditions, because african butterfly fish don’t prefer bright lighting in their aquarium.

  • Anubias nana
  • Bolbitis fern
  • Cryptocoryne 

Tank mates for african butterfly fish

Choose their tank mates wisely, because they get super aggressive during feeding time and if any surface swimming species occupy the surface levels for feeding then surely they will out-compete each other for food resources.

It’s better to have a proper knowledge about whom to choose and whom to avoid.

Suitable tank mates (compatible):

  • Plecos (rubber lip and bristlenose)
  • Nerite snails
  • Rope fish (they get along well if the tank size is large and spacious)
  • Cory catfish
  • Kuhli loach (they get along well if the tank size is large and spacious)

Tank mates to avoid:

  • Fin-nippers
  • Aggressive fish
  • Goldfish
  • Small surface dweller fish

African butterfly fish diet and feeding requirements

  • Carnivorous fish-Butterfly fish only prefer meaty live food and protein-based diet.
  • Feeding frequency-feed them 2-4 times a day
  • They can be hand fed if trained.
  • Don’t overfeed your fish. 
  • They are surface feeders so don’t feed them anything that sinks at the bottom of the tank.
  • You can buy flying insect traps to catch live insects at your home to feed them.
  • It is advised to use forceps for non floating insects to feed them.

Suitable food:

  • Freeze dried food-small crickets (most favorite), mealworms
  • Insects-flies,small spiders
  • live and frozen food-Brine shrimps,Mosquito larvae
  • Feeder fish (small fish)
  • Small prawns
  • Large flakes and pellets (least favorite)

African butterfly fish healthcare & health conditions

African butterfly fish are not prone to any specific disease due to their hardiness and resilience,but if there are extreme fluctuations in pH and temperature then definitely they will become inactive and their immune system will become weak.In order to avoid these conditions, it is really important to maintain stable temperatures and pH in their aquarium.

Common freshwater diseases in African butterfly fish:

  • Parasitic disease
  • Skin fluke
  • Bacterial infections
  • Ichthyobodo

African butterfly fish daily care and Bi-weekly care tips


African butterfly fish are one of the most ancient species available in the pet trade. They spend most of their time on the surface of the tank and really don’t care about the depth of the water.

African butterflies don’t like fast water currents in their aquarium and are sensitive to fluctuations in pH and temperatures.

African butterflies are not easy to handle and have special needs and requirements,they are definitely not for newcomers.Their care is rewarding on so many levels because of their uniqueness.

So if you are taking care of a fish where you have to pay more attention, it makes you a better fishkeeper and will definitely improve your skills for any such species in the future.

Frequently asked questions on African butterfly fish

Are column aquariums ideal for African butterfly fish?

No,column tanks are not preferred for african butterfly fish,instead tall and shallow tanks with more length and width are preferred for them.Their body shape and swimming habits is not made for column and deeper type tanks.

Can we keep African butterfly fish in a community tank?

African butterfly fish can be kept in groups along with their own kind and with other species too, but make sure the tank size is bigger, spacious and other fish do not occupy the surface levels of the tank.

They are not super aggressive but in overcrowded tanks and stress prone environments they might show aggression towards other fish for space and food resources.It is better to keep them in bigger tanks with bottom dwellers and less aggressive fish.