African Butterfly Fish Care Guide – Tank Mates, Size, Diet, Lifespan & More

The African butterfly fish (Freshwater Butterfly Fish) is an interesting and unusual fish that will add intrigue to your aquarium.

African Butterfly Fish – Quick Facts

In a rush? Check out the quick facts about African Butterfly Fish below.

Fish Info

Scientific NamePantodon buchholzi
Common NamesAfrican butterfly fish, Borboleta africana
AppearanceThe African butterfly fish has a flat head and back and can be greenish or light brown in color.
DifficultyAfrican butterfly fish are difficult to care for because they need special care and have temperamental behaviors.
DistributionThe African butterfly fish is found in several countries in Africa, including Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and the Upper Zambezi. Smaller numbers are found in the Lower Ogun and Lower Cross Rivers and the Niger Delta.
LifespanThe lifespan of an African Butterfly Fish is around 5-6 years.
TemperamentAfrican butterfly fish are aggressive and territorial.
Keep in Groups ofAfrican butterfly fish should be kept in a group of four or more.
Tank MatesGouramis, Danios, Barbs, Tetras, Cichlids
DietThe African butterfly fish will eat most spiders, flies, crickets, mealworms, and frozen or live foods like brine shrimp and bloodworms.
LengthThe African butterfly fish can grow up to five inches in length.
Sexual DimorphismThe anal fin is straight in females and convex in males
Breeding DifficultyThe African butterfly fish is a difficult fish to breed in captivity.

Water/Tank Recommendations

Water TypeThis species is a freshwater fish.
Water TemperatureThe ideal water temperature is 73-86°F (23-30°C).
Water pHThe ideal water pH is 6.0-7.5.
Water HardnessThe ideal water hardness is 1-10 GH.
Tank sizeThe minimum tank size for African butterfly fish is 40 gallons, but a larger tank is recommended.


African Butterfly Fish are a unique freshwater fish that you can keep in your aquarium. While it’s not as common to see these fish in tanks around the world, there are still quite a few aquarists who enjoy them!

These fish have some interesting characteristics that make them stand out from other species. Not only do they look different when swimming, but their behavior is unlike any other freshwater creature too!

But before we get into those things, here’s what you need to know about this species first.

African Butterfly Fish (aka Borboleta Africana) belong to the Pantodontidae family of fishes and originate from Africa, where they thrive most often found in shallow waters near shorelines or rivers with soft bottoms.

About African Butterfly Fish

The African butterfly fish is a small freshwater species that has been quite popular among aquarists over the years. They’re some of the most sought-after fish in the trade and are favorites with beginners looking for a unique fish to add to their tank.

With their active behavior and bright colors, there’s no doubt that these fish will draw attention! This makes them excellent choices for community tanks as well.

While they can be a joy to own (and breed), you should know that this species does require more care than other common tropical fishes. If you have experience keeping aggressive or temperamental species, then you shouldn’t have any problems caring for an African butterfly fish.


The African butterfly fish has a flat head and back, and can be greenish or light brown in color. The belly is usually white to yellow with black spots on the body.

The African butterfly fish has barbels on their face and pectoral fins. They have four gill slits that are located behind the eyes.

Their Length

The average length of an African butterfly fish is four and a half inches in length. This means they are fairly compact compared to other freshwater species, which makes them easy to care for (especially if you don’t have much space).

That being said, this small size does not make them any less aggressive or territorial!

They will defend their space and find ways to get what they want no matter how big or small they are!


The typical lifespan of an African Butterfly Fish is around 5-6 years. This can be shorter if conditions are less than ideal and there’s a serious lack of quality care being provided.

There have been times when these fish have lived much longer in captivity, but that’s very uncommon.

Sexual Dimorphism

In addition to their unique shape, there are a couple of other ways you can tell males and females apart.

Males are more often than not more colorful than females. They’re usually greenish brown with dark stripes on either side of the body that fade toward the tail. The belly is often lighter in color for easier visibility when they lay flat against surfaces to get a closer look at prey or predators!

Females have an almost rounded back end compared to the pointed end of males. Females also have a straight anal fin, while male fins are curved.


African butterfly fish are found in many freshwater rivers and streams throughout Central, Southern, and West Africa. They range from Guinea-Bissau to the Chad Basin. They prefer areas with low current but plenty of driftwood or other hiding places for protection when they feel threatened by predators.

In their natural habitat, African butterfly fish will hide away during the day (they’re nocturnal) before emerging at dusk to eat insects that fall into the water.

Caring for African Butterfly Fish

African butterfly fish care can be a challenge for several reasons. They’re quite active and aggressive, which means you need to plan their habitat accordingly.

Also, they require highly specific water parameters in order to thrive. These aren’t easy fish to keep! But if you have the time and resources, African butterfly fish are worth it.

Here are some tips on how to care for them and keep your fish happy and healthy.


In the wild, African butterfly fish will pick at plant leaves and consume small insects. In captivity, these fish are omnivores that can eat dried flakes or pellets. However, it’s important to provide a balanced diet of live and frozen foods as well.

They enjoy brine shrimp, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and fruit flies in addition to their dry food. You should feed your African butterfly fish twice a day with only enough food they can eat in two minutes.

How Often & How Much to Feed Them

The lifespan of an African Butterfly Fish can be shortened if you feed them too much or too often. For the most part, these fish will find food on their own (which is why they’re so great for insect control).

They do like protein-based diets as well, but don’t overdo it! Feed your fish only once every day to avoid stressing their system and causing illness.

African Butterfly Fish prefer smaller meals that are doled out throughout the day instead of one large meal. This will keep them feeling full while preventing overeating.

Possible Diseases

African butterfly fish are hardy and disease-resistant, but they can suffer from many of the same common ailments that other freshwater species experience.

Some of these health issues include Ich, fungal infections (like cotton fungus), parasitic infestations, bacterial problems, and injuries resulting from aggressive behavior. It’s always important to watch out for stress because it can make your fish more prone to illness as well.

Luckily, most of these health problems are easy to treat with over-the-counter medications. Just make sure you’re using the right product for your fish!

Tank Setup

The best aquariums for keeping African butterfly fish are those with plenty of live plants, driftwood, and caves. Floating plants in the tank help keep the water clean while providing a source of food.

Natural materials like driftwood also provide places for these active swimmers to hide from each other. More than one hiding spot is recommended because these are very territorial fish that will fight if they feel crowded or threatened. Hiding spots should be large enough to fit an entire body part within it so that the fish can feel secure when using it as a refuge from their tank mates (which will happen).

African Butterfly Fish prefer dimmer tanks rather than bright ones, but this doesn’t mean you can’t add some color to your setup! Bright colors on decorations go nicely against darkly colored angelfish. It may even relieve stress because there’s something new in their environment instead of things being familiar all the time.

A sandy substrate works well with this species as long as it isn’t so fine that they have trouble finding food on it(this is not common though). Gravel and rocks work too, just make sure everything has smooth edges so your doradids don’t get injured.

Aquarium Size

The minimum aquarium size for an African Butterfly Fish is 40 gallons, but larger tanks are ideal.

If you want your fish to have a bit of space to swim and explore, don’t make their tank too small! While they might not be the most active swimmers in the family, these fish still need some room to feel comfortable.

NOTE: If you don’t have the space for a larger aquarium, consider keeping these fish in a community tank with fish that are small enough to coexist.

One thing worth noting is that it’s important to keep your aquarium away from windows and doors as much as possible. African Butterfly Fish like to leap out of their water when scared or excited, so doing taking every precaution to stop this from occurring is recommended.

Water Conditions

African butterfly fish need a wide range of water parameters to thrive. They are considered one of the more difficult freshwater species to keep in captivity, requiring strict attention to detail and constant maintenance.

Like their name would suggest, these fish spend most of their time on the surface where there is significantly higher oxygen levels than deeper waters. The highest level should be kept between 73 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit for best results.

The pH levels should stay somewhere within 6-7 (neutral) with a hardness rating that’s near 1-10 GH. As always, test your tank regularly to ensure that you don’t make any unintentional changes or adjustments that could affect the health of your African butterfly fish.


The ideal pH balance for African butterfly fish is 6.0-7.5, which should be easy to maintain with the correct treatment of your water and filtration system.

NOTE: It’s a good idea to test your tank regularly just in case you need to make adjustments.


The ideal water temperature for African butterfly fish is 73-86蚌 (23-30蚓). This means they don’t need a heater, but you should have a thermometer in their tank to make certain that the temperature stays below 86 degrees.

NOTE: Also be mindful of any equipment that produces heat near the aquarium since this could easily raise the water temperature beyond what your fish can tolerate.

Anything that uses electricity can potentially raise the temperature of your aquarium a few degrees.

African butterfly fish do fine with normal room temperatures, but warmer weather may increase their activity level, resulting in more frequent feeding (which could lead to overfeeding).


African butterfly fish do best in soft water. Because of the hardness of your tank’s water, you should perform frequent partial water changes to prevent stress and illness.

Slight changes in pH balance are also a must. The pH level should be kept between 6.0 and 7.5.

Remember, these fish are sensitive to water hardness. This means you need to be even more diligent about monitoring and maintaining their tank’s water quality.


The best filtration for African butterfly fish is a canister filter. A standard hang on the back type of filter just won’t cut it with this species.

They produce an impressive amount of waste, and need strong water circulation to help keep the tank clean. An aquarium that’s too small will only hinder their ability to stay healthy (which means you might have to upgrade sooner rather than later).

For this reason, you’ll want to make sure that your filter can handle the job. A large canister or sump tank will provide enough filtration for an entire community of African butterfly fish.

Aquarium Plants

African butterfly fish do well with live plants. However, you should use floating aquarium plants due to the aggressive temperament of these fish.

Floating plants will not only provide a source of food for your African butterfly fish but also give them places to hide from other tank mates and feel safe.

We recommend rotifers or hornwort as they are both common favorites among this species.

Some popular floating plants that work well with African butterfly fish are:

  • Java moss
  • Eleocharis sp.

If you want to go for rooted plants, the Water sprite is a good option as it grows slowly and will not take over your tank when left unsupervised.

Behavior and Compatibility

The African butterfly fish is a very active species. They spend most of the day swimming in open water and can be seen darting around the aquarium when they feel threatened or are looking for food.

They are quite territorial, which means they will not get along with other aggressive fish that have similar body shapes. The best tank mates for African Butterfly Fish are peaceful and non-aggressive fish that prefer to stay out of trouble!

How Many to Keep Together

African butterfly fish do best when they are kept in groups of 4 or more. However, their temperament is best observed when they are alone. These fish may show aggression to other African butterfly fish and even those outside their own species if the group size is too large.

In large groups, the fish will often spend their time fighting. This behavior is normal and should not be considered a health or stress issue.

As mentioned earlier, they can also become territorial with other species in an aquarium setting as well (more on that later).


The aggressive and territorial behavior of the African butterfly fish is what makes them so difficult to care for in captivity. These are wild-fish-in-a-tank behaviors, which means that you won’t see any signs of this when they’re kept with other members of their species.

Aggressive behavior can be directed at other butterfly fish or even large cichlids! This means that it is essential to provide ample space (more on that later) if keeping these fish together.

  • African Butterfly Fish will eat most insects and flies
  • They prefer live food over frozen or dried foods because it provides more exercise
  • They like small invertebrates such as brine shrimp or bloodworms best

Tank Mates

African butterfly fish do best in a group. A group of four or more is recommended to ensure that the fish have enough social interaction and confidence to feel safe.

As far as compatible tank mates are concerned, you should steer clear of aggressive species. Also avoid any very small fish because African Butterfly Fish sometimes mistake them for food (they’re known to eat smaller Tetras). Instead, try larger cichlids or peaceful bottom dwellers such as the Cory catfish.

Some possible tank mates are as follows:


Breeding African butterfly fish is a very tricky process. It’s difficult to trigger spawning, and the young fry are easy targets for other fish in the tank.

With that being said, there are ways to keep your chances of success high if you want to try breeding these freshwater species.

Start by creating a separate breeding tank with plants and hiding spots. Plants will provide protection against larger fish who may eat fry. Provide sheltering areas using rocks or driftwood too – they can also serve as places where females lay eggs after mating occurs.

Condition your male and female butterflies with food over several days before introducing them into the breeding tank together (this step isn’t always necessary). Then, introduce your adult pair at dusk when all other animals are out of sight. Mature males start looking for mates once it gets dark so this allows them some privacy during this sensitive time.

Are African Butterfly Fish Fish a Good Choice For Your Tank?

African butterfly fish are certainly not for everyone. We recommend them to aquarists with some experience, as they’re a little more difficult to care for than other freshwater species (but still very doable).

They also require an appropriately large tank size in order to truly thrive. This can be another obstacle that puts potential owners off!

With that being said, if you’re looking for a fish with a unique and distinct look (and who isn’t) then consider the African butterfly fish. While there are other types of freshwater butterfly fish out there, this one has the classic flat body shape we all know.


Because African butterfly fish are very easy to care for, they make great starter fish for beginners. They would be perfect if you want to add some color and beauty to your tank without needing to do too much on their day-to-day needs.

This species is hardy and doesn’t require much attention or maintenance of the water parameters in order to stay healthy. As long as there isn’t anything drastically out of whack with the water conditions, these fish can flourish in nearly any climate they are put into.


There are some drawbacks and inconveniences to owning African butterfly fish. These include:

Temperamental behavior. This type can be quite hostile toward other fish of their kind in the same tank, so you’ll need a large tank if you want more than one of them in your aquarium.

Dependency on live food for diet. Frozen or freeze-dried foods may not be accepted by this species and could cause health problems over time when they don’t get enough nutrients from what they eat.

Difficulty breeding in captivity. Breeding can prove difficult, as it often results in mortality rates between 50% and 75%.

Unpredictable spawning times with gourami cichlids, which is another potential issue (especially if there are fry).


The African butterfly fish is a unique and beautiful species that can add something different to your freshwater tank. If you can, and have the time and space for these critters, we highly recommend giving them a chance!

We hope that our guide was of some assistance and you are now much more prepared to care for your African butterfly fish. If there is anything else we can help you with, please add, let us know!

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