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Related Articles: Genus Chaetodon

A Fave Butterflyfish, Klein’s, Chaetodon kleinii


Bob Fenner  

Butterflyfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Though most butterflyfishes trend toward the delicate side of aquarium suitability; there are a stout handful of species that are relatively tough for hobbyist use. Amongst these is Klein’s Butterfly; a not-too picky feeder, good shipper, active and intelligent, and really, a great beauty. Considering this fish’s wide range, healthy population make up, ease of collection, it seems anomalous to me that it is not more frequently utilized in the ornamental marine trade.

            Herein are my notes on practical biology of Klein’s BF; the nitty gritty of picking out good specimens and what it takes to maintain the species successfully long-term.

Range et al.:

            Chaetodon kleinii occurs throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific; East Africa to the Galapagos… and the Red Sea. It can be found in good numbers in Hawaii, southern Japan to Samoa, Noumea and New South Wales Australia. Very large specimens can be some six inches (15 cm.) total length; though most top out at a mere four inches (10 cm.).

            Allow me to show some fave pix of specimens I’ve encountered:

1.5” and 2” overall specimens of juvenile Klein’s; one on the left from southern Sulawesi (Wakatobi), the right in Kona, Hawaii.

Four inch adults in (left) Pulau Redang, Malaysia and (right) Hawaii.

And adult specimens in Australia (Heron Is., GBR) and Fiji at right.


But a real surprise awaits seeing specimens from further into the Indian Ocean; below at left a Maldives and at right, Mauritius examples.



            If you had the advantage of dive-adventure traveling that I had, you’d find that this Butterflyfish is “about par” for the bottom-hanging small invertebrate feeders for the family… in that its feeding habits involve mostly cruising about coral reefs by day, seeking little molluscs, crustaceans, worms. Other Butterflyfishes are largely live coral polyp feeders, and a dozen or so are mid-water planktivores by and large; but Klein’s will usually leave “corals” alone; though they will at times nip hard and soft corals like Leathers. These incidents are rare if the BFs are supplied with palatable foods at short intervals (see Foods/Feeding below). The species has been touted as an Aiptasia controller as well.









Oh, I will mention the behavior of “mobbing” nesting other fishes to consume their eggs. Here a group of Klein’s BFs have rushed a nest-sitting Three Spot Damsel (Dascyllus trimaculatus); confusing it such that they can consume the nest contents. Photo shot down in N.E. Sulawesi, Indonesia. Lembeh Strait.



            To summarize: this species, actually all Butterflyfishes, need ROOM; space to swim about, look for food items, avoid tankmates and aquarists; to feel comfortable. I strongly suggest a minimum of one hundred gallons for keeping one specimen, one hundred fifty for two, two hundred gallons for three.

            What sort of water quality is suitable? Where do they live? Reef worthy settings need only apply. Butterflyfishes are NOT Fish Only (FO) or even Fish Only with Live Rock (FOWLR) choices. Good aeration, fully 7-8 ppm dissolved oxygen, reasonable RedOx, alkalinity… are the measures I would use to “view” what is going on your system water-quality wise.



            Amongst the family, Klein’s Butterflies are easier, perhaps easiest to find and secure. This fish, especially collected and shipped out of Hawaii to the USA is almost always received in good shape; acclimates well; and is up and feeding within a day of arrival. There are a few items to check for though, as with all wild-collected specimens:

1)      Torn fins, bruises and bloody marks at the fins and body. If these are evident; leave the specimen/s there.

2)      Damaged mouth… Real trouble, and hard to discern. See the next item 3). This fish, most marine fishes should be shipped with bags lying down rather than upright. In the packing boxes, where there is no light, this results in the fish laying on their sides (as they do in the wild at night); greatly reducing the likelihood of the animal dashing itself into the bag and damaging its mouth.

3)      Make sure they’re feeding; on the types, kinds of foods you intend and have to use. Non-feeding animals are a non-starter for me. IF you must have them, put a holding deposit down and collect the specimens days, a week later; after you’ve seen them eating yourself.

            Most Butterflyfishes are argumentative with their own kind, other than pairing or very occasional groupings; but not Klein’s. This Chaetodon gets along fabulously with other specimens, actually with all other organisms that get along with it. There are few more beautiful displays than biotopic presentations with organisms interacting.

A group of Klein’s Butterflies cavorting on a shallow reef down in Mauritius.


            For folks living in the U.S., check out the source of the animals you’re considering. Those hailing from the 50th State and Fiji are superior and take much less of a beating being shipped to the mainland. For folks in Europe et al., the specimens from the Red Sea and East Africa are even better.


            As previously stated, some BFs eat little but live coral polyps, if anything, in captivity. Not so Klein’s; this Chaetodontid accepts all food formats, dried, live, frozen-defrosted readily. My fave approach is to maintain as large as possible/practical tied-in refugium with your main/display system; and set the lighting on a Reverse Daylight Photoperiodicity (RDP) with your principal aquariums light regimen. Most of small live organisms come out, reproduce during the night, and this light arrangement will provide a good deal of fare for all your principal livestock.

            In addition I would offer a good stock nutritious and highly palatable pelletized food twice plus daily; and a mix of small defrosted, mixed sea/food organisms at least once per day.



            Perhaps the business and hobbyist name of Chaetodon kleinii should be changed to that used in the sciences: “the Sunburst Butterfly”; as this is a gorgeous, shining species in its own right. At times labeled Corallicola, Yellow, Orange, Blacklip, Klein’s Butterflyfish is an exemplary, low-cost member of the Chaetodontid family for home aquarium use.


Bibliography/Further Reading:

Allen, G.R., 1979. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, Vol. 2. Wiley & Sons, N.Y.

Allen, Gerald R., Roger Steene & Mark Allen. 1998. A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes. Tropical Fish Research/Odyssey Publishing. 250pp.

Burgess, Warren, 1978. Butterflyfishes of the World. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, N.J. 832 pg.

Emmens, Cliff W., 1985. Keeping Chaetodons. T.F.H. 5/85.

Hunziker, Ray, 1992. The ten best Butterflyfishes. T.F.H. 6/92.

Moenich, David R. 1991. The Butterflyfishes. Aquarium Fish Magazine 1/91.

Nelson, Joseph S., 1994. Fishes of the World, 3rd ed. Wiley & Sons, N.Y.

Refano, Joe, 1983. The importer speaks: the Butterflyfishes pt. I, II. T.F.H. 10,11/83.

Siegel, Terry, 1973. Butterflies. Marine Aquarist 4(2):73.

Steene, Roger C., 1985. Butterfly & Angelfishes of the World, Vol. 1 Australia. Mergus Publ., Germany.


Butterflyfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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