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Related FAQs: Hemitaurichthys Butterflyfishes, Butterflyfish Identification, Butterflyfish Foods/Feeding/NutritionButterflyfish Compatibility, Butterflyfish Behavior, Butterflyfish Systems, Butterflyfish Selection, Butterflyfish Disease, Butterflyfish Reproduction,

Related Articles: Best/Worst Butterflyfishes

The Pyramid Butterflyfish, Hemitaurichthys polylepis


Bob Fenner  
Way more than half of the hundred plus Butterflyfishes (Family Chaetodontidae) are unsuitable for home hobbyist aquarium use; being too picky nutrition-wise requiring live coral polyps for food; getting too big and rambunctious, or just failing historically to adapt to captive conditions. Some of these are in fact “recoverable” if only economics were different and knowledge in the trade were more widely disseminated in the way of providing more “bag room”, and laying shipping bags down sideways… in effect putting this fish “to sleep” during transit. But on to aquarium care of Pyramids.
            This Hemitaurichthys BF can be kept in our transparent boxes of water, given adequate (large) room, water movement and nutrition. Other factors do play in smaller ways, but space, brisk circulation and a dearth of ready food are the three principal stumbling blocks of keeping ALL Butterflyfishes.
Pyramids in the wild (Bali) and an aquarium


Distribution/Sources/Size: Eastern Indian Ocean and Western and Central tropical Pacific. Indonesia, GBR, Philippines, Fiji all the way over to Hawai’i, where the best specimens hail from. It is always found in areas of reef slope and upwelling, where currents provide planktonic fare and clean, well-oxygenated water, from shallows of ten feet to about one hundred thirty foot depths.
This species grows to seven inches in the wild, about five maximum in captivity.


Selecting/Stocking/Compatibility: As alluded to in the introductory paragraph, this and other Chaetodontids are very often damaged in collection; handling and especially shipping. The English translation of their family name is “bristle tooth”… an allusion to their dietary habit of picking with their small forward projecting mouths… that are easily scarred via brusque netting and rubbing in too small fish bags in too little water. Hence it is paramount that you select for:

1)      Undamaged specimens at your dealers. Carefully observe each prospective purchase. Pay especial attention to their mouths… for any redness, loss of color. Next, look at the body, paying particular attention to the spiny fin origins and flanks. Anterior dorsal and anal fins are often twisted and broken by netting, the sides perforated in decompressing this species by collectors; and these injuries can become trouble.

2)      Use the standard “yes/no question” of whether the fish is eating particularly applies to purchasing Butterflyfishes. IF their mouths have been damaged, IF they’ve gone too long without feeding… they’re very unlikely to live. Make SURE the ones you’re buying are feeding.


This Butterfly occurs in large loosely-associated shoals in the wild, but is best kept singly (one to a tank) unless you have hundreds of gallons. Stocking two is often a poor idea; the larger picking on the smaller of the pair. Three can work; again if you have a huge tank; and public aquaria can and do display larger numbers in their gargantuan displays.
            Hemitaurichthys BFs get along with almost all other types, kinds of otherwise peaceful livestock. Note their alternative common name: the Shy Butterflyfish. They will pick on Featherdusters and consume other worms and small mollusks and edible crustaceans, but otherwise leave polypoid animals free. The usual suspects of large basses and wrasses, mean triggers and big puffers make poor suitability.


System: Needs to be as large as possible/practical. At least 150 gallons if it is up to me; and six feet plus in length. Fashioning one end or the face of the displays décor to resemble an outer reef slope and lots of water movement there will appease them and make for a dramatic display for you and friends viewing pleasure.
            Water circulation, as noted, needs to be brisk… at least twenty turns per hour or better, more. This movement is best provided via a few dependable internal magnetic driven pumps.
            Water quality like a reef is a plus; with A-plus skimming, the occasional use of chemical filtrants, use of a high-quality salt mix all contributing.


Foods/Feeding/Nutrition: These fish are zooplanktivorous, and as such, need a handful plus times offerings of live and/or frozen/defrosted meaty foods (Cyclops, Mysids, Amphipods…), mashed commercial or DIY home-prepared food preparations. Additionally I would certainly set up an automatic feeder and deliver high quality, highly palatable pelleted foods (never flakes) to them during the daylight hours (they sleep near the bottom at night).


Disease/Health: Like all Chaetodontids, this BF does not “like” metal or dye based medications. These can be used given that the fish/es are in good health to start with; otherwise I’d be reading about, using Quinine-based drugs for the usual Protozoan complaints; and use of an inexpensive, few-hundred power microscope (USB adaptable best) and simple slime sampling for determining real causes ahead of any administration.
            Butterflyfishes and the closely related family of Angels (Pomacanthidae) are VERY regularly imported with a complement of monogenetic trematodes (and some digenes)… These can be easily knocked off via the prophylactic use of pH adjusted freshwater baths… with or without adjuncts like formalin/formaldehyde (use with caution and aeration always). IF introduced to your main/display… you may have to use anthelminthics… that can/do cause troubles in all established systems. Of course, it’s always a very good idea to quarantine all incoming livestock; and avoid adding toxic med.s to your main display.


Reproduction: Chaetodontids are seasonal egg scatterers… males and females getting together, performing a subtle swim-dance, releasing their sex cells to the vicissitudes of the prevailing currents. BFs have long larval pelagic phases… have not been commercially produced for the ornamental trade, as it is by far more economical to collect suitably sized specimens in the wild.


Cloze: Though not easily kept, the genus Hemitaurichthys in general and the Pyramid in particular is not impossible… much better than most of the members of the Butterflyfish family.


 An older couple of Pyramid BFs in S. Sulawesi (Wakatobi), showing the darkened foreheads of older individuals.


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