African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon Buchholzi): Ultimate Care Guide

African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon Buchholzi) is such a unique animal that it is the only member of its genus. They are freshwater fish. They are not related to any saltwater butterflyfish.

They are native to parts of West Africa including Chad, Niger, the Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and other countries. African Butterflyfish swim just below the surface of slow-moving streams, lakes, and swamps. They prefer water with dense overhanging and submerged vegetation.

They are small, carnivorous fish. They only grow to be about 5 inches long. They have a black and brown body with a lighter belly. This allows them to blend into the murky water without being seen from above, and their belly looks like the natural light at the surface of the water making it difficult for larger fish to see them.

They have a large mouth compared to the rest of their body. Their mouth points upward to help them catch the insects, spiders, and other prey that land on the surface. African Butterfly Fish also have orange eyes that are higher on their head than most fish. This helps them see their prey easier.

They get their name from their most noticeable feature: their pectoral fins. They look similar to a butterfly’s wings and help them stay suspended and motionless in the water. The fins also help them look like floating plants which deter predators from attacking. They have thread-like ventral fins that are believed to help them feel vibrations and stabilize themselves in the water. They have thick caudal and anal fins to propel themselves through the water.

They are not known to be poisonous or venomous.

African Butterfly Fish Care

African Butterfly Fish are calm, peaceful fish. They will spend hours in the same spot in the tank. They are most active at dusk since this is when they would hunt if they were in the wild.

These fish have strict specifications for their ideal habitat. If these fish start to stray from their place on the surface, the water conditions may have changed or they might be looking for food. If this happens, it is bad news for any other fish in the aquarium. African Butterfly Fish will not hesitate to gobble up smaller fish if given the chance.

African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon Buchholzi)
African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon Buchholzi)


African Butterfly Fish live in warm waters. They need stable water temperatures between 73 and 86°F.

Water pH

These fish will thrive with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.


African Butterfly Fish are small fish. They only grow to be about 5 inches long.

Food & Diet

These fish are naturally ambushing predators. They can sit motionless for hours while waiting to sneak attack their prey. African Butterfly Fish are insectivores meaning they get most of their nutritional needs from feeding on insects.

Their natural camouflage helps them hide below the surface until insects or other prey lands on the top of the water. African Butterfly Fish can and will leap out of the water to catch an insect. In the wild, they will eat flies, mosquitoes, spiders, and a variety of insects.

In aquariums, they do best if they are fed live insects. This is more expensive than the typical food fed to tropical fish. They will eat crickets, mealworms, spiders, and flies. Brine shrimp and bloodworms are also good choices. Flake or pellet foods can be fed to African Butterfly Fish, but they should not be the basis of this fish’s diet.

These fish will not swim to the bottom of the tank for food. If the fish is swimming in the upper and middle water column they may be distressed and searching for food. They usually hang out just below the surface and they do not like swimming much deeper. Some aquarists suggest feeding these fish using tongs or straight from the hobbyist’s hands to make sure they are getting enough to eat.

African Butterfly Fish Lifespan

The average lifespan of this unique fish is between 5 and 6 years as long as they have a good diet and proper conditions. Fish with unusually good genetics may live even longer.

African Butterfly Fish Tank Size

African Butterfly Fish need a 30-gallon tank at the very minimum. If there are other fish in the tank, that size increases to 50 gallons. It is more important for the tank to be long instead of tall since they spend most of their time at the surface. The bottom part of the tank will not be used by this fish unless something has gone terribly wrong.

Tank Setup

African Butterfly Fish do not like water with strong currents. They need a tank with little to no water movement. A secure lid is also imperative with these fish since they are impressive jumpers.

They like a lot of plants in the tank with them. Floating and rooted plants are welcome in the tank. Plants that will grow from the bottom to the top of the tank will be appreciated by the African Butterfly Fish as well as any tank mates that might be living there. It will give them places to hide from their carnivorous roommates. Floating plants are great too, but it is best to not overdo it. The African Butterfly Fish need room to access the surface.

The plants will also keep the tank from being too bright. These fish naturally live in shady areas and they will be stressed if it is too bright in the tank.

The substrate, rocks, caves, and driftwood can be decided based on the other fish in the tank since African Butterfly Fish stay at the top of the tank. Any decorations should be fine as long as they do not obstruct the top part of the tank.

African Butterfly Fish Breeding

Male and female African Butterfly Fish can be told apart by their anal fins. Males will have a convex edge and females will have a straight edge.

These fish are not the easiest to breed in captivity, but it can be done. Moving the fish into a separate breeding tank is recommended if they are usually in a community tank. This tank should only have a few inches of water in it with some floating plants. Again, not too many plants. The tank should be left this way for a couple of weeks. During this time, the fish should be fed high-quality food. When the 2 weeks are up, the tank should be filled with soft, acidic water.

The fish will spawn for the next few days and will scatter up to 100 eggs per day in the tank. The eggs will float at the surface of the tank. If the spawning is successful, the eggs will need to be moved to a different tank because the African Butterfly Fish will eat them if given the chance. It takes about 4 days for the eggs to hatch.

Now for the hard part – keeping the young fish alive. The fry are not very good hunters. They need very small, live food. Newly hatched brine shrimp is a good choice. They will also need extremely stable water conditions. Small, frequent water changes are highly encouraged. If those babies make it, they can start eating bigger foods as they grow.

African Butterfly Fish Disease

African Butterfly Fish are susceptible to various infections, parasites, and other common freshwater fish diseases. They do not have any diseases specific to their species.

They have extremely specific water conditions and they can easily become stressed. This can severely impact the health of the fish and leave them open to many potential infections. Making sure the water parameters are correct and doing consistent water changes will decrease the risk of infections.

African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates

African Butterfly Fish are usually peaceful fish. They can be kept together as long as there is enough room for them to establish their territory at the surface of the water. Floating plants will give them places to claim as their own and retreat into if needed. If there is more than one of them in the tank, they may become territorial. They are not very aggressive and will usually just gently push the other fish away. Males are more territorial than females, but even then, injuries rarely occur.

African Butterfly Fish will eat other small fish if they encroach on their territory or if they get hungry and a fish is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fish that stay on the bottom or middle sections of the tank are the best tank mates and should be relatively safe from being eaten.

This species seems to do best on their own, but they can live with some other fish. Angelfish, Gouramis, Danios, Barbs, Tetras, and some Cichlids are all on the approved tank mates list. Some aquarists have had success with Neon Tetras and African Butterfly Fish while others report that the Neons were a snack. This depends on the individual temperament of all the fish involved.

Shrimp are prey for African Butterfly Fish in the wild, but if the shrimp stay at the bottom of the tank, they might be okay.

Bettas and African Butterfly Fish both like to hang out at the top of the tank, but they will not be friends. Any fish that are prone to fin-nipping should also be avoided.

Where can I find African Butterfly Fish for sale?

African Butterfly Fish are usually easy to find either at a fish store or online. Prices online vary between $8 and $35 for these fish.

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