Butterflyfish are a diverse and beautiful collection of more than 125 species of tropical reef fish that enjoy a close relationship with coral reefs they inhabit. World-wide their radiant colours inspire admiration, and butterflyfish in South African waters are no exception.
Darting to and fro amongsts the corals, butterflyfish resemble butterflies in flight. Their intricate patterns and striking eyespots increase this resemblence even further. Here are eight species you can find at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
1. South African butterflyfish
The South African butterflyfish (Chaetodon marleyi) occurs along our entire coast. With its three distinct copper stripes, it is easy to spot - but don't confuse it with the copperband butterflyfish! South African butterflyfish live on deep reefs, where they hunt invertebrates with their mates.
2. Threadfin butterflyfish
Threadfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga) are white, with yellow hindquarters and a thick, black stripe across their eye. They are easily identified by a black eye-spot and a short, yellow trailing filament on their dorsal fin. They live in pairs on coastal reefs and are scavengers, but will hunt shrimp if the opportunity presents itself.
3. Brown burnie
Brown burnies (Chaetodon blackburnii) may appear rather drab for a butterflyfish, but their brown and yellow colouring serves as effective camouflage. They are solitary hunters, feeding on tiny invertebrates.
4. Copperband butterflyfish
The copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) is visually very similar to the South African butterflyfish, but can be easily distinguished by its prominent black eyespot and four stripes, rather than the three of the South African butterflyfish. It is a territorial fish that will pair up and protect its feeding area from other pairs of butterflyfish.
5. Yellow teardrop butterflyfish
Yellow teardrop butterflyfish (Chaetodon interruptus) are easily identifiable - their bright yellow bodies and large black spot stand out in the reef. They live among corals and rocks on our East Coast. They are found individually or as monogamous pairs, and prefer to stay in groups when hunting.
6. Vagabond butterflyfish
The vagabond butterflyfish (Chaetodon vagabundus) is identifiable by its complex pattern, which is similar to that of the threadfin butterflyfish. It has no eyespot or fin filament, but rather multiple dark chevron stripes across its body. They mate for life and as pairs will defend a territory near lagoons or river mouths where they hunt small worms and crustaceans.
7. Pearly butterflyfish
Pearly butterflyfish (Chaetodon madagaskariensis) have very distinctive colouration - silver-white bodies, yellow hindquarters and black chevron stripes pointing towards their heads. They inhabit sea-facing reefs along the eastern shores of southern Africa, where they hunt small invertebrates and scavenge for scraps of seaweed.
8. Longnose butterflyfish
Longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus) live in pairs along rocky shores and reefs. Their most remarkable feature is their long snout. They use these long snouts to scavenge for food particles in cracks, and to bite the tube feet off of sea urchins and other echinoderms.
Which butterflyfish is your favourite? Perhaps you know of another beautiful South African species that we don't currently have on display that you'd like to share? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.