7 Facts About The African Butterfly Fish


The African Butterfly fish, also known as the Freshwater Butterfly fish, is found in the slow moving – if not stagnant – freshwater habitats in West Africa. These habitats tend to have lots of vegetation that reaches the surface and dense overhanging vegetation that make great hang out areas and feeding areas for insects.

African Butterfly Fish – Image Source: Sainik School Rewa

A true “flying fish” this species has the ability to jump out of the water and even glide through the air! Their large pectoral fins are similar to the design of a butterfly’s wings. Once airborne, the butterfly fish will actually fan out these fins in order to get some air time. This allows them to hunt and feed on insects as well as evade predators.

In fact, their unique body structure and airborne capabilities are so effective that this species has remained virtually the same for millions of years! Internally they are pretty neat too! This species can actually breathe air if they are in need of some oxygen. Most fish extract oxygen from the water using their gills. Some fish like the popular Betta fish and the African Butterfly fish live in low flow bodies of water. Low flow means less agitation – which means less oxygen. In order to survive in this type of an environment, the African Butterfly fish can breathe air. It does this using its swim bladder. This organ also allows this species to absorb oxygen and exchange gas from its swim bladder which helps to keep it afloat at the surface fairly effortlessly. Let’s learn more about this species as well as how to care for it in an aquarium.

How Big Do African Butterfly Fish Get?

This species can reach a maximum length of 5 inches when fully grown.

African Butterfly Fish Lifespan

It has been reported that the African Butterfly fish can live up to 5 to 6 years in captivity.

African Butterfly Fish – Image Source: AquaticArts.com

African Butterfly Fish Temperament

This fish is generally listed as an aggressive species, however, bouts of aggression are typically observed if there are other top dwelling species that it has to compete against for food. Also, if any fish are small enough to end up in the African Butterfly fish’s mouth – they likely will.

African Butterfly Fish – The Aquarium Club

What Does an African Butterfly Fish Eat?

Being a surface dweller, this species primarily eats live foods such as crickets, mealworms, flies and even spiders. They have also been known to eat live and frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms. If yours will accept these foods, these foods should be fed in addition to the live insects. These other foods can be more difficult for this species to eat since they have an upwards pointing mouth and their eyes are positioned upwards on their head to make it even easier for them to catch surface prey such as insects.

Watch this African Butterfly fish eat live crickets at the surface of it’s aquarium:

What Size Fish Tank Do African Butterfly Fish Need?

The minimum recommended tank size for this species is 30 gallons. However, if you plan on keeping more than just this species, start with at least a 55 to 75 gallon tank. The tank needs to be longer in length than it does in height.

You want to give this species as large enough of a footprint to move around in as possible. So the longer the tank, the more room they have to swim and feed. Generally, this fish is pretty chill and does not move around a whole lot, however, when they feed, they will need the room.

African Butterfly Fish – Image Source: LakesRegionAquariums

If you are planning on keeping more than one African Butterfly fish, then the bigger the tank, the better. You will also need to plan for lots of plants that reach up to the surface of the water to be placed towards the back of the tank so that the butterfly fish can retreat to them if needed.

And one last thing, since this fish can jump and even glide through the air, it is very important that you have a proper fitting, secure lid on your tank to prevent this species from accidentally jumping out.

African Butterfly Fish Tankmates

Sticking to the “fish should be larger than the butterfly fish’s mouth” rule,,the following species have been reported to do well when being kept with the African Butterfly fish:

  • Angelfish
  • Barbs
  • Gouramis
  • Danios
  • Cory Catfish
  • Serpae Tetras
  • Emperor Tetras

How Much Does an African Butterfly Fish Cost?

Depending on the size of the fish at purchase, this species can range from $12 up to $50.

And that’s 7 facts about the African Butterfly Fish. If you are interested in learning more about other species of marine life, be sure to check out the Fish Facts section of this website.

Share this:

Recent Posts