Pebbled Butterflyfish

Multiband Butterflyfish, Pebbled Butterfly

Family: ChaetodontidaePebbled Butterflyfish, Chaetodon multicinctus, Multiband Butterflyfish, Pebbled ButterflyChaetodon multicinctusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Hiroyuki Tanaka

The Pebbled Butterflyfish is a nice looking aquarium fish that's quite hardy once its acclimated!

The Pebbled Butterflyfish Chaetodon multicinctus is a fairly small butterflyfish, reaching only about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in length. This petite little fish is found only from waters of Hawaii and the Johnston Atoll in the east-central Pacific. It is an abundant species and about two thirds of its natural range is enclosed within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. This is a no-take marine reserve so it has a low risk of endangerment.

These dainty butterflyfish dwell among the heavy coral growth areas of lagoon reefs and seaward reefs. On rare occasions they are seen singly, but are most often found in pairs. These pairs form a monogamous relationship and establish a territory. Their territory is avidly defend against conspecifics, especially by the male. The female will also defend, yet does prefer to spend most of her time feeding.

This fish has a subtle color pattern. Its body is a creamy white with five or six tan bands running vertically. There is also a dark vertical eyebar and a black band in the tail fin. But its distinguishing feature is an overall covering of many small spots which create a pattern of horizontal and vertical lines and hence its common name. Some other descriptive names this fish is known by include Multiband Butterflyfish, Pebbled Butterfly, Many Banded Butterfly Fish, and Hawaiian Pebble Butterflyfish.

Some other butterflyfish are occasionally mistaken for this species, like the Crochet Butterflyfish Chaetodon guentheri and the Speckled Butterflyfish Chaetodon citrinellus. But the Pebbled Butterfly is quickly distinguished by its vertical bands. It is also often confused with the Spot-banded Butterflyfish Chaetodon punctatofasciatus. This too is a very similar species but differs in color, having a yellow body rather than white.

Like all Butterflyfish, they are corallivorous with their favorite foods being the polyps of small stony corals. They especially like the Cauliflower Coral Pocillopora meandrina, but also enjoy Porites and Montipora species. Their mouth is like a pair of forceps that allows them to neatly excise each polyp from a coral head one at a time without damaging the skeleton.They also supplement their diet with the tentacles of polychaete worms, shrimps, hydroids, algal fragments, and a variety of other small organisms.

This fish is one of the less sensitive members of the Chaetodontidae family. The biggest challenge is getting a new specimen to eat, as they often will only eat their natural foods. Getting them feeding can involve placing open mussels and clam inside the tank in their open shell, or providing some live small polyp stony corals. Once it is adjusted to captivity it can make a nice addition to a saltwater aquarium.

Because adapting it to life in the aquarium can be tricky with this fish, it is suggested for a more experienced aquarist. Once it has settled in it can be a hardy pet and no technical care is needed to maintain it. Although its natural diet consists largely of small stony coral polyps, it will accept a wide variety of foods in the aquarium. It does need a good sized aquarium that is well established. A 55 gallon tank is the suggested minimum size. Decorate the tank with rocks creating many caves for hiding places and lots of rocky rubble. Also make sure there is plenty of swimming space. it swims freely and usually spends a good deal of its time in the open water, moving in and out of crevices.

Many reef-keepers hope to keep this butterflyfish in a mini reef, but as it will be a coral eater it is best kept in a fish only community tank. This fish will be aggressive with other members of its family but can do well in a fish only community tank kept with a variety of other species that are not overly territorial or aggressive. It can also be kept with some of the larger and rather territorial genera of angelfish like the Pomacanthus and Holacanthus as well the smaller Centropyge genus and a number of others.

For more Information on keeping saltwater fish see:
Marine Aquarium Basics: Guide to a Healthy Saltwater Aquarium


Geographic Distribution
Chaetodon multicinctus
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Chaetodontidae
  • Genus: Chaetodon
  • Species: multicinctus
Pebbled Butterflyfish

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A beautiful Pebbled Butterflyfish poses for the camera and displays both of their sides!

Pebbled Butterflyfish - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 4.8 inches (12.19 cm)
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2° C)
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Pebbled Butterflyfish Chaetodon multicinctus was described by Bennett in 1833. It is found in the Hawaiian Islands and the nearby Johnston Atoll. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). Two thirds of its natural range is enclosed within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii which is a no-take marine reserve, and it is the fourth most common butterflyfish around Oahu. There are no major threats currently identified. Other common names they are known by include Multiband Butterflyfish, Pebbled Butterfly,
Pebble Butterfly Fish, Many Banded Butterflyfish, Multi-banded Butterfly Fish, and Hawaiian Pebble Butterfly fish.

This fish is a member of a close-knit group of butterflyfish in the subgenus Exornator. This group is comprised of four species that are very similar in appearance, though they do differ in their ability to adapt in captivity. The other three members are the Peppered Butterflyfish Chaetodon guttatissimus, Spot-banded Butterflyfish Chaetodon punctatofasciatus, and Sunset Butterflyfish Chaetodon pelewensis. These four are suspected to be able to produce fertile hybrids. The Spot-banded Butterflyfish C. punctatofasciatus has hybridized with the Peppered Butterflyfish C. guttatissimus and the Sunset Butterflyfish C. pelewensis.

On rare occasions this fish is seen singly, but most often it is found in pairs that form a strong monogamous relationship. These pairs establish territories which they avidly defend against conspecifics. They mostly dwell among heavy coral growth areas of lagoon reefs, reef faces, and fore-reef slopes at depths between 16 to 374 feet (5 - 114 m). Juveniles can be found in shallow in-shore reefs in the spring and throughout the summer.

They feed mostly on the polyps of small stony corals and especially like the Cauliflower Coral Pocillopora meandrina, but also enjoy Porites spp. and Montipora spp. Their mouth is like a pair of forceps that allows them to neatly excise each polyp from a coral head one at a time, with out damaging the skeleton.They also supplement their diet with amphids, peanut worms, polychaete tentacles, copepods, shrimps, hydroids, algal fragments, and a variety of diatoms.

  • Scientific Name: Chaetodon multicinctus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs - Most often it is found in pairs, and only rarely as single individuals.
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern

Description

The Pebbled Butterflyfish has a disc shaped body that is laterally compressed and it has a protruding snout tipped with a small mouth. The dorsal fin is continuous and it has a rounded tail fin. This species grows to a length of just over 4 3/4 inches (12 cm). The lifespan for most of the Chaetodon species is between 5 - 7 years, but sometimes longer with proper care.

The adult C. multicinctus has a creamy white body, though it may have shades of green and yellow. There are five or six tan vertical spotted bands as well as an overall covering of many small spots. The small spots are arranged in a rather haphazard pattern of horizontal and vertical lines. There is a dark vertical band running through the eye and a black band in the tail fin.

  • Size of fish - inches: 4.8 inches (12.19 cm)
  • Lifespan: 5 years - The average lifespan of Chaetodon species is between 5 - 7 years, and possibly longer with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This fish is moderately hardy once established and is suggested for an intermediate aquarist. The biggest challenge is getting a new specimen to eat, as they often will only eat their natural foods and this can be quite challenging. It can involve placing open mussels and clam, in their open shell, inside the tank, or providing some live hard corals. Juveniles and sub-adults may be easier to start feeding then the larger adults. They are one of the less sensitive members of the family that usually prove to be a sturdy aquarium fish if they can be acclimated.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Pebbled Butterflyfish are omnivores, in the wild they feed on small stony coral polyps, polychaete tentacles, shrimps, hydroids, algal fragments, and a variety of other small organisms. In the aquarium it is important that you feed a good variety of live, frozen, and prepared formula foods with emphasis on vegetables and spirulina. These foods can include live brine, flakes, and frozen foods of all kinds including Formula I, Formula II, Angel Formula and spirulina. Japanese Nori will also be favored. Several sponge based frozen foods are now available and can also be fed to butterflyfish. Feed it at least twice a day, and if it is a tiny juvenile feed it three to four times everyday.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Offer various foods quite frequently at first. Once acclimated adults need at least 2 feedings a day and juveniles need 3 to 4.

Aquarium Care

Once adapted no special care or technique is needed to maintain this fish in the aquarium. Frequent water changes are not necessary, rather normal water changes at 10% biweekly or 20% monthly are fine. Sudden massive water changes can cause trouble.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly - Change 10% biweekly or 20% monthly, avoid sudden massive water changes.

Aquarium Setup

These fish need plenty of space to accommodate their size and to swim. As they can reach almost 5 inches in length, so a 55 gallon tank is the minimum size for a single fish. A bigger tank will be needed if you want to keep a large community. The tank should be established and be well decorated with a rocky environment creating numerous caves and lots of rubble. This fish is a coral eater so it is not strongly recommended for a reef.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Mix - Sand + Coral
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting - It can also be kept under very bright light as long as some dark areas are provided.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2° C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.020-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Weak - Water movement is not a significant factor. It can tolerate a rather strong flow but slow-moving water is recommended.
  • Water Region: All - It swims freely and usually spends time in the open water.

Social Behaviors

The Pebbled Butterflyfish is a non-reef safe fish. Though it does well in a coral-rich tank, it will nip the polyps of small stony coral species. It it best kept in a fish only community tank that is well decorated with rocks and lots of rocky rubble creating caves and crevices for hiding.

This species is generally not an aggressive fish. It is best to keep it with other tank mates that are not overly territorial or aggressive. Smaller non-aggressive fishes like cardinal fish, gobies, tilefish, fairy basslets, fairy and flasher wrasses are good candidates as tank mates. Small but very territorial fishes like dottybacks should be avoided. Such fish as Basses or scorpionfish, even if they are small enough, should also be avoided. Larger frogfishes can swallow everything, so also should be avoided.

This fish is best kept singly. It will be territorial and aggressive with other members of its family and won't not get along with conspecifics either, unless it's an established pair. It can be kept with the larger and rather territorial angelfishes like Pomacanthus and Holacanthus. Centropyge, along with other angelfish members of Apolemichthys, Genicanthus, Chaetodontoplus and Pygoplites could also be good tank mates.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: No - Will be aggressive with its own kind unless it is an established pair.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Monitor
    • Anemones: Monitor
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Monitor
    • LPS corals: Monitor
    • SPS corals: Threat
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Threat
    • Leather Corals: Threat
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Threat
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Threat
    • Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Threat
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat
    • Starfish: Monitor
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Threat
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Threat

Sex: Sexual differences

No sexual difference is noted for this species. Butterflyfish species studied up to this time indicate that these fish are gonochoristic, meaning that each fish is either a male or a female and they do not change sex.

Breeding / Reproduction

In the wild these butterflyfish are pelagic spawners that release many tiny eggs into the planktonic water column. They have an elaborate courtship behavior where the male swims after the female placing his snout on her anal fin for about 30 - 45 minutes before the spawn. When they release their gamete (eggs and sperm) at about one meter above the substrate, the pair will then ascend with the male staying behind and below the female, bumping her anal fin with his snout. At this point as many as a dozen other males will attempt to sneak into the courtship with the spawning pair. The eggs will float with the currents until they hatch. Once hatched the fry are in a post-larval stage where their body, extending from the head, is covered with large bony plates.

This species has not been cultivated in captivity, nor have any marine butterflyfish reportedly been spawned successfully in captivity. There are however, reports of some success in rearing wild collected larvae of some of the corallivorous butterflyfish. It is hoped these captive reared fish will be adapted to accept aquarium foods, and thus broaden the species selections that can be sustained in captivity. For more information see, Marine Fish Breeding: Butterflyfish.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

Many of the Chaetodon members are often very colorful and attractive to aquarists. Unfortunately some of them are rather difficult to keep for a long period. Some are exclusively coral eaters, and sometimes they suffer from "ich" (white spot disease) and other infectious diseases. Problems with disease are reduced in a well maintained aquarium. Any additions to a tank can introduce disease, so it's advisable to properly clean or quarantine anything that you want add to an established tank prior to introduction.

Diseases that marine Butterflyfish are susceptible to include Marine Ich(white spot disease), Marine Velvet, Uronema marinum, and Lymphocystis. Some can be treated successfully with medical care or copper drugs, but some species hate sudden changes of water including PH, temperature, or any drug treatment. In the wild a cleaner wrasse (Labroides sp.) will help them by taking parasites from their bodies, however these wrasses are extremely difficult to sustain in captivity. Alternative fish such as Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma spp.) can help them by providing this cleaning service in the home aquarium.

The Pebbled Butterflyfish is fairly disease resistance, but it may be sensitive to some drugs. Be sure to observe this fish closely when medicating it, so you can remove it if it shows signs of stress. For information about saltwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Availability

This fish is usually available online and on occasion may be found in pet stores. They should be available from suppliers who stock fish from Hawaii. They are relatively inexpensive.

References

Author: David Brough CFS, Clarice Brough CFS
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