The Peppered Butterflyfish is a pretty little thing… sprinkled with pepper-like spots!

The Peppered Butterflyfish Chaetodon guttatissimus is a handsome fish found across a very wide range in the Indian Ocean. It is most often seen in pairs or small groups dwelling among the hard coral growths of lagoon reefs and seaward reef slopes. Like all Butterflyfish it is corallivorous, meaning coral polyps make up part of its diet, but also feeds on polychaete worms and algae.

This is not a very large butterflyfish, reaching only about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) in length. It has a creamy white to yellowish background with a dark vertical stripe running through the eye and another in the center of the tail fin. But its feature is the peppered looking spots that cover its body. They are arranged in a rather haphazard pattern of broken stripes. Thus a couple other descriptive common names this fish is aptly known by are Spotted Butterflyfish and Gorgeous Gussy.

Although not as colorful as many other types of butterflyfish, this species has an attraction of its own. It is one of the less sensitive members of the Chaetodontidae. Once it is adjusted to captivity it can make a nice addition to a saltwater aquarium. The biggest challenge is getting a new specimen to eat. This may involve placing mussels and clamsinside the tank in their open shell, or providing some live hard corals.

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 mainly of coral polyps and algae, it will accept a wide variety of foods in the aquarium. It does need a good sizedtank that is well established, and having good algae growth in the aquarium will help to sustain it. 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

Peppered Butterflyfish

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The Peppered Butterflyfish, also called Spotted Butterflyfish, (Chaetodon guttatissimus) eating pellets.

This handsome Peppered Butterflyfish (Spotted Butterflyfish) is eating pellets in a dealers tank. They have a small mouth which is designed to eat corals, so making sure the food is small enough won this fish over! The food provided was New Life Spectrum .05 mm, then it was switched to 1 mm size once eating.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Chaetodontidae
  • Genus: Chaetodon
  • Species: guttatissimus
Peppered Butterflyfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 4.8 inches (12.19 cm)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Peppered Butterflyfish Chaetodon guttatissimus was described by Bennett in 1833. It has a wide range across the Indian Ocean, occurring from the Red Sea south to Durban, South Africa, east to the Christmas Islands and has been reported in the north at Bali, Indonesia and further north at Western Thailand. This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as they have a wide distribution and there are no major threats currently identified. Other common names they are known by include Spotted Butterflyfish and Gorgeous Gussy.

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 being adaptable to captivity. The other three members are the Pebbled ButterflyfishChaetodon multicinctus, Spot-banded ButterflyfishChaetodon punctatofasciatus, and Sunset ButterflyfishChaetodon 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.

These butterflyfishare found at depths between 1 – 98 feet (3 – 30 m). Their natural habitat is hard coral rich areas of lagoon reefs and the fore-slopes of seaward reefs. They are seen mostly in pairs or small groups, and sometimes individually. They feed on a variety of foods including coral polyps, polychaete worms, and algae.

  • Scientific Name: Chaetodon guttatissimus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs – They are usually seen in pairs, though sometimes in small groups or singly.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Peppered 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. guttatissimus has a creamy white to yellowish body. It is covered with peppered looking spots placed in a rather haphazard pattern of broken stripes running vertically on the upper sides and horizontally on the lower. There is a dark vertical stripe running through the eye and the forehead down to the mouth has a grayish tone. There is yellow along the outer portion of the dorsal fin, and sometimes the anal fin, that runs through the base of the tail fin. The tail fin has a black band in center and is transparent on the outside. The other fins are also transparent.

  • 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 and is suggested for an intermediate aquarist. They are one of the less sensitive members of the family, and once adjusted they usually prove to be a sturdy aquarium fish. The biggest challenge is getting a new specimen to eat. This may involve placing open mussels and clam, in their open shell, inside the tank, or providing some live hard corals. Juveniles and sub-adults are said to be easier to start feeding then the larger adults.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Peppered Butterflyfish are omnivores. in the wild they feed on coral polyps, polychaete worms, and algae. 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: Some 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, a 55 gallon tank is the minimum size for a single fish and a bigger tank will be needed if you want to keep a large community. The tank should be established and a good algae growth will help in keeping this fish. The tank should 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: Moderate – normal lighting – It can also be kept under bright light as long as some dark areas are provided.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg 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 Peppered Butterflyfish is a non-reef safe fish. Though it does well in a coral-rich tank, it will nip the polyps of hard stony coral species. It it best kept in a fish only community tank that is well decorated with rocks that create caves for hiding places and lots of rocky rubble.

This species is generally not an aggressive fish, but it will not get along well with other butterflyfish. It is best to keep a single specimen with other tank mates that are not overly territorial or aggressive. It can however 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.

Smaller non-aggressive fishes like cardinal fish, gobies, tilefish, fairy basslets, fairy and flasher wrasses are also 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.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: No – This fish will be aggressive with other members of its family.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor
    • Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Anemones: Monitor
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Monitor
    • LPS corals: Threat
    • 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: Monitor
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor
    • 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

This species has not been cultivated in captivity. In the wild butterflyfish are pelagic spawners that release many tiny eggs into the planktonic water column where they float with the currents until they hatch. Once hatched the fry are in a post-larval where their body, extending from the head, is covered with large bony plates.

Marine butterflyfish have not 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 Peppered 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.


This fish is rather rare in the trade. It is occasionally available online, and on rare occasions may be be found in pet stores. They are relatively inexpensive.