The South African Butterflyfish is found only near the southern tip of South Africa!
The Double Sash Butterflyfish Chaetodon marleyi is an exotic gem. It is a western Indian Ocean species that is endemic to the extreme southern coasts of Africa,thus it is also known as the South African Butterflyfish. It is alsothe only butterflyfish that is found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It occurs from Lamberts Bay in Mozambique on the Atlantic side, to Delagoa Bay on the Pacific side. This beautiful fish is truly a luxury for a community saltwater aquarium. It is rarely exported from South Africa and seldom seen in the aquarium trade, and when a specimen is available it is very expensive.
The South African Butterflyfish is moderate in size and can reach almost 8 inches (20 cm) in length. It has a splendid silvery white disc-shaped body adorned with two sharply contrasting broad golden brown bands, hence the name “double sash”. Another dark narrow stripe runs through the eye and there is a yellow bar in the center of the tail fin. The adult has a single eyespot on the dorsal fin at the top of the rear band, while juveniles have that eyespot along with a second eyespot just behind it. The juvenile pictured above was collected off the Durban Coast of South Africa. Other common names they are known by include Doubledash Butterflyfish, Marley’s Butterflyfish, and Doublesash Butterflyfish.
A very similar, almost identical fish is the Four-banded Butterflyfish Chaetodon hoefleri. These two fish only differ in appearance when juveniles, with the C. hoefleri youths having just one eyespot on the dorsal fin. The adults look almost identical and are only truly distinguishable by a fin ray count, which is higher in C. marleyi. Another very similar species is the Robust Butterflyfish Chaetodon robustus. It basically differs from C. marleyi and C. hoefleri in that it lacks the yellow bar on the tail fin. It is a nice alternative to the Double Sash Butterflyfish. Although it is also fairly expensive it is much more reasonable in price and more readily available.
This fish is also one of only six butterflyfish species found further south than East London, Africa. Here the temperate waters are too cool to support much in the way of coral reefs. The environments where this fish occurs are primarily rocky areas, shallow tidal pools and among estuaries where it lives among macroalgae, and some coral reefs. Unlike the majority of butterflyfish that feed on coral polyps, this fish subsists on the tentacles of polychaete worms, crustaceans, various cnidarians such as hydroids and ascidians or sea squirts, other small benthic invertebrates, and it grazes on algae.
This fish is considered a good choice for the aquarium. It is not dependent on corals for food and has a tolerance to a wide range of temperatures, though it does need cooler water than other types of butterflyfish. It can be fairly easily maintained and is suggested for an aquarist with some experience.
When thisgood sized fish attains its full adult size it will need a larger than average, well established aquarium. A 75 gallon tank is the minimum suggested size. Decorate the tank with rocks creating many caves for hiding places along with plenty of swimming space. A good algae crop in the tank will also help in keeping this fish. It swims freely and usually spends a good deal of its time in the open water, moving in and out of crevices as it forages for food.
In non-coral feeding butterflyfish, aggression is infrequent. This fish has a peaceful demeanor and can make a nice addition to a roomy community marine aquarium. It can get along with most other similar mannered marine fishes. It can also be kept singly, in pairs, and with other butteflyfish. For the best success in keeping more than one butterfly, provide a very large tank and introduce them at the same time.
Keeping this butterflyfish in a reef environment is a judgment call. Success will depend on it being a cooler temperature reef, and what other types of inhabitants you are keeping. These are not coral feeders but other types of non-coralline invertebrates make a natural food, so tankmates should be selected with care. They have reportedly been used in some South African aquaculture facilities to control aiptasia and hydroids. A positive for keeping them in a reef is that they may help rid the tank of pesky Aiptasia species like the Glass AnemoneAiptasia pulchella.
For more Information on keeping saltwater fish see:
Marine Aquarium Basics: Guide to a Healthy Saltwater Aquarium
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Chaetodontidae
- Genus: Chaetodon
- Species: marleyi
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
- Size of fish – inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Temperature: 64.0 to 70.0Â° F (17.8 to 21.1° C)
- Range ph: 8.1-8.4
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Double Sash Butterflyfish Chaetodon marleyi was described by Regan in 1921, and was named in honor of Mr. H.W. Bell-Marley, a naturalist and Natal Fisheries officer in the 1920’s. They are native to the most of the South African coastline from Lambert’s Bay on the Atlantic side of the Cape of Good Hope, to Delagoa Bay just north of the South Africa-Mozambique border.
This species is on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). They are found in a variety of habitats and not restricted to coral reefs. They are presence in marine protected areas and there are no apparent major threats to this species. Other common names they are known by include Doubledash Butterflyfish, Marley’s Butterflyfish, Doublesash Butterflyfish, and South African Butterflyfish.
The Four-banded Butterflyfish Chaetodon hoefleri is a very close relative, and almost identical in appearance. It is found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean off the western central coast of Africa, as well as the Canary Islands. These two fish only differ in appearance when juveniles, with the C. hoefleri youths having just one eyespot on the dorsal fin. The adults look almost identical and are only truly distinguishable by a fin ray count, which is higher in C. marleyi. In 1978 M.J. Penrith, a South African Scientist, proposed that C. marleyi could be a junior synonym of C. hoefleri. Then it was suggested that it could be recognized as a subspecies, however today C. marleyi is recognized as its own species. Another very similar species is the Robust Butterflyfish Chaetodon robustus which differs in that it lacks the yellow bar on the tail fin. Like C. hoefleri, It also originates from tropical Western Africa.
These butterflyfish dwell at depths between between 3 – 400 feet (1 – 120 m). In their natural habitat they occur primarily in rocky areas, shallow tidal pools, and estuarine weed beds. Juveniles are mostly found in estuaries living among the weeds. Though these butterflyfish are sometimes found in coral reefs, due to the upwelling of cooler waters along the South African coast along with heavy sedimentation, the distribution of corals is severely limited.
Adults are usually seen in pairs, though sometimes alone, and the juveniles are seen in small groups. Unlike the majority of butterflyfish that feed on coral polyps, this fish grazes on algae and feeds on the tentacles of terebellid polychaetes and other polychaete worms, crustaceans, various cnidarians such as hydroids and ascidians (sea squirts), and other small benthic invertebrates.
- Scientific Name: Chaetodon marleyi
- Social Grouping: Pairs – Adults are usually seen in pairs, though sometimes seen singly, and juveniles are in small groups.
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The South African Butterflyfish has the typical butterflyfish shape with an oval body that is laterally compressed. It has a long protruding snout tipped with a small mouth and a rounded tail fin. The dorsal fin is continuous and it has a rounded tail fin. This species can reach a length of almost 8 inches (20 cm) in the wild, but are generally a bit smaller with the average size being about 6 inches (15 cm).
These fish grow rapidly and have an early maturity. In the wild they are estimated to live for about 6 years. The lifespan for most of the Chaetodon species in the aquarium is about 5 years, and sometimes longer with proper care. Presumably these fish could have a similar lifespan.
The adult C. marleyi has a silvery white body with two broad golden brown bands and a dark narrow stripe running through the eye. There is a yellow bar in the center of the tail fin and the fins can be yellow, orange, or translucent. It has a single eyespot on the dorsal fin at the top of the rear band. Juveniles have two eyespots, the same one as on the adults with a second eyespot just to the rear of it.
- Size of fish – inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm) – It can reach almost 8″, but the average size is about 6 inches (15 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 can be a fairly durable butterflyfish and is generally suggested for an intermediate aquarist. Because it is from more temperate waters, it does require a cooler aquarium than other Chaetodon species. It will accept a wide variety of food, so with proper water parameters is can become a hardy pet. We know of only one person, Lee Nieuwoudt, who has kept the South African Butterflyfish. He contributed the above picture, and a firsthand look at the adventures of keeping this fish through his own experience.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Foods and Feeding
The South African Butterflyfish are omnivores, in the wild they feed on algae, polychaetes, crustaceans, and a variety of non-coralline invertebrates. 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.
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.
These fish need plenty of space to accommodate their size and to swim. As they can reach a up to about 8 inches in length, a 75 gallon tank is the minimum suggested size. It does need to be a cooler aquarium than other butterflyfish need, with temperatures below 70Â° F (21Â° C). The tank should be established and having a good algae growth will help in keeping this fish. It should be well decorated with lots of rocks creating numerous places for retreat and lots of rubble. They also need plenty of open space for swimming.
Keeping the Double Sash Butterflyfish in a reef environment is a judgment call. Success will depend on it being a cool water reef, as well as what types of reef inhabitants you are keeping. A positive for keeping them in a reef is that they can help rid the tank of those pesky Aiptasia species. A con to keeping it in a reef is that polychaete worms are a favorite (and natural) food, and it will most likely have a heyday with them. However if you keep them well fed they may not bother other reef species.
- Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 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: 64.0 to 70.0Â° F (17.8 to 21.1° C) – This is a temperate species, so requires a cooler aquarium than other butterflyfish.
- 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.
The South African Butterflyfish is safe with corals in a reef tank. However it may snack on other non-coralline reef invertebrates. It can successfully be kept in a community tank that is well decorated with rocks that create caves for hiding places and lots of rocky rubble.
This fish is not aggressive and will do best with tank mates that are not overly territorial or aggressive. It will generally get along well with other butterflyfish, as well as other members of its own kind. But they do need to be in a good sized tank with plenty of hiding places. Smaller non-aggressive fishes like cardinal fish, gobies, tilefish, fairy basslets, fairy and flasher wrasses are good candidates as tank mates.
Monitor any moderately aggressive species to insure that this fish is not bullied. To help prevent any problems, add this butterflyfish to the aquarium first, and make sure it is fully acclimated before adding potential troublemakers. 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: Yes
- Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
- Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Monitor
- Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
- Anemones: Monitor
- Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Monitor
- LPS corals: Monitor
- SPS corals: Monitor
- Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Monitor
- Leather Corals: Monitor
- Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Monitor
- Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Monitor
- Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor
- Sponges, Tunicates: Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor
- Starfish: Monitor
- Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Threat
- Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Monitor
- 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
Breeding this species probably will not be accomplished in captivity. The males reach sex maturity at approximately 2 years, when they reach a size of about 4 inches (10.5 cm). Although these fish may spawn in the aquarium, rearing the larvae is suggested to be difficult if not impossible. This fish was reported to spawn in the aquarium in the 1970’s by a South African aquarist, Tony Cochlan, and few juveniles reportedly survived.
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
The Double Sash Butterflyfish are generally hardy and problems with disease can be minimal 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.
This butterflyfish 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.
The South African Butterflyfish of Double Sash Butterflyfish is rarely available except in South Africa. It is rarely exported from South Africa and seldom seen in the aquarium trade, and when a specimen is available it is extremely expensive. A nice alternative is the Robust Butterflyfish Chaetodon robustus which is very similar in appearance. Although it is also fairly expensive, it is much more reasonable in price and more readily available.
- Animal-World References: Marine and Reef
- Chaetodon marleyi (Regan, 1921) Doublesash butterflyfish, Fishbase.org
- Chaetodon marleyi, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Helmut Debelius, Rudie H. Kuiter, World Atlas of Marine Fishes, Hollywood Import & Export. Inc., 2006
- Scott W. Michael, Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes: Reef Fishes Series , Microcosm Ltd, 2004
- Dr. Warren E. Burgess, Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod, Raymond E. Hunziker III, Dr. Burgess’s Atlas of Marine Aquarium Fishes, T.F.H Publications inc., 1990
- Bob Goemans, Chaetodon marleyi, Saltwater Corner, Copyright 2012
- Niall Gordon Vine, Aspects of the Biology of the Doublesash Butterflyfish, Chaetodon marleyi (Pisces: Chaetodontidae), Thesis for Rhodes University in South Africa, 1998