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What are suitable African Butterfly Fish tank mates?

African butterfly fish come from the tropical waters of West Africa, especially Nigeria, Cameroon, and Zaire in southern Niger, Lake Chad, Congo, and areas north of the Zambezi river. This fish lives on the surface of the water in slow-flowing rivers and pools of water surrounded by lush trees filled with tree branches jutting into the water. Such an environment is rich with insects which are the staple food of these fish.

African Butterfly fish can be kept in an aquarium with the top closed tightly because of their habit of jumping. They also prefer tanks with aquatic plants, especially those that float on the surface of the water as hiding places.

African Butterfly Fish
African Butterfly Fish


As inhabitants of the upper waters, butterfly fish can be kept in shallow-water aquariums. These fish are not fussy about food, but in order to stay healthy, they need insects as one of their main menus.

 Although the butterfly fish is a predator, it tends not to prey on smaller fish. Even so, it would be better not to mix this fish with other fish that also have swimming areas in the upper waters, such as Hatchetfish.

On the other hand, butterflyfish can be safely mixed with fish that swim in the middle and bottom, because these fish have never been recorded foraging in water, other than on the surface. 

If you want to maintain it, the water surface in the aquarium must be calm, and not flowing. They forage based on contact with the surface of the water. That is one of the reasons why it is not recommended to mix this fish with other inhabitants of the upper waters because the movements of other fish can interfere with the instinct of the butterfly fish. 

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african-butterfly-fish
african-butterfly-fish

Butterflyfish are known to only grow about 10 cm. One of the interesting facts about these fish is that they get their name from their pectoral fins which look like butterfly wings. These fins do not really help the fish to ‘fly’, but rather help in a floating position. They will jump to grab their prey. For sure this fish can jump up to 2 meters. However, they do not float or fly using their ‘wings’ (fish that actually fly using their wings are hatchet fish from South America).

Because of this “flying” habit, it is advisable to plant floating plants such as duckweed to reduce this habit, while providing an area free of plants. The aquarium itself must of course be very well covered.


The water conditions needed for the life of Butterflyfish must be soft (<10°dGH) and slightly acidic (pH<6.5). Filtration through the peat is highly recommended. The lighting should not be too bright, because in its own natural condition this fish lives in forests full of plants, so the water itself is of course filled with rotting leaves, the water conditions are acidic, and it is difficult for sunlight to penetrate the water because the trees are very dense.

Male fish have curved anal fins, while female fish have straight fins. Even though distinguishing this is quite easy, breeding these fish in an aquarium is quite difficult to do. 

Water temperature is not too critical as long as it is not too extreme (too hot or too cold). In general, butterfly fish are very unique fish, and very interesting to keep. Even though they don’t look too pretty, fish are still an amazing collection of fish.

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African Butterflyfish should not be kept with other aggressive fin-eating and fish. This fish is aggressive towards fish that live above the tank so it would be better not to mix it with other fish with a swimming area at the top of the tank. 

Here are some African Butterfly Fish tank mates that tend to get along very well:

  • Rope fish
  • Nerite Snail
  • Corry Lele
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Kuhli Loach
  • Pleco Lip Rubber

This fish feed lives insects such as crickets, or it could be small fish. The water condition must be calm and not flowing so that the filtration cannot be too strong.

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Nooru Ariyoushi

Nooru Ariyoushi

Nooruariyoushi has been a fish hobbyist for 20 years and is now a blog writer sharing information about fish and how to care for them.

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