I think it’s safe to say that I love fish. I mean that’s all I ever post about here, but don’t get me wrong. I love every facet of this multidimensional hobby and this field just as much. I rarely talk about corals but that doesn’t mean I care not for them. For those who’ve met me in person or know me well enough, it’s embarrassing sometimes how I get super excited over a particular fish. When that happens I often slur and just look like a general mess. I like to think that all that is kept under control when I express my thoughts into words, and hopefully people don’t pick up on my general spasticity whenever I do a fish post.
But not today. Today I let my freak flag fly, and throw all caution to the wind. Look at that picture. LOOK AT IT. LOOK, with your eyes the perfection and flawlessness of that slayage. It’s Chaetodon smithi! I’m asked very often, “what fish excites you the most”, “if you had a favourite fish, what would it be” and you know, like a million different permutations to that question. The answer is always, or rather will always include this butterflyfish. The Smith’s butterflyfish.
During my free time I spend digging around the vastness of the internet looking for fish photos. Many of the incredible pictures are usually encrypted in Japanese websites and require a lot of navigation and translation. On and off I would passively check the cyberspace for Chaetodon smithi, to see if any new pictures pop up.
So imagine my excitement when these new portraits appeared, in plain Jane regular Google english. Of course a barrage of “OMGs” ensued, followed by a wall of spam on my personal Facebook along the lines of “OMG? C. smithi! *keyboard smashing keyboard smashing*”. I apologise to any of my friends who are reading this, i’m sure cat videos and memes are really important but so is C. smithi ok? Yeah it’s kind of lame I know, people usually go crazy over cars and stocks and maybe sports but this does it for me.
These spectacular HD photos taken by Ian Skipworth are absolutely precious, and really, for the first time, offer a proper good look at this incredible fish. Chaetodon smithi is a planktivorous butterflyfish previously placed in Hemitaurichthys, but only fleetingly, before being placed back into Chaetodon. Why? We’re not really sure, but if we do get a hold of the PDF paper we’d be sure to check up on that.
This luxurious species is two toned, separated down the middle by an unstable, roughly vertical divider. In the frontal half, the fish is entirely onyx past the ventral fins and just shy of the first spinous portion of the anal fin. The anterior half is cobalt yellow, which bleeds into the almost obsidian portion only on the dorsal spines. The soft dorsal and anal fin is rimmed in cerulean. The colour scheme is very basic, and the appearance is nothing fancy. I’m really not sure why i’m so attracted to this on an almost primeval level. Perhaps in a parallel universe swimming in the primordial soup of life, I was a Chaetodon smithi.
Chaetodon smithi is shallow to mid dwelling, at depths of 30-100ft (10-30m). Like most planktivorous butterflyfish, they aggregate in small to large groups above coral reefs. Unfortunately, this beauty is known only from Rapa to Pitcairn in the French Polynesia, with one documented individual in the Easter Island. The isolated and limited range protects this species from avid photographers, and for that reason, pictures, videos and especially live specimens are very scarce. Only a handful have ever been collected privately for the trade, and the best chance to see one alive would be to visit the Waikiki Aquarium where a single specimen is on display.
After all that hoopla and raving, we’d like you to check out Ian Skipman’s incredible photo gallery here. The link directs you to his gallery on the Southern French Polynesia, but be sure to check out his other stunning pictures in other locations. As we’ve mentioned before these are probably the best pictures of this species anywhere, and as a bonus, he’s also taken some incredible photos of other fish native to the area. We won’t spoil it, but keep your eye out for that harem of Anampses femininus picture!
We leave you this video filmed by Ian as well. Check out C. smithi‘s brief cameo at the 20 second mark, where it is seen surprisingly swimming above a field of macro algae. Keep your eyes peeled as well for the many Chrysiptera galba and other French Polynesian specialties like Ctenochaetus flavicauda.
*Also to the anonymous friend who sent me a message describing this flawless cherub as a “stumpy Siganus upsi“, here’s a public service announcement for you. UNFRIEND!
Just incase you missed it, Ian Skipworth’s photo gallery is linked again below for your convenience.