The Arabian Butterflyfish is a piscine so stunningly gorgeous, but we daren’t look directly at it lest we succumb to its spell. Among the thousands of reef fish species, there is a certain group of extremely beautiful butterflyfish which are obligate corallivores – this means that as far as we know, they only eat corals.
These exquisite fish including the Arabian butterflyfish, Chaetodon melapterus, are extremely easy to keep as long as you can supply them with an endless buffet of live coral polyps. That translates into these fish being extremely impractical, and therefore off limits for standard aquarium husbandry practices.
In one sense, this makes fish like the Arabian butterflyfish a sort of forbidden fruit for saltwater fish keepers. Along with similar species of obligate corallivore butterflyfish such as Chaetodon meyeri, C. larvatus, C. ornatissimus and many others, the Arabian butterflyfish is better left out in the sea no matter how much you think your aquarium skills and special blend of TLC will entice these fish to eat.
That being said, we used to believe the same thing about moorish idols, cleaner wrasses, many anthias species and for many years stony corals were “impossible to keep” alive in an aquarium, let alone grow and thrive and propagate. It is with this historical hindsight in perspective that we are thrilled to have come across a recent video showing several of the illustrious black and gold coral-eating Arabian butterflyfish feeding in an aquarium.
The video evidence of the striking Arabian butterflyfish eating prepared foods is “proof” that this species can be enticed to eat food from the water column, but we have no information on precisely what this fish is eating, or how long they have been doing so. The fish in focus are on the smaller side, which is pretty much common knowledge when one wants to acclimate wild ornamental fish to aquarium life.
There is also a huge unknown as to whether there are certain unique nutritional properties of live coral polyps that coral eating butterflyfish have adapted to need in their diet – even if the fishes eat all the frozen food in the world, we won’t know if this is a suitable diet until the fish lasts for years in the aquarium and shows at least some degree of growth.
Please don’t rush out and buy any of the obligate corallivore butterflyfish species just because you saw this video, or any other anecdotal or superficial evidence that this group of fish is suddenly possible to keep alive. If you want to try your hand at butterflyfish in the aquarium, know which species are ideal and which ones should be avoided.
That being said, we hope to learn more about the background of this video from Japanese saltwater fish retailer, SPS Crownfish, especially what food they were offering and what their general experience and success has been in keeping the Arabian butterflyfish alive in captivity over the long term.