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U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #22
Of the 120 species of Butterflyfish found worldwide only
seven are found in the Caribbean, with five of those found in
the U.S. Virgin Islands. They are:
1) The Banded Butterflyfish (Chaetodon striatus)
2) The Spotfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus)
3) The Four-eye Butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus)
4) The Reef Butterflyfish (Chaetodon sedentarius)
5) The Longsnout Butterflyfish (Chaetodon aculeatus)
They are all found in the Chaetodontidae family, which
include all the Butterflyfishes and some Angelfish.
Butterflyfish are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans. They feed primarily on tiny worms, exposed coral
polyps and other small marine invertebrates. Typical features
shared by the Chaetodons are a highly compressed body, small
mouths with a row of brushlike teeth and a dark band across
Butterflyfish are round, thin-bodied fish with slightly
concave foreheads and are usually less than six inches in
length. The species found in the U.S.V.I., however, differ in
coloration making them easy to differentiate.
The Banded Butterflyfish (1) has
two distinct wide, black midbody bands.
Between each band their colors vary / u \
from silver to white and a black bar runs '
across the eye. There is a blackish border .
on the rear of the body and at the base of
the rear dorsal and anal fins. They are
usually 3-5 inches in length with a maximum length of 6
inches. They can usually be found in relatively shallow water
between 10 60 feet deep.
The Spotfin Butterflyfish (2) is
silver-white with a black bar on the head .--" T
that runs across the eye. There may also
be a darkish spot on the rear of the dorsal -
fin below a distinct black dot on the
outer edge of the rear dorsal fin. All the
fins, except the pectoral, are bright
yellow. They are usually 3-6 inches in length with a
maximum length of 8 inches. They can usually be found in
relatively shallow water between 10 60 feet deep.
The Four-eye Butterflyfish (3) is
silver-gray with several dark thin lines '- D
3 that radiate at a diagonal from the
middle of their bodies. There is a dark .
bar on the head that runs across the
eye with a yellow submarginal band
on the rear dorsal, tail and anal fins.
They have a distinctive black spot, which is ringed with white,
on the rear of their body near the upper base of the tail. They
are usually 3-4 inches in length with a maximum length of 6
inches. They can usually be found in relatively shallow water
between 10 60 feet deep.
The Reef Butterflyfish (4) has a
yellowish back and dorsal fins and a
silver-white lower body. They have a
yellowish-reddish to yellow tail and a
black bar that runs across their eyes. -.
There is a distinctive broad, dark bar
on the rear of their body, which
include the rear portions of the dorsal and anal fins. They are
usually between 3-4 inches in length with a maximum length
of 6 inches and can usually be found in both shallow and deep
water between 20 120 feet deep.
The Longsnout Butterflyfish (5)
has a long pointed snout and a
dusky/yellow bar that runs from the
top of the head across the eye but does
not continue below the eye. The upper .
half of their bodies are yellow and
gradually change to orange, darkening
to orange-brown and black on the dorsal fin. The lower half
of their bodies are white. They are usually solitary and are
found in deeper reefs and walls between 30-200 feet deep.
They tend to be more secretive than other members of the
Chaetodontidae family and forage in dark recesses for marine
invertebrates. They are usually between 2-3 inches in length
with a maximum length of 3 inches.
Distribution and Habitat
Butterflyfish are found throughout the Caribbean as well
as the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Mated pairs live together
inside large home ranges and may remain together for a
lifetime. Territorial defense rarely occurs and then only late in
the day, generally close to the courtship period.
Growth and Reproduction
Very little is known about the spawning behavior of
butterflyfish. Most of the recorded activities have taken place
at sunset between February and May in the Caribbean.
However, spawning activities have been recorded in the fall,
particularly in areas such as the Red Sea. At each spawning
event the males and females broadcast spawn and they release
their gametes into the water column. The eggs hatch into
larvae called tholichthys with large yolk sacs 24 48 hours
later. As the larvae mature they develop deep, laterally
compressed bodies and a series of clear armor-like plates
covering their heads and forebodies. Once they reach 1.5 cm
they settle on the bottom.
Most juvenile butterflyfish
are creamy white with yellow fin
highlights, distinctive ocellated
eyespots and barred patterns. 7
They usually inhabit shallow
habitats, such as sand pockets, :
isolated coral and sponge formations, sea grass beds and
around mangrove roots. They lead solitary lives until they
reach sexual maturity after a year, and are approximately 4
The butterflyfish in the Caribbean feed on anthozoids,
which are stationary polyps from hard and soft coral, and
zoanthids, which are anemone-like animals that live in
colonies. They also feed on tunicates, sessile marine animals
that may be solitary or live in colonies, coral and other
gametes. The Four-eye butterflyfish ranges widely over the
reef platform while the Banded butterflyfish can be found
along shallow reef crests and patch reefs. The Reef and
Spotfin butterflyfishes live slightly deeper than their other
counterparts near high-profile reefs, which allows them to feed
on tubeworms, hydroids and small crustaceans. The
Longsnout butterflyfish are found on deeper drop offs between
40-200 feet deep.
They are eaten by several nocturnal predators such as
moray eels, sharks and other large piscivorous reef fish such
as snappers and groupers feed on these fish.
Butterflyfish have been used to indicate the health of a
coral reef. Since they feed on coral polyps the abundance of
butterflyfish on a reef indicates the health of the reef in direct
correlation with the distribution and amount of food available
for them to eat. Also, butterflyfish respond to declines in coral
quality and abundance with behavioral and spatial changes
that can be observed easily making monitoring of these areas
relatively easy. These species can therefore be used to help
monitor changes in the health of a coral reef ecosystem and
can allow for the rapid implementation of mitigation
In order to avoid predators and live on the reef,
butterflyfish have evolved certain adaptations that allow them
to better do so. The size and shape of the fish also allows it to
maneuver along the reef relatively easily. The compressed
and discus-shaped fishes are designed for maneuverability in
their habitats. Because of their small size and shape they are
also able to lodge themselves between pieces of coral
preventing predators from attacking them. They also erect fin
spines which make it almost impossible for them to be
Butterflyfish are very colorful and usually have dramatic
colors and patterns. When predators are in the area, rather
than run away they turn sideways and display their coloring.
Within the patterns and colors are two typically cryptic
patterns which include false eyespots and eye bands. Eyes are
often a primary target for predators. The butterflyfish disguise
their eyes with bands across them which help to disguise the
eye from predators so that they are not easily attacked. This
combined with false eyespots at the opposite end of the head
help protect their most vulnerable area. The eyespots
misdirect the predator allowing less vulnerable areas to be
The mouths on butterflyfish are also adapted for the food
that they eat. Butterflyfish with long snouts are able to use
them to feed in narrow crevices. The small bristle-like teeth
are also used to scrape and nip at invertebrates, living in the
many cracks and crevasses on the reef.
Occurrence in the U.S.V.I varies among species. The
most common species is the Four-eye butterflyfish while the
Reef and Banded butterflyfishes can also be frequently found.
The least common species' are the Spotfin and Longsnout
Butterflyfishes are protected by both Federal and
Territorial regulations. There is no harvest of individuals.
You may not have, in your possession, any of these species,
without appropriate permits from the Department of Planning
and Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife.
References for this article are available upon request from
DFW. For more information on this or other animals in the
USVI please visit our web site at:
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINE O'SULLIVAN IN 2005. THIS
PUBLICATION WAS PRODUCED WITH FUNDS FROM SPORT
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THOMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227